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.

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Interview with Emmy Winning Sound Designer Andy Kennedy (Band of Brothers, Generation Kill)

Andy Kennedy is easily one of the most skilled Sound Designers working today. He has worked on many landmark productions besides his two Emmy winning shows for Best Sound in “Band of Brothers” and “Generation Kill”. He has worked on “Game of Thrones”, “Batman Begins”, the recent “War & Peace” series, 5 of the “Harry Potter” films, and “The Imitation Game” to name a few.

Go to his website: www.resonancesoundesign.com

It was a pleasure to chat with Andy about the art of Sound Design in film and his career.

Matthew Toffolo: You’ve worked on over 90 productions in the sound department in the last 35 years. Is there a job you’ve done that you’re most proud of?

Andy Kennedy: Some of the early projects – It was a time of mixed technology and a challenge creatively. ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ was made in Bristol by animators who worked with just a Bolex camera, hence their name the Bolex Brothers. I worked with a Synclavier – an Audiofile – 16mm and 35mmm Mag and a 24 track multitrack tape. It was made with love and was a wonderful collaboration of like minded individuals with music crafted by The Startled Insects. We finished the mix in Bristol and everyone came to the dubbing theatre at the end.

Watch on YouTube

Creatively, ‘Blueberry’ or ‘Renegade’ (US title). A bizarre and unusual film about a caygeon cowboy who Hallucinates a lot on Ayahasca – I worked in Paris with the director and found the whole thing immersive and stunning visually and a real challenge. But a bit hard for the audience to grasp.

Watch on YouTube

MT: In the initial stages do you generally have a lengthy discussion with the director about themes, tone etc..? Are some directors more hands on than others when it comes to sound design?

AK: There is a spotting session – normally with the editor and director somewhere near the final cut which involves understanding the intentions of the material. Any narrative information that the sound can bring to the final process and the setting. There is generally a lot of discussion about dialogue – quality and intelligibility and whether to ADR or not. Some directors prefer original performance. So, capturing the dialogue places a lot of pressure on the production sound mixer. For me, what we do in sound is generally a collaborative process and as technicians we all try to get the best from the material.

Ultimately it is the director that guides our efforts so if he or she wants to play the scene with full on music, then so be it. We are hired on the basis of our skills and experience and can offer only that – the final vision and sound is the director’s call.

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

AK: Obviously, crews tend to stick together – The larger the budget the larger the crew. Today ‘packages’ or ‘All in Post production deals’ have changed the nature of true freelancing here in the UK. Sometimes the post sound budget is tied into other aspects, such as picture and visual effects and this can dictate how or where the soundtrack is done. Studio films differ because they can afford too. Dependant on the content of the film and the schedule this plays a big part in dictating the size of the sound crew. If you have an actionmovie with tons of visual effects sequences then of course you need a large effects editing crew. The dialogueand foley department expand and contract dependant on the quality of the production recordings too.

We also ‘Temp’ Films a lot before the final process for marketing reasons, so the crew can expand at these moments.

Modern soundtrack are far more complex then ever before – There are multiple formats at delivery and the final soundtrack has to play in Dolby Atmos – 7.1 – 5.1 – stereo and on your mobile device. The attention to detail is very important and QC of all areas of the process is a critical part. This leads to other roles that are not always related to sound editing and design but also tech support and management.

MT: Is their a core difference between working on a TV episode in comparison to a feature film?

AK: Time.

Films are more generous and TV is much quicker to the final post. TV today has high ambitions and can look and feel like a full scale movie although the budget and the time are much shorter.

Some TV series can seem like a 10 hour film narrative wise, that makes it possible to explore themes and settings in a much more leisurely way then with a film. Also if it’s full on action, you just have to work faster and make broader brush strokes to get a result then you would with a film and also with a much smaller crew.

MT: You’ve won 2 Emmys for your work (Band of Brothers, Generation Kill). Where are your Emmys right now? Are you proud of your wins, or is it really all just about the work?

AK: They are on a window ledge with my other awards. It is an honour to get recognition for the work we do. Both B.O.B and Generation Kill were for HBO. They tend to have a high quality finish, with schedules that give soundtracks time for the attention to detail required. Generally things that go ‘bang’ tend to get noticed for sound and both projects where based on written accounts of real conflict and I researched and recorded as much as possible while working with military advisors to check that the audio elements sounded ‘real’ or as close to the real thing as physically possible. Authentic sound is really important when trying to re-create the reality of war. Arms, transport and mechanics to the sound of distant battle and the visceral intensity of being under fire through to the military radio sounds and commands with soldiers ‘off stage’ background banter as the final cream on the cake.

