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.
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Interview with The Newton Brothers (Composers – Ouija: 2, The Runner)

the_newton_brothers.jpgWhat a great time I had chatting with the extremely talented Newton Brothers (Andrew Grush & Taylor Stewart). A composing team that has already “scored” an impressive resume. I talked with them while they were in the midst of promoting their composing work on the horror film “Ouija: Origin of Evil.”

Matthew Toffolo: You guys are called the Newton Brothes but you’re not actually brothers.

Taylor Stewart: Yes, we wanted to write under one entity. Whether that is writing for film, TV, or an Opera. So we named ourselves after the great Isaac Newton.

MT: So not the bank robbers then?

Andrew Grush: We found out about them after we named ourselves..but we just decided to go with it.

Have any of you ever played with a Ouija board?

AG: That scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. I stayed away from all of that stuff. Only since we came aboard this project is when we have played with them. And we’ve now played with a ton of Ouija boards.

Do you believe?

TS: I personally think that people believe what they want to believe and things manifest. I do believe that there are things beyond us – and whether people want to believe that a Ouija board can bring that out is up to them to believe or not believe.

Did you play the board to inspire you to write the score?

AG: The sound designer was playing with the board in the post studio to grab folly off of it and it was laying around. So we did play with it.

We attended a few parties leading up to the premiere of the film and the played on different boards that some of the fans had. Some people had these amazing boards. Very old and artistic. I think I may be done with them. Don’t want to tempt faith.

I heard that you recorded the score of the film in an old church and that it got a bit creepy.

TS: Lucky enough we recorded it in only a day. It had a vintage feel. A traditional sense that others things have gone on there in the past. The owner of the church mentioned that “things” have gone on. So that brought another feeling. The church was beautiful and it definitely helped bring the emotions needed to execute the score.

With this score you went full out with your score – lots of intruments, with lots of layered emotions. Your rough cut. Then you scaled back and removed a lot of stuff. Is this your general process with scoring films?

AG: Yes that’s our usual approach. To take it too far just to see how far we can take it. Then go backwards and ween things out. We found that in the end that it worked out nicely. In the original score we had a lot of brass and ended up removing it entirely to have a more timeless feel. So it’s now more of a woodwind score. It now has the quality of the era of the film.

It’s almost like it was too busy with the brass.

AG: Exactly. To enhance the themes of the film and the amazing cinematography, less was definitely better.

Speaking of that. When I was researching you guys you were talking a lot about silence. To set up your score, you need silence first to enhance things.

TS: That’s true. There are so many movies with wall to wall music and usually when that happens it’s a student film or a young filmmaker’s film. They want to push the emotional buttons and many times they go too far. Silence gives more reality to the film. It’s a mistake that many student films make.

Sometimes the composer just wants their music in the film and they don’t think about the entire scope of the film. And sometimes to get the best overall score, a score isn’t needed in certain moments of the film.

AG: It’s very true. There are so many themes in so many films we do. We write music for all of it. Sometimes we work a week on a cue in a scene that just doesn’t work and no music is needed for that particular scene. But you have to try it. Explore the themes in the film. And doing that makes the rest of your score better.

It’s very important to know what we aren’t making an album. We don’t need to paint our sound all over the place.

What do you look for in your director?

TS: We welcome as much input as possible from the director. Getting to know what they want to relay what they want to give the audience. Whether that’s a two note score, or a very detailed score with many counter points. We want to work on the story with them and interject our talent onto the film.

The more that director gives us, the better it is for us.

How did you guys meet?

AG: We meet through a mutual friend in 2001. We started working together on songs and bank stuff. That turned into working on films. We decided to work on it together and came up with the Newton Brothers. Then we just started jumping into stuff.

It’s really nice to bounce ideas off each other. To work alone and go down out own natural roads. Then collaborate and bring those ideas and feelings together.

So you guys are basically a creative married couple?

AG: Yes we are. Good call.

What movie have to seen the most times in your life?

TS: E.T.. Star Wars. Back to the Future. Predator.

AG: The film I watched the most is Aliens. I recorded it on VHS in 8th grade, and I would watch it over and over again.

