Spotlight: Fionán Higgins – Head of Audio for Film & TV at Windmill Lane

Interview, Film/TV


Interview by Jason Gaffney

[Read Time – 4 mins]


Fionán Higgins was recently appointed Head of Audio – Film & TV for Windmill Lane. With the company investing in talent and facilities (see the recent unveiling of Studio 1 with Dolby Atmos) – I thought this would be a good time to sit down and discuss; career learnings, advancing audio technology & inspiration.


Tell me how you began your career in Audio.


As is typical of a lot of people working in sound – a love of music was my gateway into the world of audio. I was in bands as a teenager and had the opportunity to record in RTÉ and fell in love with the feel of the studio, the lighting, the silence, the mixing desks. I knew exactly what I wanted to do from that moment on. Cut to me not getting into a sound engineering degree course in Salford University and doing a 4 year long arts degree in UCD majoring in English and Philosophy.


Still wanting to have a career in sound engineering I did a part time course in the sound training center and then applied for a masters in Music technology in Queens University Belfast. They said no until I had some computer programming experience so I did a Fás course in C++ programming and then eventually got onto the Masters course which was a dream come true. After the Masters I got an assistant job in a music mastering studio in Dublin called Digital Pigeon and then eventually fell into Film and TV work.


[Fionán, with his son Tom, graduating from TU Dublin / Post-Grad Diploma in Creative Leadership]


What is it that keeps you most engaged in your work?


I really love helping great directors realize the potential of their projects while bringing something unique to a project and in the process exceeding all expectations.



What’s the biggest project you’ve worked on in your career and what were your key learnings? 


The scope of Lance Dalys Black ’47 was huge and as a sound project presented many challenges. The guns, the horses and the period setting all meant every sound used had to be unique and appropriate to the time. One way I approached this was by spending time recording all the guns used in the film. It was one aspect of the project that really made a difference and proved to be very successful.


[Black ’47]


What’s the most challenging film or TV show that you can think of? 


The most recent example would be a scene from Kin Season 2 which was shot in an amusement arcade with a lot of noisy pinball machines which meant we had to re-record all the dialog due to the noise of the machines. We also contacted the Pinball machine manufacturer to get permission to use the correct sounds for the pinball machine the character is playing in the scene. The manufacturers eventually sent us all the thousands of sounds that are used in a pinball machine and the scene turned out wonderfully.


The Siege of Jadotville was the first Netflix original film that I had worked on. Initially I was the dialog editor on the project but a change of personnel meant I took the reigns as sound supervisor close to the mixing stage. It was also very sound heavy film with the guns, vehicles and a huge amount of soldiers involved.


[Aidan Gillen and Keith McErlean – Kin]


Are there any recent technological advancements that you have been impressed with and that elevate your work?


We recently installed Dolby Atmos capabilities in Studio 1 and I’ve been impressed with the level of immersion and detail you can achieve.


Some of the new Ai coming through to deal with noise reduction for problematic dialog has been really impressive. Applications like Descript give you the opportunity to save original performances without the need to bring an actor into a studio to re-record the line which saves time, money and also keeps the original intention of the on-set performance – which is hugely important to the story telling.



[Windmill Lane’s Studio 1]


Are there any films/ TV shows that inspire your work and help influence projects you’re working on?


Films like Barton Fink, Delicatessan, Betty Blue, Paris Texas, Down by Law, Apocalypse Now were my introduction into quality filmmaking when I was younger. They have influenced my expectations of what I work on from day to day.


Of the current crop of films out there I’m really looking forward to seeing Dune 2. I was very impressed with the sound work on Denis Villeneuves first Dune. It will be interesting to see how they develop the sound for this second instalment.


In your opinion – what are Windmill Lane’s unique selling points when it comes to managing Post-Production?


The people in Windmill Lane – Creatives and Production crew are the life blood. There is an inspiring commitment to doing the best job possible which is the reason we all turn up every day.


[Windmill Lane Team]

Finally – what do you do in your spare time to relax? 


I recently went back to playing piano having played it as a kid so I’m on grade 7 now and spend a lot of spare time practicing. I also like to run and have run a few marathons and hope to make it to the starting line of the Dublin marathon in October. I also make music in my home studio mainly for my own amusement but with the hope of making something I’d be happy to play to someone that’s not myself.


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