Interview with Composer/Musician Michael Abels (GET OUT)

michaelabels.jpgMichael Abels is an African-American composer known for his orchestra works Global Warming, Delights & Dances, and Urban Legend, and choral pieces such as Be The Change and Limitless. “GET OUT” was his first foray as a composer in the film industry, and it definitely won’t be his last. It was great interviewing this extremely talented musician.

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always wanted to do as your career?

Michael Abels: I was born in Phoenix AZ, although I lived on a farm outside Aberdeen, SD with my grandparents from infancy through age 6. My earliest memories are of music — seriously, I can remember my grandmother’s recording of Edvard Grieg’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King terrifying me in the crib. Ironically, that’s now my job.

MT: How did you get the job composing the film “Get Out”?

MA: Writer/director Jordan Peele heard an orchestral piece of mine, Urban Legends, on YouTube. It’s a very dynamic piece in which all hell breaks loose, even though it’s also quite tonal. Jordan said this piece convinced him I could bring a fresh voice to film music. He wanted someone who could use the film harmonic language with an African-American perspective.

MT: How was your working relationship with with director Jordan Peele?

MA: Jordan is whip-smart, unbelievable talented, and refreshingly modest. He knows what he wants, and is extremely capable of communicating what he’s hearing and feeling. At the same time, he respects his team as artists, and enjoys the collaborative process. Did I mention how funny he is? A dream to work for.

MT: What are you generally looking for in a director in terms of guidance and tone for your music?

MA: It’s helpful when a director can communicate the feelings a piece of music brings up for them, or the feelings that a character is feeling, or that they want the audience to feel. Most people who are drawn to directing are great at this, since they are storytellers.

MT: What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on their composer to score the film?

MA: The director is looking for someone who can bring the music they are hearing in their imagination to life. The producer is looking for someone who can bring the director’s musical imagination to life on time and under budget. It’s great when these priorities align!

MT: What is your passion in life besides music?

MA: I appreciate home design, I’ve seen my share of home improvement shows. I also love riding my bike, and try to bike at least once a week no matter how stressful the rest of my life is.

MT: What’s next for you? Will you be composing more films?

MA: I have a wind orchestra commission that I’m working on. Yes more film is in the works.

MT: What move have you watched the most times in your life?

MA: The Sound of Music. Do Re Mi changed my life forever. “One word for every note, by mixing it up, like this…” Rogers & Hammerstein taught me that writing music is simple and fun! Been striving to make that lesson true ever since.

MT: What advice do you have for young musicians who would eventually like to compose movies for a living?

MA: Write the music that inspires you, because writing music purely for money will make you hate your creative life. Try to remove your ego from every piece you write. It’s so difficult to be inspired-yet-unattached, but it’s required to remain in a highly creative state. And you are a composer, regardless of whether you have a high profile project to your credit or not. Be the person you want others to see.

GET OUT Movie:

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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Interview with director Stephanie Jaclyn (FREEMALES)

Stephanie Jaclyn directed  the comedy web series  “FREEMALES”, which was showcased at the FEMALE FEEDBACK Film Festival in December 2016. “FREEMALES” was awarded “Best Overall Performances” at the festival. 

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Stephanie Jaclyn: I wanted to see content created by women for women and while the housemate comedy genre is nothing new I wanted to create a show that provided an honest, authentic and humorous insight into lives of young women in today’s ever shifting social landscape.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

SJ: From the scriptwriting phase to our premiere it was 7 months.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

SJ: Funny and real (or just really funny)

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

SJ: The biggest obstacle was filming on such a small budget. Luckily we had an amazing cast and crew who all volunteered their time to be part of the project.

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

SJ: I was amazed and thrilled to see that people on the other side of the world related to the themes and characters. It was great to hear reactions from people who had never heard of the show but completely understood what we were trying to convey.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of the Short Film:

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

SJ: I came up with the idea while living with a girlfriend of mine – there are many aspects of the series that are inspired by real life experiences and events.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

SJ: Oh god, there are so many but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the Harry Potter films.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

SJ: We’re currently in post-production for the final three episodes of Freemales season 1 – online by June 2017! I’m also in pre-production for my next project, a short film about a romantic novelist going through a divorced called The Final Chapter shooting in March 2017.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with director Vu Hoang (MARTY: A WILD WEST NEVERLAND)

Vu Hoang directed  the short film Adventure/Western “MARTY: A WILD WEST NEVERLAND”, which was showcased at the Los Angeles FEEDBACK Film Festival in December 2016. The film was awarded “Best Film” at the festival is and easily one of the best short films made in the 2016. 

