Whether declaring his love, explaining his theory, whispering words of sadness, running to the point of breathlessness, mumbling an excuse or banging his fist on the table, it is vital that an actor be heard over any cars or planes that happen to be passing by as he’s filming his scene. This basic equation rather simplistically summarises the challenges that a sound engineer working on a film set has to overcome. “You have to be able to record dialogue and sounds that relate to the action whilst eliminating any noise pollution,” explains Philippe Kohn.
Having worked in the cinema industry since 1999, Kohn, who initially planned to embark upon a career in music production, gradually learnt his trade and honed his skills after studying at the Belgian Institute of Media Arts. “What you learn in the classroom gives you the all-important basic technical grounding but you regularly have to break the rules you have learnt in order to find solutions.”
Philippe Kohn got his first experience of a film set on Shadow of the Vampire, a major production starring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe, of which he says “it really opened my eyes, I was completely fascinated”. He would go on to work as a boom operator on a number of films – a key role that required him to anticipate the movements of both actors and cameras, understand the framing and know who was speaking when, among other things. Only in 2006 did he finally start to feel “comfortable with the boom”, whilst filming Flawless – another major production starring Demi Moore and Michael Caine.
Philippe Kohn began working as a sound engineer in 2000, alongside Andy Bausch on the set of Le Club des chômeurs, and would never look back, going on to work on Bausch’s latest Rusty Boys movie. He also recorded Boule et Bill (which was “interesting because it was such a big production”), L’enquête (“which contained a lot of dialogue”) and JCVD (“it’s not every day you come face-to-face with Jean-Claude Van Damme”). He is currently working on the set of Angelo, co-produced by Amour Fou and filmed largely in a studio. “The working conditions are very good because the director wants as much live sound as possible and the set is specially adapted.”
Kohn points out that “the world is becoming increasingly noisy, with an increasing number of parasitic sounds that we don’t even notice in day-to-day life (the sound of the fridge running, street noise, different types of flooring, etc.), but the tools available to us for removing them are also becoming more advanced.”