Mark Marchand-min

Sound On – Epsiode 2: Mark Marchand

In this episode we sit down with Mark Marchand – a Director of Photography with over 10 years in the industry.

In this episode we chat with Mark about what originally attracted him to the industry, how sound is such a crucial factor and the projects of his you can keep an eye out for.

Anika:

Hey there, I’m Anika, and I have Mark with me today, cinematographer. This is our second episode of our podcast, and so basically today we’re going to talk about … Well, visuals and how they relate to sound as well. So being a cinematographer yourself, obviously you’re more across the visual side of things, but with your studies and experience you’ve learned to appreciate sound and all that.

Mark:

Yeah, for sure. Yeah, where do you want to start with this?

Anika:

Well, let’s start off with what you do and what drew you to being a cinematographer, and your path.

Mark:

Cool. All right, so let’s break down what I do. So as a cinematographer it’s like a photographer, but then with moving images. So films, motion, that sort of thing. I actually got into … I’ve always been interested in films, but i never really thought of that as a career path until I was past high school and doing tertiary studies. I was studying to be a graphic designer, so again a form of visual communication. With that I had a heap of focus on photography, so learning studio processes, all that sort of thing. Using actual analog film, so the film strip type of processes and that stuff.

Anika:

Yeah, nice. Yeah.

Mark:

And kind of fell in love with that. And at the time then started playing with moving image. So on little camcorders Just recording skate videos, and little fight sequences with my friends on the trampoline. And kind of fell in love with the technology of it and understanding how to use that to make some really cool things and beautiful images. And then when I graduated, rather than going into a design studio I decided to freelance as a film maker. And all my friends, they went off to design agencies, advertising agencies, where they’d start bringing me all the work when they needed some video stuff, and I just built up a portfolio. And so with all that it’s kind of self-trained and just my passion for that, just using that to develop my skills and things.

Anika:

And what do you think draws you to that? Is it the story telling side of things or the beauty? Or both?

Mark:

Yeah. I’ve realized over the last five or six years that I’m actually really into the story side of things. And have been doing a lot of research and learning around the psychology of story and how that’s kind of ingrained in us as human beings. The convention of the story, how most stories that we all know and love are all kind of centered around a hero’s journey. So following a person through a conflict, of overcoming that conflict. So that’s something that’s actually wired into us through biology, so kind of understanding that has been really interesting. And then using that learning and things to actually tell better stories in my everyday work. So with that boring corporate or commercial piece, trying to actually bring some substance to that as well.

Anika:

Yes, so it’s not so straight lace and no emotion.

Mark:

Yeah.

Anika:

Yeah, you cut through that and tell the story.

Mark:

For sure.

Anika:

Yeah.

Mark:

And so I’ve spent the last kind of 10 to 12 years that I’ve been working in this industry developing the technical skills to kind of be able to make pretty images, almost without having to think too much about it so that I can then actually process on telling that better story and focusing that energy onto make stuff with substance. Tell stories that actually matter, rather than just pretty images, so.

Anika:

Yeah. What do you think is one of your stand out pieces that you’ve worked on on jobs?

Mark:

You’ve put me on the spot there.

Anika:

I know, it’s like someone saying to me, “What’s your favorite song??” “I’ll get back to you.”

Mark:

Yeah. I mean I’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities over the time that I’ve been doing this. Like it started off with just filming a video when we had a massive snowfall in Christchurch New Zealand, where I’m from, and making just a fun video with my friends that actually got some online traction, reblogged on various magazine sights and things.

Anika:

Yeah, nice.

Mark:

And that was when I kind of realized, “Oh, I can make a thing of this.”

Anika:

I can actually do something with this, yeah.

Mark:

Yeah, and then being able to travel overseas and work on some quite cool projects. Like I said, last year I got to go to Ghana with [Daryl Leigh 00:04:26] shooting kind of a small documentary series around the work that they do in the cocoa growing communities to actually make their lives livable. Give them a proper earning wage-

Anika:

Which goes back to the storytelling that you were talking about, instead of it just being, “Oh, this is delicious chocolate.” It’s like, “Okay, but what about the people behind it, the cocoa brand, where it actually comes from.”

Mark:

Exactly. Yeah, so having those opportunities and going into those scenarios where we had no idea what the stories were going to tell, but we’re still liable to what unfolds in front of us. And so we can kind of push that where we want it to go, but making sure that those stories are still authentic, and we’re telling those people’s stories in a way that is authentic and we’re not making propaganda.