What type of movie would you want to score that you haven’t scored yet?

TS: Sometime futuristic and electronic. Or a period epic movie like Braveheart. We write a lot of stuff like that and I guess people will hear it eventually.

AG: Same. That is our goal.

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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 Sound Mixer Tony Dawe (Return of the Jedi, Alice in Wonderland, Troy)

tony_daweTony Dawe has definitely witnessed a lot of things on set working sound, working on over 120 productions in the last 40 years. It was an honor to interview him after the craft of sound mixing on set and preparing the post-production sound department.

Matthew Toffolo: How would you describe what a sound mixer does in one sentence?

Tony Dawe: I don’t think you can describe it in one sentence, as the job encompasses so many different variables. To get the best sound really starts with reading the script, and then going on the recces to look at all potential problems on set, background noises, can we do anything about it, where the sparks want to put their generators, are we under a flight path etc. Talk to the director to see if they have any special things they want done with the sound. Go and see the costume department and find out if there are any potential problems with the artists costumes, as every artist now has to wear a radio mic on films and TV. Inspect the sets when they are built, and with all the props in, to look for squeaky floors and other minefields. Liase with the DOP, to see what he is trying to achieve, and how we can work with him on set without interfering with his lighting. There are many other things I could mention!

OK, in one sentence: Get the best possible sound under any circumstances that will enable the audience to follow the plot without saying “What did he say?”

MT: Is there a difference in your job description when you work on a drama like “The Hours (2002)” in comparison to working on a genre action like “Indiana Jones” or “Alice in wonderland”?

TD: If you mean, do I work in exactly the same way on both types of production, the answer is yes. Weirdly though in TV, my job credit is Sound Recordist, and in Feature films it is Production Sound Mixer; however its still the same job. Do I feel there is more kudos working on a large film rather than a TV film just because of the job description, no I don’t.

MT: You’ve worked on many Tim Burton productions. How is your working experience with him. How is he different than other directors?

TD: I have worked with Tim since “Batman” in 1987. I love working with him as there is always a great creative atmosphere on set, and I have learned more about film making from him than any other director just by watching my monitor. For instance, watching how a shot develops through several takes until the timing and the acting and everything else comes together in that magic moment, and then the reaction from Tim when he knows that is the best take. Incidentally, with all the directors I have worked with, Tim is the one I talk to the least. I just don’t like to interrupt his creative processes by talking about trivial sound matters. We both trust each other completely job wise.

MT: You’ve been nominated for an Oscar in the “Best Sound” category 4 times. How has the Oscar experience been like? Were you surprised that you didn’t win?

TD: I was delighted to be nominated each time and someone has to win, but that doesn’t make the others into losers. Every year there a lot of amazing sound tracks that never even get mentioned in dispatches. Validation comes from within, and having honesty about your own work. You have to ask yourself if you did do a good job; the best you could in fact, if so, there is the validation.

MT: You were nominated for “Return of the Jedi”. What was that working experience like? How involved was George Lucas?

TD: George Lucas was very involved in the making of “Revenge of the Jedi”, and spent a lot of time on the sets. I got on very well with George, and we had many discussions about the use of computers in film making and where that was going to go. Looking back, of course he was absolutely right. He is a most incredible person and visionary and I really loved working with him.

However, working on “Revenge of the Jedi” (which was its original title), was very intense and not one of my favourite experiences.

MT: You’ve been working in the industry for 50 years on over 100+ productions. Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

TD: I’ve been a sound engineer for 58 years, starting at Abbey Road (before the Beatles!), and ABC television (405 line B&W!) before I even got to work in film in 1967 at Shepperton Studios sound department, so there are a lot of projects to think about.

There are two productions that I’m most proud about, the first is “The Sweeney” TV series in the seventies, where all of us on the crew were pioneers in using small lightweight 16mm cameras and the Nagra tape recorders for the first time in drama’s and making it work. The rule was, there would be no ADR, so the sound had to be usable all the time. I did not use any radio mics on that show, but I always had the final word on what we could do or not do as the sound department. That concentrated a few people’s minds on the set! I learned so much from that experience over the 53 episodes.

