Elizabeth Carlyon

Fantasy author, researcher and content writer

Is it really ‘Another turning of the wheel’? Three lessons that could have saved the TV adaptation of Robert Jordan’s ‘The Wheel of Time’ (SPOILERS)

*In this article I will refer to major spoiler moments from both Amazon Prime’s TV series and Robert Jordan’s book series The Wheel of Time. If you wish to remain spoiler-free don’t read past this point*

Film production holds a unique ability to bring a viewer into the moment. Watching recorded events unfold before their eyes creates an illusion of immediacy that transports the viewer to the place in which plot happens. Camera, script, sound, light and design all play a strong role in shaping how a viewer experiences this moment. A skilled storyteller knows how to mould and craft the subtle interweaving senses of their product in a way that evokes emotional engagement in the viewer and builds empathy for the plight of the protagonists. When senses are woven together in a way that feels incomplete, or lacking this subtle awareness, a viewer is detached from the narrative. They begin to question the events unfolding, lose empathy for the characters and ultimately, stop watching. Sadly, the latter is a major issue that concerns the reception of Amazon Prime’s recent adaptation of The Wheel of Time, a fan-beloved fantasy series by Robert Jordan first published in 1990.

Robert Jordan is renowned, almost to a fault, for highly detailed and layered world building. Not often do show creators have such a wealth of existing material to work with. Every location visited in the books has a detailed description and history, as well as evocative descriptions that let a reader know how a character experiences that place. Huge sets have been constructed for the TV show representing just a few of these areas, and from the glimpses that we see of them in the show it appears a great deal of care and attention to source material has gone into their building. Actors have time and time again impressed fans by how deeply they are able to use the narrative in the books to understand and embody their characters. However, when it comes to the actual screenwriting and cinematography, far too often the story seems content with juxtaposing these incredible sceneries with clunky monologues and camera angles that strive to merely touch base and tell what the characters are doing instead of taking the time to immerse the viewer in the moment and build that all too needed empathy. Producing any kind of film production involves an enormous amount of work from hundreds of individuals and departments, yet no matter how much dedication and care for source material any single department puts in, there is nothing that can make up for a neglected script.

In the following article I want to address three major areas in which I feel that the Wheel of Time TV series was lacking in terms of scripting, cinematography and directing and voice my opinion on examples of what could have been done to improve the flow of storytelling in the series.

Lesson #01 – Your plot is Ta’veren

Story writing is not just about proving you can get your characters from A to B, it’s being are of how you are shaping the journey for your audience. In Robert Jordan’s books, each individual has a thread within the pattern of the world, but some people are more tightly bound to this pattern than others. These people are known as ta’veren. The wheel that weaves the pattern has a goal in mind for ta’veren and they will be tugged and pulled until they fulfill that goal. Other character threads that come close to them will be unwittingly wrapped and distorted around the ta’veren to fit these goals. Ta’veren can be taken as an in-world explanation of the role of a protagonist in connection to the overarching plot of a story. To create a strong story, viewers should be able to follow their protagonists on a journey with every action and sub-plot being something that twists and turns around a singular goal.

One major challenge of the TV series was to turn the effectively single perspective of The Eye of the World, into something multi that would prepare the reader for the coming seasons. However, instead of creating subtly interweaving plot lines that build toward a shared goal, the writing feels somewhat scattered and inconsistent in where it tries to guide the viewer’s attention. Main story lines and important character arcs happen off-screen whilst temporary side characters are fleshed out and given much more emphasis than is necessary to tell the story.

Episodes 5 and 6, for example, see our protagonists arrive in the city of Tar Valon where we follow the inner politics of the White Tower. A large amount of screen time is given to Steppen, a side-character in grieving, along with Moiraine’s trial and relationship with Siuan, the Amyrlin Seat. Whilst there are some beautiful moments that arise from these interactions, the heavy focus on these sub-plots means that our key protagonists from the Two Rivers are forced to take a step back. Whilst they are still present and doing things, their actions are not central to the main storyline being presented and they do not contribute to the forward momentum of the plot, even though they are intrinsic to that plot.