PHOTO: Creating the sounds of Easy Company in “Band of Brothers”:

bandofbrothers.jpg

MT: What is the key job description for a sound effects editor?

AK: A good sound effects collection is a must on lower budget shows. If it’s a movie then the Sound designer/Supervisor will furnish you with the material you need to cut. Accuracy and choice is fundamental and to a certain extent taste!

For example If your cutting a fight scene it’s worth knowing what is expected – ‘Tarantino blood fest’ or a ‘Bourne’ reality piece. That, then dictates to the palette of sounds you can use.

Personally I record as much as possible even if there is little or no budget. An original sound beats most commercial library sounds, especially if they have been recorded with the project in mind. Today you have to know your DAW inside out – you need to have a good grasp of plug ins and ultimately you should have an ear for the ‘balance’ of sounds prior to the mix.

The latest tech allows fundamentally complete control over the audio. Sound is a collaboration and others will be bringing different material to the table. I believe in everyone ‘listening’ and bounce a mix at the end of each day so my colleagues can hear what is going on with Fx,dialogue or backgrounds and hopefully the music.

You have to be able to accurately manually conform your effects tracks when there are picture changes. The conform packages can do it quicker but tend to turn sound design into bar code and require a lot of maintenance to stop you losing any nuisance in the effects, a computer program just cannot figure this out. Be willing to change things – your idea may be cool but if it is too complex or in the wrong frequency it may not play with other elements – especially music!

MT: What are the key traits you’re looking for in when working with/hiring your sound team?

AK: Talent, pleasant personality and a sense of humour! It helps if the said person has technical skills – you just can’t escape it – everything is computerised and some people are really creative but can’t figure out bus routing and expect others to help. With the shrinking time frames and budgets, you can’t do a sound job without some knowledge of work flows, procedure and technique. I teach the next generation this at film school and regardless of gender you have to have a bit of ‘geek’ in you to succeed in sound. The ‘mechanical’ industry I joined has been superseded with computer systems, so the dexterity of the physical medium has been replaced by a digital equivalent. Even physically recording a final mix has been replaced by complex workflows and automation management and then stored digitally. Change is a daily thing and fine cuts are now a thing of the past. To remain flexible and creative you have to know how to handle the last minute changes and not go into melt down. So half of you needs be artistic and the other half technically practical!

MT: You were the sound designer on the first season of the landmark show “Game of Thrones”. How was your experience working on that show and setting the template of sound design for the entire series run?

AK: Yes, setting the style of a show at the opening can be a challenge. Again, I requested time to record before we started. Game of Thrones is a massive task and at the beginning no one was sure what it should sound like.

Season one had no large scale battles or big visual effects set pieces that it has grown into now, but there was a ton of ambience and location narrative to be filled in. Again I researched as much as I could – read everything, absorbed the series bible, scripts and had as much art department material as possible because visual effects where running in parallel with our schedule so not a lot was finished till the end. I recorded a lot of weaponry sounds and prepped lots of sword blades extracted from a variety of scabbards as everyone is under threat in the show! Animal recordings of Horses in as many settings as possible from as many perspectives as possible. Trained ravens flying across mic arrays and calls and background ‘loading and unloading’ action for busy castle scenes. The term ‘Wind and Foley’ was batted around at the beginning of discussions but it was much, much more then that ambience wise. Winter fell has a population of a couple of hundred and is a bit like Scotland. Kings landing is much more Mediterranean and has a population of thousands. Castle black is a military camp in an arctic environment with a couple of hundred men. Daenery’s is traveling across a continent that resembles the Arizona desert. The sonic story has to be believable so the audience understands when we change locations on interior scenes exactly where we are.

Once we got started I felt that I was in catch up mode constantly. We had a team of Irish sound editors and Stefan, the supervisor over in Dublin and I worked from my studio in the UK. I was mastering the recordings – laying up sound design scenes on two or three shows at the same time and reviewing lay ups plus feeding the effects editors with sounds and ambiences constantly.

It was tough but we all worked hard to meet the deadlines and did our best in very challenging circumstances. I am proud of what we all managed to do and was sad it did not continue for us. Again the visual effects and sound post deal was based in Dublin – Series Two it was all done in the US – for the series producers I understand why. They where away from home for a good part of half the year shooting and the post being done in Ireland meant a 16 hour flight from LA via Newark and never seeing their kids. The LA option was a better fit for them and they could oversee the finished work in more harmonious family situation. They still shoot in Belfast as a production base and cut there but visual effects and sound post is finished in the states.

