peaky-blinders-sound Asbjoern Andersen


Peaky Blinders continues to be one of Netflix's most popular series, regularly racking up award wins and noms — most recently taking home Britain's National Television Award for Most Popular Drama.

In terms of sound on Season 5, 'Mr. Jones' earned a CAS nom for mixing and an MPSE nom for Dialogue/ADR editing. The sound editorial team on 'Strategy' also earned an MPSE nom for Sound Effects/Foley editing.

Here, the Foley team at Boom Post discusses details on 'Strategy' and talks about the role of Foley on the show.


Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Netflix and Boom Post:
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It’s confirmed — work has started on Netflix’s Peaky Blinders Season 6. While we wait (im)patiently for that new season to begin, let’s look back at Season 5’s MPSE nom’d “Strategy” episode and all its expressive Foley details created by the Boom Post UK team.

Since there isn’t wall-to-wall music in Peaky Blinders, the intimate dialogue and Foley get to support the emotion and tension of the story, and so much is conveyed in those Foley sounds. Just listening to the first five minutes of “Strategy,” it’s clear that Foley sets the intimidating tone of Tommy (Cillian Murphy) and Polly’s (Helen McCrory) visit to St. Hilda’s Orphanage. The second sound you hear is the head sister’s shoes as she enters the room followed by the sound of her taking a seat at the table — hearing these small sounds indicates the absolute quiet of the other sisters awaiting her arrival. They’re not talking; they’re tense.

Foley artist Anna Wright and recordist Rebecca Glover talk about the team’s approach to Foley on the show, from recording Foley on location to building up layers to create rich textures. We pick apart some key scenes in “Strategy,” talking about their choice of props, approach to performance, and miking techniques.

 

Looking at the opening scene, how were you able to convey all of the tension in that atmosphere through your Foley performances?

Anna Wright (AW): The main vibe of that scene is tension and we wanted to build that up. We did that by picking out and heightening any movement; everything was heightened. For example, the chair creaks show off any little bit of movement and we pick those out to emphasize the silence.

peaky_blinders_sound-2

Foley artists Anna Wright (l) and Cat Thomas

 

Not only do you have the chair creaking, but you also hear the head sister’s keys jingle, which gives you the sense of her authority…

AW: Peaky Blinders is a character-driven show and so we really want each character to have their own sound. We want to add as much detail as possible because it’s such a beautifully shot series, and it’s so nice to emphasize that with the sound. We spend time watching the scenes and talking about what we want to pull out and the feeling we want to give each character. That informs our decisions on props and how to mic it. It’s a great project to be a part of because they do use so much of the Foley sound. It’s such a gift to have something like that.

 

Who cues the Foley on the show? And are the cues that descriptive where you’re being asked to include things like the head sister’s unseen keys jingling? Or was that something you were able to impart creatively on the show?

AW: We’re very lucky in that we get to come up with our own cues and we get to do the scene as a whole. We get to work on the feeling of the scene and we get to decide what to use. Of course, we discuss things with our supervising sound editor (Jim Goddard) and the effects editor (Sarah Elias) to see what they’re bringing to the scene. It’s a combined effort in the final track, and we get to think about the direction from the Foley point of view.

Going back to those chair creaks — because there are so many important ones in this episode, like Polly leaning forward to emphasize her point on the sisters’ cruelty toward the orphans — can you talk about your collection of chairs and how you mic them? How do you get such extended chair creaks?

AW: We have a lovely selection here that we are constantly adding to. The thing with chair creaks is that Cat (Catherine Thomas, the other Foley artist on the show) and I always approach it thinking of the character and what the situation is, and not necessarily about the chair itself. Obviously, if it’s a wooden chair then we’re going to work with wooden elements. However, if someone is feeling nervous then you’re going to want a creak that has a higher pitch or a creak that’s a bit quicker — it depends on the scene.

You can add to that by using different miking techniques to capture the sound, too.

You also want to think about resonance. For example, there’s a scene in Tommy’s office with Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), Michael (Finn Cole), and Arthur (Paul Anderson). For Tommy’s chair, we went with a bigger chair since he’s the leader and he’s trying to lead that interview. So I chose one of our chairs that gives lovely creaks and I put that on top of a wooden box and we placed the mic down low to capture that bassy resonance which imparts a feeling of authority so you feel that he’s the leader of that scene. It makes him seem superior to someone else in that scene, like Michael, who gets nervous because he’s called out. Michael’s chair creaks are a little bit higher and thinner. This emphasizes what the characters are feeling.