In order to keep a viewer’s interest in our protagonists plight, a greater level of empathy needs to be built for their plight. For it to not feel like a jarring change of pace when Moiraine rushes them off toward the waygate (and final battle) at the end of the episode, they need to be more intrinsically tied to that decision to leave. That means tying in greater levels of subplots that link our protagonists to the events occurring on screen at all times. One way to do this could be to bring darkfriends into Tar Valon. Show our protagonists are being hounded by followers of the Dark One, either as occupants of the city, inn guests, or even hinting already toward the Black Ajah. The constant immediacy of the rising threat of the dark would create a stronger impetus for Moiraine to get away from the White Tower ASAP. Rather than her swearing to never return on the oath rod (which both contradicts some major background lore and feels a somewhat extreme reaction to the crimes she is accused of), have her sneak away before the sentencing with Siuan’s ‘permission’. The consequences of skipping a formal hearing could be dire enough to forbid her return, but it is a necessary action to protect the potential Dragon(s). If Siuan fails to pursue or actively punish Moiraine, this could be motivations for building tensions against against her later on. The result would effectively be the same, but we would have greater empathy for the over-arching plot.

Lesson #02- Embodied Storytelling

The way a scene is filmed can have a great impact on shaping perspective and emotions. Despite the detail gone into the scenery, at times it feels that the photography has not been best planned to make use of location. From the perspective of someone who has worked within the film industry for 7 years, it feels as if the cinematographer aimed to merely capture what’s happening in the scene without sensitive reflection for how to shape that happening. Shadar Logoth is a prime example of this for me. The ruined city is a home of an corrupt force that terrifies even creatures of the Dark One himself. There is a great deal of lore surrounding the place in the book and detailed descriptions of exactly how the characters find the place unsettling (Rand, for example, feels unseen eyes prickling at the back of his neck when mashadar is close by). When we enter the city in the series, however, our main exposition is shots of the characters walking through the streets informing us ‘there is no sound here… not even birds’. Lan then goes to to give a somewhat rushed monologue addressing the backstory of where they are. We are supposed to infer through the character’s dialogue how disconcerting the place is, but we are not allowed to experience it for ourselves. Rather than telling us the place is creepy and that dark things live here, let us infer it by listening to the silence. Let our own skin prickle by letting the camera take on the perspective of things watching from the shadows. If we wanted monologues, we could have just read the book out loud.

At the beginning of the following episode, we watch a flashback of Nynaeve hiding from and eventually overcoming a trolloc in the town’s ceremonial pool. The location for the scene is stunning. The cinematography however, is kind of flat. Most of the action is shown by uninteresting wide angles that try to encapsulate as much of the on-screen movement as possible. It shows us what is happening, but doesn’t tell us what the character feels about it. One alternative for this scene would be to focus more tightly on Nynaeve as she ducks into the pool. Longer close-ups on her face as she hides, with indistinct movement at the edges of the screen would centre the viewer more strongly on her perspective and help to build a stronger sense of uncertainty for the viewer as they know the trolloc is there, but they don’t know how close and they don’t know when it is going to attack. A greater suspense is built allowing viewers to connect more with the characters they are supposed to care about.

More time to plan shots, and to plan them well, can do a great deal for viewer immersion within a scene. One place in which I actually feel that this is done well is during the trolloc attack on the Two Rivers. Here the camera tracks different characters through the chaos of the moment. Just as they are disconcerted and don’t know how to orientate ourselves within the chaos, neither do we as the camera swerves and reels about their every movement. I only wish that this level of attention to detail could have been maintained throughout the series.

Lesson #03 – Exposition-dumping will not save you

It is clear that the distribution of budget was a problem for this show. There are a lot of elements to the books that, whilst they work well on paper, can be exceedingly hard to justify expenditure for on screen. On the other hand, a screen adaptation allows for expansion and altering of events in a way that can actually bring deeper meaning to the source material (let’s face it, 34 hours of literal braid tugging, sniffing and skirt straightening might be true to the books, but it would hardly make for interesting television).

