Interview with Filmmaker Deniz Campinar (THE REVELATOR)

THE REVELATOR was the winner of BEST FILM at the October 2018 Female FEEDBACK Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Deniz Campinar: Oh God, that’s the question, right? And it’s a good one too! As a Turkish girl who grew up in Belgium and went to a Christian school, I could never fully understand the differences between the two worlds and religions I was living in. The question ‘but why?’ never went away. Why was my mother telling me that the Islam is the right religion while the priest at school told us that being a Christian is all that mattered? Growing up in a time where the Islam is so hated (and I can’t blame people for doing so) because of terrible people are doing terrible crimes in the name of a ‘God’. How come that things like terrorism is so sad, devastating and heartbreaking to us but people on the other side of the world are celebrating every defeat? That tells me that good and bad is rather a dark, subjective concept and it made me wonder. Belgium isn’t the religious little country that it used to be, it’s hard to be religious when nobody really is anymore. I want to believe but it’s a God damn struggle to do so! (Haha) Because WHY? I saw an interview of Stephen Fry, he answered the question ‘what would you tell God’ beautifully. That was the inspiration of the monologue Mason gave at the end of the film. I wanted to make the devil very likable, I wanted to explore his side of the story we find in the Quran. Wasn’t it kind of harsh to condemn him for eternity because he refused to kneel for something that eventually became a huge disappointment? I don’t know, you tell me. I wanted to explore all those questions and hope I succeeded a little bit. I can write a whole novel about a topic like this, but I’ll end it with that. (Haha)

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It took us about two years. It was a real adventure (every production is though). Can you believe that we worked on this for almost 2 years but the actual filming part only lasted 5 freakin days?! (Haha) The whole crew turned into zombies by day 5, but it was worth it and I can’t be thankful enough for every single one of them.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

HOLY SHIT! (Haha)

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Definitely time! Although we worked on it for two years, we had to get it on film in 5 days because of an unfortunate misunderstanding. It fits with the theme of the movie though, because we went to hell and back!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was pleasantly surprised, I was shocked, because for the first time I realized that people across the world watched my movie all together. That’s crazy! I loved the feedback, It’s nice that people picked up on such small details like the apple and the way we dressed up the devil. There were little Easter eggs spread across the film, it’s nice that people picked up on that! The whole conversation about The Monkees was a direct reference to the story of how the devil got ‘kicked out’ of heaven (in the Quran). The restaurant ‘Sidora’ is an anagram for ‘Dorsia’, the restaurant in American Psycho. I wanted to link the whole Yuppy culture to Mason so that’s where the anagram came from. Stuff like that made it more meaningful to me and I hope the audience agrees.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

The writing process was a long and difficult road. I knew I wanted to tell a story that had to do with religion, something that would make the audience ask the same questions, I ask myself all the time. In the middle of the writing process I stumbled upon a story, a script, written by David Lambertson (shout out to this man!). The story ‘The Relevator’ was such a simple yet effective storyline, I immediately contacted David, asking for permission to film his script. But as time went on the story began to change, I added details and removed certain obstacles. The biggest changes were definitely the possibility that the elevator opens in a different setting (moments in Mason’s life), in the original script everything happened in the elevator. And a also the ending is very, VERY, different. I wanted a sad and a happy ending at the same time while still being satisfactory. So I killed off Mason, and there never was a God…

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

That’s a hard question. I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan! Inception (by Christopher Nolan) is definitely a favorite. Every movie Leonardo DiCaprio plays in actually. Leo for life! (Haha). But the one I’ve seen the most in my life… Is actually a series. Every time a new season of Game of Thrones comes out, I watch the whole story again starting with season one! Season 8 is on the way, so I’m starting with season 1 next week! I’m scared because: Valar Morghulis…

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I like it a lot! It’s so freaking easy to use! Once you put in all the information you can just click away!

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

That’s a difficult one too. I think it has to be a Linkin Park song. ‘Somewhere I belong’ and the whole Hybrid Theory album are definitely the songs I listened too the most times in my life. Since I was 11 eleven years old I’ve been a huge fangirl! Chester Bennington was the first man I ever fell in love with (haha). So yeah… He will never be forgotten. EVER!

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Who knows… January is the start of something new! It’s too early too share, but The Revelator is definitely not the last story I’ll be telling.

