The Heart Of The Audio Team

Chatting to the team behind the audio of Netflix’s Heart Of The Hunter.

This new suspense thriller is the first African film to make it to No.1 on Netflix worldwide. Not just once, but twice in a row, and it kept a spot in the Top 10 for a third week running. Directed by the incomparable SAFTA-winning Director Mandlakayise (Mandla) Dube. Heart of the Hunter is an on-screen adaptation of the book of the same name written by South African author Deon Meyer.

The team of Audio Pioneers at Pressure Cooker Studios handled all of the Audio Production for this fast-paced feature film.

Audio is essential in thriller films for building suspense, creating atmosphere, enhancing visuals, heightening emotional impact, and delivering effective scares. It helps immerse viewers in the world of the film, keeping them engaged and on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

We subjected our Sound Engineers Alec Mackay, Kyle Koekemoer and Denys Marcel to a list of questions in order to gain some insight into their process behind the Audio of this record shattering film.

Delve into the genius behind the soundscape of Heart Of The Hunter:

What was the brief on the job?

Denys: Our brief was to create a unique and authentically African immersive sonic experience that was highly influenced by each of the unique characters, and dynamically evolved with the storyline.  The audio needed to follow the tempo of each scene.

What was your creative approach?

Kyle: While watching the dailies we came up with the creative idea to give certain characters and elements a motif, the assagai being the main motif. We then built sonic landscapes around these. In the spotting session, Mandla mentioned motifs and was delighted that we had already started working on them. There is also a distinct difference in tone between the urban and rural scenes. In the city, sounds were loud and artificial whereas in the Karoo they were sparse and more natural.This heightened the sense of character’s feeling of claustrophobia vs expanse.

Alec: We wanted to bring the authenticity of the locations to the foreground, and immerse viewers in the thick of the action – connecting us with each character’s motivations and emotions. To achieve this, we insisted on having a 2nd production sound team to capture the locations, props, and vehicles. This gave us an authentic toolkit of sounds to enhance the story and the action.*

(*We strive to get involved as early as possible, as we consider Pressure Cooker to be a pre-production studio, rather than just post-production. Being involved early allows us to work with the entire team and problem-solve every facet of the project’s audio requirements. This approach allows us to spend budgets wisely, thus elevating the art, as opposed to fixing it ‘in post’. Read more about that here)

Denys: We approached this project with the story and its meaning in mind. Our big creative choices weren’t based on the obvious but rather the underlying story that is being told. From a sound design perspective this looked something like choosing between menacing or hopeful doors, subjectively evoking feelings of relief, defeatedness or claustrophobia, or the weather responding to characters and their situations.The sound in this film breathes and moves with the story – as Mandla envisioned it through his concept of having a heartbeat throughout the film.

What was your experience working with Mandla Dube?

Kyle: It is evident that Mandla is passionate about cinema. He emotes uniquely and loudly. If he loves a scene, you will hear it. He is a man with a plan giving us many documents and inspirations to work from. It is always valuable to be able to get into the creative mind of a director. Mandla made this process very easy.

Denys: Mandla’s incredibly creative and conceptual approach for visuals, story and sound provided us with loads of inspiration and room for creative experimentation. 

What was your most memorable moment in the studio?

Alec: My fondest memory of the project was Mandla’s reaction to the sound design in one of the scenes – he nearly climbed onto the desk screaming at the screen with excitement.

Emmy-Award winning Samir Foco (who’s worked on films like Harry Potter and Mission Impossible to name a few) was brought onto this film by Netflix as the Supervising Sound Editor. 

Pressure Cooker Studios Creative Executive Officer says: “One of our core values is that we nurture talent. We believe strongly in continuously learning, in order to grow and strengthen our industry. So we jumped at the chance to collaborate with Samir Foco when Netflix presented us with the offer. To be able to learn from one of the best Audio Engineers in the world was an incredible opportunity. And Samir is not only talented, he is kind and he really resonated with our team. It was very rewarding and confidence-building to have someone at the top of the industry working alongside our team of engineers in our studio.”

We asked each of the Audio Engineers to share their thoughts on working with Samir:

Kyle: Samir opened my mind to a different way of thinking as a mixing engineer. He always drove home about how every element of the audio should tell the story and how each scene needed to flow into the next. Scenes need to live on their own but the sequence needs to be immersive. Outside of the studio we would chat about the general approach, how the big studios do it and how we can implement processes into our workflow. Samir was a mentor that I was grateful to have worked with. He propelled my engineering skills and knowledge forward by a decade.

Alec: It was enlightening, as well as exhausting. Samir helped us to raise our own bar, with extensive reworking of scenes until they were absolutely perfect. His experience and input aided all of us greatly, and we have carried it into every project since.

Denys: It was probably one of my favorite points in my career so far. Being able to work on a project together and receive feedback in real time is invaluable. And on top of that, Samir is an incredibly friendly, funny, and honest person, who has the ability to keep perfect oversight of everything that’s happening sound-wise at any given moment in a film.

Our highly talented and motivated team definitely bonded even closer while working on this film. Close collaboration means we can continuously learn from each other. 

If you’re not one of the millions that has already watched Heart Of The Hunter. You can stream it on Netflix now.