A tribute to Andrew Plain - sound designer, sound editor and supervising sound editor
JENNIFER BALCOMB AND IMELDA COONEY
I can’t pinpoint the first occasion I met Andrew Plain but by the time I did I had heard a lot about the work of this passionate man. His canon of work is huge, and so many of the films he enhanced and improved with his sound design are in the NFSA collection.
A small sampling of his extensive credits include Oscar and Lucinda (1997), Lantana (2001) and Look Both Ways (2005) as sound designer; The Sapphires (2012) as sound supervisor; and Bootmen (2000), Candy (2006) and Tracks (2013) as supervising sound editor.
Andrew was a very generous man, keen to share his knowledge and experience in sound. He immediately agreed to present a seminar for the general public about sound in film at AFTRS when I approached him in 2001.
I’ve come across Andrew in the intervening years; it might be at an event or presentation where his considerable intelligence and articulation would demonstrate that sound has a direct storytelling role in a film and should not be underestimated. I have also run into him along the Cooks River in Sydney’s inner west where he sometimes cycled on his way to visit his mother. On each occasion he was warm, friendly and the kind of person who made you feel important – he was a listener.
Andrew was particularly interested in sharing his knowledge with the next generation. I was at an event at Fox Studios a few years ago, representing the NFSA, where a very large group of school students were being educated about intellectual property and copyright. I bumped into Andrew and he said, ‘Bring them over’. I couldn’t believe his offer – to have about 100 school students in his sound studio to show them the workings of the sound editor and designer. I conveyed his offer to the organisers of the event and we went across to Huzzah Sound where Andrew showed how he got in the rushes, and how sound effects, dialogue and music were added.
He ramped up the volume so the students could feel the explosions, not just hear them. I think the students couldn’t believe their luck – they saw scenes from Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010), long before its cinema release. It was the insider tips that were so fascinating – including how they recorded people speaking in different languages, cut up the lines and ran them backwards to create a track of background dialogue that wouldn’t be distinguishable as any particular language. It was absolutely the highlight of the students’ (and my) day.
A couple of years ago a family friend, Jennifer Balcomb, wanted to do work experience within the film industry. My thoughts went immediately to Andrew. It goes without saying he offered immediately to help, and without any fuss. Jennifer reflects on her time at Huzzah Sound:
‘I met Andrew in 2011 after arranging to complete my Year 10 work experience at Huzzah Sound Studio. Naturally I was incredibly nervous, but Andrew’s warmth and kindness during the entire week, as well as his willingness to teach and show me as much as he could about his line of work and the wider industry of filmmaking, made my work experience a highlight of my time in high school. Andrew’s friendly and relaxed attitude seemed to spread through the whole workspace. Andrew went out of his way to show me something or sit down with me and talk me through his current work – even giving me an opportunity to help edit a film they were working on. When my week was finished, he told me ‘If you ever need anything, I’d be more than happy to help’.
‘Although people say that kind of thing as a parting platitude, I had no doubt that Andrew was being entirely sincere. So, when I came to Year 12, I decided to take on the making of a film for my English Extension 2 project. The stress and worry that comes with such a project was put to ease after a long phone conversation with Andrew. He, of course, had a million other things to do – all way more important than my own film, but he always made time to meet with me, watch my film, give me advice, and offer me access to all his facilities. Andrew’s help and good humour made my own filmmaking process a million times easier.
‘I didn’t know Andrew for a very long time, but his kindness sure did make an impression on me. I cannot say how much Andrew’s generosity meant to me and I will never forget it.’
More recently, the NFSA has been extremely fortunate in employing Bronwyn Murphy as the Oral History Archivist. Bronwyn is a close friend of Andrew’s and goes back many years working alongside him as a sound editor. Through this connection I have kept up with news of Andrew, what he was working on and then, sadly, his battle with cancer.
Andrew has been described as a ‘giant’ in the sound industry. It’s true he was a tall man but it was the largesse he bestowed on the industry and his colleagues that made him such a giant in the eyes of those who knew him. Andrew is irreplaceable.
Our thoughts are with Andrew’s partner, Adrienne, his daughter, Isra and Andrew’s family. A memorial service for Andrew will be held in early 2014. For more information, and to leave a condolence message, visit the Andrew Plain memorial tribute page.