The second project was very similar, and was series 4-7 of “Inspector Morse” in the 1980’s. Again, although the company would budget for small amounts of ADR, it was expected that all sound would be usable, so I was very proud when they did use it all, and the sound received an award from Bafta.

I’m not overly proud of any of my feature film work, as all of the budgets included a large amount for ADR, (the money for which always has to be used), and most of the time they would prefer to ADR something instead of spending time doing another take. This does not apply to the wonderful Directors who fully understand the role of sound in film, and will always go again when asked by the sound department. As the blending of my recordings and other peoples is usually very good, who knows then what has been recorded by whom?

By the way, one of my most favourite films to work on was “Dean Spanley” (As a movie it is an underrated masterpiece, well worth finding the DVD and watching it).

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

TD: Yes, I’ve never worked on a cowboy film (and never likely to in the UK!). Also I’ve only worked on one film that had war scenes in it, and I would like to do another one sometime.

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

TD: It has changed absolutely, but mostly in the last 20 years. When I started in 1967, we were still using 35mm full coat magnetic film to record on at Shepperton studios. They did not even have a Nagra recorder to do sound effects on, only very large Leevers-Rich reel to reel recorders which were not portable. When I recorded my first film in 1969 as a sound mixer I used a Nagra 4 with a small Nagra mixer, and that worked well. Microphones were all Sennheiser 805’s, with no radio mics. This type of equipment continued well into the 1990’s, except I had added radio mics (to be used mostly for wide shots!) Then came DAT, and the early machines which were not reliable, and ran very hot (and I didn’t adopt until later). Eventually the DAT machines became as portable as the Nagra’s, and they worked very well, except on cold mornings when the rotating heads stuck to the tape and had to be warmed up with a hair dryer.

In the last 12 years or so, we have had hard drive recorders, which again improved immensely very quickly. I started with an 8 track recorder which proved to be rather quirky and difficult to use, and for 7 years I had a Deva 16 as my main recorder, which was very good, but I now have a Fusion10, and Fusion 12 which have no moving parts, except the mixing knobs on the front and work wonderfully well. I hope to acquire a Deva 24 in the future. Just think of that, 24 tracks in a machine not much bigger than a Nagra!

I adore digital recording immensely as it is so flexible and totally transparent. On my sound trolley I still have a wonderful Coopersound analog mixer at the front end which makes it sound a bit like a Nagra.

Editing sound with Pro Tools is a dream, and I wish it been around when I was editing sound at ABC TV in the sixties.

Some of the magic from the early days has gone however, such as being able to do impossible mixes with only one or two channels. Today we just record everything in the hope that there is enough there to satisfy the sound editor. I still use open boom mics for most things, with the radio mics there as a backup. Basically what I am saying is that there is now very little creativity left in my job. What I used to produce as a finished track that would find its way into a film or TV drama rarely happens any more, as the tracks are dismembered and remade in post production. I have been asked quite a few times how I mixed a particular editors track on a feature film, so that post could undo it and re-assemble the track. What is the point in that? Because what I do is so instinctive, that I can’t usually tell them.

As for the profusion of radio mics on set, don’t even get me started on that one. Most other people on the set think that it solves all the problems with sound that can arise, but in practice it gives many more problems than it solves, and sometimes it involves fiddling about with the actors and costumes, which they hate, and so do I. Unfortunately we are not in control any more as we are beholden to other departments.

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

TD: Firstly I think that you need a great deal of patience, no arrogance, or the “look at me” concept that some mixers have. Know your place in the hierarchy, be very confident with your own ability, and sometimes exceed the boundaries to see if you can do it, and own up if you can’t!

Never argue with a Director, but reasonably discuss possible ways of getting round a sound problem with them. Always be as pleasant as possible, as it gets you much further than aggression.

Oh… and it helps if you know what you are listening for!

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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 Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Sound Editor Piero Mura (The Accountant, 500 Days of Summer)

piero_mura.jpgPiero Mura has worked in the sound department on over 100 films in the last 25+ years. His list of credits include Ben Hur, Fast & Furious 6, Skyfall, Warrior, War of the Worlds, and Training Day to name a few. It was an honor talking to him about his career and sound in general.

