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Thierry LEBON
14 janvier 2020
Sam Cohen mis à l’honneur par la CAS

Sam Cohen mis à l’honneur par la CAS

Sam Cohen CAS est un ingénieur du son né au Maroc et installé à Paris à l'âge de 12 ans. Après des études à l'École nationale  Louis Lumière, il commence à travailler comme perchman sur des documentaires dans toute la France. . Au cours des 25 années suivantes, Sam a travaillé sur des longs métrages en Espagne, au Maroc, en France, en Angleterre, en Italie, en Thaïlande, en Russie, en République tchèque et en Bulgarie avec des réalisateurs incroyables tels que Richard Lester, Oliver Stone, Jonathan Demme, Brian De Palma, Ridley Scott et Woody Allen.  Tout en travaillant sur French Kiss de Lawrence Kasdan, il a rencontré le grand mixeur John Pritchett CAS. Sam a pris la décision difficile de passer de perchman a ingénieur du son et a depuis travaillé sur un certain nombre de séries en France et sur un certain nombre de projets internationaux, après avoir remporté le Best Sound Award 2017 de l'Académie du cinéma israélien pour Foxtrot et le roumain Gopo. Prix du meilleur son en 2017 pour Caini. Sam a récemment terminé la série Possession pour Canal Plus.

Sam aime travailler sur des projets internationaux parce qu'il aime découvrir différents univers et se remettre en question en s'adaptant à de nouvelles situations. - C'est très excitant!

Article original complet

Possession: A Case Study in Production Sound for Multilanguage Projects


I was born in Morocco in 1958 and moved to France with my family when I was 12 years old. After high school, I joined ENS Louis Lumière, a leading French graduate program for audiovisual arts, where I specialized in film sound. After I graduated, I started working on various documentaries before becoming a boom operator. At that time, I was very attracted to Italian and American cinema, so I decided to work with international movie productions. I was lucky to be proficient in a few languages—namely English, Italian, Arabic, and Hebrew—which helped me pursue a global career. I have been privileged to be a team member of great sound mixers such as Jean-Louis Ducarme (The Exorcist, Don Giovanni), as well as Jean-Paul Mugel, whom I worked with on Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Great and Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia.

I have also had the honor of working with Woody Allen, Robert Altman, and Jonathan Demme to name a few. By working as a boom operator on movies spoken in a language I wasn’t fluent in, I developed the ability to record sound by relying on the melody and intonation of words rather than on their meaning. Of course, they would be put in context beforehand based on an English or French version of the script. I would say my most challenging boom operator experience was on a movie in Swiss-German—a language that sounds like a mix of German and Yiddish, neither of which I was familiar with! At the beginning, I would write down the end of each sentence phonetically on a sticky note and put it on the boom pole … until I stopped staring at my notes and focused only on the actors.

by Samuel Cohen CAS

Sam Cohen CAS recording stereo ambiences After 25 years as a boom operator, I decided to start my career over as a sound mixer. I had to start with local French TV series, but I quickly got the opportunity to work on international productions again—from English-speaking movies, to Italian, Israelian, and French-Moroccan films. I received my first sound award in 2016 for Bogdan Mirica’s Caini, a Romanian-speaking movie. Needless to say, I still don’t speak Romanian to this day.

At the awards ceremony in Bucharest, I had to admit that I was a crook because I was rewarded for the sound of a film I did not understand a word of! I received a second award in 2017 for Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot, an Israeli movie shot in Hebrew. After a 30-year career in cinema, the two films for which I had received awards were in foreign languages. MOST RECENT MULTILANGUAGE PROJECT: POSSESSION Written by Shahar Magen and Valérie Zenatti, Possession is a TV series for France’s Canal Plus, starring a French family with Djerban origins (from the island of Djerba in Tunisia) immigrating to Israel who are confronted by the country’s unique culture and multiple languages. Hebrew is the official language, but there are also local Arab dialects (similar to Lebanese), French, and English. Directed by Thomas Vincent, the story will evolve in this fresco of cultures and languages—and around a murder. Vera Peltekian, the producer from Canal Plus, told me that “For Possession, we wanted a mixture which was very modern, and incarnates the globalization which is an essential element of realism.” While I could discuss the Zaxcom Fusion and Deva 24 recorders and Oasis mixer I used, or speak of the quality of the Audio Ltd. wireless,

I want to focus on the multiple languages that were captured and the artistic—as opposed to technical—performance. LANGUAGES SPOKEN BY THE CAST The French Family: They speak French to each other and the police and sometimes English with other characters. The Police: They speak Hebrew to each other, French with the family, and English with some characters. The Man from the French Embassy: He speaks French with the family, English with police, and Israeli Arab with some characters. TECHNICAL CONCERNS I was concerned about the fact that we were supposed to keep each cast member in their own language. Full production would be used for the original version (with all four languages present) but flexibility was needed for the dubbed versions in French, English, or other languages as needed relative to distribution down the line. For this to work, I had to record each actor as cleanly as possible and try to detach them from the acoustics so that those dubbed lines could be inserted as needed in the other versions. To help with post, and given this scenario, I recorded a lot of backgrounds and silences to serve as production fill.


