Interview: Norman Wanstall

Interview with Norman Wanstall of Rafa Di Gangi for bondcollection

Norman Wanstall (born 1935) is a British sound editor who made the sound editing of the first James Bond films. He won the first Academy Award for a James Bond film in 1964. Won in the category of Better Edition of Sound for the film Goldfinger. Bondcollection interviewed him and he was very kind in answering all our questions.

BC How were your beginnings?

NW When I was a sixteen-year-old schoolboy I had a friend whose mother worked at Pinewood Studios. She had a very important job as she was the assistant to the Production Controller.
During a school holiday she invited my friend and me to spend a day touring the studio. It was a remarkable experience for a schoolboy and it was exciting to see the famous actors and to watch a scene of the film “Hell Below Zero” being shot. The actor Alan Ladd was one of our heroes in those days. I could see that film-making was a magical world. It was a day I would never forget.

BC Did you have someone you admired when you started? A reference?

NW In those days it was VERY difficult to enter the film industry. Only if you knew someone did you have a chance. Fortunately I had met the lady at Pinewood so when I left school and completed my two-years military service I wrote to her and asked if she remembered me and whether she could help me enter the industry. You can imagine how pleased I was when she invited me to the studio and explained that there was a vacancy for a trainee assistant in the editing department. I had no idea what happened in the editing department but I was very happy to take the job.

BC When he started, he had a goal, a dream?

NW My only dream was to spend my life working in the magical world of film-making.
When one joins the film industry there is so much to learn.Each department is very specialised.It’s impossible to learn about other departments. All one’s time is spent becoming experienced in one’s own department.
I was put under contract for three years and during that time I assisted both Film Editors and Sound (Dubbing) Editors and decided that one day I would like to become a Film Editor. I should just mention that the sound and picture are totally separate and on major productions TWO Sound Editors are required as one is responsible for the Dialogue and the other for the Sound Effects.

BC DR. NO in 1962 was his first James Bond movie. How did you get to work on this film?

NW All the people working at Pinewood in those days were permanently employed and under contract but there were other people working in the industry who worked freelance. There was one freelance Sound Editor called Winston Ryder who had become a legend and his credits included “Bridge On The River Kwai” “Lawrence of Arabia” “Sound Barrier.” Just as my contract at Pinewood was coming to an end I was told by colleagues that Winston was looking for an assistant and that I would be the right person for the job. My contract was going to be renewed but I decided to take up the offer of assisting Winston which meant that I was now freelance.

I assisted Winston on three major productions and the third was “Sink The Bismarck” which was edited by Peter Hunt. When the film came to an end Peter’s assistant left him so as it was my dream to one day become a Film Editor I asked Peter if I could assist him and he agreed.

I assisted Peter on various productions until eventually he was invited to edit Dr No.

It’s a well-known fact that the budget for Dr No was very small and when it was time to employ two sound editors we were told the production could only afford one. Peter decided that as I’d had valuable experience working with Winston I would be promoted to Sound Effects Editor and only hire a Dialogue Editor. This was a remarkable promotion on such a major production especially as I had never done the job before.

BC What feelings did you have when you saw Dr. NO? ¿En que se destaca el sonido de las películas de Bond?

NW I think it’s true to say that everyone enjoyed the challenge of working on Dr No but no-one was sure whether or not it would be a success. We knew that in the film’s favour we had a great hero in Sean Connery, a stunning heroine in Ursular Andress, the sunny Jamaican location, the remarkable Tarantula sequence plus the scene of Ursular emerging from the sea and Bond making his way through the tunnel.The big question of course was how an audience would react to the character of Dr No. As it turned out of course, audiences loved the final film and it was a huge success.

BC How does the sound of Bond films stand out?