MT: You seem to have consistently worked on 3-5 projects a year. How long do you typically work on a movie?

AK: It varies, everything is dependant on budget and of course, the type of project. Some period shows are short dependant on original production sound and content. Action movies can take longer to craft and if the visual effects content is high it is, strangely difficult to weave ‘believable’ sound to a half finished image. As I mentioned earlier – it is rare to get a ‘locked’ edit these days so everything is changing on a constant basis. This can have implications as to when you start or finish a film and overlaps do occur.

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

AK: It has got to be ‘2001’ – I saw it when I was a kid and have seen it many times since. Stanley Kubrick’s films have always felt totally different to any other movies of the same era. ‘Barry Lyndon’ fascinated me when I was young as it was all photographed in natural light aside from industrial candles that lit the interior scenes.

So ‘The Revenant’ was not the first film to be shot by natural light – only difference was Stanley, had to use untested high speed film stock – work with wide apertures and critical focus and practically reinvent the camera lens to get the result. So for me it is not the technology that counts but what you do with it.

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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 Music Editor/Composer John M. Davis (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)

The music editor is a type of sound editor in film responsible for compiling, editing, and syncing music during the production of a soundtrack. Among the music editor’s roles is creating a “temp track”, which is a “mock-up” of the film’s soundtrack using pre-existing elements to use for editing, audience previews, and other purposes while the film’s commissioned score is being composed.

John M. Davis is one of the most talented people I have had the pleasure to interview. Just go to this website http://www.johnmdavis.com and explore his world of music.

Matthew Toffolo: I love the photo of you on your website. It describes who you are in one picture. Composing attire. The dog you obviously love. Cup of coffee. Piano. A rocking chair for thinking. Art Work. And a relaxed but determined look on your face. As they say, a picture says a 1000 words, or in your case a 1,000,000 words! 

John M. Davis: I’m glad you like it.  I don’t photograph particularly well, so I find all the accoutrements more interesting than me.  I do like that piano; it’s a 1954 Steinway we inherited from my wife’s grandfather.  The dog is a whole Russian novel in himself.

Matthew: From an outside perspective, it seems like you’ve mastered the balance of working on your pet projects while being a successful Music Editor for Hollywood productions. How does one do it? 

John: I wish I knew.  I like the camaraderie and diversity of different projects.  I would like more jobs as a composer, but composers don’t have a union while music editors do, with pension and health insurance.  If I only composed for the small films and documentaries that I do then I couldn’t support a family.  I love playing live music for silent films, but only a handful of humans on the planet can make a living doing that.  When I retire from music editing I’m planning on composing large scale works for orchestra.  Whether anybody wants me to do that is an open question.

Matthew: Do you have a musical mentor? 

John: Not really.  Music is something I’ve always done.  I was arranging for bands and choirs from junior high on.  I went to NYU film school with the intention of becoming a director or screenwriter, but over time I discovered that my musical abilities were more unique and more marketable.

Matthew: Out of all your personal projects, what are you most proud of? And what would you love to share to our audience? 

John: Next Saturday I’m performing a live score with a quartet to the 1929 Dziga Vertov documentary “The Man With a Movie Camera” at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. I’m very proud of my performances at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy.  Early filmmakers saw cinema as the synthesis and apotheosis of all the arts, and live silent film music is the purest manifestation of music to picture.  Everything else we do — recording, editing, mixing under dialogue — is all a diminution of that ideal.

Matthew: Out of all your Music Editor work, what film was your best working experience? 

John: Working on a musical is the best.  “Black Nativity” was a film that almost no one saw, but I was on the set every day during the shoot, and I was involved in the entire post-production.  Nothing is better than having Jennifer Hudson in a church singing her heart out, capturing her live performance and using that in the final mix.  There were a lot of technical challenges involving playback, using earwigs (tiny radio controlled ear pieces), microphones hidden in her hair.  Then there was the tap dancing, the modern dance, choirs, the works! “The Producers” was also fun, especially when we could use the singing recorded on set and not the pre-records.

Matthew: What is the difference, if any, between working on a narrative film compared to working on a documentary? 

John: Some documentaries are very narrative, so you might score a montage the same way in either format.  A very dry talking heads type of documentary usually doesn’t support much music.  Some of the greatest scores of all time were written for documentaries.

Matthew: How do you choose your jobs? From working on short films to doing (more) paid work? It is all about the story? 

John: The more important consideration is the people you’re working with.  That said, in my experience the jobs choose you.  My phone rings just enough to keep me working throughout the year.  If I hit a dry spell it doesn’t last too long.  A few years ago when “Flight of the Conchords” was shooting in New York I thought “this is the perfect project for me!”  Unfortunately I had no idea how to get hired on it.<

Matthew: Ideally, where would you like your career to go in the next 5 years? More passion projects? More sound designing? Working on bigger productions? 