There are several moments where Wheel of Time TV series actually does manage to make us connect with characters in a deeper, different way than in the books. The relationship between Rand and Egwene is fully fleshed out with nuanced exchanges in the show whilst in the books it only really exists in the characters’ heads, if at all. On the other hand, there are a few too many times where engaging, key moments in the story are condensed into clunky exposition that the audience is expected to buy because it sounds important. These moments steal away any elements of subtle story-building that has taken place and rob the viewer of potential deeper connections to the characters. Although there are several different moments I could bring up here as an example, the one I am going to draw attention to here is the build up and reveal of the identity of the Dragon Reborn.

In Robert Jordan’s books, the identity of the Dragon is largely obvious from the very beginning of The Eye of the World. The TV series, however, took a step that could have been very effective in building intrigue by both withholding the identity and increasing the number of potential dragons. Where this approached failed, however, was that, after 7.5 hours of attempting to build up suspense around the question of who the Dragon is, the answer is given in a sudden info-dump that reveals that all the obvious events in the book did happen, they just happened off-screen. As a viewer this moment felt highly anticlimactic and robbing of the chance to experience a more nuanced relationship both between Rand and himself as he comes to terms with who he is, and with other people’s relationship to him.

One way to reveal the identity that may have been more impactful, and plays off new-dynamics introduced into the show, would have been to actively lead the audience to believe the Dragon is a particular character. Criticisms of the Dragon potentially being a female aside, the writers clearly have left hints that push toward Egwene being the strongest candidate. Build up on these hints more, make our audience care for her as a protagonist, then throw her into a situation where she cannot survive if she is not the Dragon (note – no one actually needs to necessarily say she could be the Dragon. She and Nynaeve could decide that they are the only ones that stand a chance against the Dark One as they are the only ones that have really shown any kind of power. It would not be out of character for them to rush off and decide to try facing things alone). Rand (not knowing he is the Dragon) races to rescue her and during this processes actively channels (making it clear to the audience that he is the actual Dragon, even if he has not realised it yet). When the heat of battle dies down, and both are safe, the impossibility of the emotional pledge that Rand made to follow Egwene and be her warder settles in. We experience fear for our characters, uncertainty over their outcome, shock at Rand channeling and heartbreak for their relationship. The question isn’t really about who the Dragon is, but what stakes risk being broken if a character turns out to be, or not to be, the Dragon. Make us feel these stakes. The Wheel weaves as the author wills.

The Wheel of Time TV series has received a lot of traction, however it is still only spoken about largely by the pre-existing fanbase. No one I know in any of the circles where I am based are talking about the series who haven’t read the books, or don’t have a direct connection to someone who has read the book. People like me will watch the series, maybe twice, three times, not because it is a piece of well-scripted cinema, but because it relates to characters and stories we already know and love. ‘It’s another turning of the Wheel’ has become a tagline in the fandom for discussing the show, however this phrase is not said with excitement of things to come, but as a way of consoling oneself about things not being as they hoped. We don’t need millions to be spend on extra content, maps and animations, we need a show that takes the time to be what it deserves to be.

The biggest question I would love to have answered is, what happened? As someone who works with the film industry, would love to have been a fly on the wall to see exactly why things were allowed to slide to this extent. As I have mentioned, there are several moments where the series does show that it holds potential and there are many people working on it that care deeply about the source material, but sadly there are more moments that seem driven to spit the story out in its most basic form that undermine all of the hard work. A sensitive focus on embodied story-writing can turn the show around in future seasons, however, there is a strong risk that without vast improvements a lot of newcomers to the series will be lost and it will be difficult to reel them back in.

,

The History of Mugwort

Mugwort

Gemyne ðu  mucgwyrt

hwæt  þu ameldodest

hwæt þu renadest

æt regenmelde

una þu hattest

yldost wyrta

ðu miht wið .iii.

7 wið xxx.

þu miht wið attre

7 wið  onflyge

þu miht wiþ þam laþan

ðe geondlond færð

– Lacnungna1

Medicinal Properties

Mugwort was a very important herb in the Anglo-Saxon period and arguably throughout history. One interesting use of the herb is the belief that by placing or tying a sprig of mugwort to the feet, it would relieve fatigue and allow the person to walk great distances. This knowledge of this use, reported by Pliny, dates as far back as the Roman period and appears to have been wildly spread.2 It appears again in Bald’s Leech Book, a 9th century compilation of remedies against sickness, and even in as recent times as 19th century France.3 Whether these later sources derived their knowledge through hearsay or direct access to the original latin documents is unclear, but either way it demonstrates a respect for at least this use of the herb that was long-lasting and widespread throughout Europe.

