You have to get away from it all to visit Alchemy Post Sound. The independent Foley, ADR and music recording studio serves the New York market from the village of Peekskill, an hour’s drive up the Hudson from Manhattan. Peekskill has a more laid-back vibe compared to the city, but Alchemy’s work is tight — recent widely acclaimed projects it provided Foley for include the Netflix series Master of None, the Matthew Heineman documentary City of Ghosts, and the double-Oscar winning Manchester by the Sea. We asked Lead Foley Artist Leslie Bloome, an Emmy-winner for Cartel Land, about the work, the sounds, and how the world of Foley has changed since he got his start.
StudioDaily: How long have you worked as a Foley artist, and how did you get your start?
Leslie Bloome: I’ve been a Foley artist since December of 1990, so it’s been about 27 years. My start was kind of unique. I went to school to study music with my attention on becoming a session musician. My focus was to work on films and commercials in a studio environment. At that time, the only work that was available to me was on a cruise ship. The pay was not great and whatever I made, I was sending to my former girlfriend to help her out with the bills. After four months and three weeks of working on the ship, I returned to LA to find myself without a place to live, no girlfriend and no money. Out of the blue, I got a call from an old a friend of my sister’s, Geraint Bell, who asked if I would like to be a part of a loop group session. Geraint was a post supervisor for PM Entertainment and, at that time, I would have done anything for $100. The session was held at a small post house in Hollywood called The ID Group. The owners, Mark and Troy Allen and Artie Farkas, were the ones who gave me my break. The looping session was recorded on their Foley stage. During the course of the session, I built up a rapport with the owners. They were interested in my time on the ship, but I was more curious about the Foley stage. The floor surface, the props etc. When the looping session was over they asked if I would be interested in giving this “Foley thing” a go. My response was, “I’ll do anything for $6/hour.”
What are some of the collections of items you keep in your arsenal of sound-generating objects?
Just about anything can become a Foley prop, from break drums to a garden weasel, old phones, chain-link fence, a broken torque wrench to a car door. Oh, did I mention shoes?!? I am always looking for unique-sounding things that I can use to create sounds. It’s really an obsession among Foley people. Kind of like being a hoarder with a purpose. If I do not have the right prop for a scene, I will build it in my workshop at home.
Is generating Foley FX a relaxing way to spend a working day, or can it be physically challenging?
It all depends on the film or TV show that I am working on but in general Foley is very physical. It’s a performance, first and foremost. We are recreating the sounds of all moments and actions of the actors on screen. This can and does involve running, dancing, jumping, and grabbing props and manipulating them to create the sounds of, let’s say, an actor being thrown down a flight of stairs. That’s not to say that I do not have fun. I love my career. The best part about being a Foley artist is that on every session I seem to learn something new. I get to create sounds for a living. What could be better?!
What goes into a great Foley track — and does the type of film you’re working on impact the creative decisions you make?
Foley is 100% performance. All great sounding Foley starts and ends with a great performance. You cannot get a performance from a library sound effects. You cannot cut bad Foley and expect to get a great performance. It’s just not possible. An actor who takes 10 steps from a liquor store to his car with a winning lotto ticket in his hand will move, act, and react completely different than if he just shot the owner and robbed the register. It’s all about performance!
That being said, it’s not just about the Foley artist’s performance. It’s also about the Foley mixer and their performance on the other side of the glass. The Foley artist’s job is to create the sounds needed for the film. The sounds we create need to have feeling and emotion, but it is meaningless if it’s is not recorded properly, with weight, depth of field and perspective. That’s the job of the Foley mixer. There is a symmetry between the artist and the mixer. Knowing how to get the best out of the artist and to keep a rhythm within the session will help assure the best sounding Foley is delivered to the mix. I consider myself very lucky to have Foley mixers Ryan Collison and Nicholas Seaman on my team here at Alchemy.
The films I work on will always govern the way the Foley is recorded and performed. Our first and most important objective is to tell the story. On a horror film like The Eyes of My Mother, the gore and chains will be pushed heavier, gooier and more over the top. For films that are shot to be more real, like Wonderstruck, we will record the Foley on location so it sounds incredibly real and sits deeper in the mix.
