Sound magician

[b]This year may be a decisive one for Belarusian cinema [/b]In recent years, Belarusfilm has created several films, including Ryzhik through the Looking Glass, a children’s fairy-tale directed by Yelena Turova encompassing 3D graphics and animation, as well as the four-part Quiet Centre, based on Tamara Lisitskaya’s novel of the same title (a romantic story, where the events take place in the centre of Minsk). At the Crossroads, a feature film by Vitaly Dudin was made, in addition to an eight-part serial for television by Alexander Yefremov, The German (dedicated to the search for Yevfrosiniya Polotskaya’s Cross).
This year may be a decisive one for Belarusian cinema

In recent years, Belarusfilm has created several films, including Ryzhik through the Looking Glass, a children’s fairy-tale directed by Yelena Turova encompassing 3D graphics and animation, as well as the four-part Quiet Centre, based on Tamara Lisitskaya’s novel of the same title (a romantic story, where the events take place in the centre of Minsk). At the Crossroads, a feature film by Vitaly Dudin was made, in addition to an eight-part serial for television by Alexander Yefremov, The German (dedicated to the search for Yevfrosiniya Polotskaya’s Cross).
Shlyakhtich Zavalnia, based on works by Yan Barshchevsky, is being prepared for release, as is Ears Under Your Sickle, based on Vladimir Korotkevich’s novel. Work is underway on the film Kupala: The Fate of a Poet. Another interesting project that is planned is a film on a Belarus-born personality who has left a big mark on world culture, probably Marc Chagall. Back in December 2010, this cinema project was discussed with an American producer. “Probably, it’ll be a film which will be released worldwide,” promised Belarusfilm Studio.
Moreover, this year, a Belarusian delegation participated in the Berlin International Film Festival. Director of the Listapad Film Festival, Anzhela Krashevskaya, programme director Igor Sukmanov and co-ordinator of international projects, Marina Tezina, have signed contracts in Berlin with world distributors to show the films selected at the Berlin Film Festival in Belarus. Negotiations with representatives of the International Federation of Film Producers Associations concerned the accreditation of Minsk’s Listapad International Film Festival to that organisation.
Interestingly, Belarus-film employees have recently begun work on a remake of the detective film, The Black Castle of Olshany — one of the most popular films of Soviet times. The studio bought the rights to the picture from the descen-dants of writer Vladimir Korotkevich, the scriptwriter. Sergey Chuprov worked on this film early in his career at Belarusfilm. He is now considered to be the best sound supervisor in Belarus and Russia.
Due to his efforts, we hear the blowing of the wind, the whizz of bullets and the rustle of clothes on the screen. It is an art to make a film speak. His recent awards, bestowed for his professional successes, testify to his achievements: the Nika in 2009 and the Golden Eagle in 2010. At his home studio, we discussed with the master whether he believes in the future of Belarusian cinema and we asked him his views on contemporary cinematography. By the way, Mr. Chuprov is now preparing to release Five Brides by Russian producer Karen Oganesyan.

Is it a film about the Great Patriotic War, shot in this, the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the war?
It wasn’t specifically planned that way, but the war is still alive in human memory. ‘Five Brides’ is a typical ‘folk’ movie — lyrical and very touching. I hope youngsters will enjoy it, although it targets adult audiences more. The events take place immediately after the Victory over fascist Germany. Five friends, who are officers, do their military service in an aviation regiment not far from Berlin; they are left there for several years. However, one of them is keen to return to his homeland, where his girlfriend is waiting for him. Since he can’t leave the military regiment himself, he asks his friend to conduct his marriage on his behalf. The friend returns to their homeland, marries the girl using his friend’s documents and then finds brides for his friends and for himself.

I thought that the plot would develop so that this young man would fall in love with his friend’s beautiful girlfriend …
What about military honour and friendship?

Do you wish to convey that contemporary cinema, just like old films, can still impart noble values?
I’m confident of that. You’ll see the re-sult in September, when the film is released.