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Vu Hoang: I was first inspired to make a film about childhood after I saw the film The 400 Blows in one of my film classes. I then came across two music videos called Hoppípolla and Glósóli by Sigur Rós. It started to make me think about how fast we are all growing up. These videos really gave me such an amazing feeling of nostalgia and made me think a lot about life as a kid. I ultimately wanted to make a film that felt nostalgic while also being adventurous.  At the same time I wanted to add some seriousness and dark themes of childhood.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take you to make this film?

VH: This short film was originally a concept for a music video, but the project fell through. Which for me deep down, I knew it was meant to be bigger than a music video, so I sought to make this a short film. I held onto the idea for about two years. It took us about 6 months to write, a couple months of Kickstarter, 4 days to shoot it and about 3 months of post-production. Overall, I’d say about 3 years from idea to finished production and about 1 year to make it.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words?

VH: Kid Western

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

VH: I would say we had quite a few obstacles, but here are the two big ones.

Our first obstacle was trying to raise $25,000 on Kickstarter for a bunch of unknown filmmakers. It felt like a miracle raising “almost” that amount. We fell about $4000 short, so we funded the rest of it.

The second obstacle was the overall production, we ran into so many issues. The first day our equipment truck broke down 3 hours from our location in Yucca Valley, CA. We had to have someone drive out back towards LA to pick up the camera and we were hours behind schedule. Our cars were getting stuck in the sand, which would stall some of the shoot.The heat made things much more difficult and we had about 25 kids running around the set. The list goes on, but we had an overall ambitious script with only 4 days to shoot, so most of our shots were done in 1-3 takes each. These are some of the many obstacles and I’m still surprised at how we pulled it off. Major props to the amazing cast, crew & parents.

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Los Angeles audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

VH: The responses of the audience were great. They really broke down the film well and it seemed to resonate with people the way I intended.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

VH: I would say question #1 answers this question a bit. As I said before, I was influenced by a couple amazing music videos and the classic film The 400 Blows. After familiarizing myself with more westerns, I wanted to make an epic western with all kids. The idea just flowed after the all the nostalgia that came from my influences.

MT: What film have you seen most in your life?

VH: Probably Dark Knight, Goodfellas, and/or Gladiator

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with director Frank Aron Gårdsø (O)

Frank Aron Gårdsø’s short film O was the winner of BEST FILM at the October 2016 Horror/Thriller Film Festival.

It was a pleasure to interview him about his film and what’s next:

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Frank Aron Gårdsø: I wanted to see if I was capable of making a scary film in broad daylight that did not have any monster, killer, villain or beast to scare you.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

FAG: I would say that the process moved rather fast. I think we were talking about it in the middle of summer, and we were out filming by the beginning of autumn of the same year. So from when we started to think about making the movie until we had a finish product it took us half a year or so.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

FAG: Oh, only two Words… ? What can I say…. Mysterious and Ominous

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

FAG: There were a few obstacles along the way for sure. First of all I learnt that making a non budget movie is very expensive. There are always things that are needed that one did not think about. And then we had the weather. Since the whole film is shot outside, we had big challenges with the elements. One day it was perfect sun. And perfect sun is what I wanted for the movie, cause I wanted to make a scary movie in broad daylight. The next day it was foggy like crazy and then came the rain. At the end it was starting to snow..To top that up, we had to reshoot most of the film due to a lead character shaved off his hair. We had to replace him and find another actor to play his part and start all over. So enough obstacles for sure.

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

FAG: I am very happy to hear and see that there are audiences that actually like and enjoy something you make.

To see people talk about it after watching it, well thats just fantastic.

Interesting to see how the audience was trying to figure out why they end up in the hole. What the hole is? Why they get drawn to it?

It was interesting to hear that some saw the comedic elements of the story and the different references to other movies.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of the Short Film:

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film? 

