Spotlight: An Interview with Sound Designer Bo Pang ("Ghazaal")
Bo Pang is a talented, hard working sound designer. After earning her master's degree- MFA in Film Production from Dodge College (Chapman University), Pang has started working at an audio post house in Hollywood.
Before moving to the US, Bo completed her BA at the Beijing Film Academy Sound School, and studied in University of the Arts London with the major Sound Arts and Design for one year as exchange student.
Since then, in less than 4 years, Bo has worked on over 30 films, including 3 Top Shorts' winners: Blue Pig, The Beacon, and Ghazaal, for which she won Best Sound Design in February 2020.
Bo, it's an honor to interview you! Before we talk about your creative process, let's talk about how you got started: How did you become interested in filmmaking, and particularly, in the sound aspect of filmmaking?
I grew up playing the piano at a very young age, so music has always been a part of my life. Pictures would always come to my mind when playing different melodies. This not only helped me develop my sensitivity to sound, but also encouraged me to explore my imagination. I became more interested in sound specifically when I was in primary school. One of my favorite things to do was close my eyes and listen to the sounds on my grandma’s balcony. It brought everything to life; happy birds in the spring, cicadas in the summer, dry leaves rustling in the autumn, and the cold wind in the winter. My ear told me that every moment had a mood with a unique sound. It interested me a lot. When I was in high school, I started watching films. One day, my mom was going to answer the phone and muted an action film I was watching. The experience was suddenly different. I found that I wanted to learn more about sound. My mom suggested that I take advantage of my sensitive ear for the piano and apply that to film sound. I was fortunate to be accepted into the Beijing Film Academy to study sound arts and design. Since then, I have started my journey learning and working on sound design.
You've lived and studied in China, England, and Southern California- lots of international experience here! Do you feel these transitions contributed to your creative development? In what way?
Yes, I do. Beijing Film Academy is one of the best film schools in China with state-of-the-art facilities and resources. It taught me the foundational knowledge of filmmaking and was when I started to understand different film genres and audio-visual techniques. Later, when I studied in London, the artistic environment of national museums and galleries, including sound installations, helped to expand my imagination. I became more confident and determined to come to the United States to further my education, continuing my journey at Chapman University, where I have had many chances to work on different kinds of short films and learn the Hollywood workflow.
Your list of credits is incredibly impressive and diverse! I in the past 4 years, you've worked on no less than 33 projects! What keeps you motivated when you have to work through the wee hours of the night?
The most important thing for me is to keep learning and be passionate. In this industry, we must learn to deal with high pressure and manage our time. Also, in my mind, practice is the best way for me to gain experience. The more projects I have worked on, the more effective I am.
Between Drama, Comedy, Documentary and more... Are there any specific genres you feel more comfortable with?
Actually, I enjoy working on different genres; I don't have specific preferences. Though the approaches to designing sound for them are different, they are all about storytelling. Of course, it's very important to understand that different films have different tones. Before I start my sessions, I go through the film several times, discussing it with directors to see what's their expectations. Technically and artistically, it has always excited me to explore new ideas with sound design; how it can create a certain point of view for characters in a drama, build up the funny and absurd tone in a comedy, or show a tense moment subtly in a documentary. They are all amazing journeys for me.
Ghazaal (dir. Ragini Bhasin)
Let's talk about Ghazaal, one of your recent projects, for which you won Best Sound Design. The sound work you contributed to the film was incredibly impressive, everything sounds very authentic - and it is so crucial to have good sound when working on a project like this. Can you take us through your process of sound designing? At what point did you get involved with the production and what are your main responsibilities as a Supervising Sound Editor?
The director of the film, Ragini Bhasin, reached me out even before the script was developed. When she told me her idea about shooting a short film in a refugee camp, I was interested in the story and felt it could be amazing to design sound for it, so I decided to take it on.
For the sound design, one of the biggest challenges was to re-create the noisy environment for the refugee camp in the world of our story, especially as the film set was built in a quiet field in India. In order to bring it to life, we did many wild recordings in India, as well as ADR for groups, done both locally in a recording session in Los Angeles and there as a source control. In addition to this, I also did many Foley sessions with extras to make the soundscape feel more detailed and richer, expanding the world further than the little field of our set.
Ghazaal (dir. Ragini Bhasin)
Is this your first collaboration with writer and director Ragini Bhasin? What was it like to work together?
This is our second collaboration. It's really amazing to work with Ragini. She is a director who understands how important sound design is for good storytelling, and puts immense trust in me to interpret her world.
The main language of the film is Arabic - do you understand the language? How did you deal with this issue?
The language barrier was very challenging. The main characters speak Arabic and unfortunately I do not. In order to familiarize myself with the right tone and performance, I watched countless documentaries as reference. We also invited someone who speaks Arabic to go through the film with us after the dialogue editing was done, making sure everything was good for the final mix.
Ghazaal (dir. Ragini Bhasin)
What were some of the reactions so far to the film so far, and how do you feel about the film's success, particularly in the Sound-design aspect of it?
The film has performed very well at many top film festivals so far. A good story was our production team’s main goal. We put our heart into it, and we are happy to know that a lot of people like the story. Talking about sound design, I felt so honor