One of the greatest film directors of all time, and one of the most revered sound designers in the business. Danny Boyle and Glenn Freemantle have been friends and colleagues for years, working on soundscapes for an extraordinary array of movies including Slumdog Millionaire, Sunshine, Trainspotting 2, and most recently, the brilliant Yesterday, in which the pair teamed up with iconic screenwriter, Richard Curtis, for a twist of Beatlemania. We chat about that alliance, standout career moments, and how the spaces within the soundscape are so often the most important parts.
"As soon as I read the script, I knew I’d make the film,” opens Danny Boyle, with a smile. “It felt like a simple, extraordinary, wonderful idea that knocked you off your equilibrium a little bit in a heartwarming and funny way.”
He’s talking about Yesterday, of course – his latest movie, which tells the story of a struggling singer-songwriter who, after the world blacks out for several seconds, gets hit by a bus and wakes up in hospital with a few less teeth, but as the sole human on Planet Earth who remembers the songs of The Beatles. It’s extremely amusing, touching, and beautifully put together.
“You go through so many sins and nightmares along the way, but the key to making any film work is to keep it as close as possible to that original freshness you felt when you first read the story,” Boyle smiles, as two coffees are planted in front of he and his long-time sound designer, Glenn Freemantle. We’re sat in the foyer of the fabulous Odeon flagship cinema in London’s Leicester Square, recently refurbished to a stupendous level, now boasting a Dolby Atmos system to die for, incorporating 450 speakers. I remain coffee-less. “That’s what one of your responsibilities is as a director: to try and use the technical brilliance of people towards delivering something that doesn’t look technical, but looks like a story; the essence of a communal experience is delivering the freshness of the story to them."
The screenplay was written by Richard Curtis of Notting Hill and Love Actually fame, to name just a couple. Glenn Freemantle worked on both those films as sound designer, but this is Boyle’s first time working with Curtis, and his first foray into the rom-com genre.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” Boyle declares. “Richard spent his whole career dedicated to romance and comedy, really. Where I tend to jump around, and try to change the genre I work in, and present as many challenges to myself as I can, Richard has very much honed his talents trying to perfect this corridor he’s in.
“So to drop into that corridor with him is fascinating, especially because the clarity of dialogue has to be absolutely pukka; he comes up with some lovely, lovely gags, but you can ruin gags if you can’t hear them. And that’s the importance of sound - it’s that whole ‘without sound, there is no light’ thing, and if you can’t hear the setup of a gag, you’ll just be lost. Also, more importantly, if you hear some people get it, and you don’t, you go ‘what did he say?’ And that’s a big problem, as cinema is a wide space, and you’re trying to deliver a similar experience to everyone in that space; so with this kind of writing, it’s crucial that the clarity of the dialogue is delivered above anything else, really.”