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Interview with Filmmaker Michelle Brand (NOT THE SAME RIVER. NOT THE SAME MAN)

 NOT THE SAME RIVER. NOT THE SAME MAN was the winner of BEST MUSIC at the August 2018 Under 5 Minute Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Michelle Brand: I am fascinated for a while now with the relationship between time, change, and movement and how they connect and exist together. As humans, we believe commonly that time does exist, because we can see change taking place, so we understand time by spatialising it into stages. This idea can be expressed really well through animation, since it plays with the idea that only through a change happening on each frame, movement, and thus time, is created altogether. So to me, this film was an exploration and thought process of this whole philosophical debate on how time can be understood and perceived.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It was my graduation film at University, so roughly 6 months.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Time and movement!

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Finding the right visuals. I had this huge idea that I wanted to explore, that it was in fact too big to put down in any pictures. I had to find the right vehicle to transport such an abstract idea, so I found the river metaphor of Heraclitus to frame it all together.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was very nervous and excited of course. When you go to festivals, it is nice knowing that there is an audience watching your film, but in actual fact it is rare to hear direct feedback. So to hear that somewhere out there are people that enjoyed it and thought about it so much, is very touching.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

The main drive was that my head was filled about these thoughts about time and movement, and how philosophical concepts can relate to animation theory, which also was my dissertation theme at the time. So it was a combination about thinking about the philosophical concept behind it, exploring how it can be expressed in animation, and then finding the right metaphor to use.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I don’t tend to re-watch live-action films that much, so it might be animation shorts that I watch again and again for reference or see at festivals, I’m not too sure to be honest.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I think it’s good how easy and accessible the platform is, however that at the same time can be its disadvantage. As a filmmaker, you can fall into the hole of just submitting to everything that is out there, but a lot of those festivals don’t need to be checked up and approved. So there are a lot of festivals there, that you never hear from again and lack communication and connection with the filmmakers. It is difficult finding the right balance, I suppose…

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Probably some song that is in my playlist of soundtrack music I listen to while working… Maybe ‘A Wild and Distant Shore’ by Michael Nyman!

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Yes! I just finished a new film called ‘Synchronicity’ during my studies at the Royal College of Arts in London. Now I will be working on my next graduation film!

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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 single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Supervising Sound Editor Donald Sylvester (Logan, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma)

Donald Sylvester has worked on over 100 films in the last 25 years and is considered one of the top people working in the craft of Post-Production Sound today. I asked him a few simple questions via email and he countered with some really insightful and meaningful answers. Enjoy it:

Where were you born and raised? When was working in the film industry start to become a career pursuit for you?

I grew up in the Garden State of New Jersey, where all my core principles were established. My father moved us to Atlanta when I was 11, and it was a wonderful experience during that period – both for Atlanta and for me. It was an unprecedented period of great growth for the city and the awakening of a progressive South – and growth for me personally as well. I dabbled in a lot of stuff, but always gravitated toward music. Frankly the film business didn’t come calling for me until a long, long time later after I moved to California. I reached some level of success before I realized that the music business was a bad idea. My wife, who was a film editor, suggested that motion pictures and I would be a good fit. My skills and instincts fit right in. She was right.

What has been your most proudest work of your career? Or, what has been your favorite project?

For a lot of my years I worked on other people’s films as a sound editor. I learned a lot and loved the people and the work, but I never really thought of those projects as “mine.” I didn’t start supervising in earnest until 2001. I could write a book about each one of those shows (and maybe one day I will!). I did two “Garfields” which were not great movies but working with Bill Murray was really unforgettable. And I supervised and mixed “The Fault In Our Stars,” and that was a wonderful and meaningful experience.

But the film I like the best is “310 to Yuma,” and I like it for so many reasons. I like it primarily because it’s a Western and it’s got guns and horses and spurs and all that good stuff that Westerns must have, but also because it is the kind of movie where every single sound is totally plot- or character driven. As simple as that may sound, it resulted in a very satisfying experience. Plus, it’s a good movie.

In your words, what exactly does a Supervising Sound Editor do?

A director once told me that he really wanted to do everything on his film himself, but now, as a director, he was only allowed to tell everybody else what to do. I’m very sympathetic to that and I try to help the director achieve his goals. I try to get to know him and what he needs and understand the vision of his film. Simply put, I see myself as the sound extension of the director. I make sure he hears what he wants to hear, communicates the story he wants to tell, as well as faithfully executing the sonic challenges he wants to express.

I often like to imagine I’m the creative force behind the soundtrack of these films, but honestly I am only a trussed-up worker-bee, taking directions and challenging myself to deliver something I think is perhaps better than what was requested, as well as hitting the target set forth by the director precisely on the head. There’s also a lot of management duties and schedule-making, but I seldom write about that.