I’ve noticed that it is primarily young directors who focus on military topics nowadays. Why is that so?
Yes, almost every young director develops this topic, because characters best reveal themselves in extreme situations and what can be more extreme than war? The war is still alive in the memory of many people. I think that human relations were different in difficult times. Some committed atrocities while others were kinder to each other… We now see less of this kindness.

Do you think so? While I was coming upstairs to your flat I noticed that someone had decorated the staircase with flowers and pictures. Isn’t that kindness towards neighbours?
My daughter did that after she visited Germany and saw how they decorate their living space.

It seems to me that you’re experiencing nostalgia for the past. Is nostalgic cinema popular now?
Of course! I think the past was more interesting and multi-faceted compared to modern times, although we were always in great excitement to hear the decisions of the so-called artistic councils. They used to dictate a common tendency in cinematography. Now I understand that sometimes they did harm, but sometimes they helped artists. By eliminating broader discussion of filmmaking, contemporary cinematography focuses primarily on individual opinion, primarily the opinion of a film producer, which can be more hurtful to an artist than public opinion. You can argue with the public but it is very difficult to overcome a privately held opinion.

You worked on The Black Castle of Olshany with a classical writer of Belarusian literature, Vladimir Korotkevich, didn’t you? Did he listen to the advice of cinematographers?
Korotkevich seemed quite a responsible person to me and was willing to experiment. He understood that cinema is a completely different medium. He trusted the prominent Belarusian director Mikhail Ptashuk completely, although ‘The Black Castle of Olshany’ was rather lengthy. However, I hope that the new production will be released soon; Alexander Yefremov is working on that. A good version of Korotkevich’s work was produced before, but it was too ‘heavy’ a treatment for contemporary cinema. Today, the language of cinema has become clearer and more rhythmic, less narrative and more cinematographic. What used to take 2-3 minutes to portray on screen (a single scene of one of Tarkovsky’s pictures could even last up to 10 minutes), now lasts for just 30 seconds, yet the time perception remains unchanged.
Everyone believes that their own subjective viewpoint is the most sincere…
I immediately recollect how difficult it was for Mikhail Ptashuk to work with Vladimir Bogomolov when they were shooting the famous film, ‘In August of 1944’. Mr. Bogomolov was uncompromising towards violations of his creative vision. One of the disagreements was that soldiers couldn’t march into battle in helmets, but we had already shot the episode, involving many thousands of people and special technique. These shots do work in the film.

But you weren’t mentioned in this film’s credits …
Yes, but I was involved in the whole shooting process and was awarded plenty of prizes for it. When I received the ‘Nika’ for ‘Stilyagi’, sound supervisor Igor Mayorov (who continued what I began) came up to me and said that if it hadn’t been for me they would have failed to achieve the necessary depth and intensity of sound. I replied that without him we wouldn’t have had this film…

How did you manage to become the best sound supervisor in Belarus and to gain recognition in Russia?
This is an interesting story. German producers were shooting ‘So Weit die FьЯe Tragen’ (‘As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me’) in Minsk. I spent a year working on this film and at that time I became acquainted with Pavel Lebeshev — a prominent cinematographer and cameraman on many pictures by the Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov. Meanwhile, Mr. Lebeshev introduced me to Valery Todorovsky — a great master, who got me involved in the Russian film industry.

Do you earn decent money?
I can’t disclose the figures, but I should say that in our cinema community there’s an unspoken ranking and I have no right to work for less money than is due to the winner of the ‘Nika’ and the ‘Golden Eagle’. I am in the highest category of cinema sound supervisors; there is no higher level in my profession.

It’s very strange that there are so many specialists in Belarus, and yet it is mostly Russian and now even Ukrainian films that prevail on our screens. Why is that?
I’ve noted that the Ukrainians are currently ‘attacking’ the Russian market. A new generation of cinematographers has appeared in Kiev, who want a start in life. They make good films for less money, mainly sequels. However, I haven’t seen a true Ukrainian feature film yet. Meanwhile, last year, I was captivated by ‘My Happiness’ at Minsk’s ‘Listapad’ Film Festival, shot by ‘Ukrainian’ director Sergey Loznitsa, who was born in Belarus. This was an international project, which was awarded the Grand Prix at the event.

