Interview with Meltem Baytok

Meltem Baytok, Foley artist, known for her work on Peaky Blinders, Dr Who, Catherine the Great, Good Omens and Call the Midwife spoke to us about her work and creating unusual sounds. 


Baytok discovered Foley when she moved to the UK from Turkey. “It was just pure luck I was in the right place, at the right time. One day the studio needed a Foley recording but their artist had cancelled at the last minute. With no experience or training I was thrown into the studio and I haven't left since!”


She has since gone on to work with great Foley artists and recorders who’ve been hugely inspiring and encouraging. “Every day that I spend in the studio, I learn new things. There’s always room for improvement and new ideas for the best sound. I see Foley as telling a story, just like the picture and the script. The sound needs to take the audiences from A to B but how we get there will depend on the mood and the emotion of the scene. Even something simple like putting a glass on a table should sound very different depending on the actor’s mood; angry, melancholy, happy, sad, should all sync with the sound. The same sound, while technically correct, may not be appropriate for a different scene.”


“Foley is very organic; it has to be because we usually have to record live, without previews. But also, if we just use the same recordings over and over then the audience can subconsciously tell that something isn’t right and this breaks the immersion. As a Foley artist I don't use any library sound - but sometimes our work is added to libraries. Often post production studios will use library for sounds that are very hard to re-create, like explosions, car crashes, guns etc. But even then, we are often still adding to the effect with Foley for debris, splinters, and so on, to make the scene more organic and unique.”


A favourite project of hers is Peaky Blinders. “I had such a good time working with a superb team. The show gave us an amazing platform to create something original everyday. I particularly love period shows because we must use solid, real props: creaky chairs, boxes, old pocket watches, vintage medical equipment etc. There are usually lots of characters to play, and plenty of detail to recreate. It felt like every object was talking to me, telling me a story. Unfortunately I don't feel the same way when it comes to science-fiction!”


As for how long it takes to do the Foley for a TV episode or film, depends on the project. “It depends how busy the scenes are, how much detail the production teams want to hear and what the plans are for the audio mixing. Films usually have much bigger budgets and they need more detail. Interestingly, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon shows are pushing to reach movie standards of post-production.” 


When it comes to workflow, if she is lucky she has a chance to view the rushes a day or two before the recording but often finds herself going into the studio cold. “I try to gather information about the production so I can collect specific props. I might be collecting leaves from the park, shopping for exotic fruit or borrowing implements from my husband’s toolbox!”


Baytok loves working on period drama projects. Vintage style clothes, old props, anything dirty or squelchy, women in high heels etc. But she finds horror movies are also a lot of fun as they give her the chance to create weird sounds and there is a lot of room for creativity. She found working on the horror film Apostle rather gory. “It required a lot of body injury sounds, including a drill through a human brain that was quite hard to get through!”


“I find sci-fi shows challenging as I’ve never been in space or worked with aliens in real life! I was working on a series of Doctor Who and my heart sank when I saw a preview of an episode set entirely in a frozen land. Snow, ice and water are some of the hardest surfaces to work with so this episode proved quite a challenge.”


Another challenge came when she was doing more natural history projects. She had a scene involving mating crocodiles. “Often foley studios have a water tank so that aspect was covered but I needed a prop to provide the texture of crocodile skin. I sent a runner to buy two pineapples from a greengrocer and my best Foley anecdote was born!”


Other projects she is enormously proud of include the “Halo” film which won a Golden Reel award and “Damilola, Our Loved Boy” for which the whole team won a Cymru Bafta.


Baytok enjoys working in different studios. “It's like a puzzle to solve as every studio gives different puzzle pieces! I have a few favourite studios, like Boom in London, Bang in Cardiff and Twickenham studios.” 


Trying to navigate the covid landscape is still a challenge. “I think lots of studios are struggling presently. The entire cinema industry is having a very difficult time. I keep hearing about Foley studios closing and not having enough to work on. But due to lockdowns the demand for content has never been greater so I have every hope that post-production will be back stronger than ever.”


In the meantime Baytok will continue to source objects for upcoming projects. “Car boot sales are a great resource for Foley artists but I get some funny looks when they see me holding a pair of shoes to my ear!”


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