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

Piero Mura: A Sound Effects Editor directs the attention of the audience to what he/she believes is important in terms of story and entertainment.

MT: You were the Sound Designer on the the remake of Ben-Hur. A film that did not do well box office-wise. You work on months on a film that I’m sure you’re proud of and then it quickly goes away after it opens. How does that feel?

PM: Ben Hur 2016 did not go away after it opened. As I write it is still being released in the foreign markets and it’s doing reasonably well. There is always a bit of disappointment when a movie you work on doesn’t find it’s audience but it’s the nature of what we do. We put our work out there and we move on. If I think a movie is a good movie the fact that made money or not is irrelevant. I leave the commercial aspect of our industry to others.

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?

PM: As I said I leave it to others to make this kind of considerations. But I was happy when “500 Days of Summer” was well received by a large audience. Probably larger than i thought at the time.

Zooey Deschanel & Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “500 Days of Summer”

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

PM: Everything in post-production changed in the last twenty years.
I believe that they were positive changes. Today the line between mixing and editing is not as well defined as it used to be.

Quite a few sound editors now seat behind the faders and a number of mixers do not hesitate to do sound design or supervise.

Personally I like the opportunity to bring to the stage coherent tracks
where backgrounds, sound effects and foley are already balanced and pre-panned. Establishing spacial relations helps me to understand the sequence better and go a little deeper with my work.

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

PM: Probably it will be a good future. It’s a fun thing to do and a lot of people would want to be part of it
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MT: You’ve been working in the industry for 30+ years on over 100+ productions. Is there is a film or two that you’re most proud of?

PM: If I have to pick one I would pick Training Day. I believe is one of the best movies of the last twenty years. The late George Simpson was the sound supervisor. I cut the sound effects together with a few other sound editors. There’s an important creative line that connects Training Day with Harsh Times,Street Kings and Sabotage.

Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in “Training Day”:

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

PM: Patience and endurance. Also humility helps.
Never go for the esthetic qualities of a sound.
If it is not helping the story it’s beauty is useless.
As far as skills needed I believe that the best skill to have is to be open to learn from others.
Actually this is the same advise I was given when i started.

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

PM: The Godfather. Characters and story are incredible in this movie.

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

PM: I was born and grew up in Rome. I started as an apprentice in the Sound Department of the Cinecitta’ Studios. After a couple of years I I got the chance to edit something. It felt good and I liked it.
And I still do.

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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 Composer Henry Jackman (Birth of a Nation, Captain America 2 & 3)

henry_jackman_1.jpgWhen I called up composer Henry Jackman’s office to do the interview, I was put on hold. Fittingly, while I was waiting I got to listen to the music of Henry Jackman. It was a great way to start the interview as his music is moving even when it’s “on hold” music from the phone.

Henry’s list of credits is already legendary, and he’s just getting started. He has composed Captain America 2 & 3, X-Men: First Class, Kinsman 1 & 2, and the upcoming Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, just to name a few. And I didn’t even mentioned his Animation movie composing (Go to his imdb profile).

In this interview, we centered on his score on “Birth of a Nation”, which should definitely lead him to his first Oscar nomination.

Matthew Toffolo: When did you first come aboard “Birth of a Nation?

Henry Jackman: The very early stages. My agent was friendly with Nate Parker (director of the film) and he introduced us. He initially suggested Nate get in touch with me, stating that I’m not just a big budget composer.

I read the script and I knew this needed to happen. Nate was a man consumed with purpose and whatever was needed to get this film done, he was going to do it. So I was in right away. There was no financing completed, and he didn’t even have a studio on board yet, but I knew that Nate was going to make it happen.

The story of Nat Turner in “The Birth of a Nation”:

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MT: How did the process work with you completing the score of the film? Did you receive a rough cut at first?

HJ: By the time I got the picture, it was about 85% completed. He didn’t have the luxery of doing an extended cut where I score the music and they cut that. He knew what he wanted in production and shot it. So when I began working on it, it was almost already done.