Anika:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s it. And so just [inaudible 00:05:19] into the sound side of things, I guess what do you look for when you’re setting up a project, do you consult any sound designers before you start, or do you have that in your head as a [crosstalk 00:05:34].

Mark:

I mean it’s something that I realize pretty early on how important sound is, and the film is very much a visual medium, but if you really bring it down you’re talking probably 50% visual, 50% audio. If you take a Hollywood blockbuster film and turn the sound completely off, it’s not a great experience.

Anika:

For a thriller.

Mark:

Yeah, and I would almost even argue that if you close your eyes and just listen to it, you’re probably going to have a slightly better experience than just watching it without sound. So it is very integral to actually engaging the audience into what’s happening on screen. You can get so many more queues from the audio, little storytelling devices. So hearing little recognizable sounds that you’re not seeing on the screen actually gives more context in building into that world and immersing the viewer into that, if that makes any sense.

Anika:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like the atmos sound if they’re seen with a crowd.

Mark:

Yeah.

Anika:

I mean that kind of bugs me a bit where I know [inaudible 00:06:31] have to do, but where it’s like a club scene and it’s super clear audio where it’s like, “That’s not realistic.” But when they add in more atmosphere and people talking, and all the layers that they build up on to make the story realistic, that’s down to sound, 100%.

Mark:

Yeah, exactly. And because they have definitely the two closest relying on senses as a human being is vision and sound. So when you try to immerse someone in a story using those two, because we don’t have any of the other senses that we can use in film, unless they start actually making smellelevision. It’s trying to use those really well and synonymously to create that world. And then using sound for expositions, say we’ve got a wide shot of someone walking out a door. If you had the sound of a little toilet flush just as they open the door, you’ve already kind of transformed what that is.

Anika:

Yeah, you don’t have to film it.

Mark:

You have to film it, but you’ve created a bit more context around what’s happening in that scene. That’s a really low level example but-

Anika:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, it does the job. It carries the scenes together as well.

Mark:

For sure. Yeah. Yeah, so to get back to your question, when planning a project I have kind of become a jack of all trades within the toolkit of filmmaking. So my skillset and my forte is really behind camera, so composing a shot, larging a shot, all those visual elements, but I’ve kind of dedicated a lot of my time throughout the years just actually learning sound. Like I don’t have formal training in it, but understanding the importance of it, understanding how to use the softwares and things for building that in a post production sense, but then also making sure I’m recording that clearly when I’m on set.

Anika:

Yeah, no aircon coming through.

Mark:

Yeah, yeah. And putting that time and effort in that stage just to make sure when I get into post production I have everything I need.

Anika:

You’ve got more to use, yeah.

Mark:

Ideally, yes I would have a sound operator on every job, a mixer, a boom operator, that sort of thing. A lot of the time I’m working on jobs where I’ve got to manage everything myself.

Anika:

One man band, yeah.

Mark:

Yeah, or I’ve got an assistant, so you’re wearing multiple hats, but yeah. I’ve worked on a few projects where I’m fortunate to have a decent crew, so everyone is kind of just focused on the-

Anika:

[crosstalk 00:08:53], yeah.

Mark:

Yeah, they’ve got a job or a couple of jobs and they’re focusing on that. And that’s a great way to work because you can just really focus on that and-

Anika:

Do a good job instead of dividing your attention on five different things.

Mark:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And you end up with a better result at the end. But not every job has that budget, so you’ve got to be flexible.

Anika:

Yeah, work within your means.

Mark:

Yeah.

Anika:

Yeah.

Mark:

For sure.

Anika:

Cool. So more on sound and music side of things, if I can sway it that way.

Mark:

For sure.

Anika:

So you’ve got a bit of a musical family, don’t you?

Mark:

Yes.

Anika:

Yes.

Mark:

Yes, I’ve got a dad who sings, a mother who plays piano, my sisters are all incredible singers. I have a very limited range when it comes to singing, got quite a deep voice so I can’t get the high notes.

Anika:

Yeah. That’s all right, no Mariah Carrie required of you.

Mark:

No, but I love music, I love listening to it, I have a very broad taste in music. One day I might be listening to kind of old rag time jazz, and the next day is kind of electro pop or hiphop, and so it depends on the mood I’m feeling. But I love to listen to music and discover new music. And when I can, utilize great music tracks in videos. Like if I’m doing a project that has no dialogue, so talking or moderation and it’s really just a music piece, understanding that the build and the flow of the track, because music is telling a story.

