At Jadoo HQ we’re absolutely thrilled to have Malcolm Davies on board as our Production Sound Mixer. His sound credentials include BAFTA-winning TV dramas and over 90 feature films, counting among them Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa, for which he was part of the Oscar-winning team for best Sound. Jadoo will be his 91st film to date. To celebrate such astonishing success in the TV and film industry we’ve asked Malcolm to take a look back at his career and pick out some of his highlights and most cherished memories.
FB: So Malcolm, congratulations on your 91st film. Perhaps you could tell us how you started off?
MD: I didn’t start off in sound, I started working as an electrician having studied lighting at Salford. I began my career at the infamous Oldham Rep and from there moved to BBC and then Granada when I moved into Sound. I haven’t looked back since.
FB: And what has been your career highlight so far?
MD: Out of Africa was without a doubt my favourite film. It won the Oscar for best sound and I’m delighted to have been part of the winning team.
FB: Any particular moments that stand out for you?
MD: We were staying at one of the biggest safari companies in Kenya, Kerns and Downey and they had set up a tented village for the crew. Each crewmember had a tent, and a lavatory tent. One evening I got back from location and, having showered, was leaving for dinner. I sprayed the inside of the tent with insecticide to keep the mosquitoes away; I then zipped the tent up so nothing could get in or out of the tent and I went for dinner. I’d just finished when our British helicopter pilot came to me and said that he was supposed to go and pick Robert Redford up in Nairobi but the Jet Ranger had a flat battery and could I help him? I got a couple of truck batteries and with a bit of a cable bodge, I started the aircraft and Colin flew off. My hands were covered in grime so I went back to my tent, unzipped it and walked in. By the side of the bed looking at me was a huge spitting cobra. I ran out immediately to find the camp staff who wouldn’t believe me. They eventually came to my tent looked in and just said “Oh Shit”. Fortunately we had a company with us called Animal Actors from Hollywood who had brought seven lions with them for some of the animal sequences and part of this entourage was Jules who was a very good snake man. He went into the tent with a stick and a pillowcase and caught the snake. Just as he came out of the tent with it Bob Redford arrived, took one look at the snake and ordered Colin to fly him back to the hotel! Apparently his hatred of reptiles is greater than mine and for the rest of the shoot he was flown to and from the location. We found out later that the venom from that particular cobra is lethal.
FB: An almost near-death experience then? Richard Holmes, one of the producers of Jadoo, says you are the man to record sound to perfection in absolutely any circumstance. What do you think are the three qualities needed in a Production Sound Mixer?
MD: Patience, ability to compromise & experience.
FB: Biggest myth about sound:
MD: Producers think we have the ability to flick a switch that will turn off all background noise. Failing that, they think a radio mic will solve all background sound problems. They don’t.
FB: So, what has been your biggest challenge to date?
MD: Shooting Heavens Gate – It was because of Heavens Gate, whose director Michael Cimino pushed the budget massively over, that led to greater studio control of films– The scale of the production meant the council wouldn’t allow the band of grenadier guards, who we were using as an American marching band, to play as they marched down a narrow street in Oxford. So we had to lay half a mile of induction around and we then squirted music down it so that each bandsman had an earpiece so they could hear music. The reason they did this was because the director, Michael Cimino, was such a perfectionist that he wanted them to be playing the right notes even if they weren’t playing. The fingering had to be absolutely correct.
FB: You really have seen it all Malcolm. What do you think your long-time Boom Op, Ed Brookes, and Sound Assistant Jodie Campbell say about you?
MD: Probably that I’m a grumpy old bugger! You’ll often hear people on set saying “screw sound”. We are the poor relation to the camera team.
FB: Biggest lesson in filmmaking so far?
MD: You have to work hard to get to where you want to be. And stay as far away from the Special FX people as you can. On a TV series I was working on the special FX folk all wore T-shirts bearing the message: “I’m the guy that sets the explosives so if you see me running you need to try and keep up with me!”
One day they set an explosion, which was designed to take the roof off a thatched cottage. I checked with the supervisor that my trusted sound cart and me were in a safe position, which he confirmed as ok. When the charges went off there was a giant fireball coming towards me just above head height. I’ve never moved so quickly in my life and my boom swinger, Ed, said that he looked round to see if I was OK but there was no sign of me, just a pair of headphones hanging mid air.
FB: How would you like readers of Jadoo Movie blog to think of your sound team?
MD: Our nickname is the bidet: No one quite knows what it’s for, but we always bring a bit of class to the team
(Above: Malcolm and his trusted sound cart on the set of Treasure Island)