MT: What kind of direction did you get? What kind of thematic were you told to create?

HJ: Nate just told me that he loves the human voice and it would be a great way to connect with the audience for this story. I had the budget contraints on my mind and thought we could get really creative and use a solo singer, and a solo celloist and just a few other intruments. But to Nate’s credit, he said to create the score like we have all the money in the world, and he’s figure out the budget. And that really helped me. By the time we got to the ending, I knew we needed a big musical score with lots of singers and Nate got it done. We ended up with what we needed.

MT: From a practical and creative standpoint, working on this film must have been apples compared to oranges in comparison to you working on the Captain America films?

HJ: It’s funny you say that. Ultimately, yes, there are differences, but the differences are only surfaces. The process of coming up with the thematic score, writing the music etc… is the same on both films. The budget is there and of course I had more financial freedom with Captain America, but the creative process was exactly the same.

MT: I was at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) screening of “Birth of a Nation” and the energy was amazing in the cinema. When the film ended, it received a standing ovation. But of course there is a controversary with the director (if you do not know, please Google it) that the media keeps bring up that, and some can say, has tainted the film. Do you have any opinions of the conversary surrounding the film? How “Birth of a Nation” is probably not getting the attention it deserves?

HJ: The only thing I can say is that I encourage anyone to go see this film. Speaking about myself growing up in a European heritage, I didn’t even know about this part of history and the story of what happened in 1831. Everyone knows the basic history, but this film tells a story, without being heavyhanded about it, about what happened then and the legacy this time still holds for us today. That’s such an important thing. So if anyone has any hesitation, please keep that in mind.

MT: The controversary is kind of a 2016 problem. The film itself is never just the story and promotion now. It’s the social media influence and how the personal lives of everyone part of the film get mixed into what the film is trying to say. So Nate’s personal history, some can argue, taints what this film is trying to say.

HJ: That’s true. People make their own opinion and judgements. Whatever tweets that are flying around now is part of our present day communication and there’s nothing wrong with that. The story of Nat Turner is definitely something people should also be talking about – and going to see this film.

MT: What type of working relationship do you like to have with your director?

HJ: I think the best relationship is a consistent vision and they are never flip-flopping. An overall vision that’s in the costumes, editing, acting etc…, but with sufficient space that allows each artist do what they need to do.

For example, all the conversations with Nate were about the film and it’s themes. What each scene is about. So all the little conversations, like what’s not working etc…, is about the overall vision. So there isn’t any conversations that are NOT about the film and its visiion. Which makes for the best working relationship.

Edward Zwick (just finished working with him on Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) is an example of a great director/composer experience. He brought the tranquility to the process. Everyone is pulling on the same rope to create the vision. When films get in trouble is when the vision changes.

MT: Tell us about the CAPTAIN AMERICA experience? Working for MARVEL?

The Russo Brothers are also great directors to work with. It is different because we’re working on a franchise and all of the films in the Marvel universe need to connect. What makes the Russo’s amazing is that they can do their own film and make it connect with all of the other films. They are masterful directors in capturing their own unique voice in this massive franchise.

Captain America: Winter Soldier was such an amazing experience and many regard it as the best comic book movie made.

MT: Because it wasn’t a comic book movie. Tone-wise it was a spy/thriller?

Exactly. But they didn’t go so far in that direction and leave the fans behind. They mastered the circle. So by the time we did the 3rd film (Captain America: Civil War), Marvel left them completely alone to do their thing as they trusted them. And I have to say they nailed it.

MT: And you nailed it with the score of that film?

Thanks. I am proud of that film.

MT: From a technology standpoint, where do you see the future of composing in the movies?

The future is always a guess. If you go back 30 years in music in film, the tolerance then is different than it is today. There is more variety in music in film today. Film scores are now a broad church. Producers are less freaked out by a wide score of music composed in a film. People now listen to a wider range of music so in relation there is more freedom for the composer to add a wider range. So the future is probably going to simply go wider as access to all kinds of music that people listen to become less judgemental.