FAG: It was more of a talk with another friend of mine who also works in the film industry. We just wanted to make something so we chatted over the phone for a while and it suddenly popped out of my head. Why don’t we make a film about some friends who find a black hole in the ground in the forrest. So we went from there.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

FAG: I think I have to say it’s not only one. After giving it a little bit of thought I end up with 3 movies. And it’s kinda funny cause one of them is totally different from the other two. The first one is The Exorcist. I remember watching this for the first time sitting on my mother’s lap. Intense childhood for sure. Growing up watching exorcism on tv. Loved it. Second one is A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. I am laughing just thinking about it. Freddy is fantastic in that one. Talking about it now make me want to see it again. The last one is Grease. It has this amazing good vibe. Great music and great cast which is fantastic to watch.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

FAG: I am currently working for Fremantle Media on a new groundbreaking TV gameshow as a game developer.

But I am also in the middle of the editing my new short film. This time it’s not in the horror genre. It’s more of a drama with some dark comedic elements. Hopefully I will have it finished by the end of this year.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go tohttp://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Story Artist Chris Paluszek (Robot Chicken, The LEGO Movies)

the_lego_movie.jpgWhat fun it was to sit down with the extraordinarily talented artist Chris Paluszek. In many ways his career is just getting started as he’ll be helping create all of the upcoming LEGO Movies in the next few years.

Enjoy!

Matthew Toffolo: What job has been your most valuable experience so far?

Chris Paluszek: I think the first film I ever worked on, “The LEGO Movie.” The crew was relatively small and I had a lot of opportunity to work with really smart, talented people who were very patient and answered a lot of questions I had about storyboarding, storytelling, and the film industry.

MT: How is the LEGO MOVIE experience? It seems to be a franchise in the making and you’re on board for the creative experience.

CP: The first LEGO film was a bit of an outlier. The franchise hadn’t been established, so there weren’t many boundaries on what we could or couldn’t do. So, we had a ton of fun trying lots of crazy ideas that you just don’t usually have the freedom to try on other films. Definitely a highlight of my career.

MT: Is there a type of film that you haven’t worked on yet that you would love to work on?

CP: I would love to work on a short film, like the Pixar shorts that precede an animated feature. Small, self-contained narratives like that are great opportunities for artists to push themselves and experiment.

MT: What is the typical job storyboarding animation movies?

CP: It can depend, but usually there’s a working script that is constantly evolving in conversations between the writer and the director, and a story artist “boards out” a scene from the latest draft. The story artist draws whatever the scene calls for, whether it’s a high speed car chase, or two characters talking in a coffee shop. Whatever case, it’s up to the storyboard artist to depict the action and decide on what shot language best tells the story.

MT: What’s the general working relationship and process between a storyboard artist and the director?

CP: The director has a vision for their movie, and as a story artist you’re there to support that vision. When you’re given an assignment you meet with the director, who lays out how they imagine the scene. You ask lots of questions and at the end of the meeting you should hopefully have a clear idea of what the director wants to see. Within that framework, you can bring some of yourself into the scene, whether it’s acting choices, or maybe a really cool composition that frames the action, or even a small comedic beat (if it suits the tone of the scene).

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve working on, have you watched the most times in your life?

CP: I’m always awed by Hayao Miyazaki’s “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” It’s fantastical, yet down to earth. It’s lighthearted and also deeply emotional. Everytime I watch it I see something new.

MT: Do you have a storyboard mentor?

CP: My first story position was an internship on a TV show, and the Story Lead for that crew really helped me out. He was patient and helped me with the basics, like maintaining shot continuity as you “cut” (draw a new shot) around the action.

MT: Where do you see the future of storyboards in the motion pictures?

CP: Most story jobs are within a tight crew of artists that work intimately with the director, so they can nimbly address major story changes in time for deadlines. However, some studios have made whole films by sending work out to freelancers, working from home. While I can’t say I love my commute, working alongside incredible talent has been the chief way I’ve improved as an artist and storyteller.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into working in the film industry?

