It’s ‘Neither Here Nor There’ for Sound Mixer Haoran Li
Sound mixing, for China’s Haoran Li, is a detailed and careful art form. When it comes to film and television, sound makes up half of the entertainment, where every word spoken, and every background noise, is carefully thought out to enhance the watching experience. Li always keeps the importance of this work in the back of his mind when he is on a set. As a production sound mixer, his job is to cooperate with the boom operator to record high-quality and transparent dialogue that can be used in the post-production, and sometimes, he will record production sound effects according to his needs when necessary. No matter what he is doing, he keeps the story he is telling as the guiding light and works with everyone involved to turn out a perfect motion picture.
“As a production sound mixer working on the set, sometimes I am in a state of autonomy, and I need to take the initiative to discover and raise the problem. When people notice that this problem is critical and finally resolved, I feel satisfied. I am also pleased that I have this ability to find problems,” he said. “Being a sound mixer allows me to show myself in cooperation. The most significant difference between film and other artforms like painting or composing is that this is a product created by teamwork.”
Li has implemented his careful and dedicated approach to sound mixing to many successful films, from his first hit, Switch, which won him the Award of Merit in Sound Editing/Mixing at the 2017 Accolade Competition, to his highly-anticipated upcoming comedy Belial. Sharing important and sincere stories is always Li’s goal, as his resume clearly shows.
Last year, Li did just that with the film Neither Here Nor There. The documentary discusses gender identity and tackles the question “how do you know if you’re a boy or a girl?” and follows the main character, Harley Stine's personal journey. Harley, born one of three girls, is wanting to transition from female to male. He never associated with his gender and body, but is still not ready for any physical change while identifying as a male. Through showcasing Harley's journey to self-identification and his story of struggle, loss, support and happiness, this documentary aims to close the gap in our understanding of the transgender community and advocate for tolerance and acceptance by unifying our human experiences.
“This question about self-identity is not difficult for most people to answer. Still, it is not an easy question for our interviewees Harley and Ethan. In the documentary, through discussions and interviews we gain an in-depth understanding of the individual's true thoughts, so that the audience can understand the problems that this group may face in society. I think it is necessary to share their stories with a larger audience. This is the social significance of this documentary,” said Li.
Li was the sole person working on sound for the film, meaning he had to do everything from recording to editing to mixing. Because the documentary was to be screened at both theatres for film festivals and eventually participate in multiple film festivals and online distribution, Li made both stereo and 5.1 surround versions to adapt online streaming distribution and theater screenings. Li also made sure to put personal touches into the film in regards to sound, highlighting the topics discussed in this documentary involving the struggle of the interviewee. Most of the filming locations are in the interviewee’s home or a quiet place, and Li wanted to showcase that personal touch.
“When interviewing one of the interviewees, Harley Stine, I learned that he likes to collect small objects such as empty bottles, small jars, and beautiful little stones. He makes them into accessories, such as earrings and pendants. I just recorded some of the sound effects of shaking after wearing these accessories. I ended up using these sound effects in B-roll's cut to enrich the sound effects, and I am satisfied with the final result,” he said.
This attention to detail paid off. The film premiered at the ME Film Festival in April of 2019, and continued to be nominated and screened at several more festivals around the world, followed by online distribution. These awards and accolades are secondary, however, for Li, as the real reward comes from sharing an important LGBTQ story with the world.
“It’s a feeling of accomplishment. I have been following the struggles faced by the LGBTQ community for a while. I hope more people can understand the real problems faced by the LGBTQ community. This is the most meaningful thing,” he concluded.