Justin Loh is a professional sound recordist with an extensive portfolio ranging from dramas to feature films, and from studio sound to TV commercials. He has worked with HBO, Discovery Channel, Fox Networks, and Mediacorp just to name a few. His most recent project was to lead his team of professionals to record the sounds of popular local movie series, Ah Boys to Men. This will be the first South-East Asian movie to utilize the latest sound technology from Dolby Laboratories, Dolby Atmos delivering a cutting-edge audio performance. Let us take you behind-the-scenes with the audio recording mixer, Justin Loh.
Audio-Technica: Take us back to the start of your career.
Justin Loh: I started when I was 15 or 16 years old, there were these mobile discos at the time, and I worked in those. Then I was shuffled into the army where I was in charge of audio. The exposure led me to pursue a diploma from the School of Audio Engineering in Singapore. After I graduated, I joined Interfilm productions and did pretty much everything as an audio engineer to location sound recordist. After 3 years, I decided to work for myself, free lancing for the audio industry in Singapore and around Asia, capturing sounds for their films, dramas and documentaries.
A-T: How was it different working with Ah Boys to Men director, Jack Neo?
JL: It wasn’t the first time I have worked with Jack, there was also I do, I do and Where got Ghost?, in addition to several variety programs. We’ve worked together numerous times, so I understand his style. He is very active and has many creative impromptu ideas, so the sound crew had to be on the ball, thinking on our feet at all times, and adapting to his sound requirements. .
A-T: How is the sound requirement for a movie different from a TV show?
JL: On TV, the audio is compressed, so certain sounds may be eliminated. But for movies, everything is captured and translated with full range speakers in a sound proof hall. So monitoring is much more stringent when everything is audible, we require more equipment and a more complicated set-up. For this movie, we monitored on set for 10-12 hours a day since Tekong Island has a curfew and we need to leave by evening.
A-T: What was the biggest challenge on this production?
JL: The biggest challenge has got to be manoeuvring the equipment through the Tekong terrains. Certain areas have no flat surface; hence a quiet prime location for the audio equipment placement is important. At times, there are up to 8 actors conversing in a single scene, which makes it a challenge to mix.
Furthermore, since Tekong is a military island, the RF frequency is very sensitive.
A-T: As the first South-East Asian movie to be screened in Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo surround sound, how important are the stereo microphones to the movie recording?
JL: Stereo microphone draws you into the place; it is the 3-D version of sound. For full feature, it is my first time using only stereo sound for ambience and wild sounds. Audio-Technica’s stereo microphones are famous in the industry not only in the region, but also in the USA. They make stereo microphones that makes recording wild and ambience sounds much easier and more convenient. That is an especially important feature for this movie because we had no idea when the tanks and army boys would be marching by so we had to always be ready to capture the sounds when they do, there can’t be any retakes. We couldn’t use extras for those scenes since the effect wouldn’t be the same as those captured from true NS men.
A-T: Was there any particularly difficult scene?
JL: The raining scene at the Benjamin Sheares Bridge was gruelling. The rain was unexpected, it was real. The actor was wearing a shirt made of very thin material and the rain was just beating down hard. It was really lucky that we had this pin that came with the Audio-Technica lavalier microphone, BP896, so we used Rycote and a fur-tech to cover the microphone. The microphone still produced the full range of sounds with a slight brilliant characteristic and can handle the high SPLs, which was perfect since the actor had to scream in that scene.
A-T: Which is your favourite stereo microphone from Audio-Technica?
JL: All! (Chuckles) If I must make a choice though, it’d be the BP4025. This microphone was used in the fighting scene in Ah Boys to Men II, and I taped it underneath one of the chair and instructed the actors not to throw the chair since it was miked. I was impressed but not surprised, that with just one microphone it could capture the whole fighting scene’s sound perfectly.
A-T: What’s just over the horizons?
JL: I am now conducting audio lectures in schools and continuing with my freelance audio jobs. I am producing the materials for the course I will be conducting as well.