The name of the South African film 34 South refers to the latitude of the country’s Western Cape. It is a road story of a group of African youths who set off in search of excitement and opportunity, but instead experience a journey of self-discovery when they get lost and end up in Elim, a former runaway slave station peopled by the direct descendants of slaves.Premiering in the US at Los Angeles’ 13th Annual Pan African Film Festival, 34 South is believed to be the first film produced in the 100-year history of South African cinema to be directed on local soil by a black South African woman, Maganthrie Pillay. It was also a project with the underlying mission of empowering the marginalized communities who, up to the end of apartheid 10 years ago, had no opportunities and still faced difficulties getting on film shoots.For American sound supervisor Albert Lord of PoolSide Post, involvement with the project started five years ago when the South African filmmakers contacted the US Department of Commerce with a request for business development funds to pay for skills-transference workshops in film and television production. Lord came in to consult and pulled together a team of production professionals that could provide on-the-job training. Unfortunately, the US had money for agriculture, waste transfer and information technologies, but no subsidies for entertainment-related business, so the filmmakers were directed to raise funding locally. “They couldn’t put the numbers together, but we stayed in communication,” Lord recalls.Flash forward to June 2004. Lord gets a call. Despite production problems due to inexperience and still strained racial dynamics—the white crew that had grown up historically not to take instructions from blacks walked out when the director asked a grip to move a sand bag—the production and editing was completed with a crew more than 40-percent black, consisting of 15 trainees across all departments made up of South Africans, Cameroonians, Angolans and Ethiopians. It included four black department heads.Post audio was needed to finish the film, but the budget was severely limited. For the cost of his plane ticket plus room and board, Lord agreed to supervise a neophyte South African crew.As one of Hollywood’s most senior African-American sound professionals, Lord is uniquely qualified to share his skills. An executive member of the Motion Picture Sound Editors and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he has a background in sound engineering, editing and mixing. He has won Emmys for Twin Peaks and Golden Reel awards for his work on The Preacher’s Wife and Eve’s Bayou. Nevertheless, creating feature-film-quality sound in a place with few of the resources that Hollywood takes for granted was a challenge.Certain problems surfaced immediately. The quality of the equipment made it impossible to hear the noise floor and blend the ambience. The most experienced editor in the area was accustomed to a different way of working and couldn’t adapt. And there was no studio in the area set up to do a feature film audio mix, much less the full 5.1 surround sound Hollywood-quality mix that Lord intended.So Lord chose to train a sound crew. Martin Ntshuntshe and recording mixer, Andrew Rawbone-Viljoen were selected to cut dialog. It was a bigger task than anticipated. There was a lack of software to auto-assemble the dailies. Plus the inexperienced production sound mixer failed to sync the DATs with the DigiBeta, so the timecodes did not match.Lord gave the young editors a hard choice: either load the dailies by hand and eyeball sync each take—an arduous and time-consuming task—or live with the distorted tracks from the picture editor’s Avid cut. He explains, “They realized this might be their only chance to shine. They wanted it to be perfect.” The young editors decided to search the DATs and cut the dialog in two shifts to get the job done to the highest standards and make the most of the limited equipment.For the film to work, Foley was also needed. Lord offered the job to Martin’s 18-year-old brother Jongisizwe Ntshuntshe. Using material from a local garden shop they built a Foley pit and hired sound engineering students, Reza Williams and Thulani Nxumalo, and local dancers Tyler Washington, Anita Voyiya and Tanya van Graan to work as Foley artists.Rawbone-Viljoen offered his recording studio, Digital Forest located outside of Capetown. The acoustically tuned studio was set up for mixing music jingles and documentary audio sweetening. It had a 24-track Pro-Tools set up, a mixing console to control the Pro-Tools, a Final Cut Pro system and spectacular picture-windows with a view of a vineyard outside, but it was not equipped for feature film mixing.In this equipment-challenged location, not known for its film postproduction services, there were one or two houses, primarily focusing on commercials, and only one place on the continent that did re-recording mixing. Lord needed to properly equip the space they had. He told the producers, “If we’re going to do this, I want to go all the way. I want to make a 5.1 mix. Let’s get some speakers.”With the help of the local JBL distributor Raymond Rix, he acquired a 4368 monitor system. He also had a big, rear-projection screen installed. When it was impossible to find speaker stands, local workers cut tree stumps to Lord’s specifications to support the speakers at the right height. Not only did this forest of stumps work for this purpose, they added to the audio quality of the room. Lord explains. “The room had a moist woody feel to it; the trees actually absorb some of the reflections of the sound. The room felt great, and of course the place was called Digital Forest.”The original six-week schedule expanded to nine weeks. American sound editor Mark Lanza helped out and sent backgrounds and some hard effects, but in the end, Lord accomplished his task of achieving Hollywood-style audio post with his newly empowered South African crew.Their work on 34 South presented the young sound professionals with new possibilities that Lord hopes will continue to come to them. “My only regret is that I cannot do more to see that the team be given the opportunity to be the most outstanding postproduction sound staff on the continent.”Because the PAFF screening makes 34 South eligible for an MPSE award nomination, Lord hopes the audio crew will be recognized for their efforts and afforded the opportunity to attend the MPSE Golden Reel Awards ceremony in 2006.In a fitting end to this story, U.S. Department of Commerce Los Angeles trade representative Bobby Hines presented an Export Achievement Certificate to Albert Edmund Lord III of PoolSide Post for Accomplishments in the Global Marketplace for his work on 34 South.
Written by Mary Ann Skweres