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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 Composer/Vocalist Dominic Lewis (Money Monster, Batman v Superman)

Dominic Lewis is a pure talent in the industry. He is a master vocalist, and composer of the new film “Money Monster”, directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney & Julia Roberts. I had the privilege to interview him and talk about his career and the art of music in film.

dominic_lewis_3.jpgInterview with Dominic Lewis:

Matthew Toffolo: You were credited at “Featured Vocalist” on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What did you do on that assignment for the film?

Dominic Lewis: A lot of vocals!!! Hans had created this incredible texture of a very distressed voice (in harmony sliding up to a single pitch and sliding back down to the chord) It was a long process and I couldn’t talk for a week after.

MT: How many instruments do you play? Do you have a favorite? And/or an instrument you’re most skilled at?

DL: I play a few, my favorite is the cello (which I’m rather rusty at these days) or singing. I also like to mess around on the guitar and keys when I’m in a pop-ier mood.

MT: Generally, how does one compose the music for a feature film? Do you receive the rough cut, and some guide music tracks for influence/inspiration? When do you generally begin working on the film?

DL: Normally its between 2-3 months for a feature. The last couple of movies have been a lot shorter than that. The usual process is that I’ll receive a cut of the movie (normally as its still being edited) and there will be a temp track to give an idea of what the film maker’s want. I’d also spot the film, which is the process of really nailing down where music is needed and what the specific tone and feel should be.

MT: Who do you generally report to when you’re working on a big budget film?

DL: Depends really. Normally it’s the director and towards the end of the process the movies producers will express any notes if they have any. But mainly it’s the director and editor.

MT: From a technology standpoint, where do you see the future of composing in the movies?

DL: We are already hugely reliant on technology in film scoring. There aren’t many left who have a VHS watch and some manuscript. Everything is done on computers and the way things are going I think we are only going to rely on them more. Samples are getting better, computers faster it’s a natural progression in my book.

MT: How did you first begin? Was composing in the movies something you’ve also aspired to do?

DL: From a certain age yes. I started performing when I was young and as I became more and more intrigued with songs and composition I fell in love with the orchestra and film music.

MT: Do you have a favorite experience? What work on a film are you most proud of?

DL: Freebirds being my first big movie is a fond memory but I have to say getting to work with Jodie Foster and so many amazing people on ‘Money Monster’ has to top the lot so far. I’m also really proud of the score, it’s different and I was given a chance to push the envelope.

MT: Do you have a composer mentor?

DL: Many!! Rupert Gregson Williams was the first when I was starting out and then throughout my career I have had the amazing fortune of working with John Powell, Hans Zimmer and Henry Jackman. Those guys have taught me so much.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

DL: Weirdly, I think I’ve seen Gladiator and Back to the Future the most out of any films. They were my go to whenever I was sick as a kid.

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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 Sound Effects Editor Matt Snedecor (Revolutionary Road, The Jinx)

Starting off as an Engineer in the music industry, Matt Snedecor worked with Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, Faith Hill, and Luther Vandross, to name a few. Since 2005, he’s one of the top  movie sound effects designers working today. It was an honor to chat with Matt about his job and career.

Matthew Toffolo: What is the main job being a sound effects editor?

Matt Snedecor: Effects editors are responsible for building the entire sonic environment for a film, everything from backgrounds to the sync effects we see on screen. The majority (90% and up) of the sounds heard in film are added by editors. But it’s more than just see car, hear car. We also need to come up with sounds that identify with characters or moods or that tell stories without the audience having to see something on screen to know what’s happening. There’s also sound design moments we need to build, tonal ideas that aren’t so much real world effects, but act more like music for setting up emotions that need to be conveyed.

MT: In a typical production, how many post-production sound crew members are there? Do you usually work with the same team?

MS: I usually work with the same crew of 2-3 other people. We work on smaller features and documentaries, so it can usually be handled by only a few people. 1 Dialogue editor, 1-2 effects editors, sometimes a music and/or foley editor. In my case, Coll Anderson, the re-recording mixer is also the supervisor and does some of the effects editing as well. So it’s a small crew. When I work with other supervisors, it varies a bit depending on the size of the film, but unless it’s a large Hollywood film that can have 10, 15 editors or more, our crews are generally around 5 or less.