The artistic vision of the program is that of director Thomas Vincent. Thomas is a French director who has worked in cinema and television and has been involved in multiple international CAS QUARTERLY WINTER 2020 61 62 WINTER 2020 CAS QUARTERLY English-language series. This latest series, Possession, will be airing on Canal Plus in France in 2020. To better communicate his artistic approach and vision, I sat down with Thomas on a recent Saturday afternoon. When you read the script for Possession with its French, Hebrew, and Arab characters, did you think about shooting in one language or was your intent to shoot in the native language of each character? The only language they could have spoken altogether would have been English. Other options [such as actors speaking languages they did not know] made no sense to me. The most interesting option was for everyone to shoot in their own language; knowing that this came with a few specific difficulties. Did you consider this an artistic choice? Having each actor speak their own language made sense for this particular show because it’s about being a foreigner; being an outsider—or an insider. Do you think it is more acceptable for certain types of projects? I remember being disturbed, for instance, when I saw Julian Schnabel’s Miral (about an orphaned Palestinian girl growing up in the wake of the Arab-Israeli War), since everyone spoke English. When you’re trying to convey a realistic, contemporary story with everybody speaking another language, it can get a little dodgy. Possession [is intended] to be rooted in reality, so people need to speak their own language. However, when I worked on [the FrancoCanadian historical fiction TV series] Versailles, all of the characters spoke English which, at first, was a challenge but [in the end] I don’t think really shocked anyone since it’s a version of reality we’re depicting. Was the casting for Possession challenging since you don’t speak Hebrew? We felt it was much more important to have a good actor than an actor that spoke the language. A great performer is always better no matter what [since] you can always find your way through it. On the other hand, a bad performer is always [damaging the scene]. For instance, Noa Koler, who played the character Esti, was less gifted in French—which was needed for one particular scene— but clearly the best actress we met. What lets a director direct a language that is not his or her own is what is beneath the language. However, I did have a Hebrew advisor with me [since I do not speak Hebrew] to let me know if anything was spoken incorrectly, which did happen on occasion. Was Noa not speaking French natively a problem for that scene? Her acting was excellent, which was the focus. We’ll use nearly all of her direct sound but will [ADR] a word or two here and there to make sure the rhythm of a word or a pronunciation is more accurate. Was directing difficult? We used English as our common work language. It would be much more difficult if we didn’t have that to help communicate Top to bottom: Sam Cohen at his sound cart; director Thomas Vincent (right) talking in English with an Israeli cast whose scenes are in Hebrew; Reda Kateb as “The Man from the French Embassy” in Israel, speaks French, English, and some lines in Hebrew and Arab. CAS QUARTERLY WINTER 2020 63 the emotions [we were looking to get from a performance]. I pay attention to the “music,” the emotions, the inner emotions of the actors. Language doesn’t matter so much in the end. You mention the “music” of the performance. Can you speak more of this? In the case of French and Hebrew, which are the two main languages in the show, there is an interesting “musical” type of clash. Hebrew is a language with a tonal accent, it uses many mouth sounds and has a different tempo than French. This blending [of pitch, phonetics, and rhythmic differences] creates a unique and interesting contrast. TAKEAWAY From this, we can instinctively learn a couple of things. Actors are generally much better when they act while speaking a language they know well. It may sound obvious, but I could literally feel it when French or Israeli actors were acting in English as compared with their own language. This is possibly influenced by my own experiences of being a local and having been a foreigner. The mix of languages is definitely not a handicap. On the contrary, it gives different colors of sound, energy, and intonations that makes the rhythm fluctuate—and sounds like a mix of melodies from different countries. An interesting observation that I typically experience on foreign movies is that when an actor is acting well, even if you don’t understand the words, there is a “music” that doesn’t betray. With the Hebrew scenes, Thomas Vincent got very excited because he had the feeling that the scene was good—even if he didn’t understand the words. Of course, he knew what they were saying from the script, but still... To me, this shows that the information is not only in the words, but also in the way an actor uses their voice, their tone of voice, and control of breath. It is for all the above reasons that I wanted to share this experience because I have a strong feeling that the sound of the dialogue is the witness of the energy of an actor, and it speaks to the heart of the audience. • “ ” The mix of languages is definitely not a handicap. On the contrary, it gives different colors of sound, energy, and intonations that makes the rhythm fluctuate—and sounds like a mix of melodies from different countries. Top to bottom: Noa Koler (left) with an Arab-Israeli cast member that spoke Hebrew and Israeli Arab; wiring up Noa Koler, Esti in the movie, while she speaks with Thomas Vincent; the principal actor, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, and her father in the TV series, Tcheky Karyo. Both speak French together and English with all the Israeli.

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