The host of the popular programme Vidimo-Nevidimo (Immense Quantity) on STV TV Channel, Sergey Filimonov, told me about the initiative to translate foreign films into Belarusian. He believes that the cost of voice recording makes it too expensive. Why?
I heard that there were plans to make sound tracks for Disney’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in Belarusian; however, they didn’t realise that the real cost of dubbing would be several times higher than they expected. Dubbing, like any other element of film production, is very expensive and encompasses a month of hard work for the whole creative team. Then the film has to be bought and the voice of each actor has to be agreed on. All this has to be done via the Moscow Representation Office of Buena Vista Company or directly via Europe. In translation into Russian only certain specific actors are generally approved. In Soviet time, e.g., Louis de Funиs was always dubbed by Vladimir Kenigson. When there were attempts to replace Mr. Kenigson with Mikhail Gluzky, the effect was different. Jean Marais was always dubbed by Vladimir Druzhnikov and Alain Delon by Vsevolod Larionov. At present, Vsevolod Kuznetsov is the voice of Tom Cruise in Russian versions and we hear Alexander Bargman speaking for Johnny Depp. All these details have to be agreed with copyright holders; it isn’t enough just to make a translation. Anyway, the Ukrainians find the money to dub films into their language. A special dubbing group has been set up in Lithuania, which resolves any dis-agreements with copyright holders. Even in Lithuania most films are subtitled and only 10-12 are dubbed annually. Subtitling also prevails in Ukraine where I once saw the first counterfeit copy of my ‘Stilyagi’ with Ukrainian subtitles.

Is it becoming easier to dub films as the technique develops?
Last century, several landmark events occurred in dubbing techniques. There was an early period when the voice was recorded directly on the film set. Then came the era of voice recording in a special studio. Everything changed in the early 1970s, when George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese revolutionised the process. They wanted to have pure voice recording inside and in the street, without the necessity of later polishing in the studio. This was to preserve the immediacy of the sound experience.
Once I worked on the film, ‘The Lover’, which has a scene in which the character of Oleg Yankovsky comes to his nephew and talks about his wife. His speech relies on breathing, half-words and sharp changes in dynamic. When I was working with Mr. Yankovsky I understood that he was the most powerful actor of the time. He asked a team to give him two hours to prepare for shooting this part and we did everything in just two takes. When Mr. Yankovsky appeared in front of the camera he had real clotted foam around his lips. He was in a state impossible to recreate later or imitate in a voice-recording studio. Due to our American friends, who began in the 1970s to use pure sound from the film set, we succeeded, although this technique began to be widely used in our country only in the mid-1990s.

Why then have you been awarded various prizes and why are you so highly regarded in the world of cinematography? If a tape recorder writes sounds, what is your role?
Sound supervisors are sound magicians. We can do everything! Moreover, the profession of sound designer has appeared; they can use a computer to ‘find’ components for sounds, which don’t even exist in nature. We’re sitting in the room and speaking and cars are driving in the street while our neighbours are heard through the wall. In a would-be film our conversation will be shown in several shots, so our discussion will be ‘mounted’, with unnecessary phrases removed. Accordingly, the neighbours’ dialogue will also be ‘cut’ into fragments, which will be heard against the background of our dialogue. It will be extremely difficult to ‘organise’ this off-screen speech, so the neighbours will be asked to keep quiet and then to record separately in line with the scene’s requirements. We may leave in noise from the street; it’ll be a soft background noise. However, after our conversation, we should also record it. During the sound editing I would compile all these sounds and restore our dialogue in high quality, so that the audience is unaware of the ‘seams’.

Is it now easier for you to work since there’s no longer any need to go to the studio and all your work can be done at home?
Creative people are very committed. If we take work home we can’t rest until it is complete. At home, the working day lasts from the moment one awakes until bedtime. Nothing can distract me from my computer. I won’t rest until everything is finished.

By Viktar Korbut
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