Sound Designer Bin Lin terrifies audience in dramatic horror ‘Clean’

Growing up in Xiamen, China, Bin Lin’s favorite childhood pastime was watching television. As many in his generation, Lin fondly recalls heading home from school and watching the popular television shows of the day. He dreamed in those early years of one day making movies and shows in some capacity, but as he grew and the computer became a more prevalent aspect of a standard home, his interests began to change. Lin began programming as a teenager and began to see a future in coding rather than entertaining. However, the more Lin immersed himself in programming, the more he came to realize he wasn’t passionate about it, not the way he was about television as a child.  

“As I entered high school, I became more aware of how these additional life experiences we gain from television and movies can be particularly life changing. I appreciate and am grateful for the important role these TV series and films played in my upbringing. Therefore, when I graduated high school, I set out on my dream of becoming a filmmaker,” says Lin.

Now, as an internationally sought-after sound designer, Lin has far and away achieved that childhood dream. He has a series of celebrated projects decorating his resume, with many more in the pipeline, such as the upcoming TV documentary series Why We Dance and the crime feature film Hollywood Holiday

“I am not only a craftsman but also an artist as I try to take the ideas in my head and realize them into actual sounds through technical means. I think that is the reason that I love doing sound design much more than another job,” he says.

One of Lin’s first projects to receive international critical acclaim was the horror Clean, which premiered at the Newport Beach International Film Festival on April 27th, 2019. As a sound designer, working on the horror genre is especially fun, as every sound can help immerse the audience in fear.

“People always say that thrillers are a haven for sound design. This is primarily because fear comes from the unknown, and what could be more terrifying than not seeing, but hearing? So I value every opportunity to be able to sound design a horror/thriller film,” says Lin.

Clean follows Lorelei, who is desperate to move forward in life and decides to live alone for the first time. However, she soon discovers it’s not as easy as it seems. The very thing she tries to control soon takes over her, with destructive effects.

The biggest challenge with this project for Lin was that there weren’t particularly many straightforward creepy elements in the film itself. The fear comes more from the protagonist’s inner paranoia and anxiety, so how to externalize the inner emotions based on the performance became his biggest consideration when he designed this film’s sound. Taking a unique approach, Lin decided that instead of drawing directly on the story, he would draw from his own experience

“I was immediately reminded of a time when I went deep into Slab City with the pre-production team for another project. Slab City is a lawless place, and we don’t have any reliable backup there. Every night after dark, we had to return to our camp and set up protection around it to ensure safety. But still, it’s hard to sleep late into the night, and I’ve noticed that when people are paranoid and anxious, it’s easy to be extremely sensitive to everything around them, especially sounds. I remember the night I heard a neighborhood hippie party, lots of barking dogs, an RV exhaust fan near the campground, the sound of someone walking around late at night, and some bugling. The late-night that should have been silent became extremely lively,” Lin describes.

This experience was enlightening for Lin, who decided to design the sound of the protagonist’s new home as the belly of a living monster. By amping up the easily audible sounds of creaking wood and aging pipes, this old house begins to respond to the protagonist’s paranoia and fears. This response further reinforces the fear in the protagonist’s mind, thus enhancing and externalizing the thrilling emotion. This approach added a new layer to the film, and it significantly enhanced the concept of “not seeing but hearing.” The sound ended up completely captivating audiences and played a major role in the film’s success.

“At the heart of this film, for me, is a fear of a lack of security. It’s a fear that everyone has experienced at one time or another to some degree or another. This film offers the worst and most frightening scenario and certainly aims to do more than just scare the audience. It is a blackly humorous jab at that anxiety, and I hope that everyone who has ever felt anxious about many of life’s uncertainties will come away from this film with a sense of relaxation that their anxieties and worries are in fact nothing at all,” Lin concluded.

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