Interview with Elaine Beckett: Working at Trackdown and creating sound for LEGO Batman, Gods of Egypt, The Railway Man and Happy Feet 2, News
Interview with Elaine Beckett: Working at Trackdown and creating sound for LEGO Batman, Gods of Egypt, The Railway Man and Happy Feet 2, News

Interview with Elaine Beckett: Working at Trackdown and creating sound for LEGO Batman, Gods of Egypt, The Railway Man and Happy Feet 2

Elaine Beckett is Trackdown’s General Manager and also a recognised Post Production Supervisor who has worked on projects including LEGO Batman, Gods of Egypt, The Railway Man and Happy Feet 2. We spoke with Elaine about her career and Trackdown’s 30 years in the audio post and music industries.


How did you start out?

I was offered an internship at Trackdown when I was studying music business management at JMC Academy. That quite quickly evolved into assistant work in a part time capacity working with Trackdown and other companies that we were involved with. In a space of three years I was promoted through various positions to General Manager, so work experience was the trick.


What made you want to get into management?

I was studying Music Business Management and my dream was to be a Tour Manager and head out on the road with bands. At the time I had a boyfriend in a band and was spending more managing them for free than I was at my job that was paying the bills – I wanted to connect all that hard work I was doing with making money, so I quit my job, started studying and ended up on the road with a band for a one week east coast tour where I discovered that wrangling young men on the road was not the job for me, or at least 20 year old me. I wanted to stay in music and the work experience opportunity at Trackdown came up which opened me up to a whole new world of music, film and television.


Can you tell us about Trackdown’s story?

Trackdown has been around for over 30 years and was founded by our Managing Director, Geoff Watson, together with Simon Leadley and Greg Creecy whilst they were in school. Originally a rehearsal studio for their band, word quickly spread and it became a rehearsal studio for many. Trackdown quickly snowballed from there into a recording studio where the likes of Midnight Oil and INXS recorded. As the industry changed, Trackdown also diversified into audio postproduction and then to the scoring stage with full post production all under the one roof. 


Can you tell us what services Trackdown offers?

The current Trackdown facility has a scoring stage, theatrette, ADR and foley studios, Pro-tools edit suites and dry hire production, picture and VFX suites.

Trackdown is a full postproduction facility – a destination where you can complete your project all under the one roof. We have the suites and services available in-house to finish TV, multimedia or film projects. Our name is synonymous with music- supervision, recording and scoring, editing and audio post but we do more than that!

As far as extended services beyond film and television our scoring stage is a very versatile room where we have seen many interesting projects go through that you wouldn’t normally expect in a scoring stage. We did all the dialogue recordings for Happy Feet, with ensemble cast recording eight actors at the same time. Justin Bieber recorded and filmed an intimate performance here and Coldplay did the same thing. Intimate concerts, televised live to the public all in one hit! I like to say that the room is limited by your imagination – we are excited to give new ideas a try!


At what point did Trackdown get into the screen industry? 

We were invited to set up our facilities in Yoram Gross Film Studios, an animation studio, and that relationship afforded us the opportunity to pitch on work at the studio. This allowed us to transition from the music industry to the screen industry.

As far as memorable moments, we do so many scores that it can be seen as “just another day in the office”, but every time you see an orchestra record, it is quite breathtaking. When an orchestra sits down to record a film score, it is usually the first time they have seen the music, let alone played it. There is very little rehearsal. They are literally sitting down and reading the music like we read a book. To have 80 people come together in such an immediate and synergistic way is amazing.


Trackdown has also recently worked on the LEGO Batman Movie. Can you tell us about that experience?

We have worked on all of Animal Logic’s feature productions and we often work with Warner Brothers who worked with Animal on The LEGO Batman Movie.  So, the work came about due to our existing relationships. For LEGO Batman we were involved with music editing, score co-ordination, score recording and ADR recording and listening sessions. The score record was a global collaboration with composer Lorne Balfe based out of the UK and the USA. The score recorded by our Lead Engineer Evan McHugh here and then Steve Lipson the score mixer based in the UK.


With Projects like Happy Feet and the LEGO Batman Movie under its belt, is Trackdown now competitive on a global scale?

Trackdown has been working on runaway productions for many years as we have a unique service offering. The calibre of our technicians and creatives, our world-class facilities and the competitiveness of the Australian dollar, and to a lesser extent the PDV rebate, means we are often sought after to work on projects that have no other ties to Australia. In 2017 alone we have already worked on projects out of the United States, United Kingdom, Indonesia and Korea.


What is the future of sound and how is it changing?

For us at Trackdown it is all about technology upgrades. We have a Euphonix S5 console going into the Scoring Stage and new Neve 1081R preamps were installed last week. All our mix rooms are going 7.1, so it’s all about technological upgrades.


You also use source connect to record with studios overseas, can you tell us about that technology?

We have been using source connect for as long as it has been around. In fact we were involved in the very first session in the World with Buzzy’s in Los Angeles. Most often it is used when a director and an actor are in different countries and need to do ADR. It allows you to connect the two people using a studio in each territory to record in sync to picture. We do lots of ADR this way but we also do film scores too so, connecting 80 players in Australia with a composer and director anywhere in the world. The great thing for us in Australia is source connect allows us to make our talent available internationally without the costs involved with travelling. It also means we are open to collaborate with other territories. As technology expands the world gets smaller.