For Polly’s long chair creak, we wanted that to sound purposeful. That’s her character; she’s very elegant and she gives off this almost Hollywood elegance but in a Birmingham setting. We want the sound to be a bit gritty but classy. We have different chairs and old wooden tables — such a mix of props that we can get long creaks from (or short creaks) and we can really work those. That paired with sweeteners from the effects team brings out the space they’re in and can deliver a winning combo.

I also find that for wood and leather creaks, the prop is affected by the temperature of the room, weirdly enough.

I also find that for wood and leather creaks, the prop is affected by the temperature of the room, weirdly enough. It took me a while to learn that one. You have to warm up the prop. If something is too cold or not used enough, then it’s not going to creak as much. For example with leather creaks, I’ll get our other recordist Phil [Clements], who also works on Peaky Blinders, to sit on the leather for an hour before I need it. This makes the leather nice and warm and it gives a good creak.

peaky_blinders_sound-5

 

As Tommy and Polly enter the orphanage, their commanding footsteps ring out in the hallway, getting louder and more menacing as they approach the meeting room. How did you mic these footsteps so that they have a progressively larger presence?

AW: For Peaky Blinders and period dramas like that, we like to shoot Foley on location. So, we’ll find a similar space and spend a few hours there. We have our location recorders set up and some room mics, and also a direct mic on the Foley artist.

Sometimes we will perform the Foley to picture and other times we will perform a load of wild tracks. We’ve built up an archive of ‘live’ feet for the show and we’ll bring in the Foley feet when we want to emphasize the foot itself. So we’re trying to use the space rather than the feet or shoes in a certain scenario like that.

We’ve built up an archive of ‘live’ feet for the show and we’ll bring in the Foley feet when we want to emphasize the foot itself. So we’re really trying to use the space rather than the feet or shoes in a certain scenario like that.

That room at the start is such a beautiful space. The main part of the feet you’re going to hear is the space surrounding them. We want to build up how big and beefy these characters are so for the head nun — though she is an intimidating character — her footsteps aren’t going to be as built up as Tommy and Polly’s. So in our approach, we make the main characters dominating and confident sounding.

For that scene, we had a few room mics set up. And we were following the Foley artist with a direct boom mic to pick up their performance of those characters, to try and bring out the characters’ personalities as much as possible while also capturing the space.

 

peaky_blinders_sound-4

Recordist Rebecca Glover

What’s in your location Foley rig?

Rebecca Glover (RG): For the live recordings, we’re recording to a Sound Devices portable mixer-recorder (like the MixPre-3 II). We have a RØDE NTG2, a Schoeps CMIT 5U, and RØDE NT1-A and we use them depending on what the context is. We change the placement of them to suit what we’re trying to capture. It all depends on the feel of the scene, and what we’re trying to convey with the sound.

AW: The key to our Foley is that we’re capturing lots of layers, even for feet. The feet in that scene are so important that Polly even ends the scene by talking about her footsteps. (Polly says, “If I come for you — and I still might yet decide to come for you — I will wear high heels so you can hear my approach on the cobblestones and have time to repent. You listen for my footsteps.”) We wanted to build up to that so we layered the feet. We’ll layer different locations to make this one great sound. As they get closer to that meeting room, we were adding in layers of sound.

 

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You can hear those layers, too. You hear the grit in the crunch of her boot on the stone floor….

AW: This is such a great project because the characters are so well-thought-out. They’re so real and well-rounded that we can think about what shoes Polly would be wearing that day. The layers are built up of an array of surfaces, mixed with the location feet to create depth and detail. Because of how well they’re written, it makes it very easy for all of us on the sound team to select the right sound for these characters.

RG: And we’ve worked on all the episodes and understand the buildup of the characters over the course of the show as well. We’re growing our knowledge of them as the series goes on.

 

When you walk a male character, how do you make yourself sound heavier?

AW: Me personally, I have certain shoes that I can add in more socks. Sometimes that makes them higher and that sounds more feminine, and sometimes it makes them sound lower; it completely depends on the shoe, the surface, and the gait of the person. All of those aspects I think of and then I will come up with the right shoe to use for that character in that scene. A surface can change how a shoe will sound, whether it’s a clean surface or a dirty surface and if the character is running or walking quietly and carefully. The shoe for each situation and character changes, and that’s a nice challenge of the job.

peaky_blinders_sound-8

A surface can change how a shoe will sound, whether it’s a clean surface or a dirty surface and if the character is running or walking quietly and carefully.

 

There are so many different surfaces in the show. In this episode, for example, you have the stones, the dirty streets, the clean hospital tiles, the muddy field, the wood floors… Do you go out to find all of these different surfaces on location or do you do some of them in the Foley pit?