The herb was also considered to have powerful antifungal and antibacterial properties, an aspect that has been confirmed against certain bacteria in recent laboratory testings.4 It is listed above as the first of nine ingredients in a remedy against poison in an 11th century manuscript presenting rituals, potions and chants against a variety of ailments. It is interesting to note that here, as well as in Bald’s Leechbook, the use of the herb is combined, not only with medicine (i.e. as a direct remedy in the manner of modern treatments), but also with ritual. The chant in the Lacnungna was intended to be recited simultaneously with the production of the potion, and gives reference to the god Woden. In Bald’s Leechbook the user is instructed ‘when he will take it before sunrise let him say these words first: “I take thee artemisia lest I be tired on the road.” Make the sign of the cross on it when you pull it up’.5 These two examples provide an insight that shows that, in the past, sickness, ailments and medicine was considered not only a physical ailment, but also a spiritual one, and that it is important to keep this in mind when studying ancient remedies.

Another important associationof the herb is with regards to women’s health. The name itself, mugwort, sometimes refered to as motherwort is a direct indication of this. Marina Heilmeyer also notes that the Latin genus for mugwort, artemisia, is linked with the goddess Artemis, a deity strongly inclined toward women.6 It is reported in the Trotula, a medieval text concerning women’s health, to be able to help regulate menstruation if cooked in wine and then drunk, or when cooked in water with a mixture of other ingredients. A small bag filled with carded wool should be dipped in this water and placed on the woman’s stomach, or, in another mixture, drunk with water whilst in the bath. It is also reported to ease certain problems in childbirth.7

Mugwort as food

Although mugwort appears to be most widely known for its medicinal purposes, it could also be used as an ingredient in food. It has a bitter and was often used for the flavouring of meats. The leaves themselves can also be drunk as a tea, or as an alternative in beer production before the use of hops. Stephen Harrod Bulner, in his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, provides a recipe for the production of mugwort ale.8

Mugwort Appearance

Mugwort leaves can grow up to 10cm long and are green on the top and white with fine hairs underneath. The stems are purple and grow to approximately 3 feet in height. In August, the plant blossoms with brown/yellow flowers that grow in clusters.

The plant itself is highly durable and can survive in a wide variety of conditions including roadsides and wastelands.

1Lacnunga, 60.

2Pliny the Elder, The Natural History XXVI. 150

3Cameron, Malcom, Anglo-Saxon Medicine (Cambridge University Press: 2009), p154

4Buhner, Stephen Harrod, Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation (Brewers Publications: 1998), p380.

5Grendon, Felx, “The Anglo-Saxon Charms” in the Journal of Ameican Folklore (Vol. XXII. – April,-June, 1909), p191

6Heilmeyer, Marina Ancient Herbs (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), p68

7Green, Monica H. trans., The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine (The Middle Age Series) (Univesity of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), p67-8

8Harrod, p380

Royalty, Ritual and Disgust in the Music of the One Reborn (Bloodborne)

The One Reborn is a hellish creature, formed from the ritual mass-sacrifice of inhabitants of the city of Yharnam in an attempt to ascend humankind. He is a mid-game boss in Bloodborne (2015), a game for PS4 filled with gothic scenery and nightmarish opponents. The One Reborn is hideous to look at – a writhing torso on a sprawling body formed from the corpses of innocent victims. His attacks include rains of limbs and spewing of poisonous vomit.

In an interview for Playstation, the composer of the music for the One Reborn, Nobuyoshi Suzuki, stated that his inspiration for the track was themes of royalty, adornment, horror and of something disgusting. (See The Story Behind Bloodborne’s Haunting Soundtrack).

