Joe Mount — Exclusive Interview | The Hivenh
Career, creative challenges, and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus campaign.
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Introducing Joe Mount
Joe Mount is an English sound designer and sound effects editor working in the Sydney audio post production industry. He has composed music and created sound design for international feature films and their promotional campaigns (Prometheus, The Counselor, Under The Skin, The Lobster, Ghost In The Shell), documentaries, and advertising (Dior, Adidas, Audi, Tesla), working with directors, creative agencies and independent artists in London, Amsterdam and Sydney. He is represented by Electric Sheep in Sydney for advertising and short films, and works freelance for feature films and television.
1. How did you decide to start a career in the world of sound design?
I studied Electro Acoustic Composition and Mathematics at Keele University in England, which was a fantastically broad schooling in 20th century art music and it’s associated recording and manipulation techniques.
The course also offered a US foreign exchange, which I took up at The University of North Texas, an institution I soon came to realise was an absolutely world class music school. It was there I became totally inspired to explore the creation of soundscapes and the infinite possibilities of music freed from the restraints of traditional instrumentation.
Film, and in particular the work of David Lynch, had also always fascinated me, and soon after returning to the UK I chanced upon an article explaining the role of a feature film sound designer, and immediately realised that was the specific career I wanted to pursue.
“I became totally inspired to explore the creation of soundscapes and the infinite possibilities of music freed from the restraints of traditional instrumentation.”
2. What was your training and professional path?
During my university degree I’d learnt a number of programs and hardware systems, but it wasn’t until I joined Wave Studios in London that my training really began. I moved up the ranks, in the way that everyone in London does, from Runner to Transfer Engineer, all the while working in the studio during the evenings on short films for upcoming directors to hone studio craft as well as master the equipment (which at the time was the Fairlight MFX, and later Steinberg’s Nuendo).
Wave’s creative director Johnnie Burn (The Favourite, The Lobster, Under the Skin) then took me under his wing as a sound design assistant for a project to create the sound identity of Skype, followed by a number of big sound design led commercials (Audi Satellite, Audi Spider), which gave me an incredible insight into everything it takes to work at the very top of the industry.
3. During your career, what technical and sectoral changes have you noticed with particular importance in the creative industry?
When I started in the industry in 2003 we used Digibeta video systems, and Soundtracs mixing desks linked to our DAWs, so I’m old enough to have seen the change to complete in-the-box mixing, which was a transition sped up by the economic shock of 2008.
That shift brought down studio build costs massively and also led to huge speed improvements in advertising mixing, which in turn increased the amount of versioning and working on multiple mixes and options until the very last minute. These changes came with drawbacks as well as benefits, but generally with the plug in tools now available to a sound designer, the creative possibilities have never been so exciting.
Only time will tell what this Covid related recession will do to the post production industry, but my guess is that it’ll further accelerate the move towards smaller sound facilities and remote working.
4. What sources of inspiration are you looking for to create a project?
Inspiration naturally comes from the subject matter and unique perspective each film brings. I like to give myself as much time as possible to allow creative ideas to form, so ideally that would mean getting involved as early as possible in the production phase, and then work through any technical elements first before concentrating on the overall creative structure.
That’s the initial aim, but more often than not during that process ideas and concepts present themselves, in which case it’s always best to let them take you with them.
“Inspiration naturally comes from the subject matter and unique perspective each film brings.”
5. In your opinion, what is the added value of sound design in the production of a film?
It’s impossible to quantify the added value of any aspect of a film’s production, and the driving force underpinning everything should always be how to realise the director’s vision and support the storytelling in the most powerful way. Thoughtful sound design can give a scene a completely new perspective, as well as an entire film a unique feel, and can achieve these feats explicitly or so subtly that the audience only subconsciously feels the shift in mood.
It’s a lovely experience to be complemented on the sound design of a whole piece, or specific sequence, but more often than not you’re aiming to be an almost invisible part of a production that achieves it’s creative and emotional aims in a holistic sense.
“Thoughtful sound design can give a scene a completely new perspective, as well as an entire film a unique feel, and can achieve these feats explicitly or so subtly that the audience only subconsciously feels the shift in mood.”
6. You worked on Prometheus’ award-winning transmedia campaign (2012) with Ridley Scott and Johnny Hardstaff. What function does sound play in such complex projects?
That was such an amazing project to be a part of, and pushed the boundaries of what a promotional campaign could do in so many ways. Each of Johnny Hardstaff’s films (David, Quiet Eye, Transmission) presented unique sound challenges, but were united in the need to feel like completely genuine media content from the future world where Prometheus would be set.
The whole project was shrouded in secrecy — Wave’s Parv Thind had sound designed Luke Scott’s Peter Weyland TED 2023 which was the first viral film of the series, and when I worked out that the project was something to do with Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel I did everything I could to make sure I got close to Johnny Hardstaff to have a chance of working on anything yet to be released.
David won Johnny Hardstaff a huge amount of awards, but from a sound point of view was the simplest in conceptual terms. We wanted to make Michael Fassbender’s delivery as prominent as possible to replicate a genuine corporate promotional video while simultaneously focus the viewer on how unnerving his character is.
For Quiet Eye, considering it’s essentially a close up single shot and take, the challenge was how to make it as interesting and immersive as possible without reverting to any particular sound cliches to represent the audiovisual distortion effects.
Transmission offered so many exciting challenges for sound, across a much more substantial timeline. The concept of a film depicting a continuous spacecraft transmission designed to educate any extra terrestrial life on the culture of Earth, is certainly the most interesting and out there brief I’ve had the pleasure to work on.
All of Johnny Hardstaff’s films are so rich in texture and detail, and edited in such as way to be an absolute pleasure to work on from a creative point of view. Transmission was no different, and with the spacecraft transmission concept underpinning the whole film, gave so much inspiration to produce what’s hopefully a very interesting sound bed that does justice to the wonderful images. We even hid a message in there from the Weyland corporation, that hasn’t been found to this day! (mono up and phase reverse the mix, and it’s in there somewhere…).
“Prometheus was such an amazing project to be a part of, and pushed the boundaries of what a promotional campaign could do in so many ways.”
7. Which colleagues do you think are particularly influential in the industry, and which films did you find fascinating?
8. What advice can you suggest to an aspiring professional to start his career in the sector?
Sound design is a tricky industry to break into, and certainly requires patience and commitment for a number of years before being trusted to run a session, so passion is very important.
Although I work in Sydney these days my career advice may be best suited to London, and that would be to get a job as a runner at the best studio you can. There really is no substitute for immersing yourself in the industry and learning from the best. And while technical skills are essential, with today’s access to software these can be learnt anywhere — it’s the studio craft that is very difficult to perfect without experiencing it from the inside.
Also, because breaking into sound post production can take years, it’s important to work out early on if it’s the exact career for you — and if it is then just never give up, because if you love it and you have the talent and commitment then it’ll be a few years of pain for a whole career of excitement and constant challenge.
See Joe Mount’s works on Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012):
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