Say That Again! – Q&A with Alistair Bolt

Alistair is a Sound Engineer at SNK Studios, London. He completed his degree in Music and Sound Recording (Tonmeister) at the University of Surrey. He is considered to be an invaluable member of the team and clients love working with him. Alistair has produced the audio for hundreds of radio and TV ads, recorded ADR for top global TV shows and features and composed original music for campaigns including Mitsubishi, James Villas and many others. His most recent work featured in Netflix’ The English Game as well as Sky TV’s Strike Back series.

What led you to a career in Sound Engineering and what were some of your earliest influences?

I lived in a very music-loving household growing up so I couldn’t tell you the moment I decided on a career in Sound Engineering, but it probably all started when my parents used to play me Earth Wind and Fire and Pink Floyd. I also still remember like it was yesterday the nervous energy of being in a cinema before the film begins, there’ll never be a more magical experience for me so I guess you could say it was a natural fit.

Please describe a typical day or project at work and particular, what’s involved in ADR?

ADR is essentially the process of re-recording actor’s dialogue in a controlled studio environment. The reason for needing ADR can vary, it can be as a result of imperfect recording conditions (for example, filming a fantasy film with planes flying overhead – not ideal!), it can also be so that a director can alter an actor’s performance as they might want to give new direction once they’ve seen the finished film, or often, by the time the film has been edited things end up getting chopped and changed about so lines need to be altered or additional lines added to make things work.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that there is no typical day when recording ADR! Each project has different requirements and I start each day ready to adapt to the type of show/film we’re about to work on, how the director wants to run things and how the actor wants to work as at the end of the day we’re just trying to

Tell us more about the mixing studios at SNK Studios – speakers, configurations etc. 

Although I’ve worked with the great guys at Halo, I’m based at SNK Studios. I also sadly can’t comment on the Miller & Kreisel studio monitors as I’ve not had much experience with them!

At SNK we use Adams speakers across all the rooms, consistency is really important so understanding how they sound and being really familiar with their characteristics makes moving between any of our many studios here very easy, even when going from stereo into our Dolby Atmos suite. I find all Adams speakers to be nice and transparent whether you’ve got them turned down low or brought up to room vibrating levels which is invaluable when recording as you need an honest sound to evaluate the recordings when before they’re coloured by consumer-style speakers.

You’ve worked on such a variety of projects and genres – which have been your favourite and which have been the most challenging and why?

Don’t make me pick a favourite! The fun of the job is that I have such a love and appreciation for TV and cinema that it’s exciting to work on just about everything. Working on something like The English Game had its challenges as keeping a constant ear on the dialect and making everything fit the time period was something we were always conscious of.

Congratulations on your celebrated work on The English Game and Strike Back – two very different shows. What are the main differences in your approach on working between the two?

A big part of approaching different shows like these is knowing what’s needed from the performances and how we can get the actors ADR fitting as closely as we can to match the audio from the day. With something like Strikeback there’s a definite consideration to the physicality of the performance and what we can do to get the actors feeling comfortable putting enough projection, breath and effort in their ADR performance even though they’re in a recording studio, not on set where they can take inspiration from other actors, sets, props etc. The same principles apply for The English Game, it’s all about getting the performance in the ADR studio as close to what they were able to do on the day of filming.

Is your work influenced by how the audience enjoys the content? For example, a Dolby Atmos home set-up vs soundbar or iPad?

These days there’s always an understanding that things are going to be consumed in all manner of ways, but regardless of how the audience will experience the content as an ADR recordist I’m always striving to get everything at the clearest and best possible quality. This allows the dialogue editor and re-recording mixer all the tools they need to create the best final product they can and then whatever the audience ends up choosing to enjoy the content on they have the best, most immersive experience possible.

What are your tips for how the audience at home can best enjoy the audio post-productions?

I think that an immersive environment is key for experiencing the hard work that goes into post-production at all stages. If you have a setup that excites you then you’re on the right track to really getting lost in the material, be it picking the right speakers, upgrading from stereo to 5.1 up to atmos, or even making the room more comfortable so that you lose yourself in the content you’re looking forward to watching.

What new projects can we look out for featuring your work?

I love working on such different projects and it was a treat to work on Intelligence Series 2, sometimes there’s nothing better than a good comedy, so keep an eye out for that.

Finally – please share some of your favourite music tracks, TV shows and movie titles.

I’m always trying to broaden my horizons with music so right now a few tracks I’m enjoying are Frances Quinlan – Your Reply, Laura Marling – Songs For Our Daughter, Funkadelic – Maggot Brain and D’Angelo – Spanish Joint. For TV you can’t go wrong with Twin Peaks and for films I’m a bit of a Horror nut so you can’t do better than The Exorcist for me, unless we’re counting my favourite film of all time, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – if you’ve not seen it make sure you put it top of your list, it’s faultless in every way.

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