Managing the ‘Bayhem’ | Aleksandar Bundalo

Malta-based sound designer, editor and Sound Villain head Aleksandar Bundalo sits down with Teodor Reljic to speak about his experience, offering a telling glimpse of the day-to-day toil behind the scenes of this industry and some candid insights into ‘Bayhem’, for which he served as boom operator  

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
6 June 2017, 10:34am
Here comes the boom: Aleksandar Bundalo is one of Malta’s most prolific sound designers for film
Here comes the boom: Aleksandar Bundalo is one of Malta’s most prolific sound designers for film
What is your professional background, and how did you first get into working for cinema?

I’ve been working in the audiovisual industry in my native Serbia since 1999, and my first job was working at a radio station owned by what was then Yugoslav Airlines (Radio JAT), where I started off as a radio technician but then became a content producer. The latter is what set me off on my work in the film industry, where I continue to concentrate on post-production and music production. 

My first job on a film was in 2000, in Ireland – a short film project about mad cow disease. It was at that point that I decided that this was what I wanted to do, and I haven’t looked back since.

How did your experience in Malta start, and what were some of the first productions you worked on while on the island? 

I moved to Malta in 2003, and while it took some time to break into the film industry here, the opportunity did come around eventually. My first gig here was for Ward Sixty6 – a short film by Angelique Muller and Cathleen Tanti – which won the first prize at the Tangier International Film Festival and made headlines in Malta. Thankfully, work has been coming since then, and I’ve managed to build a career for myself during the 14 years in which I was in Malta. 

However, it was in 2006 that I got to work on my first international film production – ‘What We Did On Our Holiday’, produced by ITV (UK). It was local production manager Simon Sansone – with whom I still work with today – who got me the job of sound assistant. One added perk of that particular gig was that the sound department was led by Jim Greenhorn – a BAFTA-winning sound mixer. I learned a lot from him which I’ve taken on board since, as well as from boom operator Sofie Jackson. 

The next job was a BBC production – a TV series entitled ‘Roman Mysteries’ where I worked with Sound Mixer Giancarlo Delapina and boom operator Richard Fillip. I learned so much from these guys too, and we became good friends throughout the production. And just as they were leaving, Richard gave me a Panamic boom pole as a present, which became my first piece of kit – and is still part of it! And so that’s how I started gearing up for a  long-term job in the film business...

Could you speak a little bit about the experience of shooting 13 Hours?  

13 Hours was a proper ‘Bayhem’, as people who’ve worked with Michael Bay in the past can confirm – it’s one hell of a ride for sure! The production took three months and spanned all of Malta. One thing we confirmed early on is the rumour that Bay has a passion for blowing things up – not in VFX, but in real life! So it remains a memorable personal experience on its own – never mind the professional side of it! 

Given that it was a war movie, we used all kinds of weapons for the shoot, be they small or large caliber – which also meant there was a large range of sounds to take into account, from the quietest to the loudest. This was the challenge the film’s sound mixer, Mac Ruth, was facing (the rest of the team was comprised of Balasz Varga as a first assistant, John Fenech as a Sound Assistant and myself as a boom operator.)

I remember when Mac called me for the first Skype meeting months before the shoot – and he basically said that this job will require one to be as ‘stoic’ as they can possibly be... which got me to look up a few details about ‘working with Michael Bay’ and yeah, it confirmed some of my fears. First off, one should remember that being involved in a shoot of this magnitude is a once in a lifetime opportunity. But one should also be mentally prepared for it – if not, it could also destroy your confidence and put you off the film industry for good.

Many people get fired from Michael Bay movies, and serious exhaustion and injuries are also quite common. So that, above all, physical fitness and focus are essential.

Bundalo has been working in Malta since 2003
Bundalo has been working in Malta since 2003
But of course, you took the job anyway. Would you say it was worth it, all things considered? 

Definitely! One hundred percent! We had sets over a half a mile long to cover sometimes, with lot of running, in fire, smoke, mainly during the night, wearing full-protection firefighter gear – including water sponges our mouths – pure adrenaline, I can tell you! Still, not once did we shift our focus from the real reason why we were all there: to capture sound! And that’s what we did. In fact, it’s on jobs like these that you realise just how much you’ve learned over time (or didn’t!), and they also help you raise your professional standards.  

And actually, working with Bay was quite nice, in the end. Even though his reputation is what it is, it all boils down to a matter of human skills. As a director of this multimillion dollar movie, he expects you to be at your best at all times, and go the extra mile as needed. When you do a good job, he sees that. And when you don’t, he sees that as well. 

When there’s a scene involving a large fire that requires the crew to be at the centre of it, he goes in first. So, he has my respect for that. 

In fact, I remember this one scene we had to do where we had to sprint around obstacles (camera, camera AC, boom op) so as to keep up with the actor. My boom pole was extended up to 5.5 metres in length for that scene. So the entire crew had to jump over a fence while running, turning corners and capturing dialogue. 

After it was all done, Bay was actually satisfied with how it all went down, and he turned to me and said, “Aleks, you are like a javelin thrower!”

After that, I found that once he learns your name you are more likely to get shouted at. But it was all good.

How do you feel about the end result of what you achieved with 13 Hours? What are you proudest of regarding that experience?

Well first off... we actually survived (kidding!). It certainly sharpened our filmmaking tools and gave us some invaluable insight into high-end productions. One thing you quickly learn on this job is that, no matter the scale of the production, you will only survive if you treat them all in the same way. The equipment doesn’t matter – attitude, dedication and focus are the most important parts of the job. It’s not about what goes wrong – what matters is how you resolve it. And getting the job in the first place only confirmed that our work was recognised, and that we’re on to a good thing here...

Eye of the storm: Michael Bay on the set of 13 Hours – shot entirely in Malta, and for which Bundalo served as boom operator
Eye of the storm: Michael Bay on the set of 13 Hours – shot entirely in Malta, and for which Bundalo served as boom operator
How would you describe the experience of helping make 13 Hours in terms of the Maltese film servicing industry? Based on your experience, did this film mark some kind of positive development in terms of how the Malta-based crew is treated, and the opportunities that are available to them? 

Maltese service industry gave its maximum and did a great job! There are quite a few film professionals in Malta who are capable of handling the biggest challenges thrown their way. But still, on a larger scale that all amounts to just a handful of people in the end.

With only two – perhaps a maximum of three – movies shot at the same time in Malta, all the crew is outsourced.

There are various ways to get your name there and get to work abroad as well, but it is not that easy as the competition out there is massive.

Malta has one advantage though – here you get to work on major Hollywood productions, where in Europe that opportunity doesn’t come so often, so when it comes to your experience (and your IMDB page) one can see that you have been riding in the fast lane most of the time.

The trick is how to get on a higher position in these kind of productions. There is no recipe in particular for that, but if you love what you do, it’s a good starting point – the rest will follow, depending on how persistent you are. 

You simply need to get out there; mingle and network – the film industry is mostly formed in that way.

In general, the reputation of the Maltese crew is growing every year and it’s proving that it can step up to any challenge. The next step would be to start creating more and more local productions, rather than wait for foreign job to come in.

What are you currently working on, and what lies ahead for you in the near (or even distant) future?

This year had been mainly focusing on post-production, but as the summer starts we are spending more and more time on set. There are numerous projects for Valletta Film Festival we are working on now. We are also in the post-production phase of a new Maltese feature film that’s coming up.

This, on top of quite a few projects lined up until the end of the year, where some of them would be on the larger scale. But confidentiality agreements prevent me from revealing their names just yet... 

To find out more about Bundalo’s work, log on to http://www.soundvillain.com/ 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...