AIDS: The Unheard Tapes
Innovations in Sync

BBC / The Open University

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes is a three-part documentary series telling the story of the British AIDS crisis and how it affected the gay community as it’s never been told before. In an innovative approach to historical documentary making, the show features previously un-broadcast audio interviews recorded by young gay men as they faced positive HIV/AIDS diagnoses.

Aids: The Unheard Tapes Trailer

Actors were used to represent the original interviewees, lip-syncing to the original audio recordings that were then re-synched from scratch in audio post here at Films at 59.

The production team were striving for perfection and Films at 59 Sound Mixer, Paul Donovan, was determined to do the same. “Every consonant and vowel needed to fit perfectly, every movement and background sound working in order to bring the two together. The rhythm of the tape dialogue needed to perfectly match the movement of the actors so we feel and hear every breath, pause and sigh”.


What is truly innovative about this series, Paul explains, is the framing of the shots and their relationship to the sound mix. When this approach has been used in the past many shots have been blurred, cut away from the actor and close ups avoided to facilitate syncing. The Unheard Tapes shoots straight down the lens so that the viewer can connect directly with the subject.

With nowhere to hide regarding precision of sync, new techniques were developed by our sound team, matching the archive dialogue perfectly to the actors while giving the dialogue an ‘other- worldly’ feel. By stretching and shortening the smallest of syllables, using cutting edge methods in sound, similar to some of those used in ADR for feature films, and combining the movement of actors, the archive dialogue joins together to create something fresh and bold.

This was a really exciting project to be part of. It challenged Films at 59’s post and audio practises, furthered our understanding of dialogue editing and prompted us to explore a wide variety of post-production programmes and software. Using our existing skills, we were able to combine documentary and drama principles, ADR craft editing, sound editing and specialist software, to bring together often disparate parts of post-production as a unified creative team aspiring to technical excellence.

Let’s Work Together

Our team will help you find what you need

0117 906 4300