MI6 caught up with Academy Award winner Norman Wanstall
to talk about creating the sound effects for the
early James Bond films...
Norman Wanstall Interview (3)
5th March 2008
What is one of your
most memorable moments from working on the James Bond movies?
Without doubt my most memorable moment occurred on Dr
The scene at the end when Bond is disguised in Dr No’s laboratory
provided the biggest sound-effects challenge I faced in all the
six Bonds I worked on.
Bond ends up on a gantry
where a technician is turning a wheel that controls the
nuclear power, and it was obvious
that a sound would be needed to rise and fall in pitch
in sync with the turning of the wheel. Moreover, the sound
would have to rise to fever pitch when Bond grabs the wheel
and causes chaos by turning it way up into the danger level.
With the technology available I knew of no machine that
could be used for the purpose, and without doubt it was
the most worrying time of my career. In the end, after
weeks of fruitless research, I made one desperate plea
to the electronic maintenance man at Pinewood Studios.
Could he make a machine? He said it couldn’t be done
but he would look into it, and for weeks I heard nothing.
were now approaching the dubbing period and I knew I was
in serious trouble, but then I suddenly received a
call asking me to come to the recording theatre. There
I found the maintenance man who was sitting beside a gadget
that could only be described as laughable, with odds and
ends of metal, wire, valves and switches all held together
on a wooden board. My heart sank when he said it was the
best he could do and I was tempted to walk away, but without
saying anything further he switched the machine on and
turned a small knob attached to the front. I couldn’t
believe my ears when the sound that came out was exactly
what I’d been looking for and the pitch was completely
controllable. I had no words to say to the man. I was literally
overwhelmed with gratitude. To my everlasting relief the
nuclear sound was born, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Dr No at the controls of his reactor
Above: Connery talks to Fleming on
the set of Dr No's control room
It was a perfect example of the way everyone
in the Sound Department at Pinewood reacted to those early Bonds.
The films created an exciting new challenge and everyone wanted
to play their part.
Can you tell us what it felt like to be nominated for a
Oscar... and the win?
To be nominated for any award is very humbling. Technicians,
by the very nature of their work, do not think in terms of
awards. As soon as they start on a production their main concern
is to do the very best job possible and hopefully contribute
in some way to the favourable outcome of the film. I have never
heard any technician discuss the possibility of work being
nominated, so it was with total disbelief that I reacted to
the cable from the States asking who was responsible for the
sound-effects on Goldfinger.
For a while I didn’t take the possibility of a nomination
seriously, because as far as I was concerned I was just
a young technician doing his job and Oscars belonged on
another planet. In any case none of us had heard of a Sound-Effects
Oscar because we were unaware that it had recently been
introduced by the Sound Editors’ Guild in the States.
As matters progressed the nomination was finally confirmed
and I began to realise that the whole thing was for real
and I was actually being invited to Hollywood to attend
the ceremony. I suddenly felt very proud that an independent
body of judges had considered my work worthy of special
mention, because respect from one’s peers is hugely
important when working in such a competitive industry as
the movies. Cubby was full of encouragement and agreed
that my wife could go with me, which was a very important
factor because to my mind this would be her reward for
tolerating the long hours I worked on those early Bonds.
I remember feeling very calm because I knew it would be
an amazing experience and there was zero chance of my having
to go up on stage, but then Peter Hunt pointed out that
there was only one other nominee and I realised the chances
of winning were 50/50. It was all too much to take in really,
and I’m certain no-one in my position would have
considered for a moment that they would be returning to
the UK with an Oscar.
Once we arrived in the US of course we were
treated with great respect by everyone, and I realised we were
involved in an experience of a lifetime. When we arrived for
the actual ceremony everything seemed totally un-real, with every
famous face one had ever known turning up in limousines.
I realised by this time
that there was a remote chance I’d have to say a few words in front of millions
of people, so I nervously put a few ideas together in my
mind. I don’t mind admitting I had moments of panic.