CP: I grew up in Virginia, and always loved art as a way of telling stories. I went to school for animation, and moved out to Los Angeles thinking I could be an animator. Unfortunately my animation skills weren’t very good! But I was lucky to bump into someone at the right time, who took a chance and offered me a production internship at a small TV animation studio. While there I crossed paths with the Storyboard department, who were looking for extra help. I was able to become a full-time Story intern, which eventually led to an official job as a Story Artist! It was a strange path, threaded with a lot of luck and kindness.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca

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Interview with Supervising Sound Editor Wylie Stateman (The Hateful Eight, Home Alone, JFK)

wylie_stateman.jpgWylie Statement is a gem. It’s a simple as that. This is truly one of my favorite interviews. In my subjective opinion, it’s a must read for anyone working in the industry today, and for those attempting to get into the industry. His answers were entertaining, educational, and there is a theme that ties it all together. See if you can figure it out. Hope you enjoy.

See Wylie’s full list of credits – 7 Oscar nominations for Sound Editing: (Born on the 4th of July (1989), Cliffhanger (1993), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Wanted (2008), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained (2012), Lone Survivor (2013).

Matthew Toffolo: How would you describe what a Supervising Sound Editor does in one sentence?

Wylie Stateman: A supervising sound editor serves the director, editor and production as the project’s audio architect; providing creative oversight over planning, sound design, sound editorial, and delivery of the finished sound track.

MT: How is the Quentin Tarantino experience? (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, Grindhouse, Kill Bill)?

WS: Quentin Tarantino is truly a force of cinematic nature. Quentin sees film the way a philosopher sees life: it’s fundamentally interesting; it’s personal; it has intervals of both width and depth; and, of course, at key moments in time, it all ties together. For sure in QT’s case, it all ties to a unique writing and cinematic sense and style. Quentin celebrates character intensity.

Driven by his sensibilities in using musical score along with songs and overlapping sound design, Quentin knows how to harness key sonic moments and make them serve his characters and his story. Working along side of Quentin is inspirational. He challenges you to look for ideas in service to your (and his) intentions; in service to creative ways to tell story; and in collaboration with big picture ideas.

Quentin also taught me the value in studying historical film references. He often provided specific examples of films that he felt advanced filmmaking or some aspect of sound specifically. For “Kill Bill”, we reviewed Quentin’s fascination with early Hong Kong films. On “Grindhouse”, he once referenced a trailer that he had seen some thirty years prior as having left a lasting impression on him (sound-wise). Sure enough, the next day a small roll of 35mm film arrived and we had the chance to review an original William Friedkin “Exorcist” trailer, circa 1973. It served as an informative reference for the movement of sound through the surround speaker field.

Every Quentin film has an origin story that is personal to his life long pursuit of cinema. Quentin personally hand picks his filmmaking family on every project. His producers and department heads are always part of his most trusted assets. The production team and, after production, the cutting room is always populated with smart, devoted, traditional, and not-so-traditional, highly talented people. Quentin is the driving force out in front of the team, thoroughly inspiring everyone.

PHOTO: Ennio Morricone & Quentin Tarantino finish the score for THE HATEFUL EIGHT:

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MT: You’ve also worked on more than a few Oliver Stone films? What is this experience like? How is it different than working on other studio films?

WS: Oliver Stone’s body of work is at the heart and soul of my resume. I met Oliver at the right time during his second filmmaking endeavor, “Salvador”. I began serving as his sound designer and supervising sound editor immediately after the first “Wall Street”. I’ve worked with Oliver consistently for over three decades and on more than twenty of his original creative projects.

Oliver asks great questions, sets a high bar intellectually, and makes films with complex layered story lines. With Oliver, we blazed new rules in terms of layered story and layered dialogue; we are always attempting to weave story exposition into what feels like dramatic action. I recommend that you take a look and listen to Oliver’s film “Any Given Sunday”. In one scene Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx are seated having a lunchtime conversation. The dialogue unfolds with intensity and the drama builds to a climax with visually intercut scenes with the chariot race from the original “Ben Hur”. Oliver’s films are propelled through experimental ideas and a damn-the-torpedoes cutting style. Oliver loves to construct stories with an unfolding of ideas through visuals, abstract sonic elements, real life events, and words. With great courage, Oliver created a style of filmmaking that has influenced every generation that has followed.

