Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Alfredo de Villa's "American Journey"

Ever so often, I'll have the opportunity to work on a project that resounds with me on a personal level and challenges me to exceed my own sonic goals and expectations for the film.  I have just completed sound editorial and predubs on one such project, and in this blog, I'd like to share a few of my impressions on this touching documentary.

Harlistas: An American Journey explores the trials and challenges faced by four different families who share a spiritual connection to the open road.  With the almighty Harley Davidson motorcycle serving as a symbolic therapist, America's open highway becomes the healing path which our cast of characters takes towards cleansing the spirit, soothing the emotions, rejuvenating the mind and relaxing the body.

Though their stories are quite different from one another, our characters are all inspired by love and driven by hope. Several of the themes explored and challenges faced in this piece include: 
  • the desire to rediscover or rekindle stray family ties
  • the act of finding peace within themselves to cope with the loss of loved ones
  • reigniting hope after a major tragedy
  • strengthening the faith in the family structure 
The film offers the audience an opportunity to reflect, rekindle, rediscover, reignite or rejoice.

Director Alfredo de Villa has brought something special to life here, weaving together four unique stories that work so well on many levels:
First of all, the open road motif and the romantic idea of hopping on one's bike and sailing across the rolling countryside is a very appealing and universal concept. Though I am not one to necessarily hop on a motorcycle for a cross-country adventure, I do understand the lifting and freeing feeling that a new journey can offer.  It is cleansing and liberating, and it can bring much needed peace and clarity. It can give us a chance to start over.

Secondly, as a member of the human race, I can relate to the obstacles, challenges, moments of loss and moments of redemption that each character faces.

Thirdly, because the themes and struggles are so relatable on a universal level, one can easily forget that the four families Alfredo has chosen to follow are of different Latino backgrounds.  I find the director's approach to sharing stories of the Latino experience quite refreshing, and honestly, I think he's nailed it when it comes to creating a a marketable film that doesn't scream out, "Hey, we're Latinos!  Look at us!" but rather calls our attention to the unifying factors that make up the human experience.

Zen and the Art of Sound Design
Lots of work went into creating the soundscape for Harlistas, and thanks to a strong picture cut and a cool temp/nearly-final music guidetrack, we had a great place from which to spring off of in order to find our sonic groove.  On the sound effects/design front were me, Alexander "Night Bear" Pugh and Steven Avila.

First and foremost, the voice of Harley Davidson should be heard loud and clear!  The film is, after all, set in the world of these wonderful bikes.  Since many of the motorcycles recorded on location are big, punchy and beautiful, we decided to incorporate them into the sound effects side of things, tastefully blending Harley Davidson sounds from our library underneath the production to really make each bike "pop."  Artistically, we wove the bikes in and out, choosing to feature them prominently on the wilder scenes, and sucking them out completely for the sake of poignancy during the more zen-like and spiritual moments.

Naturally too, the rich and volatile elements of the American landscape become a lush background for the film as a whole.  Each story has its place of origin and as each journey takes off, we escape on our iron horses into the deserts of the American southwest, soar across the hills of the Dakotas, delve deeply into the Redwoods of the northwest and cruise casually through the hard streets of Los Angeles.

Sound and The Four Journeys
Each journey has its own sonic theme as well.  One story, for example, is about building (both literally and figuratively), so the mechanical sounds of tools and machinery play a subtle yet important counterpoint to mirror the rebuilding and strengthening of a family's foundation.  The calming and peaceful sounds of Oregon's coast and the tranquility of the Redwood Forest set the backdrop for the journey of an estranged father and son, whose story is one of rediscovering and rekindling their lost relationship.  Another story centers around the spirit of a lost loved one, so warm winds and a subtle ambient design in the spirit of our Native American brothers became the task at hand.  Lastly, we have the tale of four brothers from New York and how their love for riding hard has helped them cope with the immensely tragic loss of their sister during the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.  Big and bold-sounding motorcycles ripping across the plains symbolize their internal strife as they make their healing journey to Sturgis.

Whether you embody the Harley Davidson lifestyle, ride casually, or have just read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and share a love for the journey regardless of the destination, Harlistas: An American Journey is a film that will stay with you long after the journey has ended.  The mix begins in January at Monkeyland Audio in Burbank.

I'd like to extend a big ol' "thank you" to Alfredo for trusting us with his film.  Muchas gracias, hermano!  May 2011 bring you and your entire crew much success!

Watch for Harlistas on mun2 sometime in summer of 2011!


  1. hey its sounds like you guys are doing a good job with the film. i was the location mixer for most of the film. i cant wait to watch it and see it all put together from the footage we got, i'm sure its a great film.

    dre rivera

  2. Thanks Dre for some great location sound. As you know, having good quality audio from production makes the editorial and mix process more productive and enjoyable. The mix sounds great by the way. Talk with Alfredo for more info. Stay in touch!


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