Friday, 28 December 2012

INTERVIEW: Berberian Sound Studio Director Peter Strickland - British Independent Film Awards 2012

Berberian Sound Studio picked up no less that four awards for the coveted title of Best Director, Best Actor (for Tony Jones' performance as Gilderoy), Best Achievement In Production and Best Technical Achievement for the sound design (also nominated again in this category but for Cinematography) plus a host of nominations including Best Screenplay and Best British Independent Film. Impressive, frankly.

Elated as you can imagine, I met award winning Berberian Sound Studio Director Peter Strickland after he had just been handed one of his many awards. Amusingly, fighting the constant rapturous applause and live music happening in the awards hall next door, the following interview with Peter reveals his unique passion and observation for the seemingly mundane everyday sound and how it resulted in the winning film of the night.

The following interview took place at the Moet British Independent Film Awards in London on 9th December 2012.

GG: Congratulations, you’re doing very well tonight. Sadly Toby Jones couldn’t make it tonight, how did it feel winning up on stage just there?

Peter: Fantastic, yeah [gathering thoughts, overwhelmed]. There’s no point saying anything more, it’s just fantastic.

GG: Quite aptly as it’s very noisy right now [live music pours in from the BIFA stage], sound is very important to part in Berberian Sound Studio. It has an amazing soundtrack, it’s very much about the phonics and Foley production used in horror films. How exactly did you tackle that and your inspiration for the film and the element of sound in it?

Toby Jones: Winner of the BIFA 2012 Best Actor Award
for Berberian Sound Studio
Peter: I think a lot of it stems from every day domestic stuff, when you’re cooking your dinner, cutting the cabbage. I know this sounds a little stupid but if you’re pulling, yanking at the radishes, you start thinking about other scenarios. I think what really fascinated me was how these are really innocent every day sounds - you don’t alter them, but if you alter the context of them, it completely disorientates you; it’s quite disturbing. That’s essentially what we were doing with Berberian, it was all about association and context, that was the starting point. We didn’t use that many effects actually, most of it was about perspective. The whole soundtrack, if you watch the film again, I’m not trying to sell it to you [laughing], if one watches it again, it’s all diegetic – every single sound is physically locatable. Nothing is coming from a characters head or from just a soundtrack of music. So I think it was quite important to have that realistic sonic quality to it because visually its quite abstract and narratively it's eating its own tale a little bit. It was fun to do! It took time to get the perspective correct because you’ve got the voice travelling through speakers, through the tape recorders for the Revox, even within a sentence its moving between various things. But in some ways it was easier than any other film because if you want to get rid of a piece of music, in any other film you’ve got to gently fade it out or round it up. Here, you just stop it, punch it out, because we just got many shots of Toby’s hands punching sounds in, fading them down and we just use sounds like seasoning in the edit and correspond the with another sound, so it was actually a lot of fun.

GG: Many elements make an independent film, be it the funding, the cast, the crew etc. What do you think are the strengths of making an independent film and what are the main elements of an independent film in your opinion?

Berberian Sound Studio Director Peter Strickland
at the BIFA 2012 Awards
Peter: I don’t know because I’ve never done a mainstream film! I only know my first film which was beyond independent; it was an underground, home movie. All I can answer is what it should be like, and that is to be independent as a spirit, it should be director led, sorry to sound selfish here, its got to have a voice, to be collaborative. It has to be filtered through a Director. To me, that’s what I look for when I go to the cinema as someone in the audience, all the films I grew up with had very singular voices. [Andrei] Tarkovsky, [Luis] Buñuel, [Sergei] Parajanov even [Peter] Greenaway, Derek Jarman or the Quay Brothers, that’s just my personal tastes. I like mainstream films, there should be space for everything. You need to keep that arena for independent film definitely, but it’s looking really healthy; ten years ago it was shit, it was terrible, I was really depressed. You had all these gangster films and I thought it was going down the toilet. But in the last three or four years you’ve now got many individuals, Steve McQueen, Andrea Arnold, Joanna Hogg, it seems to be better, which is weird since we’ve had this recession. During the boom time it was all crap, I hated it, but now everyone’s stuck for cash its good again.

GG: What will this incredible win mean for your career?

Peter: Just to keep working, that’s all. I mean that. If you can keep working, it’s just good. There’s going to be highs and lows, every director I’ve admired its all been peaks and troughs in their careers. When you’re doing well it’s great, but you just hope that when I screw up people can still have some faith because it's going to happen to everyone at some point. I really think that’s important for the independent spirit in terms of being a Director for the long-term, not just when you’re doing well. Now is a great night, it's easy to be friends with someone who’s doing well. With the beginning of this film it wasn’t so good, we got quite a few rejections from some pretty big festivals. For six months we were in no man’s land, but Film4 stuck by me, the BFI stuck by me and that really meant a lot.

GG: Do awards like the BIFAs make your job easier, by giving more of a spot-light to independent film-making?

Peter: Can I answer that question in one year? [Laughter]

Berberian Sound Studio trailer:

Actor Toby Jones speaking about the nominations for Berberian Sound Studio:

Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
Geek Girl, Updated at: 11:20