The regal influence on the score can be heard in the bombastic main theme for the One Reborn. Fanfares have often been used as a means of signifying the arrival of a monarch, or in celebration of royal occasions. They are usually played on brass or string instruments, supported by drums or timpani, follow strong on-the-beat rhythms with 4/4 time signature and are characterised by fast upward leaps to strong, sustained notes in a major key to create a proud feeling of proclamation.

The main theme of the One Reborn (heard at 01:14 in the OST), can be considered a twisted version of a fanfare. It holds many similar characteristics, however they are altered to created a sense of unease and discomfort. The main melody begins in the strings, who play a rhythm that is, for the most part typical of a fanfare rhythm. It consists of on the beat sustained notes, with quick leaps from lower notes. Underneath this, a tuba blares out strong proud notes, but they fall on the weak beat in the middle of the bar, rather than the beginning. The rhythm clashes with that of the violins and subverts the expectations of the listener, throwing them off track and making it difficult to know what will come next.

The One Reborn theme, strings only
The One Reborn, strings and tuba

Suzuki furthermore subverts expectations. In a traditional fanfare, the melody often rises to create a sense of excited expectation. In the theme for the One Reborn, the melody descends. Descending melodies are commonly used by composers to signify a sense of despair and sorrow. Here, the melody not only descends, but in the tuba it descends from Eb to A through an interval of what is known as a tritone/diminished 5th – meaning that there is a difference of three whole tones between the starting and ending notes. The final note that seals the tritone, the A, also forms a whole tone clash with the strings. To show you what I mean, beneath are two MIDI examples, the first with the tuba harmonised with the strings, the second as the tuba is in the OST. Can you hear the difference?

The One Reborn – unison ending
The One Reborn – actual ending

Early classical composers were to be bound to a strict set of rules when writing music. The rules promoted the use certain progressions of notes, harmonies and intervals that were believed good, beautiful and proper, whilst simultaneously forbidding others that were considered ‘dissonant’ or ‘wrong-sounding’. The most infamous of these ‘bad’ intervals is the tritone, believed to be the devil’s own interval because it was so ugly to the ears. Suzuki’s use of the tritone in the descending melody of the One Reborn theme helps to create a sense, not only of sorrow but of impending doom. The tritone is common in dark, gothic music occurs in many places in the music of Bloodborne.

The leaping notes, distintive of the fanfare style, have also been altered to create a sense of distortion. Rather than upbeat major jumps, Suzuki uses minor intervals to create a more sorrowful sound. These minor intervals are juxtaposed with the use of chromaticism in both the harmony and melody. A chromatic interval occurs when a note is played that is only half a semitone above or under another (e.g. if you play all of the black and white notes on a keyboard in order, this would be a chromatic scale). Composers use chromaticism to put a listener on edge. You know that iconic tune from Jaws that makes you instantly scared that the shark is coming? That is chromaticism in action.

The result of all these tools is a theme that is a twisted perversion of royalty, taking the stereotypical features of a fanfare and subverting them from joyous celebration to a proclamation of monstrosity and disgust. Once this theme has been interated in the brass and strings, a choir takes over, soaring to new heights. It is the Mensis Scholars rejoicing and celebrating their new horrendous creation. Underneath this we can hear the timpani and cymbals pounding away in a steady triumphant rhythm reminiscent of the grandiose endings of celebratory pieces of the Classical and Romantic Era (compare 02:45 in the OST with around 06:00 in Saint-Saens’ Bacchanale).

Another theme that can be identified within Suzuki’s score is the element of ritual. As already mentioned, the One Reborn is formed through ritual. In the opening cut scene we see robed figure ringing bells to summon a vortex in the sky from which the monstrous boss drops through. During the first section of the music we can hear direct reference to this ritual – hushed whispers mutter in the background and high pitched bells ring mimicked by the screech of violins. A pounding, steady beat in the bass reminds us of both the beating of a ritual drum and the march of an army. It is a dark thrum of pomp and circumstance that builds an onward drive for the player. Scurrying motifs and more chromaticism layer around this, creating tension and expectation for what will become of the boss in his later phase.

