ENVY’s Provide Full Post For KEO Films Documentary Once Upon a Time in Iraq

By August 19, 2020 No Comments


Produced by Keo Films & Directed by multi-award winning director James Bluemel, the story of the Iraq war is told instead by civilians, journalists, and soldiers – ordinary people from both sides of the conflict who lived through the 2003 invasion and the 17 years of chaos that followed.

In Once Upon a Time in Iraq the first-hand testimony from those who lived through the horrors of the invasion and whose actions were dictated by such extreme circumstances. It takes in all sides of the conflict – working class Iraqi families watching their country erupt into civil war; soldiers and journalists on the ground; American families dealing with the grief of losing their son or daughter; parents of a suicide bomber coming to terms with unfathomable events – to create the most in-depth and multi-faceted portrait of the Iraq War to date.

ENVY Dubbing Mixer – Matt Skilton:

Due to the complex nature of the documentary and the atmospheric disparity’s interwoven throughout (from personal interviews & accounts to war archive/footage) the show required a multi-layered and finely interlaced mix to fully express the emotional depth and magnitude of the subject matters at hand; the battlefield scenes are raw, intense and consuming to really drive home the sheer brutality of war, while the auditory theme becomes sensitive & observational during the piece to camera moments.

In the mix I cleared up all affected dialogue and removed any distracting ambient using Isotope RX noise reduction to make sure that the interview dialogue came through clear and comprehensible. By clearing up the dialogue to almost booth standard your scope for implementing sound effects and audial extras is greatly increased for the remainder of the mix.

Throughout the doc we used multiple techniques to create an incredibly dynamic range and at times theatrical sound profile. An example of this is the diverse use of silence, from the suspenseful & anxiety building wait before impact to reflective & assimilating pauses throughout interviews.

Alternatively we built layers upon layers to push the audio and fully complement the music and onscreen visuals; where possible we ‘let rip’ to create the ‘epic’ and somewhat theatrical moments.
In a somewhat similar manor I used overlaying sound montages to add a field of depth to onscreen instances; matching each spoken word of an interviewee to relevant sound effects i.e the piercing bass of the shells thundering on the battlefield, in turn developing a more immersive telling of the personal accounts.

While pushing the mix to the limits we also wanted to retain the authenticity of the doc and as such believed it was critical to allow the raw audio lead where possible. For example at many key moments such as the bombing of Bagdad we stripped back any use of sound effects and only used the original sound from the raid.

Once the initial mix was finished we listened to the show on a variety of different speakers, devices and in multiple environments’ (Studio, pc monitor etc) to make sure audio worked on every level.


Director – James Bluemel on working with Matt Skilton:

“Working with Matt on the Iraq series was a great experience. He took what was essentially just interview and archive and meticulously layered on sound to produce tense, evocative audio atmospheres. It elevated the films in so many ways, but most importantly, his work unlocked the private interior world of so many of the interviewees.

Listening to Matt’s mixes it furthered both the connection to the characters and drew the audience into the tension of the story.  Remarkable.”


Andrew Cloke – ENVY Colourist said:

The brief was to keep the grade genuine and true to the theme of the documentary. To achieve the desired look I performed small enhancements on the imagery using an Academy Colour Encoding System (ACES) colour space, making sure to keep it relatively muted & clean while being careful to prevent over polishing.

We wanted the archive material to look true to its origins, and to enhance the details and quirks within. Similarly with the doc itself it was important to prevent any exaggeration and to retain the authenticity as documentation.”


ENVY Credits

Online Editor: Andrew Mitchell

Dubbing Mixers: Matt Skilton

Colourist: Andrew Cloke & Vicki Matich

Post Producers: Jannine Martin, Edith Rivers, Emelie Bjork



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