Lift-Off caught up with Peter Rolls from Wimbledon Sound to discuss his job, how he got where he is today and his advice to upcoming post production sound technicians.
Wimbledon Sound studio provides sound editing, audio production and post production services for clients around the world for TV, radio, film, online, games and events. They create emotive, engaging sound design, foley and music for adverts, animated explainer videos, animation, broadcast TV and web. Based in leafy Wimbledon, SW19, we also offer music editing, 360 spatial audio, voice over recording and production, audio restoration, sound mixing and dubbing.
How did you get involved in Audio Post-Production?
I had a background as hobbyist DJ and music producer, whilst working a well paid but ultimately unsatisfying career in the city. Finally the words of Tyler Durden (“Guys, what would you wish you’d done before you died? “) became too loud to ignore, so I saved up a few months money, quit the day job and moved into a creative workspace in an attempt to turn my passion into my livelihood. Music sales were going through the floor at this point, and even library music was starting to become really good and really cheap. So I said yes to doing the sounds on some adverts for the Moshi Monsters (Mind Candy’s online virtual monster pets for kids), and soon I was working full time on these and other TV ads and online content.
What was the biggest hurdle you faced?
Working for yourself is not something that comes naturally to everyone. I already had a successful career in another industry, so making the break from the corporate world and setting out on a different course was a big risk, and I took a huge financial hit to do so. For me, giving myself permission to just try this, and fail if needs be, was probably the biggest challenge. I wasn’t raised a risk-taker, so it’s something I’ve had to learn.
What does your day-to-day consist of?
I check my emails in bed with a cuppa in the morning, just so I know what’s coming up in the day. I’ll respond if urgent, or at least I’m prepared. I get in around 9am most days. My clients generally work in agencies so will be in at regular working hours. I don’t have clients in for voiceovers or attended sessions generally before 10am, so I get some time to put the coffee machine on and respond to emails before the day starts. Then it completely depends on the work – voiceover sessions, sound design, track laying, mixing, dialogue editing… there’s plenty to be done. I take a walk out at least twice a day for the daylight and fresh air and hit the gym for a couple of hours every couple of days to keep the balance. It’s a sedentary profession, so that’s pretty essential. I’ll occasionally take calls or very rarely an email during client sessions, but only if absolutely necessary – they’re paying for my time and I try to give them exclusivity. I don’t have push notifications on my phone these days, that at least stops the email chatter from derailing the flow. I’ll try to get out the door by around 6:30-7pm and these days it’s rare that I’ll be here later than that.
What have been the most challenging and most enjoyable jobs you have worked on?
The most challenging project was undoubtably the Jaguar F-Type ads. All shot in high-frame-rate there were literally hundreds of sounds and textures to create, and the bar was set extremely high with the incredible visuals. This went onto TV, cinema and even Spotify so there was a lot of variations to create and often quite tight turnarounds as the tx-date (transmission date) was approaching. Mixing this up in central London for Dolby Atmos cinema playback was an extraordinary experience.
Last year I also worked on an animated project for a big Hollywood director. I created and performed all of the character voices as well as the general sound design and even a bit of music creation. There are a few moments in my career where I’ve thought “someone is paying me to do this?”, and that was definitely one of them!
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What would you say is your biggest accomplishment and biggest regret ?
My biggest accomplishment is probably the Jaguar F-Type UK TV adverts. They were broadcast without any voiceover or music, which as a sound designer is probably the greatest compliment to my work. I don’t really have any regrets… maybe I could have started working in this business years ago, but then I wouldn’t have met the amazing people that I have met along the way to here. I’ve made mistakes, but I try to learn from them, and like I said, giving yourself permission to fail and being OK with that means that there’s not much to regret – it all just becomes part of the process.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
Making a cool sound that I’ve not heard before is always very satisfying, as is finishing a mix and it sounding coherent and complete. I think I’m a bit of a neat-freak so making something nice where it began in chaos always makes me happy. But it’s as much about the people as it is the product. Many of my clients have become my friends, we enjoy working together but will often go for drinks or food and just hang out. We’re all in it for the same reasons, because we love what we do, and that makes coming to work a pleasure.
What is your favourite film and why?
That’s a tough one… I love so many films from Toy Story to Contact, Fight Club, Start Wars (Empire, obviously)…. But I recently visited the locations in New Zealand due to my love of the stunning scenery in the Lord of the Rings movies, so right now probably those films due to the sheer spectacle, quality of the production and the fact that as a result of watching those films I ended up riding a horse through Mount Aspiring National Park. Any film that can inspire a real life adventure is always a winner.
What makes a film stand out to you?
For me it’s a journey, disappearing into the world of the film for the run-time, but also hopefully something that lingers afterwards for days, weeks, months or even years. Experiencing something for the first time in a cinema, with so many films out there nowadays is a real treat. I’ve always been a fan of spectacle, from the first dinosaur reveal in Jurassic Park, the bullet-time in The Matrix to the stunning use of silence (and sound in general) in Gravity. Movies that have an original concept, a strong narrative, and are backed up by awesome sound and visuals become legendary films to me because every aspect is brilliant, not just one part. Finally of course, films that have inspired something in me personally – Fight Club basically kick started this phase of my life as a sound designer, and LOTR for one of my most epic adventures so far. I’m also a bit of a documentary junkie… I do like a good doco.
If someone wants to pursue a career in Audio Post Production, how would you recommend they go about it?
Just start. Cut your teeth on indie films with low or no budget if you have to. You’ll learn every aspect of post from small indie projects because they won’t have foley or sounds design and are often poorly recorded in less than ideal environments. See these as free training. You might not be earning much from them, but you’re learning much from them. You can develop sound design, track-laying, dialogue editing, ADR, mixing and all the “soft skills” like client management on these small projects. Network, join groups of filmmakers or creatives and just hustle. The more people you know, the more likely work will come. Despite a decent online presence, the majority of my work still comes from word of mouth. Nothing like a solid recommendation from a satisfied customer.
What are the biggest mistakes you notice beginners make?
Emotional attachment: As a creative mind, you’ll likely get quite emotionally attached to the things you create. The client is always right, even if they’re wrong and their decisions may well ruin the whole thing in your eyes. But if they’re paying you to work, then you can advise but ultimately letting your ego and pride to one side will make things run way smoother. There’s always “your version” for the showreel.
Thinking “that’ll do”: If you’re not sold on it, neither will the audience be. The right sound is the right sound, even if it’s the wrong sound. Don’t settle for something until you’re happy with it, or until you’ve hit the deadline. Own it as if it is your project, and aim to be proud of everything you work on.
Not backing up: Keep every version of every project you send – clients often go through a bunch of changes and then want to go with “version 1” you sent them yesterday. Back up your work, and I mean 3 places at least one off site. Technology fails at the wrong time every time and you don’t want to be the reason clients miss their deadlines. I back up hourly, daily offsite, weekly system and periodically to a server which is itself backed up offsite.
Any other advice you would like to voice to help the next generation of filmmakers?
There’s a LOT of films out there now, and access to the technology to create good looking great sounding work has never been more easily available. So you’re going to need to stand out. Find your passion, pursue it. Try to tell a story in a unique way in everything you create, whether through script, performance, visuals or audio. Develop your own style, and try to work with people that are better than you. Finally, make sure you budget for good sound on your film, because while it’s easy to get a good looking image these days, a great sounding film, especially in the indie sector, is still a very rare breed.
To find out more about Wimbledon Sound please visit their website https://www.wimbledonsound.com/
Interviewed by April-Rae Hughes