AW: Any exterior surfaces we will do in our studio. We have lots of pits and all the surfaces you can imagine…

RB:…and we’re constantly making up new ones as well.

AW: We do some interiors in here as well. We have some lovely old wooden floorboards.

But if it’s a big space, like a church or a manner house, we’ll do those on location. Even the hospitals in the show are in these beautiful old buildings, which we’re lucky to have a lot of around here, so we can record those on location. We can also select footsteps from our archives which we already made for previous projects; we are lucky enough to work on a lot of period dramas. It’s so lovely to have that resource and a variety of places to record. We’re not at just one location.

 

Do you have locations that you regularly revisit?

AW: Being in England, we have lots of mansions and castles to go and explore. We just shot some Foley on a boat last year.

RG: We shot some Foley at a lovely castle in Wales as well.

 

peaky_blinders_sound-1

Collection of cigarette-related props

The cigarette sounds in this show are part of its fabric. Do you handle all those in Foley? There must be a cache of them by now!

Even though the characters have been smoking non-stop since episode one, we’re always performing to the new picture.

AW: Even though the characters have been smoking non-stop since episode one, we’re always performing to the new picture. We go through so many cigarettes — not smoking them. We do the handling sounds and the lighters. We have a whole array of different lighters and metal cigarette cases, and we’ll build those up with other props too. We don’t have just one that we always go to. We build up the sound with lots of different lovely layers to make that really pronounced because it’s such a huge part of who they are. It’s such an edgy program in that regard, and an important part of their characters so we do work on building those up.

RG: We don’t just use lighters and cigarette-related objects. We might use a few different objects to get the click of the open and another one for the close. There are lots of layers.

AW: Then the effects team adds in their sweeteners to get different perspectives.

 

I love that your selection of chairs and lighters don’t just include ‘chairs’ and ‘lighters.’ Your thinking is so creative and outside-the-box…

AW: That’s Foley to a T. That’s the best bit of our job, I think. We’re thinking outside the box and approaching a prop in terms of sound instead of what it does in reality. It’s a fun job to have in that way.

RG: It requires very creative problem-solving.

AW: For anyone that works in sound, if you hear something nice (even if you’re not at work) then you get a recorder out.

RG: And your brain is constantly logging sounds. We were joking about the ‘Foley brain’ today, where you come up with recipes for how to make the best sound for something. You don’t write them down; they’re just in there. Like, I know I need to add a bit of grit to impart a certain quality to the sound, so I need to add a bit of this and a bit of that.

 

In the opening scene, Tommy pulls out a vial of opioids (laudanum, I believe?) and blows a handful into the head sister’s face. Can you tell me about your Foley work here?

AW: We have lots of little bottles and we put a bit of dishwashing salt in them. We did a layer for the blowing. Then we recorded different sands and salts to get that crystalline, powdery feeling.

Like with any movement in Foley, we’ll take apart the sound and record different elements separately. Then we layer those together. This gives the mixer control of each one while they’re balancing out the scene. They can choose how they want to hear it in the mix because that’s a very subjective thing.

…we’ll take apart the sound and record different elements separately. Then we layer those together. This gives the mixer control of each one while they’re balancing out the scene.

 

peaky_blinders_sound-6

I love that Foley artists get paid to smash things. Did you get to smash some glass for the head sister’s glasses?

RG: Yes we did. That sound has lots of layers to it. The head sister takes off her glasses and sets them on the table. So we have the take-off sound and the sound of her setting them on the table. We have the glass element of the smash, the metal element of the smash, and then the fragmented glass element as she puts them back on. All of those different layers are recorded and put together to create that whole event.

AW: When Bex or Phil are recording, they’ll set up the mics to capture the exact sound that they want to get from us for each layer, whether it’s spots or feet!

…you want to find a surface that imparts the right resonance and the right frequencies.

We have a crate full of broken glass here that we can pull from (very carefully) and then you want to find a surface that imparts the right resonance and the right frequencies. For the glasses, we wanted it to sound quite delicate but at the same time, it’s being smashed by Tommy who is showing his power. So to give that feeling of power, we wanted a surface that would resonate with a deeper sound.

 

And what about the sound of Polly pulling the hairpin from her sleeve? Was that also Foley?

AW: For anything like a weapon — because the hairpin is definitely a weapon — we’ll offer the more realistic elements in Foley and then the effects team will add the design element to it. And there’s lovely sound design on top of that.

We want to pick out what it’s made of, which in this case is metal, how thin or thick it is, and also how threatening it is. Those inform our prop choices. And again, we’re layering different props and elements to get that sound.

To get the right ring from the metal, we might pull it across glass to get that ethereal sound.

