Interview with Nelson Ferreira

For over a year beginning in the spring of 1999, Toronto’s Nelson Ferreira worked on Thomas and the Magic Railroad in his professional capacity as an expert in film dialogue and audio editing. As ADR and Supervising Sound Editor, Nelson was thus in a position to become familiar with all of the different versions of the film leading up to the final theatrical release. We are very grateful to Nelson for setting some time aside from his busy schedule to answer a few questions that we had about the movie’s genesis.
- Correspondence with J. Gratton, 13-29 April, 2009
Nelson, you worked on the movie as both the ADR Editor and Supervising Sound Editor. Could you describe what work is involved with these roles?
As a Sound Supervisor I am responsible for preparation and delivery of all Dialogue, ADR (Additional Dialogue Replacement) Sound Effects and Foley tracks toward the completion of the final mix in various theatrical and home theatre formats.  I also work with the music to some extent in helping to shape it around the other elements listed above.  I work closely with the directors and producers from the rough-cut stage of a film, right through to the final delivery to ensure that their creative visions are realized.  I provide as much technical and creative input as possible to enhance the cinematic experience wherever I can.
 
This job is often coupled with one of the other key roles on a film, usually Sound Design or in the case of Thomas, ADR Supervising. In this role, I evaluate the fine cut of a film and assess the dialogue tracks based on technical and creative (performance) merits.  I then provide a list to the production of dialogue that I feel needs to be added and/or re-recorded for whatever reasons.  The producers also provide me with a list of dialogue that they feel needs to be added, usually to clarify story points that might not have been apparent in the original script.  I then work with the actors in various studios recording the necessary lines to picture, usually with the director present, and then edit the lines into the film's dialogue tracks.

Would you be able to tell me how you first became involved with the project?
I had just completed work on Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream so this children's movie was a drastic and in some ways a welcome departure for me personally.
 
At the time I worked closely with Deluxe Post Production who have studios here in Toronto. Deluxe and my company, Sound Dogs, made a tender for the audio post production as a package with me doing the Sound Editing and Design and Deluxe handling the Mix portion.
 
The customary interview process followed with Producer Phil Fehrle, Picture Editor Ron Wiseman, Britt Allcroft and myself discussing various creative approaches that could be taken with the sound on Thomas.  We decided to move ahead though later, due to scheduling and budgetary issues, the Mix portion of the show was moved to Technicolor Toronto though I remained at the helm as Sound Supervisor.

Were you already familiar with the Thomas brand before joining TATMR?
I was only familiar with Thomas through some versioning work I did with one season of Shining Time Station and through the casual interest of my son who was 5 years old at the time.

Diesel 10’s voice talent has a very interesting history. Australian Keith Scott was initially involved in early Sept. 1999 with the rest of the original voice talent only to be later replaced by Neil Crone. Would you have any insight as to what happened here? 
You'll find that several voices were changed from their originally recorded versions; at times they were changed 2 or 3 times.  The reasons for the many voice changes were varied and from many different sources.  Test screenings played a large part in changing this film as a whole during Post Production.  The film did not score as strongly as expected with focus groups and different characters were unappealing to audiences for different reasons. 
 
I do believe the issue with Keith's voice was that it came off sounding a little too scary.  We constantly struggled with the fact that this film contained more than one adversarial character but that we could not portray them in a way that would be disturbing to the youngest Thomas fans.  Britt was always very careful about how the 3 and 4 year olds would be affected by seeing this movie on the big screen.

With Keith Scott’s services ending so early during production, were Neil Crone and Kevin Frank brought on at a much earlier date than the final wave of voice talent replacements?
Neil and Kevin were brought on part way through post production simply to lend their voices to the project.  Because of the film's sometimes dark story line and performances, it was thought that adding more comic bits would help.
 
Neil and Kevin are two of Canada's most accomplished comic writers and performers so I was very pleased to see them walk through the door.  They were shown the film and did several improvisational bits for the trains, including Diesel.  It was during this session that Neil tried voicing Diesel in a Russian accent which I think that Britt, caught up in the light comic atmosphere in the studio that day, ran with and asked Neil to do all of Diesel’s lines.  I should mention that none of this would have been possible had the trains’ mouths been animated.