It has been one of my life’s great professional pleasures to have helped him shape his truly recognizable voice. Oliver writes, produces and directs his projects. I have learned to trust Oliver, and am grateful, Oliver has trusted in me.

PHOTO: Wylie on “The Hateful Eight” set:

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MT: Were there some films you worked on that you thought would not do well financially and were big hits? Or, films you assumed were going to be a big success, but ended up not doing well?

WS: My mentor, the very accomplished editor, Paul Hirsch, described it well enough: “There are only three potential outcomes for film: good box office/good reviews, good box office/bad reviews, bad box office/bad reviews; the first two considered acceptable in most cases”.

Making a movie requires an ability (hell, necessity), to go all in; to totally love the thing; to commit yourself completely to it; and to demonstrate an unwavering devotion to the filmmaking cause. Success, surprise or not, does always feel like a wave of great euphoria. Yet, on the other hand, it is a soul-sucking, often personal feeling of failure or even defeat, when you swing with all your heart and miss.

I have learned that the success of a film is highly dependent on the ever changing cultural mood of the day. In the throes of constructing a film, it is hard to have any objectivity around box office potential. A film’s sound track is merely a piece of that puzzle and my part is to press my creative team to develop and deliver the most interesting, informative sound possible. That is my goal on every project.

After all is said, felt and done, great successes have many fathers; failures in Hollywood are often treated as orphans.

MT: Every year I watch the “Home Alone” films. Are you surprised that both films still stand the test of time and perhaps my kid’s kids will be watching the film each year? How was this working experience? There is such a great musical score/sound design that sets that film’s tone and feel in the beginning. It gets me every single time.

WS: It is a great film. Directed by Chris Columbus with music composed by John William, the first “Home Alone” film was such a wonderful surprise. Chris Columbus and Raja Gosnell, the film’s editors, nailed the piece. From start to finish, it promises, delivers, and above all, entertains.

I’m glad that it has a place in the hearts of future generations. I think that “Home Alone” possessed the right mix of relatable family circumstance; an unstoppable boy as your relatable young hero; timeless pratfall comedy; great bad guy casting; and fun-to-visualize story lines. All of these pulled tightly together with emotional thematic music. Like lightning in a bottle, the “Home Alone” film franchise was written and produced by John Hughes, a man I adored. I learned comedy sound design with John’s unrelenting support. He understood middle American life and used that understanding to create coming-of-age comedies that tickled insecurities, made people laugh and even, on occasion, enjoy an unexpected good cry.

John once described his desired place in the industry as the ‘Woody Allen for all those peoples west of New Jersey’. I loved that about John. He was an important story originator, filmmaker, director, and writer of meaningful contemporary comedy. He was a true gem.

MT: You’ve been nominated for an Oscar 7 times but have always come home empty. What is that experience like? Is it just an honor to be nominated, or do you really want that statue?

WS: It is always a thrill and an honor to be nominated. Each project is such a different journey and you never really know how these things will turn out. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science is a great institution that was created to seek, showcase and celebrate excellence. The Oscars are seen by some in the press as a path to creative or professional immortality (one for the obituaries) and so, to be nominated, well, that might be likened to being a runner-up to, or at the least very close to immortality.

Going to the Oscar show and not winning a statue is a uniquely Hollywood roller coaster ride: five people with their hearts in their hands, all on camera, where four will feel crestfallen while one is anointed. My mentor, friend and Oscar winner for the original “Star Wars”, Paul Hirsch, once referred the experience as something akin to an old fashioned bull fight: “seems fun for everybody, but the bull”.

Thinking as an artist and filmmaker, it a tremendous accomplishment just to be invited to join the Academy and to be a member in good standing of such a prestigious organization. It’s easy to get lost in the award season noise, but I still truly find it inspiring at the end of each year to sit down, watch (and hear) the great works that my industry peers have created. Being singled out as one of the five artists of merit in that year’s field of artists is each time, nothing short of mind-blowing.

MT: How has sound design changed from a technology and creative point of view from the year you started to today?

