What do cellos, soap operas, and escaped convicts have in common? If you’re Sound Design for Visual Media grad Alexis Eskandari, these things help pave the way to a career as a freelance Foley artist, sound editor, and mixer. While his resume boasts feature film and TV credits, including Little Mosque on the Prairie and Call Me Fitz, Alexis’ career path began far from the sound design studio.
Alexis learned to play the cello at a young age, and has been playing for nearly 20 years. Developing a passion for music gave him an appreciation for sound in general.
“When I started studying film in France in 2002, I didn’t know all the crafts and skills involved in making a film soundtrack. At that time I didn’t even know about Foley,” says Alexis. “During my three years in film school, I tried various things like, location sound recording, music recording, and music mixing. It wasn’t until I worked by myself on a short film that I realized how detailed sound could be in a film. That was a big challenge at the time, but it opened my mind to sound design.”
Following his film education, Alexis spent some time working in Paris. His first job was working in a post-production studio dubbing foreign films in French.
“I started working in a post-production studio that specialized in dubbing foreign films in French. At first, I was just duplicating tapes, listening to M&E, and doing quality controls. But they needed someone to cover the Foley for the French version of soap operas like The Young and the Restless or Days of Our Lives. This was a wonderful learning experience because I got to improve my synchronization skills, doing as many sounds I could at the same time and covering up to two 45-minute episodes in a day! I also got to work with some very talented mixers and Foley recordists.”
Despite already having a solid base of career experience, Alexis decided it was time to enhance his experience with technical training, which he felt would improve his long-term career opportunities. He decided the best way to do that was by enrolling in the VFS Sound Design program.
“I came to VFS to gain expertise in some areas of audio post-production. I was also curious to see the differences between France and Canada in that domain. I learned all the technical words related to sound for film, video games, and music. I think the Sound Design program at VFS prepares you exactly for what you’re going to do in audio post-production, and more than giving you skills, it also gives you the understanding of the whole process.”
After graduating from VFS in 2009, Alexis spent some time job-hunting, while also working on two short films. Eventually his job search took him to Toronto, where he contacted Sound Supervisor Omie Craden. As luck would have it, Mr. Craden was about to begin working on a horror feature film.
“I got to work for nearly 40 days on that project, doing Foley and sound effects editing. We actually built a temporary foley studio in a basement just for that film!”
Following that project, and a lot of knocking on doors, Alexis was approached by Pino Halili, owner of Post City Sound, who needed help building a Foley studio. From that point, he’s worked on several projects as part of the Post City sound team, including the short film Canoejacked, which is screening tonight at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Canoejacked is a comedy that tells the story of two escaped convicts on the run from police. The duo find themselves traversing through the woods, when they stumble upon a “canudist” (uh, use your imagination), and decide to steal his canoe to fuel their getaway. Their plan runs into a snag when they realize they are literally up the creek with no paddle. Al Sapienza, of The Sopranos fame, stars as Vin, one of the escaped convicts.
The short film was brought to Post City Sound by Steven Ejbick who did the location sound and recorded Foley for the film. It had a very small budget, relying on funding from bravoFACT. This meant that the team couldn’t afford to make many mistakes.
“It was great working with Steven. Teamwork is crucial in Foley. It comes to a point where I don’t need to tell Steve what I intend to do. What’s good is we started working together on short films and we got more and more efficient with that type of project. This is why Canoejacked took us only half a day to do.”
While the comradery was apparent, the film also had its share of challenges.
“Getting the big metal sheet I have at the studio to sound like a canoe was not easy. I had to muffle the resonance with shirts and pants and whatever I could find. But that’s Foley. You ‘think sound’. Another challenge was the chase sequence at the beginning. The problem was that effects and music were competing a lot in terms of level and clarity. Jonathan Williams (the director) and I worked a lot on that sequence to achieve the desired effect.
“It was a great project to work on, especially mixing. It has a great plot, nature backgrounds, action sequences, shotguns, symphonic music – that’s fun!”
Now, Alexis finds himself moving onto new projects, having just finished recording Foley for the feature film The Great Chameleon. He will also be doing the Foley on an IMAX film, and there is also another feature coming in Post City Sound before the end of the year.
“In January, I should start on season four of Call Me Fitz. As for mixing, I still have to finish 13 episodes of a renovation reality show Leave it to Bryan.“
That sounds like a busy schedule. Good luck with your future endeavours, Alexis!