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Soundelux’s Becky Sullivan Captures the Sounds of Ethnic Warfare for Angelina Jolie’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey”



Supervising Sound Editor Becky Sullivan faced an unusual task in creating sound for In the Land of Blood and Honey¸ Angelina Jolie’s powerful, new film about the Bosnian War. Jolie produced two versions of the film, one in English, the other in Serbo-Croatian and therefore Sullivan and her crew needed to produce two complete soundtracks, one in a language none of them spoke.

Marking Jolie’s debut as a writer and director, In the Land of Blood and Honey centers on a Bosnian Muslim woman and a Serbian soldier who fall in love even as both are swept up in the region’s terrible conflicts.

The film’s cast, who include Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic and Rade Serbedzija, is entirely made up of local actors, many of whom lived through the war as youths. The same actors appear in both versions of the film, which were shot simultaneously.

Sullivan was presented with two edited versions of the film and two sets of dialogue tracks. As neither she, nor any of the members of her crew, spoke Serbo-Croatian, a translator was brought in to help them with the language. “In the Serbo-Croatian version, we wanted to be sure that the actors were speaking the language correctly,” she explains, “because within that language, there are many dialects that relate to different ethnicities.”

Editing dialogue for the English-language version film presented a different sort of challenge. “The actors were speaking in what was their second language,” Sullivan says. “And so, we had accent issues and interpretation issues.”

“We did a lot of ADR recording,” she adds. “We wanted to ensure that the accents weren’t too thick so that English-language audiences could understand their words.”

“Becky and her team at Soundelux did a masterful job with shaping the sound design and paying meticulous attention to the dialogue in both versions of the film,” adds Jolie. “In the Bosnian version, in particular, it was important to capture the nuances of the language so that native speakers accept it as real and authentic.”

Along with delivering clean dialogue tracks, Sullivan and her crew (including Dialogue Editor Glynna Grimala and Sound Effects Editor Ben Wilkins) produced sound effects to help tell the story. Given the grim nature of the film, and the fact that it is based on real events, the sound team aimed for realism. All of the gun and artillery sounds, for example, are accurate with regard to the weaponry used in the war. “It’s almost like a documentary,” Sullivan notes.

“It’s definitely not a slick, Hollywood sound job.”

At certain points, however, the sound departs from strict realism in order to accent dramatic points. As an example, Sullivan cites a scene in which a group of Bosnian women are used as human shields by Serbian soldiers. “The women are distraught; they’ve almost lost their minds,” Sullivan explains. “And so, there, we went into something that is unrealistic, surreal—it’s all gunfire and laughing. They’ve ‘checked out’ mentally, because it’s so devastating.”

Sullivan also used sound to help capture the war’s pervasive atmosphere of fear. A number of scenes, for example, occur in a small room where Ajla, the film’s heroine, is confined by Serbian troops. “She is being held by the Serbian lieutenant, who’s in love with her, and so she is safe…or is she?” Sullivan says.

“People are being raped and killed, and so there is a sense that she could be taken out at any minute. It’s a scary, insecure place.

“We kept the tones cold and the threat around her high by having the shoes of a guard walk by her door and by placing voices outside her window. Later, when the threat recedes, the tones in the room grow warmer and the exterior threats become less distinct.”

That sort of subtlety and restraint is typical of the film’s sound; the intensity of the subject matter required little augmentation. “We didn’t overdo it,” Sullivan notes. “We kept it sparse. It’s cold, brutal and real.”


Hollywood, California-based CSS Studios® is a wholly owned subsidiary of Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), the world’s number one nonfiction media company reaching more than 1.5 billion cumulative subscribers in over 180 countries. CSS Studios provides creative post production sound services to major motion picture studios, independent producers, broadcast networks, cable channels, advertising agencies and interactive producers. The services of CSS Studios are marketed under the brand names Todd-AO®, Sound One, Soundelux®, POP Sound®, Modern Music, Soundelux Design Music Group and The Hollywood Edge, with facilities in Los Angeles and New York. With more than 50 years of experience in providing creative sound services and technical solutions, the companies, collectively, have garnered more than 50 Academy Award nominations and won 26 Academy Awards®.