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INTERVIEW | Supervising Sound Editor Greg Hedgepath Talks About The Job, And Creating The Sound For Chevalier

By Anya Wassenberg on May 8, 2023

Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays Joseph de Bologne Saint-Georges, Chevalier de Saint-Georges in the movie Chevalier (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays Joseph de Bologne Saint-Georges, Chevalier de Saint-Georges in the movie Chevalier (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

Chevalier, the movie that brings the life of Joseph de Bologne Saint-Georges, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, to the silver screen, opened in North America last month. Naturally, music is a big part of the story, but along with it, the atmosphere of 18th century Paris, where Bologne made his home.

Supervising Sound Editor Greg Hedgepath has had a decades’ long career in the film and TV business. Along with the glorious music-rich sounds of Chevalier, he created the icky bug alien sounds for Starship Troopers (1997) and the tornadoes in Twister (1996). He’s also won two Golden Reel awards for his work.

He talked to LvT about the job, and the challenges of Chevalier.

Sound Editing For Film

“My job is supervising the sound editors,” explains Greg Hedgepath

So, what does a sound editor do, and sound editing supervisor, supervise? As he explains the process, the first step involves consultation with the director on a scene-by-scene basis. He takes notes about the specific effects and impact the director intends, and how the sounds – including the score of course – work into it.

“The sound editor will choose all the appropriate sounds for that scene,” he says. “We do have different editors for different tasks.”

The movie Chevalier (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays Joseph de Bologne Saint-Georges, Chevalier de Saint-Georges in the movie Chevalier (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

The various elements of a film’s sound are divided by function, including live dialogue, ADR (or dialogue that is overdubbed), sound effects, the background sounds, the noises made by props, and so on.

“My job as the supervisor is to keep all of those jobs in my head, and understand everybody’s task and what they’re doing — and how it all comes together.” Each track is then compiled to create the sound for each scene on a console. By this stage, there may be literally thousands of tracks.

“The mixing stage is a funnelling process,” he explains. The final version is mixed down to a few that become the basic bed tracks. The music is typically added last. “It depends on the movie.”

Chevalier

“I’d never heard of him,” he says, noting that while he was unfamiliar with Bologne’s work as a composer, he didn’t have to go far in his circle of contacts to find those who could fill him in on his music.

Chevalier, by its nature, is a film that revolves around the music. In contrast to many of his projects, Hedgepath says that the music for Chevalier was determined in advance, with a lot of screen time spent watching Chevalier, portrayed by Kelvin Harrison Jr. “playing” the violin.

That part of the movie had to seem the most realistic. “There were a lot of subtle things we did,” Hedgepath says.

The actor’s familiarity with music helped the process. “Kelvin was a child violinist, and he practised,” Hedgepath says. The sound editing process added to the effect, creating the illusion of synching perfectly with Bologne’s music. “At all times, we had to feel like he was playing. We spent a lot of time on that.” More than just the notes, it was about capturing the energy of the live performances depicted on film.

“Our mixer didn’t add a lot of reverberation,” he says. The violin was given a slightly drier, and more realistic live sound.

The original music in the movie’s score, naturally, fits in with the period music, however, the studio wanted to differentiate it from Bologne’s works. In the original mix, it sounded much the same. Hedgepath tweaked it by making the score sound somewhat more modern in approach. “If you actually listen to the score, it’s a little more modern than that period,” he says. That includes elements like violin stabs. “It’s quite subtle,” he says, “but
your subconscious feels that this is quite different than what he’s playing.”

The Sounds of Revolutionary Paris

Of course, in addition to Bologne’s music, Paris of his time was also filled with the sounds of an impending revolution. His team spent a lot of time on the background noises, as well as creating the immersive music for concert scenes. The job often comes down to minutiae, like fine-tuning the sounds of applause, gravel underfoot, creaky floors, laughter, and much more. His time is spent listening carefully to each scene, and deciding what it needs.

“When we spotted the film with the director,” he says, “originally we talked about hearing the sounds of the French Revolution from the beginning.” As they proceeded, however, they realized it would serve the movie’s purposes better to build the level of street sounds to match the rising tensions of the story.

As he points out, in France of that time, houses had no screens on their windows. “You were always hearing some street sounds,” he says.

The movie opens with scenes of a younger Joseph being dropped off at the Conservatoire, a relatively quiet and scholarly atmosphere. Gradually, outside sounds become introduced into the film. “The city comes more and more alive,” Hedgepath says. Various sounds, from livestock wandering the streets to passersby, insert themselves into the background of the story.

In one scene, Joseph is taken to visit other Africans living in Paris. As biracial, and despite his Senegalese mother, he was brought up largely with his French father’s influence; the music and culture of West Africa is not really his. Hedgepath uses the everyday sounds of people cooking, playing musical instruments, talking, to gradually envelope Joseph in this different world.

When Joseph sits down to play the drums, Hedgepath says the first edit has him acing the rhythms and Caribbean idioms of the song. However, on reflection, he realized that with his upbringing, these musical elements would be foreign to Joseph at first. He re-edited the sequence so that the actor’s hands are not quite in synch with the music at first, as if he was going through that learning curve. It’s one of the subtleties that make a scene work.

“When we hear the music, and see the rhythm and the people moving around, [that’s when Joseph has a breakthrough],” Hedgepath says. In the film, Joseph appears to lock into the rhythm when he sees his mother.

It’s always about maintaining the illusion of the film. “We bend reality,” he says.

Hedgepath has been busy since Chevalier, recently wrapping up work on the remake of White Men Can’t Jump, and just starting work on an Eddie Murphy holiday flick titled Candy Cane Lane.

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