How have Foley techniques and technology progressed over the course of your career?
The creation of Foley sound effects for film today has not changed much since the days of early radio. We still use many of the same props, performances and techniques as they did 75 years ago. What has changed dramatically is the way that we record Foley today. When I started, all the Foley was recorded to 2” magnetic multi-track tape. The sync needed to be spot-on since it was pretty much impossible to move the sounds around once they were recorded to the 2″ tape. The Foley was “hung” as tight as possible because the tape we tracked to was going straight to the mix. 2″ tape sounded great, but it came with a cost. A lot of time was needed to synchronize a 3/4″ video deck to the 2″ multi-track. It could take up to 14 seconds to get these two machines up to speed. When digital linear tape came along, it was groundbreaking for us in the post sound world. These decks allowed for higher track counts and a faster lock-up time. If we needed more tracks, we would just pop in another tape.
The first digital tape deck that I worked on was the Alesis ADAT. At first it seemed like a godsend, but then reality set in. The ADAT tape itself was nothing more than a glorified VHS tape. The machine transports could not handle the rigors of post sound with the endless STOP, PLAY, RECORD, STOP, REWIND. Before long, the machine room techs would be freaking out when half their decks were stopped, two were slamming their way to the top of the reel as the dialogue tape was being torn to shreds in the machine! Tascam soon released the DA-88 linear digital tape-based machine with a much better transport and a smaller, tighter tape that could handle the beating we were giving them. Then came the AKAI digital dubber. It was a hard-disk system, still linear but no more tape. DAWs, like Soundtools and Waveframe, were out but still very cumbersome to record to. The biggest breakthrough for me was when one of the studios that I worked for, EFX, brought in a Fairlight system. It was amazing. We could really focus on the sound and not so much on the sync. It was awesome! Today we cue, record, and edit our Foley directly into Avid Pro Tools. One of the more interesting things that we’re able to do today is to record our Foley on location. This allows us to capture the natural environment of the space, like the sounds of old, heavy wood floors or a sledgehammer bashing apart a mountain without the confines of a traditional stage.
Tell us about one of the most challenging sound effects you’ve had to generate. And what kind of effects are the most fun to make?
Every film is different and the challenges that come up through the course of a session change all the time. It’s what make being a Foley artist so interesting.
I love working on comedy films. Comedy is all about timing. Creating a great sound in the right space has a profound effect on the punchline. Shows like Master of None are really fun to work on. True Memoirs of an International Assassin gave us the opportunity to combine the speed of action adventure film with comedy. Body falls and knife stabs never sounded so fun. Realism is always a challenge. On The Light Between Oceans, we utilized location Foley as well as our conventional Foley stage to recreate the tension of the film and the environment surrounding the story. In one particular scene, a storm was raging outside while one of the lead characters was going through a really rough moment (not to be a spoiler). In one regard, the storm was a character all of its own. It had to sound more than just ominous; it needed the feeling of impending doom. The sounds made it appear that the building and the characters were being shaken from their very foundations.
Sometimes we “cheat” the sound, meaning we use unconventional props to make the sound effect were going for, like pasta for bone breaks. But other times the only way to get the sound right is to have the real thing. In Manchester By The Sea, a high school hockey team was at practice. We needed the sounds of the boys’ skates, hockey sticks slap shots, etc. We bought in a 200 lb. block of ice, slid it into the Foley stage and shot the scene using large knives as ice skates. As a side note, I tried real skates but they were just too hard to manipulate and didn’t sound as good. Go figure!
Some of the most challenging films to work on are, believe it or not, documentaries. Unlike action, comedy or horror films, where the sounds we create need to be pushed over the top, documentaries rely on realism. The sounds we create for a documentary need to sit seamlessly within the mix. On the documentary series Making a Murderer, the majority of the footage was shot on courtroom cameras. Outside of the dialogue, virtually no other sounds were captured. The story’s lead character, Steven Avery, is having his life torn apart. Great effort was made in capturing the details of the scene, the weight of the moment, a feeling of utter loss and despair, without jarring the viewer out of the moment. That is the challenge.