WS: My career as a sound designer now spans four decades. Working first with analogue technology was literally hands-on; you actually touched the film stock. There were tools based around the Moviola, mechanical synchronizers, and tape splicers. It was the golden audio age where iconic analogue films such as “Star Wars” and “Apocalypse Now” were made. I was a sound designer on the original film ”Tron”, the bio-pic musical “Coal Miners Daughter”, and “The Long Riders”. As an example of where we came from, “The Long Riders” was mixed and finished in a MONO track format because, at that time, Warner Brothers (the pioneers of cinema sound in 1927) was still not yet entirely committed to releasing films in STEREO for theatrical distribution.

Things began to change quickly late in the 1980’s, when the industry began departing from analogue film tape-based sound and turning towards digital data and reliable multichannel theatrical playback systems. New digital field recorders changed the ways in which we could capture and archive our sound design elements. Computer-based sound libraries and advancements in editing workstations changed how we cut, layered, and mixed. Eventually, all things downloadable would come along and change the tools again. The market for talent and the possibilities offered to and from the sound design community opened; creative innovations again flowed to meet the challenges offered as a result of digital media.

Sound design, as a creative art form, continues to be technically-driven. It is considered by many still to be on the verge of yet another new technical revolution; likely, the immersive frontier. Finally, films someday might sonically bark as efficiently as they might visually bite.

MT: Where do you see the future of Sound Designing in film?

WS: Stories will be told in ways filmmakers of the past could never have facilitated. Thanks to the ‘internet of everything’ and by that I mean downloadable niche content, Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR); the potential contribution that future sound designers can make has only just begun. Packets of sound (or ‘sound objects’) are the new building blocks of innovative sound design. Ultra high fidelity “samples” that are utilized in digital playback instruments available literally at the artists’ fingertips, all serve the future where experimentation becomes faster and further unhinged from technical limitations. Today and forever forward, immersive playback systems with greater sonic powers, and even greater numbers of sound placement options, will convincingly deliver “surround” sound anywhere or everywhere in any venue.

Sound design is an unlimited experimental art form because it is unique in the fact that it’s invisible; can’t be held; can’t be stopped. When you stop sound or “pause it”, it goes away.

MT: You’ve been working in the industry for 35+ years on over 100+ productions. Is there is a film or two that you’re most proud of?

WS: Working on your first film is surely a thrill.

Establishing long term credibility as a sound designer usually requires broadening one’s knowledge of music, film, and art in various other forms. I have found that each project served as a building block towards a wide catalog of filmmaking lessons. Fiction, non-fiction, comedy, musical, thriller, horror, action, adventure, romance – all have their challenges and all feed into a lifetime of content creation in its various genre forms.

Knocking filmmaker expectations out of the park or maybe just advancing sound design as an appreciable art form, be it on a single project or an entire genre of filmmaking – this is what makes me proud as a sound designer.

MT: Is there a type of film that you haven’t worked on yet that you would love to work on?

WS: Filmmakers are often comfortable with the voice that they have come to know. There are a few filmmakers with whom I would love to someday have an opportunity to work: Chris Nolan, Wes Anderson, Jeff Nichols, Spike Jones, and Denis Villeneuve come to mind. It would be a great honor and challenge to walk in stride with them, building on their previous sonic footprints. Whatever the film, there is an opportunity to help exercise, in a meaningful way, the filmmaker’s voice – be it clarifying it, extending it, or even creating something entirely off the scripted page. Helping to find, interpret and explore sound in its various forms on any given project is what excites me most.

MT: What makes a great sound designer? What skills does he/she need?

WS: A successful sound designer mines the gap between hearing and listening. It might seem a bit esoteric to visual thinkers, but there is a difference between listening and hearing. People who listen absorb and process the sound coming at them, while people who hear know the sound artistically they want to hear. When you are mixing sounds, it is even more important to be able to hear. Good sound designers exercise their ability to hear and then, only after that, focus on those bits worth listening to.

Having technology on your side is helpful. Partnering with diverse and interesting talent is essential to growth, as a designer, team member and/or team leader. Success comes by resolving difficult filmmaking challenges and by putting first client needs and their artistic desires.

To be a great sound designer, what’s also really helpful (and necessary!) is compelling content on which to practice. Practice expands hearing as well as refines one’s ability to listen.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve working on, have you watched the most times in your life?

