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  • Dan Guest

A Look Back On... "Villain" (2020)

villain poster

Back in 2019, I took on my first feature-length film as Production Sound Mixer, a film called Villain, released in cinemas, and later Netflix, in 2020.

It was a film directed by Phillip Barantini, his debut feature film, and starred Craig Fairbrass (Rise of the Footsoldier) as the main protagonist. The plot follows the story of Eddie Franks, a former criminal who is released from prison and returns to his hometown in London. Hoping to lead a quiet life and reconnect with his family, Eddie finds himself drawn back into the criminal underworld when his brother is caught up in a dangerous situation involving a ruthless drug dealer. As Eddie tries to protect his family and navigate the treacherous world he left behind, he is forced to confront his own past and make difficult choices to ensure their survival.

Background Before Villain

boiling point short film poster

I was brought on as Production Sound Mixer after working on Barantini’s 2018 short film, Boiling Point (which went on to become a feature film and now a BBC television show), where I was the lead sound recordist on a small sound team. We managed to capture some great audio for what was a ‘one shot’ style narrative, and after getting great feedback from Phil and the post-production team, I was thrilled to be brought on board Phil’s first feature film, shooting in and around London.

The Team & Sound Setup

villain sound equipment 1

The sound team on Villain consisted of just myself and my boom op/1st Assistant, Lubos Jurik. I’d worked with Lubos on a few short films prior and was very happy with his work so was thrilled to bring him with me onto the project. It was sometimes challenging with just a two-person team, for example when we may benefit from a 2nd boom op for a complex scene, but the film was a low budget production so we had to work with what we had and work hard and creative to achieve our goals.

My sound setup at the time consisted of;

-          Sound Devices 442 as my mixer

-          Zoom F8 as my recorder

-          Sennheiser 416 as my boom mic

-          Audio Ltd A10s & Sennheiser G3s as my radio mics

-          DPA 4071s as my lav mics

-          Sennheiser G3s as my crew wireless audio monitoring system

Most of this equipment was then used on a cart (pictured) for ease of use and transport. Most of the equipment listed are still staples in my kit today. However, I did sell my Sound Devices 442 and retired the Zoom F8 from primary field work back in 2022 in favour of an all-in-one unit, the Sound Devices MixPre 10 ii (see my blog about this here).

Key Production Sound Challenges

There were many situations during the production which were challenging and required us to think creatively.

Car Rig

villain car rig 1

One challenge was capturing sound in a moving vehicle. Unfortunately, one of the vehicles was a small car with no room for anyone other than the actors. We decided to mount the A10 radios in the car with the lav mics mounted in a position above the actors seating positions. This offered some great results as it allowed us to capture the dialogue clean as well as the ambient sound of the car.

villain car rig 2

One of the tricky elements came when trying to monitor the audio while filming was taking place. Because we would be in a follow car, there was no guarantee the signal from the radios to my mixer would hold up 100% of the time. Therefore, I utilized one of the best features of the A10 radio systems: internal recording. This feature is a life saver for these situations as it records locally to a microSD card, with an option of recording at 32bit, which gave us peace of mind if I lost signal, I know the audio is being captured locally on the radio, therefore not losing the performance and could save a really good take of a scene.

Fight Scenes

There were a few scenes in the film that involved some form of physical altercation and each one was always a challenge in terms of the best way to capture the audio.For the most part, these scenes primarily use boom mic audio to capture the on-set sounds of punches, thrown objects, grunts, etc, as a radio mic on a cast member during these sequences can often prove troublesome for obvious reasons!

villain production still

However, radio mics can still sometimes be utilized in these scenes, for example on a character who doesn’t get involved in any physicality or what we call a ‘plant mic’, where we can hide the lav mic on a prop or piece of furniture in the scene that may capture some specific sound or ambience that may elevate the scene.The main challenge with capturing the audio of a fight scene is for the boom op to follow the action closely with the boom mic and communicating well with all departments to ensure they’re not going to be in shot in anyway if the camera is moving around frantically for example.

‘Spooky’ Challenge!

villain sound equipment 2

For those that are into the paranormal, this particular challenge will be up your street! On one particular day, we were shooting in an old, disused pub in London that the production team had decorated to look like a functioning pub. One scene, (a very disturbing, gruesome I might add) took place in some old toilets. We prepped the wireless boom mic as normal, but as we got into position, the mic kept giving off a strange noise… We went through lots of different things to try and troubleshoot it, from lighting interference to hardware fault, but couldn’t figure out what the noise was or why it was happening. Every time we brought the mic back out of the toilet area, the noise would stop. We tried a different mic on the boom and the noise still persisted so in the end we had to hardwire the boom with plenty of XLR cables which seemed to put a stop to it… Clearly something didn’t want our wireless boom in there that day!

Final Thoughts

villain sound equipment 3

Villain was a great production to be a part of and I’m proud to say it was my first feature as a Production Sound Mixer. I had a brilliant 1st assistant to work with throughout, It had plenty of challenges in each location of filming and a great overall crew to work with. It’s also fantastic to see how far and how quickly Phil Barantini’s career has taken off as a director and I hope our paths cross once again soon.

Villain is available now on DVD/Blu-Ray, Prime Video and other Video-On-Demand services.

Dan Guest | Sound Recordist


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