MT: Are some directors more hands on than others when it comes to sound design?

MS: Oh definitely. There’s some directors that go by the theory that less is more, which is nice sometimes because it’s not only a little easier on us, but depending on the film, usually works really well to make the film better. It’s not getting overblown with sound design in every spot that there’s silence. And then there’s other directors that are totally into designing cool tones and sounds and come in with a theme of how they want things to sound. That’s generally the side we love to work with since it allows us to get creative and have fun with the film once they give us their ideas. Then we just get to dive in for a few weeks to try things and come back to them to see what works.

MT: You’ve been working in the industry for the last 10 years in over 60 productions. Is there is a film or two that you’re most proud of?

MS: There’s a few I can think of. A film called “Bleed For This” that will be out later this year. It’s a boxing movie that was alot of fun to build the fight scenes and everyone was really happy with how it came out. Also HBO’s series “The Jinx” comes to mind since it was nominated for an Emmy for sound editing so I’m very proud of that. Another is a film called “Blue Ruin” which had some great gore and violent scenes I had to design and the whole film came out great and did very well critically.

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

MS: Not that I can think of. I’ve been on everything from documentaries, vampire & horror, dark violent thrillers, dramas, now a boxing film, and even a rom com or 2. I can end up finding enjoyment out of just about anything that comes my way, so I just take things as they come and I don’t really think about it until I get something I’ve never done before.

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

MS: The technology has definitely changed things at a ridiculous rate since I’ve started. The amount of tools available to us in the digital domain on our computers is amazing. There’s almost too many applications available, you can go a little crazy and get sucked into black holes of playing with sounds for hours upon hours. Trying out different plugins that all do something slightly different. When I started back in the music industry in the early 2000’s, everything was still hardware effects boxes and midi and analog tape was just coming to an end. Sound design was done using alot of samplers and keyboards and pitch and time changing. Now everything is available as a plugin with a plethora of parameters that can do all of that in one program.

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

MS: A good ear obviously. Anything you can do while editing that can help the re-recording mixer do their job easier is going to help you get on their good side. Choosing the right sounds that helps them mix LESS. They have an incredibly hard job to do in making everyone happy on the mix stage, there’s so much going on, so the less they have to think about making my stuff work, the more they like me. You also have to be technically savvy, know how to use your tools, and use them quickly. It’s like that in any job. Also, the more artistic you can make things, the better the final product will be. There’s actually a bit of an art in editing effects to fit in the right holes and make their own subconscious rhythm, much like they’re an instrument.

MT: How did you get started? Was this something you knew about growing up and dreamed of doing? Or did the job choose you?

MS: I actually started out in the music recording industry which is where I wanted to be. I worked at The Hit Factory in New York straight out of college, being a general assistant for minimum wage, doing food runs, coffee runs, studio roadie for the most part. As I came up through the ranks there, I started engineering just as the industry was on it’s downfall. Budgets disappeared, talent disappeared, and soon enough the big studios followed. It seemed like every studio I worked at closed down. So I decided to try out something new and get into Post. Better pay, better hours. Definitely a different type of work from music, but still creative and fun and I didn’t feel like I was completely starting over or changing careers. I met Coll Anderson and he liked my work ethic and attitude and brought me on as his assistant. I learned the Post world and have been working for him ever since.

MT: Is there a different game-plan in developing the sound when working on different genres?

MS: It goes back somewhat to your question about directors. It depends on them a bit and what they’re looking for on their particular film. No matter the genre. The film can be of a particular genre but if the director is trying to make something new, we can step outside the box of what’s supposed be “the norm” of that genre and try to make it sound different. Every film has the basic nuts and bolts we start with for sound, the foley, backgrounds, hard effects, but it’s the extra sound design and music and the way everything is mixed that really defines the direction the film goes.

MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

MS: Probably “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. Mostly because I’m a huge Hunter S. Thompson fan and that film is just a lot of ridiculous fun. Always watchable….to me at least.

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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.