Give us a breakdown of a big budget film like LOGAN. How many people are
working in the sound department in post-production? How long do you and your team have to complete your end of the film? Do you generally work with the same
team?

I am fortunate to work a lot at Fox, where we’ve established an enlightened work flow for me. Our method seems to get results and head off post sound problems as well. I start early on the show during principle photography and as the scenes are cut together by the picture editors, I fancy them up with sound effects and cleaned-up dialogue. Later, when the post editorial is in full swing, I’ll expand my crew to include dialogue editors and sound effects editors. A film like Logan had a healthy budget but didn’t have a long post schedule, so we were asked to work weekends and long hours. In the end, I had two sound designers, two sound effects editors, two foley editors, and four dialogue and ADR editors, not to mention two assistants. This is actually a small crew to bring this kind of film to the mix stage. Much of the work gets finessed at the mix, which is the battlefield trenches for getting all the ideas to gel and finished in time. There’s always a big chunk of the budget for looping, which can be extensive, as well as temp mixing and audience previews. Yes, I like to work with the same people whenever I can, but schedules often don’t permit that luxury.

Is there a type of project that you like to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

As I’ve worked on more and more films over the years, my goals have changed. There was a time I thought I’d like to do a big science fiction thriller, but I’ve actually learned that genres alone don’t make the most satisfying films. What tickles my fancy are films rich on character development with some insight into the human condition. Now, no one goes out and says, “I’m gonna make the greatest human condition film this town’s ever seen!” But if they’re relying on car chases or space battles and they’ve neglected depth of character, then I’m not gonna get too excited about it no matter how “special” the special effects are.

To be honest, I wouldn’t mind doing a war movie (mostly WWII for my taste) or even a musical. But musicals don’t spend any time on sound effects, so let’s scratch that one off the list and just say WWII. With characters!

What is your passion in life besides sound?

Sound is my passion, but if you take sound away there’s my great interest in music – but that’s sound too. I’ve often imagined going back into radio (I ran the college radio station WUOG in Athens, Georgia during my college years) but I would only do that if I could DJ a radio show that would blend music and sounds into a cohesive story – but that’s what I do now. So, what I probably like after all that is to travel, because over the years I’ve really enjoyed travelling and recording sounds and sound effects in interesting and distant locations. But … that’s sound again.

What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

I assume you mean what movie have I voluntarily watched most often that I haven’t worked on? Because when you work on a film you actually watch it hundreds of times until you memorize every frame of it. And that concept prevents me from watching most movies more than once or twice. However, my favorite movie would have to be “Withnail and I,” which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but ticks all the boxes for me.

What advice do you have for people who would like to do what you do for a living one day?

I would suggest that if you want to get into theatrical movie sound then you should make sure you’re ready for the long hours and hard work, and then you should find people who are currently making films (or shorts or TV shows or documentaries) and offer to work for them for FREE. Just get your foot in the door and do anything and everything you can to get familiar with the process and begin to focus on the area where you want to work. And one day (if you still like it and it likes you back), somebody will say, “Hey, you should be getting paid for this stuff.” Then you’re on your way.

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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 single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Composer Jeff Russo (Emmy Winner FARGO TV series)

 Jeff Russo is one of the most talented musicians and composers working in the industry today. His list of credits in the last 9 years is loaded with successful TV series and movies. In the last 2 years alone his has composed for the series Bull, Legion, Counterpart, Star Trek: Discovery, Lucifer, and his Emmy winning work in Fargo. It was an honor chatting with him one afternoon in his office while he was taking a break.

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always saw yourself doing as a career?

I was born and raised in New York City. As far as I can remember, I loved music and it became apparent to me that this was something I always wanted to do – to be a musician. From middle school on I was always playing in bands. It’s something I was better at than other things. I was better at music than math or science for example. And I loved it too! It was obvious very early on that this was what I was going to do.

Are you from a family of creative people and musicians?

My dad was in fashion. He died when I was very young so I’m not all that familiar with what exactly he did. My mom was a homemaker. Not a huge fan of music, but very supportive in my passion for it.

So you’re in high school – where did you think you were headed as a musician?

I always wanted to be in a Rock Band. Rock and Roll was my drive! I was in a band for 25 years. Only 9-10 years ago did I change careers and think about composing.

What was your first composing job? And how did you get the job?

