American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 24

I

The Drama of Sound
By Mark Dillon

The British feature Berberian Sound
Studio, directed by Peter Strickland and shot
by Nic Knowland, BSC, is a fictional drama
that unfolds in 1976, as meek Foley artist
Gilderoy (Toby Jones) arrives at an Italian
postproduction facility to work on The
Equestrian Vortex, a film by Giancarlo
Santini (Antonio Mancino). Gilderoy soon
finds himself bullied by a producer,
Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), and repulsed by
the exploitative horror movie. The environment takes its toll on the soundman, and
the line between reality and fiction begins to
blur.
Knowland was approached for the
project by producer Keith Griffiths, who had
worked with the cinematographer on Institute Benjamenta (1995), the Quay brothers’
ode to Expressionist silent cinema. Griffiths
believed Knowland would pair well with
Strickland, whose debut feature, Katalin
Varga, was nominated for the Golden Bear
at the 2009 Berlinale. “The script was definitely on the quirky side,” Knowland says of
Berberian Sound Studio. “It needed an interpretation that would get the right level of
strangeness. Also, though Peter made a
terrific job of his first film, he had never
worked in a studio, and the producers
24

August 2013

wanted somebody who had that experience
to work with him — but not somebody who
would take over the project, either.”
Knowland, 71, traces his interest in
filmmaking back to Carol Reed’s The Third
Man, shot by Robert Krasker, BSC. “I’ve
always liked dramatic-looking material,” he
says. After starting out as a still photographer, he landed a job in the mid-1960s with
Canadian documentarian Allan King, who
had set up shop in London. Knowland credits cinematographer Richard Leiterman,
King’s colleague and brother-in-law, with
valuable mentorship. “His advice was,
‘Behave as though you can do it, because
nobody else really knows what they’re
doing, either,’” Knowland recalls with a
laugh. “That gave me enough confidence
to pick up a camera and learn on the job.”
Knowland became the go-to cinematographer for John Lennon and Yoko
Ono, shooting their films Rape, Bed Peace
and Apotheosis, as well as the video for
“Imagine.” He was prolific in early music
videos (including Duran Duran’s “Rio”) and
shot many dance films, documentaries and
classical-music-based TV projects. While
doing second-unit work on Wagner, shot by
Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC for Hungarian
television, “I spent a couple of days watching how Vittorio lit and realized how simple
he kept it and how dramatic he made it. He
American Cinematographer

Berberian Sound Studio photos by Jack English, courtesy of IFC Midnight and Optic Circle.

A crude Italian producer (Cosimo Fusco, left) bullies a meek English Foley artist (Toby Jones) in Berberian
Sound Studio, shot by Nic Knowland, BSC.

was a big influence. I’ve carried that notion
of a simple source light with me. If you’ve
got more than four sources, you’re probably
doing something wrong.”
Berberian Sound Studio was inspired
by Strickland’s fascination with Italian giallo
horror films, which, despite their tawdry
nature, were often elevated by ambitious,
experimental soundtracks. (The film’s title
pays tribute to American avant-garde
soprano and composer Cathy Berberian.)
The movie’s fictional Foley artists and vocal
performers lay down audio tracks while
watching a projection of The Equestrian
Vortex, which the viewer never sees except
for its animated title sequence.
For Strickland, the film explores the
shifting context of audio, such as when a
performer’s “sound poetry” is used for the
sake of creating a goblin in a cheap movie.
“That connection extends to Foley,” says
the director. “We have a very domestic association with stabbing a cabbage, but in the
film, we change the context of that sound
to a witch being stabbed to death, and it’s
very disorientating. You wonder, should I
laugh? Am I guilty for laughing? Should I be
freaked out?”
The production constructed its
sound-studio set at London’s 3 Mills Studios.
“It wasn’t a copy of any studio that ever
existed,” Knowland explains. “We changed
the shape, the size and the way the sound
booth worked. But when looking at some
reference photos, we saw those 1970s
studios were florescent lit, quite cool and
harsh, so that’s the look we were keen on.”
Strickland adds, “We wanted to make sure
we weren’t referencing anything too obvious — we didn’t want a distressed ‘retro’
look. We wanted something quite saturated.”
The director asked Knowland to
watch the 1972 Czech suspense film
Morgiana, directed by Juraj Herz and shot
by Jaroslav Kucera. “The skin tones were
beautifully warm and lush, so I grabbed
hold of that idea,” says Knowland, who
then suggested going with a more tungsten-lit set to achieve those tones.
The cinematographer credits the
prop-gathering prowess of production
designer Jennifer Kernke, who was also a
collaborator on Institute Benjamenta. “I
wanted to use a lot of interesting practicals,



American Cinematographer - August 2013

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - August 2013

American Cinematographer - August 2013
Contents
Editor’s Note
President’s Desk
Short Takes: Wild Horses
Production Slate: The Hunt • Berberian Sound Studio
Big Guns
Battle Bots
Rapturous Action
Shattered Past
Post Focus: Under the Dome
New Products & Services
International Marketplace
Classified Ads
Ad Index
Clubhouse News
ASC Close-Up: Stuart Dryburgh
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - American Cinematographer - August 2013
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 1
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 2
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Contents
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 4
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 5
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 6
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 7
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 8
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 9
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Editor’s Note
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 11
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - President’s Desk
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 13
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Short Takes: Wild Horses
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 15
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 16
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 17
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 18
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 19
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Production Slate: The Hunt • Berberian Sound Studio
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 21
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 22
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 23
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 24
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 25
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 26
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 27
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 28
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 29
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 30
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 31
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Big Guns
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 33
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 34
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 35
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 36
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 37
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 38
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 39
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 40
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 41
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 42
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 43
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 44
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 45
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Battle Bots
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 47
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 48
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 49
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 50
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 51
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 52
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 53
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 54
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 55
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Rapturous Action
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 57
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 58
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 59
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 60
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 61
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 62
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 63
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 64
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 65
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Shattered Past
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 67
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 68
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 69
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 70
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 71
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 72
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 73
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Post Focus: Under the Dome
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 75
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - New Products & Services
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 77
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 78
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 79
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 80
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 81
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - International Marketplace
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Classified Ads
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Ad Index
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 85
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Clubhouse News
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - 87
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - ASC Close-Up: Stuart Dryburgh
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Cover3
American Cinematographer - August 2013 - Cover4
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