Glasgow Film Festival: Glenn Freemantle on sound and Sea Without Shore
Glenn Freemantle

Film festivals are often an opportunity to take in productions which shy away from the traditional seat filler formula.

Proving its credentials on the high art side of filmmaking, the Glasgow Film Festival’s closing weekend includes the world premiere of Sea Without Shore, a film set among remote forest landscapes in 19th century Sweden. It includes words by 16th century lesbian poet Katherine Philips and fin de siècle writers Renée Vivien and Algernon Charles Swinburne to capture love and loss between two women.

Directors Andre Semenza and Fernanda Lippi are founders of Anglo-Brazilian physical theatre company, Zikzira – but perhaps the biggest name attached to the production is Oscar and multiple BAFTA-winning sound director Glenn Freemantle.

The man behind big budget flicks like Gravity and Paddington is in town for the film fest, presenting a sound masterclass (although he’s not keen on the second word) and a Q&A alongside the Sea Without Shore directors.

Gillian Loney caught up with the Academy Award winner on what to expect from his Saturday CCA slot, life on the sound circuit and how to create an atmosphere on the silver screen.

Hi Glenn. You started out at the tender age of 16 – why the film industry?

“I started as a trainee and gradually worked my way through. I wasn’t very good at school, but I had made little short films, because my dad was in the industry. It’s very young for today’s world but I stayed at it and got where I got. I’ve been very lucky to work on some fantastic films – Gravity, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours were all game changers – and lucky to work on films that are critically acclaimed as well as successful.”

And what does it take to master the world of movie sound?

“I came from a generation at a point when things were beginning to change. Before, there were a lot of guys who had been working for a long time, had done it their way and they were very good. But for me, it was about approaching it a different way. My mindset has always been about how I feel, not just what I hear. I have an instant reaction to films, and what I think they should be. For me, there always has to be a reason why we’re putting it in – the kind of film we’re trying to make. When we did Slumdog, Danny just said the word ‘energy’ to me – that was it, that was the conversation. It’s a creative process and sometimes it surprises you. You explore how much sound the film needs with the concept, the music, visuals and the colours.”

From Bridget Jones’s Diary to Oscar winner Gravity, you’ve worked on a lot of different genres. But how do you approach a project like Sea Without Shore?

“It’s a very different film for me. You’re not trying to show off in a film like that. You try to create an atmospheric background that sits alongside the visuals and movement in a beautiful way. There are some dark, mysterious moments in there, and your purpose isn’t just putting sound in. It’s different for every film – like doing a painting, every one is unique. One thing you learn as you go along is not to focus on what you can do but on the finished article, which is as good as the sum of its parts. We did Sea Without Shore over a period of time – it was a growing process. It’s a piece of art on the screen, and I had to be true to that.”

Glenn Freemantle sound Oscars
[Jason Merritt/Getty Images Entertainment]

So what can we expect from your sound masterclass on Saturday – inspiration for future Oscar winners?

“I’m not sure about the masterclass bit – whenever someone asks me, I say don’t ever call it a masterclass. I hate the word – I’m not a professor! Hopefully I’m going to sit down and have a talk through my career; how I got there, certain films. Being good at this job – it’s not about punching a keyboard. It’s about being able to understand a story, and approach it with an angle. That’s the sort of thing I want to talk about – real life, how hard the job is, how unglamorous a lot of the time.”

Have you been to Glasgow before?

“I came years ago for Kevin Macdonald’s The Eagle, with Channing Tatum. I flew in to record all these old guys speaking Scots Gaelic and made them into warriors. I had them running around the cold streets of Glasgow screaming these weird things at a microphone – and people were walking past thinking we were mad. In fact, they thought I was a nutter too.”

Sounds a bit like your average Glasgow night out! So will you be seeing anything else at the film festival while you’re here?

“I’ll try and catch some of the things going on, and see the sights. It’s amazing how films come out of festivals. There are people making films on very little money and doing a great job. We went to the Telluride Film Festival [in Colorado] with Slumdog, and with that one viewing the film took on another life. One of the most difficult things is to get a great film out there – and festivals are a route for people to embrace it.”

Glenn Freemantle’s Sound Masterclass is on at the CCA Cinema at 3pm on Saturday (28 Feb), followed by the world premiere of Sea Without Shore at the Glasgow Film Theatre at 6.15pm.

Main image: Glenn Freemantle [Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment]

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