Friday, April 20, 2012

Filly Brown: Spitting My Sonic Philosophy

I am happy to see that the hard-hitting, beat-driven Filly Brown has received so much recognition and honor so far this year.  Having made a solid debut this January at Sundance, Filly went on to secure a theatrical deal with The Indomina Group, with a release date set for September 21st.  Filly is also one of 14 films selected to be featured across the pond at the inaugural Sundance London (April 26-29),  and was more recently screened before the Latino film community during opening night of the NALIP Conference here in Los Angeles.  The film boasts a seasoned Latino cast, as well as a new crop of talented actors that really rounds out the pic nicely.

As a sound editor, I'm always excited to work on hip and thought-provoking projects, and though Filly Brown is for the most part a totally music-driven film, lots of care was taken by me and the Monkeyland sound design crew to create an intricate and reflective, rich sonic tapestry to support the storytelling.

Gina Rodriguez as "Filly Brown"
The film follows the story of Majo aka "Filly Brown" (played by the lovely and talented Gina Rodriguez), a tough, twenty-something Latina street poet struggling to find her voice while fighting to keep peace within her family.  This is the kind of project that could fall apart sonically if a balance between music and sound effects failed to exist.  Just as Majo is a product of both her music and her environment,  music and sound effects have no choice but to live symbiotically in Filly Brown.  Thankfully, yin and yang were most definitely in full effect on this one, and our re-recording mixer Trip Brock was able to blend the two disciplines together powerfully, seamlessly.

There is a philosophy behind the many layers of our sound design for Filly Brown, and here's a quick dip into it:

The sound effects approach for Filly Brown became an exercise in carefully mirroring Majo's internal struggle against the lonely yet overwhelming, harsh, cacophonous reality she faced daily in the raw streets of Los Angeles.  Thus, our design would become an extension of the main character and her journey of self discovery.

We filled Filly Brown's sonic landscape with layers of the heavy, deep, moody and ever-present roar of L.A. traffic, accompanied by a tasteful injection of well-placed, incidental street elements of a dissonant nature (wailing sirens, car horns, twisted bus brakes, walla).   The ambiences, backgrounds and overall sound design of Filly Brown ebbs and flows in direct parallel to what is going on in Majo's life.  As Majo ventures into dark, unknown or dangerous places, we elevated the level of dissonance and spookiness.  As she finds comfort in the cozy confines of home, the dissonance subsides, and calming birds or gentle winds played counterpoint to the dialogue and music.

Majo's journey leads to her inevitable evolution, and as she matures, so does her music.  The music in Filly Brown serves as an existential journal of sorts allowing the audience to delve into Majo's mind, to hear the lyrics that burn in her heart.  The infectious melodies and searing beats change throughout the story to  reflect the many outside influences that have shaped Majo's destiny, for better or for worse.  During the film's big music moments, we graciously stepped aside on the FX front to let the beat drive the scene. 

Just as a delicate flower can adapt and bloom in a harsh and arid desert environment, the lyrical, soft-centered-yet-tough-as-nails Majo braves the depression that engulfs her in her attempt to survive and succeed.  I am glad to have been part of Majo's journey, and I can't wait for Filly Brown's release in theaters later this year.  Big thanks to directors Michael Olmos and Youssef Delara for trusting me and the Monkeyland crew with their film.


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