A location sound mixer is the member of a film crew responsible for recording all sound on set during film-making.
I recently sat down with Glen Gauthier to talk about the art of sound mixing on set. Glen’s work has spanned over 30 years, working on over 90 films and TV shows. His credits include: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Spotlight, Pixels, RED, Max Payne, Jumper, A History of Violence, Open Range, and Parenthood.
Matthew Toffolo: On a major film shoot there is sometimes over 100 crew members whose job is to focus on the picture. And 2-3 people, usually in the corner, working on the sound. How does this dynamic work from a film crew unity perspective? Are you sometimes the forgotten major crew member?
Glen Gauthier: I have said many times that a hundred people work for camera and three for sound, but I am fortunate that I work on good pictures with top crews that understand and respect the sound process. Grips that build quiet dolly tracks, flag lights to cut shadows for the boom, electrics that are careful with cable runs into buildings, light ballasts kept off set, prop masters that dampen props to reduce noise and location departments that help to get extraneous sounds eliminated etc. A good sound mixer will work with all the departments to achieve a successful recording.
Matthew: As of this interview, you’ve worked on 95 productions as a sound mixer. Is there 1 or 2 films that stand out for you that you’re most proud of?
Glen: There are many movies on my list, some were just great scripts or casts, or some were just a fun collaborative experience. A couple of my favourites were “The Score”, “Pacific Rim”, “Talk to Me” “Open Range” and the “The Shipping News”.
Matthew: You worked as a sound mixer on the Academy Award nominated film “Spotlight”. Was the set energy different from other films you’ve worked on? Did people on set realize that they were working on a special film?
Glen: “Spotlight” was a very good script with a great cast. WE knew we were making a good movie, but it’s hard to judge whether it will successful or not. I’ve worked on shows that I thought might be big hits and weren’t, and some I thought were dogs that made big money.
Matthew: What are you looking for when hiring/working with a solid boom operator?
Glen: I have worked with the same boom man for twenty years, Steve Switzer, whom I consider the top guy in town. My second boom has been with me ten years. I think most mixers try to maintain a consistent team, if it works. You want a boom man that is not only good at micing but that takes care of the floor; making sure the lights are flagged for possible shadows, aware of lens changes and what the shots are.
Matthew: How has working as a sound mixer changed (if at all) from working on 35mm film to now digital for many productions?
Glen: The change from 35mm to digital has not altered the way the sound department works; it is really still about technique. However, not having to worry about reloading tape and “print through” is nice. Today’s digital cameras tend to be quieter than the chatter you used to get from 16/35mm film.
Matthew: When working on location, what are you looking for in terms of surrounding sounds?
Glen: Whenever I tech scout a location I am always looking for what may effect the sound track, and if so whether or not the audience will be distracted by it. For example, traffic noise is easier to accept if you can SEE it. It’s much harder to accept extraneous noise if you have no idea where it’s coming from. Transformers and hum from lights is also a concern; you want control over heat/AC and traffic control if possible! There are many variables to consider. So, my advice is to pay attention; especially to what’s hidden. Consider what’s behind locked doors, above you and below you. Some things you won’t hear until you have a quiet room and the microphone is cranked up.
Matthew: Are there situations where you know on location that the sound you’re mixing on set just won’t cut it and will need a major clean up in post?
Glen: As in the previous question, you try to eliminate as much as you can on the tech scouts. Sometimes to look of the location for the director and production designer outweighs the needs of the sound department, in these cases all parties are aware. Once in a while you will have a location that was perfect on the tech scout, but when you show up to shoot a couple months later the building next door is being torn down and there’s nothing you can do! There is always noise to deal with, the trick is to keep the background noise as even as possible and the dialogue as clear as possible.
Matthew: We met awhile back in 2000 when you worked on “Don’t Say a Word” as I did some PA work when you were on location. It was so cold and we shot 2 weeks in a park in Pickering in the middle of the winter. Do you have any memory of that shoot?
Glen: “Don’t Say a Word” is all but a vague memory. It was a hard, cold shoot that I have buried deep in my memory. Good movie though. Michael Douglas and Brittany Murphy were a treat.
Matthew: How was Big Fat Greek Wedding 2? All of the same cast was back. Another box office hit?
Glen: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” was a blast. A really fun cast and a sound friendly director made it enjoyable. I used no radio mics on that show, all booms, which of course sound much better. Very rare! The script was very funny and I expect it to be a big hit, as good as the first one!
Matthew: What film have you seen the most in your life?
Glen: I have many movies that I love to see over and over, the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still” for its use of lights and shadows, and great score. As well as “The Godfather” 1 & 2, no explanation needed.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound Film & Writing Festival.