John: I would like to have composing be a more regular part of my work.  Right now it seems like it’s about 15% to 20% instead of 50%.  However, part of that is preconceptions.  If people see you as a music editor then they don’t think of you as a composer.

Matthew: What are the key qualities to be a great music editor? 

John: Surprisingly it’s not musicianship.  Being a musician is a help, but some of the more mad-scientist musicians I know would be terrible music editors.  The main requirement is being organized.  You have to keep track of the music, know which version is where, know how to fill out a cue sheet.  If you’re a musician who keeps their hard drive very tidy and doesn’t have a lot of files on your desktop, then you could be a music editor.  It goes without saying that you have to be able to cut on the beat, and you have to know something about musical structure.  You also have to get along with the director and the composer.

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

John: I’ll say “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  That’s the only film poster I have in my studio.  John Williams has said that it is his favorite score, and I can see why.  The music is the means of communication between worlds.  It goes from drama to action to the most modernist and atonal to romantic, and the story is more ambitious and multi-continent expansive than almost any film before or since.

Matthew: What is your favorite era in music history? 

John: Despite my love of silent film, the best music was written later, in the 40’s to the 70’s — the Golden and Silver ages:  Steiner, Korngold, Herrmann, Mancini, Williams, Goldsmith, Morricone.  The fact that two of them are nominated this year for an Oscar is amazing.

Matthew: Do you see your job as a Music Editor changing because of technology in the future? 

John: Well, Pro Tools 12.5 will make my life easier, if it works as advertised, because I’ll be able to update a co-worker with the push of a button.  The new Melodyne 4 has a tempo detection function that I plan to put through its paces.  I’m always extremely up-to-date, and I’ll upgrade the very day something is released.

On the other hand, technology can make music too rigid, which works for a very few films.  I look forward to the day when technology makes it easy to capture the inspiration that happens in a spontaneous silent film performance.  It should be as fast to write notes in a notation program as it is on a piece of manuscript paper.  We’re getting there.  Technology should become more intuitive and bend the learning curve back to the humanistic.  It should capture lightening in a bottle, not turn out glass bricks.  Music is emotion.
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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 Foley Artist Marko Costanzo (Silence of the Lambs, The Departed, Life of Pi)

Foley is the reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added to film. These reproduced sounds can be anything from the swishing of clothing and footsteps to squeaky doors and breaking glass.

I was very fortunate to sit down with the brilliant and under appreciated Foley Artist Mark Costanzo. Marko has worked on over 500 productions and is a 2 time Emmy winner. (If the Academy had a category for Foley, Marko would have won more than a few Oscars.)

His list of credits consist of many of the greatest films of the last 30 years. See his IMDB list: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0003401

marko_costanzoMatthew Toffolo: Out of all the amazing films you’ve worked on, is there one or two that stand out that you’re most proud of?

Marko Costanzo: Wow!!! That’s a really hard choice. I have favorite movies that were really challenging to work on and others that I love just for themselves. “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” and “Life of Pi” and “Good Fellas” and “The Birdcage” and “Boardwalk Empire” and ….

Matthew: I just watched “Spotlight”, a film you were the Foley Artist on. There is a theme of “silence” in the sound design: What is not heard/What is not said. Was working on that film the definition of “less is more” when creating the sound effects?

Marko: Spotlight was indeed a wonderful film. There were many times where subtlety was more necessary than the normal amount of noise we add to the sound tracks. A tense moment can be emphasized with the nervous creak of leather or a sweaty brow wipe. Of course music is a key component to creating the mood for a scene, and the mixer was able to capture those moments with music and effects. A sprinkling of foley can enhance those times. We pretty much do what is required and “less is more” was indeed the intention for some moments.

Matthew: What makes a great foley artist? What skills does he/she need?

Marko: There are many great foley artist out there. I have worked with truly talented individuals that have amazed me with their abilities. To be a great foley artist I believe one must have relatively good reflexes. Eye-hand coordination is key to making a sound believable. Many times a sound can be perceived as correct if the sync is perfect.

You need to have some common sense and an imagination that can take you to the limits of an effect. Choosing what prop to use for the sound you want to make is essential. Like a chef, you look to see what sound you need to make, then chose the ingredients (props) and mix them together.