Both this first section and the entirity of the music of the boss’s second phases can be considered depicting the horror of the One Reborn and the regailment of the Mensis Scholars, however there is one part of the music that is different. At 02:09 in the OST a sorrowful, descending melody on the cello is introduced. This melody does not reflect anything previously heard in the piece. It consists of chromatic upward leans that build tension, as well as drops of a 4th which classically is associated with sorrow and sighing. The diminished 5th interval (or tritone) is also present. The sound is more dark and solemn than the wild, bombastic proclamations that surround it. The only other times in the whole of the Bloodborne soundtrack that we hear a similar melody is in the Hunter’s Dream and in the title music. Both of these tracks can be argued to represent the Hunter, the character that the player controls. As such, it could be considered that this section in the One Reborn is representative of the Hunter’s view of the creature before them. It ties the piece into the larger context of the game and the atmosphere that the gamer-makers are wanting to establish.

These are just some of my thoughts surrounding the Suzuki’s genius in composing the track for the One Reborn. I do not have access to a score and I am certain that there are many more points that could be made about the music. For now, I hope you enjoyed the article and let me know if you would like to hear more!

Musical Symbolism in Studio Ghibli’s ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’ (1984)

‘Everyone depicts nature as being charming. But it is
something more fearsome. That is why I think there is
something missing in our current view of nature.’
– Hayao Miyazki1

Screenshot from Nausicaä valley of the wind (1984)

Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), is set in a dystopian future where nature is something to be feared. Mankind’s pollution of the planet has caused a toxic jungle to take over much of the land. The insects that inhabit this jungle, when they feel that their land is threatened, have the potential to grow enraged and attack human civilisation. These conflicts do not end well for humanity. It promotes a warning that if nature is not respected, there will be grave consequences.

Valley of the Wind also marks the first in a long line of productions where Miyazaki would work with composer Joe Hisaishi to help embellish his ideas and ambitions. Visually, human civilisation and nature are highly distinct. In human territories we are presented with typical farmland, buildings and machinery, whilst the jungle is something completely unfamiliar. The strange plants and insects appear almost alien, bearing almost no resemblance to anything in the world we know today. Hisaishi emphasises the differences in these two realms by constructing two vivid and contrasting musical styles.

Screenshot from Nausicaä valley of the Wind (1984)


Humanity is predominantly associated with typified orchestral music. Familiar film score clichés such as dramatic marches for war and soaring strings for celebration allow the viewer to recognise and associate with the human cultures portrayed.

Screenshot from Nausicaä valley of the Wind (1984)


The music for the toxic jungle, however, is full of electronic tones and minimalist themes that aid in providing a sense of abnormality and other-worldliness. One automatically associates an orchestral instrument with a human performer, but, without an in-depth knowledge of computing, a synthetic tone is more ambiguous. These ideas can be clearly noticed early on when Nausicaa, the protagonist, is exploring a cave within the toxic jungle. All around her lie strange plants and insects. In the soundscape, we hear fading and delayed sine wave pulses that create a shimmering effect of abnormality and beauty. Hisaishi links these pulses to diegetic sounds, allowing them to fade in and out with the howling of unidentified animals. The result is an illusion that nature itself is in control of the music. It is not bound by human timing or instrumentation and the viewer cannot be sure what will become of it. It aids in establishing nature as alien, separate from humanity, that despite its beauty, promotes a sense of wariness through unfamiliarity and uncertainty.

Screenshot from Nausicaä valley of the wind (1984)



The reasons for this wariness are clearly realised as the Tolmekian culture take actions to destroy the toxic jungle. These events provoke the rage of the jungle. A hoard of large, furious insects known as ohmu race out to attack humanity. When people battle these creatures, the music favours the insects. The electronic tones return in a techno-minimalist fashion, scored in a steady, fast 4/4 tempo wit a four note descending ostinato. This generates a sense of incessant rampage and overpowers any of the human orchestral music that might be present. It makes it clear to the viewer that nature has the advantage. It is unstoppable and fighting it cannot end well.

Another notable feature relating to this conflict within Hisaishi’s score is the use of silence to emphasise a sense of impending doom. Towards the climax of the film, whilst humanity awaits the oncoming attach of the ohmu, the score is silent. The creatures themselves can be seen on the horizon as a red glow, approaching slowly. The conflict music described above has already has a strong significance in the viewer’s mind at this point, and the lack of any music forces us to wait with the characters. We know that the ohmu are coming, with their incessant rampage, but the question is when?