Anika:

Exactly right, you’ve got two forms of storytelling and you want to kind of marry them together.

Mark:

Exactly. So letting that music actually be the skeleton, and then we’re really just building the flesh upon that which is the imaging and letting that flow in the same way as the music so it’s not competing. Cutting on beats so it kind of feels natural, you want it to be an experience with the viewer. In most cases you want it to be an experience with the viewers immersed in that, and any little thing that doesn’t seem right kind of takes them out of that, so you want to keep them on the edge.

Anika:

Yeah, it’s funny because you don’t realize it until you see a piece that doesn’t work, you know what I mean? Everything is done so well generally, and then you might not twig to go, “Oh, it was because the frame changed on the offbeat.” Or whatever, and it didn’t marry it.

Mark:

Yeah, or it was a couple of frames after the beat, and it [crosstalk 00:11:07].

Anika:

The viewer doesn’t know it, then they’re sort of like … they’re hung up on it being a poor production, then it takes them out of the story.

Mark:

Yes.

Anika:

Yeah.

Mark:

So I guess the best [inaudible 00:11:16] is stuff that people don’t realize … They got through the whole thing and they enjoyed it, if there was any kind of technical things that they’re then analyzing the production, or the technical aspects of it, then kind of failed and a bad shot.

Anika:

And so what was your experience with music? I know that you did some clarinet and some other instruments.

Mark:

Yes.

Anika:

Do you think that it was the learning environment that you didn’t want to go down, or did you want to steer away from what your family were doing and do something different?

Mark:

Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t say I really analyzed my past in that sense of why I didn’t do it. I mean if I had to kind of take a stab in the dark, I would say I lost … Like I did clarinet for three years.

Anika:

Which is decent.

Mark:

Yeah, and I didn’t play in a band or anything, this was at primary school. And then I guess I just lost interest, I did change schools as well, so that probably actually factored into it. And was interested in other things, whether that be sport, got really into skateboarding when I was younger and I did all that. And I would say the music subjects took a backseat, and then I got really into visual mediums, and so art, and photography, and design and all of that. So that’s where my attention kind of went in my teenage years. And so didn’t really pick up any instruments. And I kind of regret that to the point where I’m now 31, I’ve just bought a base and decided to learn something.

Anika:

Yeah, exactly.

Mark:

And I think that’s important to keep my brain healthy and leaning new things, and keeping kind of mentally active. But also I love listening to music and I would love to be able to just effortlessly play my own stuff.

Anika:

Yes. Yeah, and I hear that so often, especially adults, and they did a little bit of music, or they didn’t have the opportunity or access to music, and I think it’s great that you’re actually pursuing it and having a go, because so many go, “Oh no I couldn’t, I’m too old now.” It’s like, “You’re crazy.” Yeah, it’s confronting, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Mark:

Yeah, and in no way is it a wasted skill. In the long run it will feed into what I do, whether that be editing and understanding Musical structure even more … Like I have pretty good understanding, but I think if I can understand that even more, then … Once you understand something you know how to manipulate it and move it around and break the rules and do all that in a way that actually works.

Anika:

Manipulate it as well, yeah. Yeah, and push boundaries.

Mark:

Yeah, so it will feed into what I do.

Anika:

Yeah, exactly right. Yeah, and you probably subconsciously, with the three years training that you had as well, have brought that into your current creative outlet. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do music to pursue a career in music. And I think that’s kind of the point of what this podcast is about, is thinking about sound more holistically, and storytelling I think, and obviously visuals. We’ve had Darren on our previous podcast, and he’s more voice over and acting side of things, but again, it’s sound and its relationship to his current career, and it’s not wasted having that experience with music in some element.

Mark:

Yeah, absolutely.

Anika:

That’s kind of what I’m curios about, yeah.

Mark:

Yeah, and just sound is such an integral part of life, so I think there’s so many different areas within music and sound that you can go into professionally, whether that be actually performance music or what you’re doing here at the school. There’s even such a thing as acoustic architecture, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but designing buildings that have acoustics in mind. And so really actually give credit to a space being designed for sound. Not just to look beautiful, but to actually sound right when you [inaudible 00:15:03] it.

Anika:

Yeah, which I don’t think many people would even consider or think about. I mean obviously with an amphitheater it’s a given, but in over areas to think about the space and how it makes you feel.