You need to be a good listener. We work for editors. Editors have different criterion for each show we work on. Some like it big and over the top. some like it subtle and more realistic. Each time a different foley editor would come into the room to supervise the recording, I would walk away with a better understanding about how things should sound. It’s important to gain the trust of your editors and listen to what they have to say. When they want something heavier you need to understand what they mean. Does heavier mean louder? Bigger? It’s a subjective art with lots of possible variations. It’s important to do things the way the client intends for it to be heard.

It helps to be a dancer or a mime or an athlete. This is a physical job that requires strength and coordination. I’m a 6 foot tall male weighing about 180 pounds trained in the marshal arts, acting and also a student of prestidigitation. I’ve trained myself to sound like a construction worker or an executive or a mobster or a messenger. Those are just some of the roles for men. I can also sound like a little child running on a playground or a sexy model clomping across a runway in stiletto heels. ( I have many pairs of 13-Wide woman’s shoes). You need to be able to portray, (through the body language of the actor) what emotion they are presenting. If an actor is acting drunk, those footsteps had better sound like they are coming from a drunken person, and not the straight forward footsteps of a business man on the way to work.

Matthew: How did you get started as a foley artist? Was it something you knew about growing up and dreamed of doing? Or did the job choose you?

Marko: At age 15 i was a practicing magician performing tricks for aunts and uncles and friends and local children. I wanted to be a Magician when I grew up. I was also involved with the drama department throughout high school and college. My major was business management, but I took as many film and television courses as possible. I wanted to be in front of the camera for all those years.

When I graduated I immediately started working on low budget feature films being shot in NYC. The was fun and I thought I would be working on sets as a grip or anything. I started to think I wanted to direct as well. It wasn’t until a friend introduced me to a post production studio in Manhattan did I even realize that Foley existed. I got involved in editing and one day they said I should go to the foley stage and watch what was going on. Elisha Birmbaum was the Foley Artist working on Sophie’s Choice. I watched as he moved in sync with the characters on screen. At one point they needed a pull chain light bulb sound and Elisha was not able to find a prop suitable prop for this effect. I immediately said I had one in my father’s workshop and would bring it to them the following day. I was permitted to make the foley sound for this. Afterwards I was told Elisha (NYC’s premier Foley Artist for 30 or so years) was looking for a replacement. I applied for the position and I have never looked back.

Matthew: Many of the movies you work on (including working with Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen) are based in New York City. I’m assuming that’s where you were born and raised and are an expert at understanding the “pulse” of the city?

Marko: My entire working career has always been in NYC. From stand-up Comedy Clubs to working on the streets on low-budget films to landing the Foley Artist position at Sound One. It was always very exciting to be around the directors and actors that would come into sound stages and replace their voices or work on the editing of the film. I actually lived in Fort Lee, New Jersey for most of my career, which gave me easy access into Manhattan. Being a commuter into the city was a time consuming process and when given the opportunity to work on a Foley stage in New Jersey, I chose to give up the NYC life. C5 the Post Production Sound Facility I have been working with for the past 27 years build the largest facility for foley recording in the USA. It was 20 minutes from my house in a very quiet neighborhood. We have the capability to record huge sounds with our “LIVE” sound reflecting walls and more storage space for props than anyone could have imagined.

Matthew: How long does is generally take to do the foley for a feature film?

Marko: Foley recording for feature films vary tremendously from film to film. It usually boils down to the budget of the film. Nowadays, there is a surge of feature films and television shows that all require some Foley recording. Here is a general breakdown for Film and Television.

Low-budget films will allow 2-5 days of recording with some editing to tighten up the loose sync.

Most 1/2 hour or 1 hour televisions series will use 1-2 days
Medium budget films will get almost 2 weeks, depending on whether it is an action film or other type of sound intensive show.

Big Budgets will usually take 3-5 weeks. These films expect every nuance of sound imaginable.

Matthew: Is there a different game-plan in developing the sound when working on different genres (drama, comedy, action, comic book)? Or working on period pieces (like Boardwalk Empire) in comparison to a modern film?

Marko: I find that everyone we work with follow their own set of rules as to how a film is prepared for the final mix. Sometimes the sound supervisor will create lots of library sounds for as many scenes as they are capable of preparing. When they have exhausted their library of effects or their time for preparation, then the foley team will be given a list of what is still needed to be recorded.

Sometimes we go through the entire film and put Foley Sounds in for every possible moment. It really depends on how fast a project needs to get completed and how much money is available for post production. Foley is the fastest method for getting great sounds in sync with the actions on screen, but certainly not the cheapest. The Sound Supervisor needs to balance his budget and make sure the project get completed properly, in a timely manner and to the liking of the director.

