Living The Lisbon Story – Q&A with Juraj Mravec

Juraj Mravec is a freelance Supervising Sound Editor and Sound Designer and spent almost a decade working at Boom Ltd, London. He specialises in TV and feature film sound post-production. Previously he was based in Prague working at Soundsquare Studio. He completed his sound design studies in 2005 at the Film and TV Academy in Prague.

Throughout his career, Juraj has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy, won a Bafta TV Craft award, nominated for an MPSE Golden Reel Award and won a Czech Lion Award. His work has featured in Game of Thrones, The Crown, Peaky Blinders, The Imitation Game, London Has Fallen and Strike Back.

How did you get into a career in Sound Editing & Design? Can you describe your earliest influences?

I got involved in sound through an interest in music and later in my teens and early 20’s in cinema. I played the piano as a kid and later the saxophone, and at one point of my life found myself going to the cinema a lot. Then I saw Wim Wenders’ Lisbon Story, a film about a foley artist travelling to Lisbon and that’s how I discovered that a profession in doing sound for film, even existed. I applied to the Film Academy in Prague to the Department of Sound and though I didn’t get in the first time, I’ve been hooked ever since.

What does a typical day at work involve?

Ideally, I like to spend most of my day creating, editing and recording sounds in and outside of my studio. The basis of my job is creating sound effects and sound atmospheres for a film or a TV show, and it’s a process that takes a tremendous amount of time. I look at a scene, decide what sounds I want to cover, separate and imagine the sounds in my head and then go bit by bit. I search my sound effects library through Soundminer, audition many, many tracks and bring them into Protools, cut them to picture and see if they work. I keep adding and removing sounds until I get the feeling that I’m after. Sometimes I haven’t got the right sounds available which means I’ll record it – that can be a simple thing that can happen immediately around the house, at other times it might require going out or even organising a more complex recording session.

Sometimes there are meetings and screenings during my day, and often the picture gets recut during this time, so I have to recut my tracks accordingly. Also, in case I am working within a team, we exchange and bounce ideas off one another and send each other work back and forth until it’s complete. Once we move into mixing, I send my stuff for premixing and then either attend the final mix or provide updates. So, I suppose my days vary depending on which stage of the process we are in.

Can you share some of your secrets as to what contributes to award-winning work?

I am not sure there are any secrets. To me, the most important thing is the people I work with – you cannot do this alone, it’s too extensive and it will fry you. It’s always been important to me that I am part of the best teams and I’ve always tried to be around people who I consider better at sound than myself because that is the fastest way to learn. It’s also good to be involved in the most demanding projects with strong directors and producers because it will push your boundaries. Other than that, it’s a daily process and you have to work every day to get better.

Can you share some technical aspects about your mixing studio? (Eg. Which speakers, how many, Dolby Atmos configuration?)

I started my career using a 2.1 Miller & Kreisel set-up, and I still love these speakers and use them for music listening. Nowadays I track-lay using a 5.1 setup with Dynaudio speakers which I find super-precise – besides the fact that I really enjoy their sound, they are very helpful in revealing depth of field and perspective of the sounds which is crucial to me – I want to already get the distances and perspectives right in the sound editorial by using sounds or elements recorded with the right acoustics at the right distance so that the mixers don’t have to push the EQs and reverbs too hard but rather just give it a final touch and blend it with the rest. I am of course using Protools on Mac as my main system and I would say SoundMiner is the second most important piece of software that I am using. I really like the immersive Dolby Atmos format as you get much more precision and can squeeze in lot more sounds, all quite naturally and without losing clarity, but mixing into Atmos is done by the re-recording mixers in the mixing theatre. From experience the translation from my 5.1 setup to the big cinema speakers in the mixing theatre works very well.

What exciting projects are you currently working or later this year?

I am involved in two feature film projects, one with an extensive development stage as it is a music-related film and we have to come up with a method to record the location sound, hopefully using as little playbacks as possible, in such a way that we can cut across takes when editing the picture later. Outside of the strict TV and film world, I am actually working on a beautiful hand-animated video game called Papetura. I’m also preparing a huge interactive light-sound installation for a design company, Preciosa Lighting, where I am composing music and creating sound design but also working out the technical solution – it is to be shown at the Design Week in Milan during September this year.

Please share some of your favourite music tracks, top TV dramas and movie titles of all time.

This is a difficult one, there are so many great films and sound designers out there. I’ve always been a big fan of David Lynch’s films and Mulholland Drive is one of my favourite films both for sound and music. I also admire the sound design work of Ren Klyce, his sounds are so clear and precise and at the same time exciting – the Curious Case of Benjamin Button somehow stuck in my head. I’ve also really enjoyed the soundtracks of both the Sherlock Holmes films.