What do you think music brings to a film?

It is such an important part of a film because it is everything that isn’t said. It can lead, emote, it is a language that is global. You can watch a film where you don’t understand the language and you can get a sense of what is being conveyed by just listening to the music.  Apart from the music, the sound elements are setting up a world and shaping characters. Sounds provide the world beyond the screen, sets the scene and helps the director tell their story. I don't think enough emphasis is put on sound and music but it is such a critical storytelling device. In some genres it is more important, as it is saying more than what is on the screen – think about a horror movie and how much is said with sound and music. The soundtrack really does cut through and stay with people, think of Jaws.


At what stage in a film's production do people come to Trackdown?

It is always great to be involved early in production but most of the time it is in post. There are huge advantages of being involved from the start, for example we can liaise with the sound recordist to capture additional material on set for later on in post. Being on the project early allows us to be thinking about the film creatively. The more time you have sitting with the material and the more exposure you have to the director and what they want to achieve, the more time you have to do it. If it is in post, your thinking time can be impacted by a looming deadline and the need to get things done.


What sound stands out for you and why?

I know I have been really taken away by the sound in a film when I jump on IMBD to see who was credited with the work.  It’s school holidays at the moment and I have two young children so we’ve been watching a lot of animations. One sound track that had me jumping on IMDB was Rango, and funnily enough it was Sound Designed by an Australian, Peter Miller, who I think did an amazing job. Musically, again an animation, one of my favourites is The Croods, it really moves with the picture and is quite special.


Trackdown also has a good record for gender balance in its practitioners. Can you tell us how this came about?

Trackdown has a long history of a balanced gender work force however in more recent times we noticed that our workforce had changed to become male dominated. Engineers had taken opportunities overseas and the majority of sound engineering graduates tended to be men. I think that is because traditionally audio engineering was a more male skewed occupation. I am just starting to see a shift of the number of female graduates doing tours of Trackdown with their University groups. When I started there was maybe one sometimes no female representation in the group and today it is at least 25 precent of each group.  


How does that affect the work culture?

It is nice having a balance on the team just like the real world. As storytellers it is important to have a range of perspectives. Each individual brings his or her own thing to Trackdown so; it is more about the individual. We are like family, we work closely on projects together and you need to get along when you spend that long time together. That is why you have to love what you do and you have to love the people that you do it with.


In Sound Engineering there tend to be more male practitioners than female.  Do you provide career progression for female staff?

We aim to provide career progression for all our staff regardless of gender. I think career progression in the screen industry at the moment is difficult in general as the industry experiences peaks and troughs and assistant roles are not often budgeted for. If there aren’t enough projects coming through for both the leaders in their fields and the up-and-comers we are going to have brain drain and that is not just a gender issue it’s an industry issue. We have to make sure that we consistently have projects and that we make sure we not only employ Australians on those projects, but also that we include assistant roles on the projects, so that when someone retires or we lose someone there is a talent pool that can step up and do the work. It’s a tough one but we should focus on it.


Can you tell us about your attachment, Rose Mackenzie?

Rose came to us as an attachment and as a result of that attachment, now works with us as our Studio Assistant. That attachment was facilitated with Screen NSW.

Trackdown has always provided work experience for high school students, internships for those doing tertiary study and attachments for those who have finished their study. We tend to have somebody at the early stage of his or her career in the studio all the time. We support the idea and are proactive in finding the next generation of sound engineers and making sure there aren’t holes in the workforce for the future. When there are jobs available, the benefit for us is that we have seen some of the talent that is available.

If you want to work in the industry you need a passion for the craft and attention to detail and of course being a good listener is a must! A friendly personality and a calm demeanour are needed, as being at the end of production we are all dealing with stress and we know the deadline isn’t going to extend.


Can you tell us what is on Trackdown’s slate for 2017?

We are commencing work on an animation for Channel 9, Nate is Late, which we are also acting as producers on. We also have a few projects in post production including a score for a Korean feature film, a documentary series and a web based animation.  But, our big project at the moment is getting the tech upgraded in the Scoring Stage in preparation for some bigger projects coming through this year.


You’ve done everything from recording an intimate live concert with Justin Bieber and 100 screaming fans to producing the music for Happy Feet with George Miller. With so much to coordinate you must have had a few hairy moments. Can you share one with us?

The most recent one was being woken one Sunday morning to the news my conductor for a film score that day was sick and couldn’t come in. We aren’t a massive country, so replacing a conductor at the 11th hour is a tall ask. We were due to hit record at 2pm. The only conductor I could think of was already booked for another project. I was fortunate that the group he was working with was also employed on the film and were more than happy to release him but it was a tense couple of hours whilst I waited for people to wake up and sort it out.


In your career what has been the stand out moment in terms of sound in a film?

As I am not an engineer, I don’t really have a personal standout moment in terms of sound in film, but I am always amazed at what my team achieves on projects. Whether it’s wrangling over 300 tracks of audio on a film score, creating a brand new world with SFX or putting new words into an actor's mouth through ADR, there is always something they surprise me with!  There is the famous saying “fix it in post” – there is no magic button but there are some extraordinary craftspeople making it happen.

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