To get the right ring from the metal, we might pull it across glass to get that ethereal sound. The thing that you slide it across and the piece of metal you choose will both have a particular resonance. So we play around with that.

In Foley, it’s important to have a good relationship with the recordist because they are your ears. You ask them how it’s sounding and what you can add. You listen back and work together on it. It’s a team effort.

RG: What you’re hearing through the mic is different from what you hear in front of you.

AW: And the position of the mic changes the sound; where it’s placed changes what aspects of the sound you’re capturing. And the mic choice, too, changes the sound. Those are going to make it sound different from how you hear your performance.

RG: It’s a conversation, definitely. And we’re playing back quite a lot as well. I might notice something while monitoring the record — that the sound needs more body or it needs to be more fragile sounding, for instance. We’ll have a conversation and listen back to it and then we’ll change the mic position or choose a new prop or add another layer to the recording. It’s a nice collaboration.

peaky_blinders_sound-3

Foley Artist Cat Thomas

AW: We’re lucky that our team — Cat the other artist and Phil the other recordist — have really good communication. And we are really working as a team.

 

In the scene in Tommy’s office with Oswald Mosley, Arthur gets so angry he squeezes the back of the chair off. What were the layers you created to make that sound?

AW: We wanted to build his frustration throughout that scene. As we know, Arthur’s a character who is very emotionally driven. As we see later in this episode, Arthur acts out because of his emotions. So in the office, we wanted to show that Arthur was trying to keep his emotions in…

RG:…but his body is reacting before he’s even aware that he’s reacting.

AW: We start with a smaller creak that builds up to that climax of the break. We did layers of different creaks and wooden elements — anything we could find that fit and would add to it. The intensity builds until he cracks the chair back and then pushes everything over, including the table next to him. There were cups and decanters on the table. The effects there added to that crash and helped to show off Arthur’s emotion.

 

What was the most challenging scene for Foley in the “Strategy” episode?

AW: I’d say the scene in which Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen) goes to meet the Billy Boys and avenge his son’s death. In that scene, it’s pouring rain. You also have the sound of the road-tar machine. You want to cut through those sounds and help support the growing tension leading up to the final attack. There was so much happening and such a variety of things we needed to create for that scene.

RG: There were those big metal sounds and the fight. The guy falls into that metal barrel and then onto the wet road. The footsteps we really worked up too, to give them this gritty, wet, dirty, weighty, beefy sound to add to this huge fight. Then Aberama pours the hot tar on that guy. It was nasty.

 

What was the most challenging single sound to Foley?

RG: The bubbling tar in that scene. We were trying to get something that had that thick, oozy, dangerous, toxic feel and then trying to create the bubbles, which couldn’t sound too comical.

It was hard to get that balance in the bubbling of the tar. It had to feel threatening, and feel like this thick, viscous bubbling sound.

AW: Cat did the work on the bubbles and she made this fantastic concoction of peanut butter, water, soup, ketchup — anything to make this thick liquid sound. She has a fantastic way of making these ‘recipes.’

RG: We’d test it and alter it so it wasn’t sounding too watery or too comical. There had to be a certain gravitas in that liquid.

Another factor was how to blow the bubbles. We had to find the right tube to blow through.

Another factor was how to blow the bubbles. We had to find the right tube to blow through. We tried a bunch of different things and it ended up being this big cardboard tube inside this concoction, and Cat blew the bubbles. That one ended up being a wild track. We did a bunch of takes and selected the most perfect bubbles to layer together for that scene. It was a labor of love.

AW: It was trial and error and a good example of the communication that you need. Cat got an amazing sound for that.

 

In terms of Foley, what makes Peaky Blinders a unique show for you?

AW: The thing with Peaky Blinders is, even though it’s a period drama, it’s very gritty and very hard. There’s a hard edge to it. Usually, with period dramas that we work on, it’s very delicate. Very English. But this show has an edge to it, which you can find the beauty in. It’s industrial but it has this weird glamour to it, especially now that they’ve come so far and have all these riches. All of their possessions and dwellings are extravagant. So there’s this wonderful hybrid of these two aspects.

And the characters feel larger-than-life but without feeling unrealistic. So there’s this beautiful dynamic contrast. It’s quite grounded and earthy but it has these epic characters.

RG: The actors are amazing. We have such great actors to respond to.

AW: There are these different elements. Their backgrounds are gritty but they’re coming up into this new money. They’re now trying to pass as politicians.

RG: There’s a great variety to work with. It’s such a great show.

 

A big thanks to Foley artist Anna Wright and Recordist Rebecca Glover for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the Foley on Peaky Blinders and to Jennifer Walden for the interview.

 

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