Mark:

Yeah, like how many restaurants and cafés have you been into where you can’t have a conversation because everything is just echoing. And so really having that understanding of how sound bounces off a space, and using that to then actually create a space that works affordable. It’s really cool.

Anika:

Yeah, very cool.

Mark:

Which has nothing to do with what I do, I just find it interesting.

Anika:

Yeah, but I mean it’s an interesting sound and appreciation. And then I guess it does tie into what you do, because if you’re analyzing a space to do a shoot, there’s other things to consider, and if someone doesn’t take into account the sound and how it’s going to be recorded, and is it going to affect the final outcome, and if people find out the sound isn’t great, well there’s limited use for what you can do in there to overdub in the studio, and that never sounds as good, so yeah.

Mark:

Yeah, I’ve been in some incredible spaces to shoot in and visually they’re stunning, but they’re right next to a highway and every five minutes there’s [inaudible 00:16:06] driving past, or under a flight path, which is not so much of an issue now, but yeah.

Anika:

True.

Mark:

Yeah, six, seven months ago it was a major issue. So yeah, it’s just bing aware of those things and understanding how you can work around them and mitigate those issues.

Anika:

Well, I guess let’s do some plug time. So any projects that you’re working on at the moment that we can look out for?

Mark:

Actually, a project that I got to work on, I didn’t shoot it, my first feature film that I got to work on.

Anika:

Oh, nice.

Mark:

I went to Scotland for three months at the end of last year, and worked in the camera department on this film, so as a proper 80 person crew.

Anika:

Yeah, crew. Yeah, wow.

Mark:

With a couple of big names, that’s coming out … I think they’re launching that early November, so it’s called ‘Falling for Figaro’, so I’m excited to see that.

Anika:

Can you say a rough synopsis?

Mark:

It’s actually a romantic comedy and it’s set within the world of opera, so actually [crosstalk 00:17:06].

Anika:

Oh right, there you go, sound. Yeah.

Mark:

And featuring Joanna Lumley, so a kind of household name within the UK. It’s a co production between the UK and Australia, so.

Anika:

Nice.

Mark:

They’ve just finished post about a month ago, they’re [inaudible 00:17:20] release, which are all a little bit different this year. I haven’t seen it because I’m not that high up in the food chain on this, but it will be exciting to see that finally.

Anika:

So thinking about opera, just tying that into the sound thing again, what sort of setting were they filming in? Or was it mostly studio recording?

Mark:

So there was a mixture of what’s called a soundstage, which kind of big warehouses where they build sets inside, and that’s something that can be controlled with sound.

Anika:

Sure, yeah.

Mark:

Practical locations, which there was a location in a college which was very small. Beautiful location but very hard with that amount of crew walking around.

Anika:

Yep.

Mark:

Sound wasn’t too much of an issue there because it was kind of a beautiful stone building and they kind of filled it with rugs and built the décor, kind of actually worked to make a usable space from a sound point of view. And yeah, big, old theaters in Glasgow, so King’s Theater, and we were actually in the Conservatoire and all those theaters.

Anika:

And did they do live recording in those spaces, or?

Mark:

So there’s an actress who doesn’t sing, so she was miming to tracks that had been prerecorded, and then they’ve been … her parts get overdubbed, but then the main actor in that, Hugh Skinner, he actually when he was younger used to do opera, and so he performed his own pieces and he was fantastic.

Anika:

That would be really cool to see.

Mark:

Yeah.

Anika:

Well, very good. Well, thank you for joining us.

Mark:

No problem.

Anika:

I know it’s sort of a different conversation to have, but I think it’s really interesting. I think def the storytelling and the marrying of sound and visuals is so important, and it’s really cool to get a cinematographer’s perspective and your experience on that, and I think it definitely reinforces my view of how important sound is and bringing visuals to life, and that sort of thing, and creativity in general as an outlet, I think. It’s so cool that that’s your career and that you pursued that.

Mark:

Yeah. It’s pretty fun.

Anika:

Yeah.

Mark:

It’s easy to take for granted, so it’s nice to actually get [crosstalk 00:19:30].

Anika:

Yes. Yeah, no I think a lot of people are scared to follow their passion, and you studied graphic design but then went, “Actually, I want to do film and go down that track.” And I think hats off to you to pursue that, because it’s really cool.

Mark:

Cheers. Thanks for having me, yeah.

Anika:

Yeah, we’ll put up all your details up here.

Mark:

Cool.

Anika:

And we’ll see you soon.

Mark:

All right.

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