Bibi segola sound engineer interview Perkolate Online

November 2016. Interview by Marelise Jacobs. Cover: In the studio where all the magic happens. Courtesy of Bibi Segola.

Sound designer and engineer, Bibi Segola, has worked on over sixteen cinema released feature films, various television series, documentaries and commercials. She has been responsible for some of South Africa's biggest films including Ballade vir 'n Enkeling, and more recently South Africa's entry for the 2017 Academy Award Entry for Best Foreign Film - Noem My Skollie.

What exactly does a sound editor do?

Bibi Segola: I am the one who sits there and creates or finds those sounds that fit together with the visuals. When it's a visual effect that they created, for example the light sabre in Star Wars, that visual effect wouldn't have any sound, it would need to be created or designed and that's what I do. So in laymens terms, I create in the sounds that don't exist.

“...I create in the sounds that don't exist...” - Bibi Segola

How do you create those sounds?

Bibi Segola: I work with a sound library but some of them I actually do create, for this I work with a foley artist. Together we take samples and manipulate them to sound a specific way. Whether it's compressing time, changing their pitch - just applying different effects to them to give me the specific sound that I'm looking for.

How did you get into sound editing? I heard you studied at AFDA?

Bibi Segola: Yes I did, that's where I met Ben Willem and CA van Aswegen. We've actually worked on few projects together, that's the great thing about film school. When I was in high school I played in the jazz band and the orchestra so I always had a musical interest, and I always loved film. I went to AFDA because I wanted to study film making but I hadn't really decided specifically what it is that I wanted to do.

When I got there, naturally I think like everyone else, I wanted to be a director because you're not really exposed to all the other options. As I was approaching the end of my first year I knew that directing is definitely not something I wanted to do and I had just naturally gravitated towards sound. That was just what my interest was.

I still freelance with other companies as well but generally Ben and I work together. I am sort of the only sound person who works there, I am pretty much outsourced to the company, so whenever any work that comes in, it comes to me. But I still freelance for other companies so I am an independant contractor essentially.

That must be a fun job?

Bibi Segola:It is fun. It's interesting because that's all I've ever done. I've never had a full time job where I show up for a nine-to-five. I think it's also the nature of the industry. A lot of things are project based so it makes sense to work on a project and then move on to another project that will be for a different company. What keeps it fun is that I work with a lot of different people all the time and different projects. There's a whole spectrum of things that I get exposed to which is very cool.

The interesting thing with sound design is that you find a lot of things as you hear them don't really have the cinematic impact that you want. In order to get that you literally have to layer several things in order to get it to sound, not only real, but also have that cinematic gravitas. There are so many elements to think about narratively with the sound. What you emphasise and what you decide not to emphasise is a considered process as well.

What was the most recent feature film you work on?

Bibi Segola: The last film that I worked on was Noem My Skollie. I loved that film, you become so attached to the film. It's one of the films I am most proud of working on, I really am. I was proud from the minute I started working on it till right to the end. The interesting thing was that it is a period film. It was set in the Sixties and the Seventies so everything had to be very specific.

I was sitting with the director Darryn who had grown up on the Cape Flats, and he was giving me cultural references - certain things will have played out this way and that area, what people would have listened to on the radio.

For example there was a point where the characters were sitting on the porch and we had to sit and find a radio broadcast specific to the time. Very time-specific things, the sort of weapons that was used at the time, the cars that were being driven, it all had to be period specific and sound real and authentic. It was largely a coloured area during Apartheid so the radio broadcasts had to be representative of the time and what you hear in the background had to reflect the community in which it was set. The sound had to reflect the period in which it was set and not be a generic selection of sounds. I had to be very carefull of that.

Where do you find a 1970's radio broadcast?

Bibi Segola: The producer, David Max Brown, was really good with that. He's a great producer to work with because he gets involved in the creative process as well, he's not just involved in the planning and then disappears, he was fantastic. He was involved in finding the archives, going to the SABC, trying to find all the things that would have happened at the time.

Getting all the recordings and sourcing them and getting the rights for them. In terms of the legalities of it, is it something we can use? David would take care of that. He really got involved in the process. We would sit there and go through all the material together and say okay what do think of this, does this work? It's so touching for me that the film is receiving such critical aclaim because it's not easy making a film. When you consider that people like David and John, who wrote the script, has been involved for the past twelve years, that must have been very difficult for them.

I'm not even going to compare my experience with theirs because I was there for a few months, but even then those months that you are involved becomes a difficult process because you want to get it right.