You’ve probably seen the video in the past few weeks or its predecessor, going to the store, in the past couple years. An old friend of TRASH_AUDIO, Jamie Vance, performed the sound design duties for late for meeting and is giving T_A an inside look into scoring and sound designing a viral video. The following sound design version of the video was expected to be premiered on Wired and their article for late for meeting, but they don’t give a shit about sound and we’ll gladly take sloppy seconds. Jamie sat down with Brent Rogers from REX Production & Post in Portland, Oregon and talked about the processes that went into making a video that had over 10 million hits within weeks.
late for meeting Sound Design Cut
Brent: What exactly was your role in ‘late for meeting’, like, what audio did you provide?
Jamie: Well when it was shot, it was shot on a Canon 5D with – for lack of a better term – hacked firmware that allowed David Lewandowski more control over various parameters in the camera. This helped the footage look stunning, but a caveat is that the altered firmware doesn’t allow audio recording. Thus there was literally no acoustic sound or audio of any kind originally, aside from Jean-Jacques Perry’s song, of course.
So I designed all the sounds in the piece, and composed a funny little muzak piece that you can hear playing overhead in the grocery store early on in the short.
B: That is excellently cheesy sounding.
J: I know, man. I made a downloadable ring-tone version of it and put it up on SoundCloud. It’s gotten thousands of plays, tons of downloads and hilarious comments – I was really amazed by the response. Usually online if something requires more than a single click of the mouse, you know, you don’t expect anyone to even check it out, or to go that extra mile. Considering this was kind of hidden in the YouTube info pane, I have been so happy about how many people liked it.
B: You can hear quiet sound effects beneath the score sometimes, does your sound design exist throughout the entire piece?
J: Yeah, I basically covered it from start to finish. Once I mixed the version for the public, I pulled the sound effects way back during the score-heavy sections, of course. We did also render a sound design only version which is entertaining in a different way, and, considerably more terrifying. [laughs]
B: How did you manage the sound design portion of the work?
J: The usual situation, pulling from sound effects libraries, my own recorded library, and recording foley (physical movement noises) manually to cover all my bases. I would go record foley in one of the big spaces at REX Studios, otherwise just working at home. Of course, anything from a sound effects library I heavily edit or mix with my own recordings in some way – I’m to that point as a sound designer where I am kind of cursed, I can hear every stock tire-screech or Gate Opening_001.wav in stuff, and it just makes me cringe. So I really work hard to make everything sound as if it was captured uniquely in the moment, even if it very much so was not.
B: Any unique challenges?
J: It’s funny, you know, finding the right sound in your library is mostly about knowing the right search-term to use – kind of like knowing the best words to search with on Google. But, when you pull up even the most decked out, comprehensive sound effects library and query the term “nude man violent flailing” you pretty much get like zero results, one hundred percent of the time. [laughs] So, yeah, making creative, funny, realistic foley for the “rubber man” required some risky techniques. He’s close to my heart, though, so it was worth it.
B: What do you mean, risky? Sound design and post work isn’t usually considered dangerous.
J: [laughs] Well, after crafting his footstep sounds to my liking, his physics-and-physiology-breaking movement still needed a better aural representation, to me. Such a hilarious and terrifying movement wasn’t done justice with just barefoot footstep sounds. Here again, libraries came up short, because 99.9% of all movement foley is based around cloth, leather, some kind of material the person is wearing. I wanted to hear his skin actually rubbing against itself, you know, so there was no choice but to record myself doing this.
This resulted in a late night guerilla recording session at REX where I had my partner stand in as engineer. It was pretty ridiculous – her, a little bewildered running ProTools over a gigantic mixing board, watching as I scraped my forearms together and tried to imitate the creature’s movement. Eventually I needed more “real estate” shall we say, so I had to take my shirt off. I was so afraid that you or the studio owner would just happen to stop by that night, peer into the little window on the sound-lock door and see me shirtless beneath a single over-head light, frantically rubbing my arms together like something from Jacob’s Ladder.
B: That does sound pretty hard to explain.
J: Yeah, I was just imagining the next morning the studio staff would’ve all received an email to the effect of, “Jamie has suffered a mental break – please sever contact and keep your distance.” The risk of being associated with the dangerously insane was worth it, though.
B: Then you must want to keep working on projects like this, right? What’s next?
J: That’s what ‘late for meeting’ has shown me, more than anything. I didn’t know what I was in for before it began, but it turned out to be one of the most satisfying projects of my career. Working on something creative, for no one else other than you and your team, for no purpose other than to laugh and express, with basically no guarantee, or expectation even, of “success” or remuneration – I don’t know, there’s nothing quite like it. The fact that over 10 million people watched it in a couple of weeks only serves as encouragement to do it more. It makes me super proud, of course.
I can’t say what’s next precisely, but we’ve got some work planned overseas next year. More than anything, though, I just know this is the kind of material and work I’m going to stay focused on right now. It just feels right.
late for meeting Original
- Jamie Vance