Interview with Tim Cavagin


Tim Cavagin, Oscar winning Re-Recording Mixer at Twickenham Studios, known for his work on Bohemian Rhapsody, The Hitmans Bodyguard, Black Mirror, Baby Driver and Amy amongst others talks to us about his career and all things sound.

 

Cavagin was destined to work in sound from a young age.  At the age of ten he would go into work with his father at a weekend. “He was head of sound at Yorkshire Television and I’d sit in the dubbing theatre all day with headphones on, listening to sound effects. Mainly racing cars, aeroplanes and machine guns and thought this seems like a cool job. So the idea was planted fairly early on.”

 

His first job was in a sound transfer bay at a company called Cine-lingual. It entailed transferring sound from one source of media to another; all analogue, nothing was digital. It gave him a good basic knowledge of sound. “I was responsible for transferring out the day’s sound rushes onto 16 or 35 mm magnetic tape and making duplicate copies of final mixes recorded in the 3 dubbing theatres. I’d be involved both at the beginning and end process of many projects allowing me to hear the transformation from location sound to the final mix. I’d also work closely with the sound editors in gathering and recording of sound effects. So as well as learning the basics I was also learning the art of client interfacing. I also happened to be at a studio where they probably had the best dubbing mixers in town and so getting to work alongside these guys was invaluable.”

 

Cavagin has been at Twickenham for quite a few years so trying to keep the studio at the forefront of the sound mixing fraternity is always an ongoing challenge. “I firmly believe that the current sound team is the best it’s ever been, and so I’m happy that we are meeting that challenge and some. With Cara joining as MD and all the redevelopment works happening as well as our new Sound Theatre 1 and 2 works which we are excited to unveil in April it really feels like a new exciting phase for the studios which makes me feel even more inspired and energised.”

 

We asked how he approaches the final sound design required to meet the needs of the various media. “There are now so many different requirements, that the only way to approach it is to start with the most complex version and then use this to make the other versions one by one, each one having its own challenges. Usually we are focused on containing a dynamic mix without losing all of the energy.”

 

 

There are many common problems when creating immersive audio, so how does he avoid them?  “You always have to remember that the story is generally being told on the screen and in the dialogue. Dolby Atmos has given us a freedom with sound that allows immense creativity, but there is also a chance that you can distract from what’s happening on screen, so it’s a careful balance. Creating an ambience that draws the audience right into the screen action, so they feel they are there. Too much and you create an unwanted distraction that will ultimately spoil the audience's enjoyment, but too little and you lose that wonderful chance of making them feel they are part of it.”

 

Sound editing and dubbing can also be challenging. “Soundtracks have become far more complex over the years, which is fantastic. But the main challenges have always remained the same. Deadlines! We’d all like to spend double the time we have on a project, finessing more with each pass, but alas deadlines and budget get in our way. The challenge is to make a soundtrack that everyone is happy with and proud of in the time allocated.”

 

So how does he approach a project? “The sound mix is a real collaboration of ideas and thoughts. But ultimately it’s the Director who has the final say. So we like to mix say a 20 minute section and then play it to them. This allows them to see it with a fresh pair of ears and also allows the sound team to present the mix in a way that they may never have thought of.”

 

One of his favourite projects is Bohemian Rhapsody. “Queen were my favourite band when I was a kid so to be sat in a room with Brian May and Roger Taylor was mind-blowing. I never wanted it to end. Then for it to have the success it did was the cherry on the cake.”

 

 

“I also loved working on a film called The Others. This was because unlike any other film I’ve worked on, there was no sound FX or atmospheres. As the characters were all dead, the director wanted to make the audience feel something wasn’t quite right. It was literally the dialogue, some foley to emphasise all movement and the music so we created a very atmospheric mix without any atmospheres!” 

 

As for the studio, Cavagin has many sound toys at his disposal. “The spectral repair and dialogue clean up apps just keep getting better and better. This allows us to get a good clarity of dialogue from noisy tracks that before we’d be unable to use.” But, there is a  piece of kit can he not live without.  “Ears! Not just in the obvious way. As a mixer you are the conduit for everyone’s ideas. And you need to work out the best way of turning that into the soundtrack everyone wants. So it’s important you’re constantly listening to the room.”

 

Since the pandemic broke we have had to adapt to new ways of working and find the ‘new normal’. “COVID has had quite a dramatic effect on the mix stages. It used to be the only time you’d get the sound team and picture team as well as the producers and director in one room, all collaborating to finalise the movie. Now we find ourselves live streaming mixes all around the world,  making changes in blocks of time rather than as we go. But at TFS we have remained fully operational and working throughout lockdown which we have been so grateful for. There have been all necessary safety measures in place to make the whole team and clients alike feel extremely safe working on site.”

 

Looking ahead, Cavagin has seen the industry change over the last decade, so how does he see it changing in the next ten years?  “The last ten years has seen Avid / ProTools tighten its grip on the equipment used which has basically changed the workflow. There’s now a lot more crossover between sound editorial and mixing. With both sides doing a lot more of each other’s “jobs” than ever before. Also the much wider use of Dolby Atmos in both cinema and domestic worlds has meant for much more elaborate and interesting projects. Long may it continue.”

 

www.twickenhamstudios.com

Tim Cavagin www.imdb.com/name/nm0146687/