Soundtracking struggle: How Yaz Kahveci is helping us hear the political legacy of London’s queer black pioneers

Audio is the number one issue indie filmmakers run into when trying to get their projects off the ground. Luckily, when poor sound quality threatened to compromise an important new LGTBQ documentary, dBs student Yaz Kahveci stepped in to offer her skills.

When it comes to making art, sometimes the stories we have to tell are more important than the tools we have to tell them with. For filmmaker Veronica McKenzie, the political struggle of queer black people in 1980s London was one such story that simply needed to be told...

Hidden history

“It’s important to understand I didn’t come to this project as a filmmaker," Veronica tells me. "One day someone just said to me, ‘nothing has been done around the black queer community, it’s about time they started organising themselves’, and I just thought ‘Oh my God, this person does not know the history.’ And how would they? Because it has never been documented.”

Her documentary, ‘Under Your Nose’ seeks to bridge this gap in LGBTQ history, by telling the untold story of the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre (BLGCC) and the trailblazing activists that established it. 

“I knew some of the activists that were involved. My brother had a camera and so we went out and started interviewing some of the people about what they did in the 80s. It was initially supposed to be a ten-minute film featuring three people, but you speak to one person and then they say ‘oh you need to speak to so-and-so about that’ and then it just got bigger and bigger until it grew into a feature film.” 

Initially screened in 2014 as a work-in progress tape, ‘Under Your Nose’ is a labour of love that’s been many years in the making. “Since 2014 we’ve really been working on nailing down what the story is and collecting archival images and footage to reflect this. We’re finally at a stage where I feel happy we’ve included all the people we needed to include and all of the key discussions that were going on in the late 80s and early 90s.”

An audio nightmare

With the narrative and visuals finally in place, the final hurdle confronting the completion of ‘Under Your Nose’ was the audio. “Over the years we’ve recorded tape on very different cameras, all of which produce different audio and that didn’t come over very well. When we first did a cut we just couldn’t get the sound right. The sound levels were all over the place. The voiceover sounded different to the point of view. Tonally it wasn’t up to scratch for something that would be playing out in a cinema.”

Veronica has carried the lesson learnt from this experience into her next project, Nine Nights, which had a full sound crew. "I think a lot of the time, when people are starting out in filmmaking they don't budget separately for sound. They think about the DOP (director of photography) and then they think, 'well the camera records sound, we'll just use that. If I was starting this project all over again I would definitely pay more attention to the audio." 

To add insult to injury, a laptop crash then prevented Veronica from accessing the film’s soundtrack from her Final Cut Pro software. “After the crash, I had to install an update, which resulted in the sound file no longer being compatible with my computer. All I could access in terms of audio was a really distorted file. It was a nightmare! I didn’t really have a budget for post-production but it was at that point that I knew I needed some help.”

Lucky for Veronica, dBs student Yaz Kahveci was there to save the day. As part of her internship with our in-house creative audio company dBs Pro, Yaz took on the post-production challenge and set about restoring the audio for 'Under Your Nose'.

Student intern mixing audio in dBs Pro studio

Yaz working on the audio post-production for 'Under Your Nose' in the dBs Pro studio

Doing justice to the story

Make no mistake, this was no small task, but for Yaz, the project carried a personal significance that fuelled her commitment to ‘getting it right.’ 

“To me, it felt like a very important body of work. When I first saw the film, it was clear to me that the audio wasn’t doing justice to all the hard work that had gone into it. I was listening to all of these important stories but hearing really bad sound quality. As a gay woman, I did not feel good about that.

“I resonated with some of the issues being spoken about, so I didn’t want any old person flipping through it and chopping it up, not really hearing or resonating with the things being expressed. I really understood the homophobia portrayed and what’s it’s taken for the LGBTQ community to be able to go to pride and things like that. 

“There are certain issues highlighted within the documentary that I cannot personally relate to. I do not live the experience of a black person but I believe that racial inequality is an issue that everyone should feel passionately about. I felt like it was such an important project to give my energy to, especially in the midst of the black lives matter movement.”

“Overall I'm grateful to the film because it speaks to so many stories. And it gives the platform for them to be shared. For me, it was clear this film can help people and it can heal people. That’s why it felt like an important project to be a part of.”

Music production student at dBs Institute Yaz Kahveci

Yaz: "I felt personally connected to the things being said."

A growth experience

The process of fixing the audio for ‘Under Your Nose’ was a painstaking one that involved synching all the original audio samples back up to the visuals and mixing everything so the film would sound clear at standard airplay volume. "Most of the audio files had a lot of unwanted frequencies in them." Yaz says, "However I was able to fix these issues by using EQ and different plugins to smooth everything out."

Despite the drawn-out nature of the project, Yaz says that working on ‘Under Your Nose’ has been very enjoyable and has helped her gain more confidence and experience working with film and new software like Final Cut Pro.

First and foremost I am a producer and a musician, I am half Turkish and I'm gay. As well as this, only 2% of producers identify as female so it is essential that I have skills and knowledge to be able to take full creative control over my work. Knowing how to use a studio completely and being able to take control of my creative process from start to finish really changes my future outlook. It not only empowers me to work in any area of the technical side of the industry, but it also means that as a minority, no one else can crush my creative spark.”

The importance of pace

Music production student Yaz Kahveci at dBs Institute

The importance of giving projects the energy they deserve in order to create authentic work is a theme that has broader significance to Yaz and her creative journey. 

“Of course it's important to meet deadlines and keep on top of your work but when being creative it's important to take things at your own pace. Ultimately, you're the creator of your work and if you're out of balance, then you're not going to feel fulfilled in that sense either. So don't forget to practice self-care and mindfulness.”

“It is so important to trust the process. Looking back there's no way I could have imagined having the knowledge and understanding of sound engineering and music production that I do now, I've learned so much and I can't wait to expand my skills even further.

“And don’t be scared of taking time for your mental health. With this project in particular it all links into one. If you’re someone who’s not feeling heard or respected, try to reach out for some support because it will ultimately help your music and your future in the industry. We need to all take a step back sometimes and realise we’re humans with holistic needs, not productivity machines.”

Find out more about 'Under Your Nose' and how you can watch it.

Find out more about dBs Pro – the creative audio company on your campus.

Yaz is currently studying for a BA in Music Production and Sound Engineering. If you're interested in working in film audio, you like also like our BA for Sound for Film and TV.

Study at an institute #drivenbysound. Now accepting applications for September 2021. Find your audio specialism.