Chris Benstead won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Sound and a BAFTA for Best Sound for his work on Gravity. With further credits on blockbuster films including Black Swan, Thor, Clash of the Titans, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain Phillips, Cuban Fury and Everest, we asked Chris about his career, his preferred workflow, and how Pro Tools has helped him to achieve success.
“I have always enjoyed working with sound – it’s all around us, after all! Before university I considered many options before settling on the renowned Tonmeister degree at the University of Surrey because the course combines elements of music, maths and physics with teaching input from audio professionals, and also because of its links with the British music industry.
One of the most attractive elements of the course is a professional placement, which provides first hand experience working within the industry. I worked for a post-production company that also rented out Pro Tools systems to other studios. As I result, I got to know the Pro Tools ecosystem intimately – both hardware and software. Then, once I finished my degree, the Music Editor Andy Glen (Maleficent, My Week with Marilyn) needed someone for his company, The Music Department. Apparently my demo reel had the best cover artwork, which is of course why he employed me! Actually, one of the main reasons I did get the job was because I knew Pro Tools so well. What potential employers are looking for is how efficient you can be. When you’re editing under pressure, you’ve got to be able to do it quickly and on the spot, and having a good knowledge of Pro Tools definitely helps.”
“I was very lucky to hit the ground running as a Music Editor. I continued to learn on the job and Andy vouched for me, so I ended up getting quite a bit of work. I was only supposed to be there for two weeks, but I ended up staying there for four years so I must have done something right.
My work as a Music Editor really depends on the film. Normally I come on board in post-production and create a temporary score to give the Director an idea of what the film is going to be like with music. Music plays a huge role in a film, it can help dictate the pace of editing and adds an emotional quality.
The second step happens when the composer gets involved and starts writing music; Music Editors are there to guide them so that everything they do fits the picture. There are always inevitable picture changes so it’s my job to edit the music to fit the final version of the picture. If the director suddenly needs a new piece of music, I’ll create something new or sculpt something out of the music that’s already there.”
“Pro Tools allows me to do my job. In the audio world there is no parallel.”
— Chris Benstead
“As a Re-recording Mixer, I come in at the end of the process. There might be two or three of us working together to balance all the elements within the music itself and tweak them so they sound great in the cinema. We also work around the dialogue and the sound effects, tailoring the music as best as we can to the rest of the film.
The biggest challenge is to realise what the Director has in mind quickly and efficiently. I might need to come up with a number of different options for a scene very quickly and Pro Tools lets me do that. To me it’s the most efficient way of editing. My favourite feature of late is offline bouncing. When you have to get something out of the door quickly, that really speeds things up.
Mainly, Pro Tools allows me to do my job. In the audio world there is no parallel. I use it at every stage from editing the temp music, to recording the orchestra and then editing those orchestral recordings. I don’t really think outside of Pro Tools because I know it’s going to enable me to do my job to the highest standard.
I think working on Gravity really proved the power of Pro Tools to me – it was the lynchpin. The mix, every automation, and every edit was done within Pro Tools. It’s an entire workflow that’s incredibly reliable and solid.
It’s amazing to even be considered for awards, let alone be nominated. To actually win a BAFTA and an Oscar for Gravity was unbelievable, really. Gravity was such an amazing film so the soundtrack had to live up to that…and I guess we did that.
My advice to anyone who might want to work in film music is that it’s all about the music: being passionate about music, developing the right ear and the right attitude to music. You also need to be an open and approachable person; someone who is able to work with a diverse range of characters, which is what you get in movies. Obviously Pro Tools is also mightily important: you need to get that under your fingers so that using it comes naturally.
Those are the three qualities you need to succeed: musical, personal and technical.”
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