Nevertheless as the ceremony got underway I felt incredibly
calm, because there was no way a 29-year-old film technician
from London was going to be called up onto that stage to
receive an Oscar, so I basically just sat back to enjoy
the show. Even when Angie Dickenson came on to announce
the Sound-effects nominees I felt very relaxed, but when
she called out my name and the orchestra struck up with
the theme from Goldfinger, I suddenly felt a great surge
of pride. Fortunately, once I reached the stage and looked
out at the audience the strong lights turned everything
into a blur, so any nerves I might have had immediately
disappeared and I was able to say my few words with confidence.
I fell hopelessly in love with Angie Dickenson of course.
But then what man of twenty-nine wouldn’t!
Can you tell us a little about working with Peter Hunt's
and any fond memories of your time together?
I worked with Peter Hunt on nine projects altogether, which
is a pretty large chunk of anyone’s career. I joined Peter
at a time when he was beginning to make a name for himself and
the partnership worked extremely well. I was young, keen and
dedicated to the job and Peter respected the fact that I was
always prepared to go the extra mile.
He responded by giving me the chance to assemble scenes in his
absence, and of course he gave me the biggest career boost possible
by promoting me to sound-effects editor on Dr No. He took a huge
gamble there, but I think his confidence stemmed from an incident
that occurred on the film HMS Defiant. The producers wanted to
show the first cut of the film to some very important people,
but they were nervous of all the sea battle sequences because
they were basically shot without sound. Knowing that I’d
assisted the great Winston Ryder Peter turned to me for help,
and within a couple of days I’d mixed some hastily assembled
tracks together and the battles all came to life. The producers
were ecstatic but Peter took none of the credit, and from then
on I believe he felt I was ready for bigger things.
Peter deserves a lot of credit for the success of Dr No, because
he made the decision very early on to keep the film moving at
a fairly rapid pace and thus established a style for the ones
that followed. There is a myth that’s arisen over the years
that Peter devised a style of ‘jump cutting,’ but
that isn’t true at all. What he had was an eye for eliminating
un-necessary pauses, and if he could lose a few frames without
the eye noticing he would do it to perfection. He never ventured
into the jump-cutting style pioneered by Jean-Luc Godard, whose
ideas I must admit I used once or twice in Joanna.
Owing to the success of the early Bonds, Peter became very important
in the eyes of Saltzman and Broccoli, but when Guy Hamilton came
on the scene there was a clash of personalities and the two men
didn’t get on at all. Even my relationship with Peter became
a bit strained from then on, and after You
Only Live Twice was
completed we went our separate ways. He fulfilled his dream of
becoming a director and I my dream of becoming an editor.
Without doubt the most memorable moment in our relationship
occurred when a guy came into our cutting room moaning and groaning
about how difficult it was to succeed in the film industry. As
he finally left the room his parting words were….. “It
seems to me the only way to get on in this business is to be
Jewish, homosexual or a Mason!” As the door closed Peter
and I fell about laughing because I was none of those things
whereas Peter was all three!
Beyond Bond, what has been your favourite project and why?
I know I’ve already mentioned Ipcress File and Joanna as
being special projects in my career, but there was one small
film I shall always consider to be my favourite because I had
a completely free rein as editor and was also given the job of
writing the commentary. Just prior to my leaving the industry
a friend asked me to edit a documentary he’d produced about
Alvaro Domecq y Dies, a member of the famous Domecq Sherry-producing
family. The film was called Rejoneodore, and illustrated the
career of Alvaro who not only bred bulls for the bullring, but
also was one of the few bullfighters in the world who fought
bulls exclusively from horseback. The film was financed by some
gentlemen in Jersey and a musician based there wrote a brilliant
Spanish guitar score, but the director pulled out and there were
all kinds of problems and in the end I was left to pick up the
pieces. For the first time in my career I had complete control
and I felt very proud of the end result, but for some reason
the film vanished without trace and I’ve always wondered
why. I also remember a young Martin Campbell came on to keep
an eye on things, and it’s interesting to see how his career
has taken off since those early days.
Wanstall Interview (2)
Wanstall Interview (1)
Many thanks to Norman Wanstall. Select pictures
courtesy Norman Wanstall.