Jaime’s Other Side
While most would agree that Jaime’s true passion was music, there was another side to him that many probably didn’t know. Stacked along the back wall of his dark post-production projection room, almost hidden under the theater-size screen, were several unlabeled boxes - each about six inches high, three feet wide and three feet deep - alongside several crates of miscellaneous materials.
“What could Jaime be up to? Why were these impractical wooden boxes stored in a theater? Upon further investigation, the mystery would only grow as we’d see that the boxes contained dirt, leaves, gravel, small tree branches and more. Could Jaime have enjoyed “tray planting," such as Bonsai, a Japanese art form using trees grown in containers? If so, why the crates of odds and ends such as women’s shoes, pillows, cups, and other oddities? Hmm?
The answer to these questions and more lay in a little-known art form, originating after the first motion picture with sound, 'The Jazz Singer." At that time, Jack Foley, “who had sold a number of scripts to Universal, directed silent films... and directed inserts for the studio. (Inserts are the close-ups of movements, such as a hand picking up a gun, which are not bothered with during normal shooting.) Jack prepared the sets, graphics, props, models, whatever was necessary, either doing it himself or arranging for it to be done. During this time, Universal Studios was rounding up the last few scenes of the great American musical, 'Showboat', a silent picture. ‘Faces around the studio were so red that someone asked... are we still in business?' It became evident that what was needed was a composite music and effects track to the hitherto silent ‘Showboat’. The music and effects were added simultaneously and the first "Foley" session was born. As sound was added to picture after picture, Jack was called upon to add the sound effects. ‘Jack's technique was to record all the effects for a reel at one time,’ explained George Pal, who used Jack's talent on some of his pictures. ‘Jack added the footsteps, the movement, the sound of various props-all in one track. He used a cane as an adjunct to his own footsteps. With that cane, he could make the footsteps of two to three people. He kept a large cloth in his pocket which could be used to simulate movement.’ Fellow workers say that the results of a Jack Foley session were as good as what young editors get today cutting twenty tracks. Joe Sikorsky, who worked with Jack, recalls, ‘Jack emphasized you have to act the scene... you have to be the actors and get into the spirit of the story the same as the actors did, on the set. It makes a big difference.’" (1)
So, this was the answer! Jaime was a Foley Artist, and one of the best. Moreover, due to budget constraints, Jaime’s work environment likely resembled what Jack faced in the 1920’s, or perhaps what many sound effects artists working in radio encountered. Jaime’s projection booth had two 35mm uni-directional film projectors. This meant that when recording live sound effects for a film reel (usually 10 minutes in length), there was no going back to correct mistakes. It was a straight shot, from beginning to end. Unlike larger studios, that used “rock and roll” projectors, Jaime could not run the picture backwards to re-record sections of the action. Instead, it had to be done right the first time, especially as everything was needed yesterday - a norm in the film industry. So, Jaime with his editors, such as John Post (a talented and creative sound effects editor) would have an assistant in the projection booth start the machine and they were off to the races.
I remember being a teen and fortunate to have been invited into the Foley session. I was given one simple task – to match the footsteps of one female character. There I was, kneeling on the concrete patch of the floor with high heels on my hands, trying to match each step of the actress as her image moved from side to side on the screen. The goal was to be as exact as possible so as to help, not burden the SFX editor with lots of needed corrections. In my youthful hubris, I thought the task would be a cinch, and I wondered how the two old, overweight men standing to my side would fare. Hopefully, I wouldn’t embarrass them with my lightning quick reflexes and pin-point accuracy. Well, to my surprise, those old guys moved with such speed, grace and precision, while also creating simultaneously multiple sounds, that I felt rather foolish. The reel ended and I apologized for having missed some of my character's few sounds. Jaime and John reassured me while quickly exiting to continue their work.
Sound held a special meaning for Jaime. He spoke of composers from the past who had experimented with the incorporation of untraditional sounds into their work, and he prided himself on understanding the important contribution sound made in telling a story, adding to a dramatic moment, or helping to maintain a credible portrayal of a scene, and in doing so maintaining the audience’s suspended sense of reality and their immersion into the film.
In the analogue days, Jaime’s tools were limited in comparison to today’s technological resources. However remembering him working at a Moviola, editing at incredible speeds - a synchronizer, film bin, editing block, gloves, tape and a razor blade his tools - will always put a smile on my face.
Frequently after his retirement from post-production work, he would watch a film while providing his own narration of all the good and bad heard in its soundtrack. I miss that commentary.
(1) FilmSound.org http://filmsound.org/foley/jackfoley.htm
Jack Foley - "Developer of many sound effect techniques used in filmmaking. He is credited with developing a unique method for performing sound effects live and in synchrony with the picture during a film's post production. Accordingly, individuals engaged in this trade are called 'Foley artists'"