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

Marko: Brazil, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Caddy Shack, Pulp Fiction. I love comedies, science fiction and quirky films. And for as many years that I have been in the film industry, I seldom just listen to the sound tracks of a film. I tend to get involved in the actors and what they have to say. Everything else in the film is usually just background. I want to hear what the writer is trying to say. I just recently viewed “The Reverant”. This film was beautifully shot, with music guiding the emotion of each scene. The effects tracks and foley was pristine and captivating. It is truly one of the best films I have seen.

Matthew: Who is/was your sound/foley artist mentor?

Marko: In the beginning Elisha Birmbaum of Sound One gave me my first opportunity in being a Foley Artist. Working at Sound One for the first five years of my career enabled me to meet and understand the many different people and ideas from all the different editors milling about in the Brill Building (the center of the NYC film industry for many years). All the editors and directors that came into the studio helped mold my tastes and judgements. When I joined C5, there was a different mind-set used in the creation of Foley Sound’s. The intention was to create foley sounds that blended with the production tracks by using reflective walls and various surfaces. I was fortunate to be invited to work with some of the best sound people in the business.

Matthew: You’ve worked on some of the greatest films made in the last 30 years, with basically all of the greatest filmmakers of our time. Is there someone you would like to work with that you haven’t worked with yet? Or, is there a film subject/genre that you like to work on?

Marko: I have been blessed with being in a position that offers so many unique projects to work on. I never know where the next interesting show is coming from. For years I wanted to work with Ray Romano, whom I had performed with during his comedy years. I was pleased to see him in HBO’s upcoming series “Vinyl”.

I recently was asked to make Foley sounds for a Neuro-science project with David Byrne.

The Coen Brothers and Charlie Kaufman asked me to perform Foley live on stage for “Theater of the New Ear”. This was a sound play performed here in NYC, England and Los Angeles.

Last year I flew out to L.A. to put Foley Sounds to Charlie Kaufman’s “Anomalisa”, (one of the sound plays I did live for “Theater of the New Ear”). I never know what direction this craft will take me.

Matthew: People are reading your interview and are now fascinated about your job. I’m sure the next film/TV show they watch, they are going to pay more attention to the foley. What film(s) of yours should they watch, learn and take in the artistry of what you do?

Marko: I always kid with people about waiting to see the credits. Everyone I know now waits to see if i worked on the film they just saw. It’s flattering, but I work on about 20 movies a year. there are close to 300 major feature films released each year. There is a big chance that the movie they are watching in not bearing my name… but they still wait and look and comment of the way the foley sounded to them. The greatest compliments I receive are when the listener can’t detect there is any foley at all. It means the foley blended with the production perfectly and we did our job properly.

In any event, if you’d like to see my credit roll up the screen, be sure to watch Spotlight, Queen of Katwee, The Free State of Jones, Vinyl, Chiraq, The Knick… AW SHUCKS!!! here’s my IMDB link:
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0003401/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

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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 www.wildsound.ca for more information.

 

Interview with Kami Asgar, Oscar Nominated Sound Editor

A sound editor is a creative professional responsible for selecting and assembling sound recordings in preparation for the final sound mixing or mastering of a motion picture.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with the brilliant Sound Designer Kami Asgar. He has been the Supervising Sound Editor on over 100 films including, “Ride Along 1 and 2”, “Sisters”, “Pitch Perfect 1 and 2”, “The Muppets”, “Country Strong”, “Secretariat”, “Obsessed”, “Passion of the Christ” and “Apocalypto” which earned him an Oscar nomination.

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

Kami Asgar: As far as the first part, that really depends on the budget the schedule and type of project. Typically you have Supervising Sound Editor/s, ADR supervisor, Dialog editor/s, Sound FX editor/s, Assistant/s, Foley artists, Foley mixer, ADR Mixer/s and Re-Recording mixers. The number shrinks or grows based on work load.

As far as the team, we have a core group in our team of editors, and we bring on freelance editors as needed.

Matthew: In the initial stages do you generally have a lengthy discussion with the director about themes, tone etc..? Are some directors more hands on than others when it comes to sound design?

Kami: Yes typically we have a spotting session with the director and picture editor to get the tone and feel for the project. We also discuss ADR and problem scenes as far as dialog and sound design.

Some directors only come for playbacks and give notes and leave, Others listen to every sound that is placed in the track and approve what works for them.

Matthew: You’ve been working in the industry for the last 25 years in over 100 productions. Is there is a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Kami: You spend so much time with every film that they are so much a part of you. There is moments in every film that challenge you, and you have to creatively find a way to overcome them. So there is moments that make you proud to have worked on. But as an entire package my personal favorite sound job is The Passion of the Christ. We spent almost nine months working on creating that world through sound.