WS: Repeat audience viewing is the ultimate form of flattery for filmmakers. There are film advancements that beg the question: how do they do that? In every genre, there are examples of these black swans; outliers that beg to be seen again and again. Seeing for the first time “Alien” or “Across the Universe”, as well as “Avatar” or “Gravity” in 3D, these and others reinforce why, as filmmakers, we need to watch, listen to, and support one another; support our colleagues.

Not for nothing, it feels unimportant to play favorites because films are “time of life” dependent. I would have to admit though, seeing certain films over and over can be comforting, even joyful.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into working in the film industry?

WS: Sound has been my life-long passion. I have been making and archiving recordings since I was five. I began my career as a sound editor and, in 1982, joined Lon Bender in founding Soundelux. Soundelux, The Hollywood Edge, Modern Music and the many offshoots became some of the most prolific independent sound companies ever to grace post production in Hollywood.

I spent my early years of life in NY on Long Island in a small working class community on the edge of Levittown. I lived amongst friends till the day after high school graduation when I left by bus for an adventure in California. The bus service was called the Grey Rabbit. It left from Greenwich Village, stopping in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco and finishing up at the Greyhound station in L.A. at Hollywood Blvd. and Vine Street. The bus was a 1940s scorpion trail highway cruiser with the words “Church of World Community Consensus” painted on its side. That was the how, in how I came to Hollywood. The why took many more years to discover.

As luck would have it, my lifelong friends Steve and Evan Green moved to Beverly Hills with their father Barry Green a year earlier. Barry was extraordinarily generous and took me in. He was manufacturing the Guillotine Tape Splicer and Moviola editing products. I was given a chance to work in the rental department of J&R Film Company. We rented the last generation of film editing equipment, most of which had not been seriously upgraded technically for more than fifty years. This was my entry and my coup. I was introduced to filmmaking, filmmakers, the major studios and traditional post production work on a broad scale across “Hollywood”.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Actor/Screenwriter Jovanna Burke (THE TRAP)

Jovanna Burke’s THE TRAP played to rave reviews at the October 2016 ACTION/CRIME Short Film Festival. It was the winner of “Best Overall Performances” at the festival.

It was a pleasure sitting down and chatting with her about the film and what’s next for the very talented actor turned writer turned upcoming director!

 Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Jovanna Burke: Adam (director of the film) and I wanted to collaborate on a project together. Adam wanted to make a cool neo-noir but needed an idea. I said I could come up with something cool, so I wrote the story. He wrote the screenplay. I played the actress. He directed. It was a great collaboration.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

JB: It took us about a year, when all was said and done.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

JB: Noir thriller.

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

JB: To be honest, it was the final colour correction. The colour of the film was a really important element in giving it that true NEO-NOIR style. We unfortunately, had to scrap the entire first go, which set our timeline back by a lot. But once we found the right people to do it, it was smooth sailing!

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

JB: We were all so happy and proud! It was so awesome to hear everyone’s reactions and to see that the twists really affected everyone like we wanted them to. Our team (our fabulous producers: Lawra Robertson, Phillip Nee Nee and Andrew Burke… and of course Adam and I) spent a lot of time really carving out all the moments and working with the script to make sure everything would work. We poked holes in every single scenario to make sure it was bullet proof. It is truly superb to see the reactions after putting the puzzle pieces together.

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

JB: I’ve always loved the film noir movement. I had an obsession with the genre and have seen most of the films and broken them down, studied them and I even hosted an evening of “Noir” where I wrote monologues and other actors performed scenes from famous films. So when Adam said neo-noir…all my creative juices just started flowing. I wrote the story in a few days, it essentially wrote itself with all the info I had stored in my brain from my noir obsession.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

JB: Oh gosh…I have kids so likely a whole lot of Disney these days. Lol. But the ones that are always on repeat are my classic favorites: Double Indemnity, Amelie, The Princess Bride, The Royal Tenenbaums, North by Northwest, Dirty Dancing and Charade.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

JB: Yes, I am just in re-writes on a new film, one that I plan on directing this time. (I’m excited and terrified all at once) So hopefully when it gets made, I will be able to screen it for you and the audiences in Toronto again!!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of THE TRAP:

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.