Phillip Bladh Turns a Very Technical Job into a Creative One
January 2021 was a turning point for recording alumnus Phillip Bladh. Oscar buzz started mounting with early predictions for Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal. When Phillip signed on to be the production sound mixer, he knew the project would be more exploratory than anything he’d ever done before. The film’s narrative is entirely experimental with its sound design. This brilliant combination of technical and creative sound is what ultimately won Phillip Bladh his first Oscar as a production mixer.
What is Sound of Metal About?
Sound of Metal follows Ruben, a drummer (Riz Ahmed) who quickly loses his hearing while playing at shows. Ruben’s hearing decline becomes the focal point in the film through masterful sound production and design work. Director Darius Marder takes the viewer along Ruben’s devastating journey and gets inside his head as he goes deaf. Throughout the film, the audience hears exactly what Ruben is hearing (or not hearing) while he tries to find a new direction for his life.
Phillip’s job was to creatively capture the muffled ambient noises as well as the normal sound levels that Ruben experienced in real-time dealing with hearing loss. Actor Riz Ahmed wore two mics on set to accomplish the different sounds. He had one lavalier mic to record high-quality sound and then another mic strapped to his body recording under-the-clothes audio for the low-quality sound. Supervising sound editor/designer Nicolas Becker led a team of sound engineers to recreate the piercing silence and high-frequency noises once Ruben transitions to a cochlear implant.
“Sound of Metal is very much first-person perspective audio recording,” said Phillip Bladh in an interview with The L.A. Film School. “Recording audio live on set to get the necessary contact sound was how we made this film’s sound production work so well.”
During our interview with Oscar-winning production mixer Phillip Bladh, we asked him about working on Sound of Metal and winning his first Oscar for sound. Fun Facts: Phillip completed his certificate from the Recording School in 2008. He got his first real production gig in November of 2009. It took him twelve years of working in the entertainment industry from that first job to win his Oscar for Sound of Metal in 2021. This interview was adapted for length and clarity.
Interview with Oscar-winning Alum Phillip Bladh
Tell us how you signed on to “Sound of Metal.“
As someone who recorded music in the past, I read the script and had a bunch of ideas. That’s kinda what you do with scripts, you read them and have ideas and notes. Also, I worked with the producers before on a movie called The Lovers with Tracy Letts and Debra Winger. The producers couldn’t find anyone in Boston who would do the movie [Sound of Metal] for the rate they were offering. It was kind of a perfect storm of…I’m a person who has a passion for recording music, I was available and had worked with the producer before, and at the same time, I had worked on a show for Sundance Now that had two deaf actors on it. Again, I read the script and sent them notes, and said I would do anything to work on this movie. From there, I interviewed with the director and was hired on the project.
How did it feel when you won the Oscar?
First, we were nominated for the BAFTA. And that’s when things really started looking like it might actually happen. And then we did actually get nominated for the Oscar. When I started a movie in January, after we were nominated for the BAFTA, the campaign leading up to the Oscars was still 6 weeks away. We were doing lots of interviews with publications like Mixed Mag and people started telling us that we were probably going to win. I’m sure this happens all the time though when someone tells you that you’re going to win and then it goes to the other guy. So just getting the nomination was half the battle.
Then when we did win, I was holding the Oscar and just in my head I was like I cannot believe this just happened. I mean the statistics of a first win, first nominee, and it’s the director’s first movie just does not happen. It’s like winning the lottery. And in a lot of ways, I don’t think it has completely hit me.
What mantra do you live by?
My dad always told me something that stuck with me. He said, “You should never be afraid of hard work as long as you get good results.” I also believe if you want to chase your dreams, go to film school.