Interview with James Alire, about The Men Who Robbed the Bank

Interview conducted by Holly Foreman

James Alire of 5J Media is a longtime partner with Running Wild Films.  He handles most all of the sound needs for the company as well as being a well-known sound engineer in the indie film community.  James took care of all the sound needs – Production and Post – for The Men Who Robbed the Bank.

What first interested you in this project?

I had nothing better to do.

But seriously, after reading the script, I thought it was an interesting take on a standard theme – no films I know of handle a bank robbery this way.   So I was interested in seeing what I could do sonically on a film that is so dialog heavy and story driven.

What were the unique challenges?

Minimizing the extra sounds in the room – like what you’ve heard about the crew wearing socks but no shoes to minimize their footsteps on the wooden floor. Also, it was such a small room that the slightest sounds were picked up by the microphones so we turned off the swamp cooler and other appliances.  I knew there would be no background music or sound effects added later, so there wouldn’t be much I could do in post to mask audio issues.

What gear did you use and why?

For the shotgun mic I used my Sennheiser MKH416.  For lav mics, I used my Sennheiser G3 wireless lav system, and of course, running into my Sound Devices Mixer and Recorder.  They’re all trusted pieces in my arsenal and go with me everywhere.

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The film’s stark setting requires that the sound be very basic with nothing over the top.  How did that affect what you normally do in post production?

I had to clean up a lot of stuff I don’t normally have to worry about – like a dog barking.  Since I recently acquired the iZotope RX Suite Software, I was able to use its spectral repair function to remove Bandit’s barks from the takes the editor used.  Travis hasn’t taught Bandit what “Quiet on Set” means.  I also had to work pretty quickly on the post audio mixing because I only had a month to finish after getting it from the editor.  Which meant there was no time for ADR so I had to clean up the production audio as much as possible.  To save time most of the sound effects used were recorded during close up shots or insert shots.

From a sound perspective, what did you learn that will help you on other films?

This is the first time I used isotope RX to clean up audio, and will now be using it all the time.

Was your role confined to sound here?  What else did you help with?

I helped with locations (my house was used for one scene).  Based on the two and a half years I’ve worked with Travis, he has started asking my opinion so I consulted on different shots and set ups.

Do you think there’s more to the stories that should be told?

Part of what we went for was the mystery of the different characters.  It leaves you questioning their motives and what they will do after the split.  Is there more to it?  Probably.  But should it be told?  I like the mysterious aura, so no I don’t think so.

Some of the overall reviews haven’t been too positive – what’s your thoughts on that?

Reviews are opinions and we always appreciate the perspectives.  The overall consensus is that the sound was solid and that’s the main thing I look for in a review.  I know I do the best I can with whatever project I’m working on because I only take on projects I’m passionate about.

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What other projects are in the works for 5J Media and Running Wild?

I’ll soon start mixing the 52 shorts that we’ve been filming all year.  Outside of RWF, I’m finishing the post audio on a feature called “Reckless Abandon”.  I’m working on the post for a short film I worked on last year and finally got the edit for.  I have quite a few other projects in the works, but nothing in the official stages where I can talk about them.  I have to say that doing Production Audio is great because it makes the post job easier for me in the long run if I can record it the way I want it.  I generally prefer to do post audio though because I have more of a personal and creative impact on the finished product that way.

Why should people download the film?

So we can make money and make more movies.  Plus the cast is full of passionate pros who gave this project their all.  But really you should download it because I worked on it and it’s awesome.

How were the craft services?

RWF & Craft Services aren’t really a compatible pair.

What would people who know you be surprised to learn about The Men Who Robbed the Bank?

I wore pants for two days on set.  Not many people have seen me in anything other than shorts and t-shirts.  But the mosquitoes were so bad I had no choice.  I never wear pants except for running in cold weather so I pulled out my ADIDAS track pants to keep the bugs at bay.

Also, our time frame was incredible.  As far as a feature film goes, the sound portion took all of 39 days, which is NOT much time to a sound engineer.  We spent 9 days recording audio during filming, and I had the film for less than 30 days to complete the post work.  It’s amazing what a skilled cast and crew can do with the right resources and a dedicated production company.  I’m proud of the finished product.