NW I think it’s true to say that in many cases the sound has made an important contribution to the Bond films, partly through the sound of the gadgets and partly the sound of the ‘action.’ Also we made it a policy from the beginning to make certain sounds more “over-the-top” than usual. One has to remember that so many sounds in the Bonds had never been heard before which meant I had to create them. Examples of this are the silenced pistol - , Dr No crushing the metal figure in his clawed hands - the sound of Dr No’s nuclear reactor going into overdrive – Odd Job’s flying hat – the laser beam – the electronic sound over Bond in the tunnel – the rocket arriving and leaving in the volcano – the blade ripping up the tyre of Tilly Masterson’s car – the light plane literally dropping out of the sky – etc.etc., Also certain scenes were played with sound-effects alone instead of covering them with music such as that great fight in the train (FRWL) and the crushing of the car (Goldfinger) my favourite sound of all.

BC You work with Sean Connery. What can you tell us about this actor?

NW Usually it is the Dialogue Editor that works with the actors so I had no opportunity to get to know Sean Connery. We finally met for a chat on “Never Say Never Again” when he came into my cutting room to meet me as I was the only connection he had with the original team. I thought his contribution to the success of the early Bonds was inestimable.

BC What can you tell us about Cubby Broccoli y Harry Saltzman?

NW I think most of those who worked on the Bonds thought of Cubby as a Father Figure. He was a great guy who related to the crew and was loved and respected by everybody. It’s interesting to note that his favourite Bond film was From Russia With Love which had less fantasy and was less futuristic than the other films. At the time of the Oscar nomination I was told I’d have top pay for my wife if she accompanied me to the ceremony but Cubby stepped in and insured I didn’t have to pay. It’s worth noting that when Cubby passed away his life and work were celebrated at the Odeon Leicester Square and EVERY seat was taken with FOUR actors who had played Bond in attendance.
Harry Saltzman was not such an out-going character and even after working on five Bond films I never really got to know him. I think his contribution to the series was immense but I have no idea of the impression he had on the crew. I do recall being with him at a sneak preview of Dr No which was the first time the film had been shown to the public. I will never forget the look of terror on his face as the audience came out at the end. He needn’t have worried of course because the audience loved it.

BC You won the first Oscar for a James Bond movie in 1964. Best Sound Editing for the Goldfinger movie.What does this prize mean in your life?

NW The category of the Oscar presented to me was called “Sound Effects”. My colleagues and I were totally confused when the telegram first arrived from the Academy as there had always been a Sound category but never one for Sound Effects. Apparently the new category had been introduced the year before but we hadn’t been informed.
I think one has to be honest and admit that an award of that type will have an important impact on one’s career and also on one’s life outside the industry. Every technician strives to earn respect from their colleagues and the industry as a whole and an Oscar will obviously go a long way to achieving that. I’m sure it was the deciding factor when Mike Sarne put my name forward as Film Editor when he was given the chance by 20th Century Fox to direct his film Joanna. As I had no credits as Film Editor I’m sure Fox would have been reluctant to take me on had the Award not been mentioned in my favour. I finally fulfilled my dream of becoming a film editor and I edited six films before leaving the industry.
The award has also influenced my personal life as I am frequently invited to interesting film events and I was invited to attend the premier of Spectre. I’m also frequently invited to give a talk to organised groups about my life in the industry.

BC What is the secret of the success of the films of 007?

NW The word that sums up the secret of Bond success is ENTERTAINMENT. An audience knows that if they watch a Bond film they will see a handsome hero, beautiful ladies, exotic locations, amazing action, sinister villains and brilliant stunts. It all adds up to a couple of hours of great entertainment which is what film-going is all about. It really is remarkable that various actors have played Bond yet the fans always stay loyal.

BC What is your favorite James Bond movie?

NW I’m not a dedicated Bond fan as I prefer serious movies like Hurt Locker, but before Casino Royale my favourite Bond film was From Russia With Love. When Casino Royale was made I thought the Bonds had moved into a bright new future and in my opinion it is by far the best Bond film ever made. Sadly Quantum of Solace was a complete disaster and Skyfall had many faults. Spectre was OK but I think the writers are beginning to run out of ideas. Let’s hope the next one will be a master-piece. I think they should bring back director Martin Campbell..

BC What are your next projects?

NW Unlike my colleagues I left the film industry and made a new life for myself and my family in the English countryside. I now enjoy the pleasure of travelling to distant countries and I have recently returned from Nepal and Tibet. Before that I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Sincere regards, Norm.

Norman, thank you so much for your time.Rafa Di Gangi