Production Sound & Video

Fall 2018

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23 Previous experience has taught me to expect the unexpected; after all, anything can happen. So, upon starting pre-production, it came as no surprise when one of my first meetings with Tom Cruise was at the London Heliport in Battersea. It took place as Cruise piloted the helicopter that took us to an airfield close to the studios. He explained there was a plan for a helicopter-chase sequence in the film where he needed to be able to pilot the helicopter with no visible headset or helmet. At this stage there was no script, and for some weeks, we worked with Writer/Director/ Producer Christopher McQuarrie, verbally explaining the storyline. The Mission films are all about practical stunts and FX so everything has to work in real-life situations. Fortunately, I have worked on a number of films featuring helicopters and used them as an essential means of reaching challenging locations. The most notable project, Black Hawk Down, garnered me an Academy Award for Best Sound. I had previously considered using bone conduction technology, most recently on Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation for the sequence where Tom Cruise is on the outside of a giant Airbus A400M in flight. The technology has been around for years, but I learned that the military had adopted it, which greatly improved the audio quality. The challenge with older technology is that many of the sounds in speech are made in the mouth and not all transmitted through bone conduction. Without these sounds, speech can sometimes be less intelligible. The research process was quite extensive, as not all information was readily accessible. I eventually came upon a company that was developing bone conduction headsets for commercial use, but the caveat was headsets needed to be custom made. Thus, we needed to arrange for an audiologist to take impressions of Cruise's ears and create concealed bone conduction headsets specifically for him. The next stage was to test if and how they would work. I set up four large powered speakers in a studio office and played back helicopter sounds at a level in which you could not hear someone speak. We then invited Tom Cruise to sit in the room with the earpieces fitted and connected to a walkie-talkie. Incidentally, the earpieces also offered a high degree of hearing protection, which would be important for anyone spending hours in a helicopter without a headset. I went outside the room with another walkie-talkie, and we were able to communicate perfectly. With the first stage complete, I now had to work out how the system would function in a helicopter. Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. Photo: David James All photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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