Matthew: In recent years you have worked on many successful comedies. Is there is a distinct difference in comedy sound design in comparison to working on your other films, like The Taking of Pelham 123?

Kami: In comedies sound is so much a part of the punchline and finding the right sound to make you laugh is sometimes hard and demanding. Action movies are different there is a flow that has to happens from scene to scene, the sound design encompasses the whole sound scape, from atmospheres, foley, dialog and sound effects to how designed sound elements work with the score to keep the audience engaged.

Matthew: You seem to be the guy to go to when you need sound design for musicals, as you supervised The Muppets, Pitch Perfect (1 and 2), and Country Strong (to name a few). Is working on Musicals something you really enjoy?

Kami: Musicals are such a collaboration between the music camp and sound camp.
It’s unlike a regular movie where each camp shows up to the mix and you work out a balance. In a musical, our sounds really have to be worked out with the music in advance, they have to play seamlessly. Like with the Muppets, the sound effects and the foley have to be in time with the music and have to hit comedy beats too. All of that comes with close collaboration with songwriters, composers and music editors.

Kami: I’ve been blessed to work on a varying body of work, and all have been fun and challenging. Luckily I have been typecast in to a genre.

Matthew: What are you looking for when you first listen to the on-set sound recordings?

Kami: Clean Dialog, the rest we’ll build.

Matthew: When do you first come aboard the film? Most assume it’s after the last day of production, but I’m assuming it’s way earlier than that?

Kami: Depends on the project, Like on Pelham 123, we came on during the shoot to record subway trains in NYC, motorcycles and cars in and around Los Angeles, and supplied the picture editor and his staff with sounds effects throughout the editorial process. By the time we did our first preview screening, 95% of the sound track was already built and approved.

Most other movies we come on right before the first preview and build a temp track for the screening, and then build on that for the final mix.

Matthew: You seem to have consistently worked on 4-5 projects a year. How long do you typically work on a movie?

Kami: That depends on the movie and a lot of outside influences, typically anywhere from 10 to 20 weeks.

Matthew: How often does an actor have to come in and do ADR work (process to re-record dialogue after filming) to complete the dialogue sound mix?

Kami: On every movie. Sometimes we complete all other work and wait till an actor is available to come in and finish the movie

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

Kami: I’d like to do a big action super hero movie, come close a couple of times but that would complete the genre mix

Matthew: How has sound design changed from a technology and creative point of view from the year you started in 1990 to today?

Kami: I literally came in to this field because I worked on Macintosh computers doing graphic design. I was asked to show the guys in my father’s sound studio how to use the new Mac 2 computer with 1st version of sound tools (later protools) they had purchased so they could cut sound effects with.

I taught the editors how computers worked and how to utilize the programs to cut sounds with. In return the guys showed me how to work on an upright Moviola (useless knowledge now) and how to cut dialog and sound effects.

Everything used to be a lot more time consuming and cumbersome.

As an example you had to go down to the sound library and search through reels of sound fx (later CDs) armed with a notebook looking for one sound effect. You usually picked the first one you found, took it back to your room, and sampled it in to the computer and synchronized it to the picture and went to the next effect and the repeated the cycle. since you could only do very short sequences because of lack of computer memory, you laid back to tape and hand wrote (legibly) each event on a cue sheet for the mixer.

Now you audition sounds from your database of hundreds of thousands of sound effects available to you remotely and pick just the right sound, and if you want to alter the sound, you have at your disposal a dizzying amount of plug-ins to change every aspect of your sound to fit the picture. You then upload it for the mixer to open in his session. (no more carrying reels and reels to the stage)

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

Kami: There is three that I can safely say I’ve watched over and over “Top Gun” (best sound movie of all time) “Shawshank Redemption” (best movie of all time) and don’t laugh “Fletch”

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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 www.wildsound.ca for more information.

SOUND Design, Effects, and Musical Design in Film. Tips

SOUND DESIGN
FILMMAKING NOTES

Film Post Production and What Is Sound Design?

The process of creating the soundtrack for the visuals of a film. Since silent films began to talk, filmmakers have been looking to improve the post production of their film. It has become a whole new creative world as people like George Lucas proclaim that “It is 50% of a film.”