Neil Crone mentioned that he initially recorded his lines in a Russian accent, but had to later re-record them in the style heard in the final movie. Would you be familiar with what happened?
After this version of the film was tested, there were second thoughts about the Russian accent, fearing it could be perceived as being politically incorrect.  The entire thing was scrapped and Neil returned to voice Diesel in what was more of New Jersey gangster accent.  By this point, Britt was so pleased with the effect that Kevin and Neil’s work had on the film that she expanded their writing role somewhat for the train dialogue.

Other early voice talent included John Bellis as Thomas, Michael Angelis as James/Percy and possibly Gordon. Patrick Breen was also involved. Would you know which characters he would’ve lent his voice to? 
Sorry, that was too long ago and so many actors were auditioned and used that I could not hope to recall.  In several cases, an actor was brought in to audition for one character and was later used as the voice of a different character.

Since you were intimate with all of the changes affecting the movie, would you be able to tell us more about the two test screenings and when the major alterations took place? 
I think the movie was actually tested three times, though "officially" only twice as the third screening was done internally and not by the studio. The major changes occurred between screenings 2 and 3.  It was at that point that PT Boomer was cut from the story... a drastic editorial change.
 
One point of interest I do recall is a wide shot half way through the film of Grandpa at a crossroads near Shining Time.  It looks like a routine establishing shot of him talking to a man on a motorcycle who then rides away.  It's interesting to note that the man on the motorcycle is actually PT Boomer.  This is the only image of Boomer that made it to the final cut of the film.  I voiced him saying "thanks a lot" as if Grandpa had just given him directions.  The shot had to stay in the movie for continuity purposes.

Would you remember having to re-insert newly-recorded actor’s lines (Baldwin, Fonda) to replace the dialogue in the scenes after Boomer’s character was dropped?
The changes did not affect Baldwin or Fonda's lines as I recall.

Before being replaced by Hummie Man, legendary composer John Barry was involved with the movie late-October, 1999. Were you ever given the opportunity to hear samples of his early work on the film?
The delays in Post Production caused by the numerous changes essentially closed the window of opportunity for getting John Barry.  Not a single note was written or recorded.

To benchmark the film's timeline, at what point did post-production actually begin? I'm aware that the (human) studio set and green screen filming wrapped up in late December '99.
As I recall, Post Production Sound began some time late in January 2000, though picture editing was well under way before Christmas.  Though I don't have an original schedule, I do remember recording Alec Baldwin's ADR on Long Island early in March of 2000.1
 
1: The early March date given for Baldwin's ADR is likely during the time that the 'Adult' Lily storyteller was replaced by Mr. Conductor.

Did you and your crew do any of the audio work for the movie’s trailer and teasers?
We did not.  That is usually hired out to specialized firms in L.A.

Having worked on the Director’s cut of the film, would you be able to tell us what its total running time would be?
The Director's cut would have easily run 110 minutes.

Given the many changes that went on in this film in terms of the strong edits to the storylines, is this the norm and expected with any film production?
The changes involved in this film through Post Production are almost unprecedented. I have not worked on a film where the end product was so dissimilar to the original script as this one.

Lastly, would you be able to tell us what happened to all of the movie’s source material – original recorded dialogue tapes, cut/edited film clips, Director’s Cut etc.?
I can only speak for the archiving of our original sound elements (dialogue/foley/sound effects) which live on digital linear tape in our offsite storage facility and cannot be restored without the permission from the studio.  No out-take or picture elements were kept by my department.

More about Nelson Ferreira…
Nelson has been the recipient of several awards from the Director’s Guild of Canada, and one from Gemini, along with many award nominations for his contributions to television and film. His recent work includes working on the CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie alternatively as the Dialog and Supervising Sound Editor.  Nelson also owns and manages Sound Dogs Toronto, a sizable commercial online library of licensed and royalty-based sound effects.