Hisaishi has created two strong audio worlds – the orchestral and understandable world of the humans, and the overpowering electronic realm of nature. However there is a third element that needs to be discussed.

Screenshot from Nausicaä valley of the wind (1984)

Although tied with the human realm by birth and character, the protagonist Nausicaä plays a different role. She is an eco-warrior, opposed to violence, seeking to live in harmony with the toxic jungle. The music associated with Nausicaä is orchestral by nature, connecting her to humanity, but it is also positive and uplifting. Her theme is fairly high register and sustained notes with relaxed ornamentation suggest a sense of peace. The use of a major key and rising motifs, in turn, help to inspire hope. The instrumentation varies from soaring legato strings to light piano tones with a relaxed tambourine beat. Overall, the timbres and scoring techniques provide a positive sense of peace. It could be argued that this is the only truly positive music in the score, as other music either consists of representations of war (i.e. marches) or the electronic music of the toxic jungle (either too invasive or otherworldly for the viewer to associate with fully. In turn, it forms a catharsis for the viewer, a reprieve from the oppression of other music. It occurs at moments where balance has been restored between man and nature (often at Nausicaa’s doing), allowing the viewer to rejoice the character’s triumphs with her.

If we consider the quote at the opening of this article, it is clear to see how Hisaishi’s score helps to build on Miyazaki’s beliefs. Nature is depicted as beautiful, both in image and in score, but it is also something alien and uncomfortable. It is something that humanity needs to be wary of and not take for granted, or we may be punished in an unstoppable manner. It also suggests that peace with nature is possible, if treated with respect, and it is only through these means that we can ensure the future of humankind.

1Hayao Miyazaki, Starting Point 1979-1996, trans. Beth Cary and Frederik L. Schodt (San Francisco, CA: VIZ
Media, LLC, 2009), 417.

Boom vs lav microphones: Low-budget productions

“Why do you need to get the boom closer, they’re wearing a lav?”

As a field mixer, this is one of the most common questions I am faced with by directors. There seems to be an understanding, particularly amongst low budget productions, that as long as talent is wearing lavalier microphone, then there is nothing to worry about. In this article I want to disband a few common beliefs about the use of lavalier microphones, and provide tips on how and when they should be used.

Tip #1 The sound from a boom mic will almost always sound better than a lavalier.

Boom microphones have a larger diaphragm than lavaliers, allowing audio to be recorded with fuller quality. In the hands of a skilled operator, the boom mic can also be moved up and down, position adjust during a take to help capture a natural and realistic recording of the dialogue. Lavaliers cannot be corrected or re-positioned during a take if there is a problem.

Tip #2 If you’re filming drama/short film/feature film, you want to have a clean boom track.

As mentioned, boom mics almost always sound better than lavalier microphones. If your project is more artistic in nature, or is aimed at festivals or wider distributions, you are going to want the highest quality of audio possible. Plan your shots to allow for this. This does not mean that lavalier mics shouldn’t be used. Sometimes post-production editors will use a blend of both boom and lavalier microphones to create a more well-rounded sound. Talk to your editor and ask if they are intending to do this.

Tip #3 Do you have the budget for lots of foley?

Boom mics have the benefit of recording character movement as well as dialogue. Lavalier microphones capture less of this room sound, and a little more clothing rustle. If you are working on a low budget project that does not have the money to pay a foley artist to reconstruct diegetic sound, a boom microphone will treat your more favourably than lav mics and provide a more realistic representation of the scene.

Tip #4 Be consistent with the microphones you use.

If the rest of your scene/scenes of your project have been filmed using a boom, a cut to lavs will be audible, or vice versa. The dialogue still works, but there will be a change in timbre. Maybe your general audience won’t hear the difference, but most professionals will. Try to be consistent with the source of the sound you use.

Tip #5 Boom mics can save time.