CINEMATIC SOUND DESIGN MULTIPLIES TWO OR THREE TIMES THE EFFECT OF THE IMAGE

IT HAS FAILED IF IT DISTRACTS THE AUDIENCE

SOUND DESIGNING IS ABOUT EMOTION, STORY AND RHYTHM

QUIET IS GOOD – THE BEST SOUND DESIGN IS THE SOUND INSIDE SOMEBODY’S HEAD

THREE COMPONENTS IN SOUND EFFECTS AND SOUND DESIGN
SPOKEN LANGUAGE
MUSIC
SOUND EFFECTS

SPOKEN LANGUAGE
-An actor can emphasize one word over the other and thus change the meanings of the sentence completely.
-It all depends on the dramatic contract
-Two types of spoken language- MONOLOGUE AND DIALOGUE
-Interior monologue-what the actor is thinking

MUSIC
-Directs channels of emotions that are already present with the audience
-Propels the action and increase the audiences emotional involvement in a project
-Powerful and manipulative art form that never needs translation into a foreign language
-Effects the entire spectrum of emotions
-Moves us to think and feel a certain way
-Can take us into realms we have never experienced
-Can provide ironic contrast
-Characterization can be suggested. Certain characters have certain music
-Underlines speech, especially dialogue

If you’re a DIRECTOR, remember the MUSIC when there is silence in a shot. At times you can hold the shot longer as the music will give it a greater effect

-Music can take awhile to make its statement. HOLD THE SHOT

MUSIC PERFORMS THREE BASIC FUNCTIONS IN SOUND DESIGN
1) To play the action in a scene
2) To play obliquely or play the subtext of a scene
3) To play against the action in a scene

MUCH LIKE THREE PRIMARY COLORS -These three functions can be combined and manipulated to create many gradations of MUSICALINTERPLAY
The best music taps into the core emotion of a film
-Moves plot along
-Enhances cohesiveness of the drama
-Reflects what’s obvious on the screen, what isn’t
-Speaks to the deepest levels of emotion the audience is suppose to feel

GOOD FILM MUSIC BECOMES A CHARACTER ALL ITS OWN

Give film a THIRD DIMENSION

MUSIC SHOULD ONLY BE IN THE FILM WHEN THERE IS A DRAMATIC REASON FOR ITS EXISTANCE

“So much of what we do is ephemeral and quickly forgotten, even by ourselves, so it’s gratifying to have something you have done linger in people’s memories.”
-John Williams, Composer (Star Wars,Superman,Jurassic Park)

SOUND EFFECTS IN SOUND DESIGN

The first thing in approaching a new project for the DIRECTOR is to make a list of sounds which they think might be effective. Thinking about the characters in the film and the environment in which they move.

Finding moments in the story where sound can add to the character. Their motives and the story

The pitch, volume and tempo of sound effects can strongly effect meaning of film

HIGH PITCHED SOUNDS often employed in suspense sequences
LOW PITCHED SOUNDS often emphasized the dignity of solemnity of a scene

LOUD SOUNDS tend to be forceful, intense and threatening
QUIET SOUNDS delicate, hesitate and often weak

SOUND EFFECTS WORK ON A SUBCONSCIOUS LEVEL
-Also serves sympbolic functions to the characters

ABSOLUTE SILENCE tends to call even more drama. Audience not used to it.

QUALITIES OF SOUND

LOUDNESS
-Film sound constantly manipulates volume
-Loudness will be effected by perceived distance
-Often the louder the sound, the closer the take will be

Some films exploit radical changes in volume for shock value. When a quiet scene is interupted by a very loud noise

PITCH
-The perceived “highness” or “lowness” of the sound
-Pitch is the principal way we distinguish music from other sounds in the film

TIMBRE
-Gives each voice, musical instrument and sound effect its unique coloring and character
-The harmonic components of a sound, given in a certain tone quality
-At the most elementary level, loudness, pitch and timbre enables us to distinguish amonng all of the sound in a film

DIMENSIONS OF FILM SOUND IN SOUND DESIGN

RHYTHM
-A recurring sound that alternates between strong and weak elements
-All three types of sound on the sound track have their own rhythm. Possibilities independent of one another
-Sound usually accompanies movements and often continues over cuts
-Sound many motivate movement in the camera

FIDELITY
-Whether the sound is faithful to the source as we conceive it
-Purely a matter of the viewers expectations-A slammed door gets a slammed door

SPACE
-The source of the sound
-From actual actions in the PICTURE or outside source like the film score
-Often a filmmaker will use sound to represent what a character is thinking

TIME
-Sound relates temporarily to film images in two ways
-VIEWING TIME – length of fim
-STORY TIME – length of time in film

“The power of sound to put an audience in a certain psychological state is vastly undervalued. And the more you know about music and harmony, the more you can do with that.”
-Mike Figgis, Director (Leaving Los Vegas, Timecode)

_____

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 www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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