In 2006, my band took a break from playing and I had to figure what I had to do with my life. A good friend of mine, Wendy Milette, was working on a couple of television shows and asked me to come by. I watched what they did for a bit, and then they asked me to come to work. Watching what they did got me intrigued and eventually they asked me to write music cues for them and from there I was hooked. I worked for them for about a year and a half and eventually I got hired as a composer for my first job which was a TV show called THE UNUSUALS. Then things took off from there.

Noah Hawley was the showrunner of that show, and also the showrunner/creator of the TV series FARGO. So you guys have a relationship?

Yes. Great one. He called me up in 2013 and said he’s doing a series based on the FARGO movie and told me I’m on board. Then we got to work.

How did you prepare for doing that show? Did you go back and watch the original film?

I didn’t see a need to. I just read the scripts and looked at the emotional places in the script. Saw that the same tone was involved.

You were nominated for an Emmy for best music composition for the first two years, and eventually won the Emmy last year for your work in season 3. What is the Emmy winning experience like?

It’s a feeling is disbelief. The Emmy sits on the shelf in my office and it’s a crazy reminder. The feeling going up there and accepting the award is hard to describe. That moment – incredible. People will now say to you, “You’re an Emmy winner”. People have that in their minds from now on. My peers acknowledged me. It’s an honor.

What are you currently working on right now as we speak?

Season #2 of LEGION. And a Mark Wahlberg films coming out this summer (MILE 22, directed by Peter Berg). It’s been a lot of fun working on that film.

Besides the films you’ve work on, watch move have you watched the most time in your life?

Empire Strikes Back. I’ve seen it over 40 times.

Is there a type of project that you would like to work on that you haven’t yet?

I’d like to work on a Western.

What advice do you have for people who would like to work as a composer some day in the industry?

Most important thing is for someone to create their own voice. We are all unique and original in our own way so we all have a voice. Find it. It’s the only way to move forward.

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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 single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Filmmaker Gretchen Bayer (THE FOREST PRINCESS)

Gretchen Bayers short film THE FOREST PRINCESS played to rave reviews at the November 2017 FEMALE FEEDBACK Film Festival. It was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the festival.

 What motivated you to make this film? 

We had this trip booked to visit my family in Indiana. Their 9.5 acre wooded property, my incredibly special and inspirational little niece AND the fact that we had just added some great Sigma Art lenses to our filmmaking arsenal was all the motivation we needed to dream up a story to capture on our trip.

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

We filmed in late September 2016 and released the film on Thanksgiving Day 2016.

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

metamorphosis & flux

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

We have day jobs and had already committed to a couple of side film/editing jobs.

Our biggest challenge was carving out time to work on The Forest Princess.

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

I thought it was VERY interesting to hear the varying interpretations…the theme of death came up a couple times…that was not where we were driving our story, but I like that there is that possibility!

I like that one of the audience members commented that she found the film therapeutic. Our intention was for it to be more of a glimpse…a meditation…not a neatly, wrapped up package.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video: 

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

I had read a brief article about this sculptor/painter in Spain that created ‘land art’…and had specifically painted all sorts of objects on the trunks of trees in a forest.

I come from a family of artists, so we are often sharing new discoveries with one another.

I shared this artist’s work with my sister, Kendra, and told her that I wanted to come up with a story about her daughter, Aerie, set in the forest on the family compound.

She and I wrote the script for Aerie to narrate and act out. We were gathering costumes and talking to Aerie about her role as The Forest Princess and she started talking about the caterpillar forming a chrysalis…my sister and I were surprised to hear these big words and ideas coming out of her 3-year old mouth and decided that we had to write the chrysalis monologue into the script.

  What film have you seen the most in your life? 

The Sound of Music was played EVERY YEAR in our house until I was 11-ish.
In my adult life…that is a hard one to pin down to one.
Here’s the top 4:
Wings of Desire
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968 – Steve McQueen)
North By Northwest
Grey Gardens (documentary)

 You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the new(ish) submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective? 

It’s a great channel for getting your work out there. It’s wonderful to create something and send it down a few avenues via FilmFreeway…even if nothing comes of the submissions, it feels like I am honoring the process and effort made… breathing extra life into a project that I worked hard on and am proud of.

  What song have you listened to the most times in your life? 

Wellll…it’s undoubtedly a Radiohead song…i just don’t know which one.
Their individual albums translate into single songs in my soul.

  What is next for you? A new film?  

We just wrapped a couple of music videos and are gearing up for another trip to see the family in Indiana…perhaps another chapter in Aerie’s metamorphosis…

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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 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.