More often than not, on low budget productions I find I don’t have the possibility to see costumes before hand. The type of fabric and the design of clothes can have a tremendous impact on the reliability of lavalier mics. Certain materials just don’t work and you can waste a lot of time trying to make it e.g. polyester shirts are stiff and often rub on the cable no matter how much work you put in to keep them in place. Even if you do find a safe spot in troublesome clothing, there is always a strong chance of the lav slipping and you will need to keep returning to re-adjust it. This can lead to time being wasted and actors becoming frustrated. Boom microphones do not have this problem.

Tip #6 Large cast but can’t afford a boom operator?

The sound mixer is only one person. It is a tremendously difficult job to monitor multiple lavs and swing a boom pole. When monitoring lavaliers, I usually switch between different channels during a take to check that all is working well. If my hands are busy on a boompole, this I cannot do and my concentration is often so focused on the movement of the talent’s head/position of the camera that if there is a problem with the lav tracks there is a large possibility of it being missed. If there is a problem with the levels and I need to adjust, I also can’t do this because my hands are busy on the pole. In most cases I would really advise hiring a boom operator to ensure the best quality audio is achieved, but if you really cannot afford this try to make it easier for your sound recordist by keeping the cast small/not expecting a large cast to be mic’d and boomed simultaneously by one person. There are sound mixers out there who will do this without complaint, but this does not mean their result will be the highest quality.

So when can I rely on lavalier microphones?

So far, I have talked largely about the cons of using lav mics. 90% of the time when working, I will favour the boom and push to be as close as possible without breaking the frame. In these situations, lav mics are usually backup in case there is a problem with the boom track that truly cannot be solved. However lav mics are still useful and there are occasions on which they may even be considered preferable.

Establishing Shot

This shot is too wide to keep a boom in and even if the operator manages to get it above the frame, the boom will likely be too distant to capture anything useful. Sound is recorded from lavaliers, but will likely be dubbed over with dialogue from closer takes. For this reason it is always useful to run the entirety of dialogue on close-ups, even if you know that you won’t be using this shot for the whole scene.

Wide shot for artistic choice

All dialogue and action takes place in a wide where holding a boom would not be possible. An example of this would be films by director Roy Anderson. If you decide to go down this route, see if there is any possibility of hiding boom mics as plant mics in the scene (e.g. behind props). Make sure also that all clothing is approved by the sound recordist before hand to minimise the chance of clothing rustle.

Large group conversation

This situation occurs most often in documentary or ENG productions. I was once asked to film a discussion between 8 people sat around a table. The space was small, the camera angle wide and the discussion would last one hour. If I had used the boom I would have risked dropping the boom in frame between changes in speech, straining my back and arms by holding the boom for that length of time and potentially missing important conversation. Instead, I put lav’s on each of the participants and agreed with the producer that the microphones could be on the outside of the clothing. With the microphones on the outside, I could more safely position them to avoid clothing rustle, thereby avoiding the risk of having to interrupt mid-filming for adjustments.

Improvisation

Similar to the large group conversation, if actors are improvising there is a high risk that the boom operator might miss parts of lines. In these cases you want the talent to be mic’d to make sure you get full coverage of each take. A good example of this type of situation is the film Victoria (2015) directed by Sebastian Schipper.

The talent is difficult to reach

E.g. you are filming someone partaking in sport or an activity where it would be unrealistic to have a boom operator running alongside. This situation most often occurs again in ENG and documentary filming.

Poor acoustics

In rooms with a lot of reverb, boom microphones pick up more of room atmosphere than lavaliers. If you are considering in filming in such a room, be certain that you are aware the impact that the sound quality will have on your overall production and that you are happy with it. Always consult with your sound recordist before settling on a location.

High budget drama

As previously mentioned, audio editors may sometimes blend boom and lav tracks to created a well-rounded sound. This happens most frequently on high budget productions where a full sound team can be provided and much communication between departments happens in the pre-production stage (t.ex. with costume) to ensure that both boom and lav tracks can be as clean as possible.

No matter what type of production you are running, my final and most important piece of advice to you is to plan thoroughly and ask your crew what they need. Clear and effective communication is the solution to most problems.

Thank you for your time in reading my article and I hope that it has helped to shed some light on whether you should be using boom or lavaliere microphones, or both on your next production.

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