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.

Interview with Glen Gauthier, Sound Mixer (Spotlight, Pacific Rim, Kick-Ass)

A location sound mixer is the member of a film crew responsible for recording all sound on set during film-making.

I recently sat down with Glen Gauthier to talk about the art of sound mixing on set. Glen’s work has spanned over 30 years, working on over 90 films and TV shows. His credits include: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Spotlight, Pixels, RED, Max Payne, Jumper, A History of Violence, Open Range, and Parenthood.

glen_gauthierMatthew Toffolo: On a major film shoot there is sometimes over 100 crew members whose job is to focus on the picture. And 2-3 people, usually in the corner, working on the sound. How does this dynamic work from a film crew unity perspective? Are you sometimes the forgotten major crew member? 

Glen Gauthier:  I have said many times that a hundred people work for camera and three for sound, but I am fortunate that I work on good pictures with top crews that understand and respect the sound process. Grips that build quiet dolly tracks, flag lights to cut shadows for the boom, electrics that are careful with cable runs into buildings, light ballasts kept off set, prop masters that dampen props to reduce noise and location departments that help to get extraneous sounds eliminated etc. A good sound mixer will work with all the departments to achieve a successful recording.

Matthew: As of this interview, you’ve worked on 95 productions as a sound mixer. Is there 1 or 2 films that stand out for you that you’re most proud of? 

Glen: There are many movies on my list, some were just great scripts or casts, or some were just a fun collaborative experience. A couple of my favourites were “The Score”, “Pacific Rim”, “Talk to Me” “Open Range” and the “The Shipping News”.

Matthew: You worked as a sound mixer on the Academy Award nominated film “Spotlight”. Was the set energy different from other films you’ve worked on? Did people on set realize that they were working on a special film? 

Glen: “Spotlight” was a very good script with a great cast. WE knew we were making a good movie, but it’s hard to judge whether it will successful or not. I’ve worked on shows that I thought might be big hits and weren’t, and some I thought were dogs that made big money.

Matthew: What are you looking for when hiring/working with a solid boom operator? 

Glen:  I have worked with the same boom man for twenty years, Steve Switzer, whom I consider the top guy in town. My second boom has been with me ten years. I think most mixers try to maintain a consistent team, if it works. You want a boom man that is not only good at micing but that takes care of the floor; making sure the lights are flagged for possible shadows, aware of lens changes and what the shots are.

Matthew: How has working as a sound mixer changed (if at all) from working on 35mm film to now digital for many productions? 

Glen:  The change from 35mm to digital has not altered the way the sound department works; it is really still about technique. However, not having to worry about reloading tape and “print through” is nice. Today’s digital cameras tend to be quieter than the chatter you used to get from 16/35mm film.

Matthew: When working on location, what are you looking for in terms of surrounding sounds?

Glen: Whenever I tech scout a location I am always looking for what may effect the sound track, and if so whether or not the audience will be distracted by it. For example, traffic noise is easier to accept if you can SEE it. It’s much harder to accept extraneous noise if you have no idea where it’s coming from. Transformers and hum from lights is also a concern; you want control over heat/AC and traffic control if possible! There are many variables to consider. So, my advice is to pay attention; especially to what’s hidden. Consider what’s behind locked doors, above you and below you. Some things you won’t hear until you have a quiet room and the microphone is cranked up.

Matthew: Are there situations where you know on location that the sound you’re mixing on set just won’t cut it and will need a major clean up in post? 

Glen: As in the previous question, you try to eliminate as much as you can on the tech scouts. Sometimes to look of the location for the director and production designer outweighs the needs of the sound department, in these cases all parties are aware. Once in a while you will have a location that was perfect on the tech scout, but when you show up to shoot a couple months later the building next door is being torn down and there’s nothing you can do! There is always noise to deal with, the trick is to keep the background noise as even as possible and the dialogue as clear as possible.

Matthew: We met awhile back in 2000 when you worked on “Don’t Say a Word” as I did some PA work when you were on location. It was so cold and we shot 2 weeks in a park in Pickering in the middle of the winter. Do you have any memory of that shoot? 

Glen: “Don’t Say a Word” is all but a vague memory. It was a hard, cold shoot that I have buried deep in my memory. Good movie though. Michael Douglas and Brittany Murphy were a treat.

Matthew: How was Big Fat Greek Wedding 2? All of the same cast was back. Another box office hit?

Glen: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” was a blast. A really fun cast and a sound friendly director made it enjoyable. I used no radio mics on that show, all booms, which of course sound much better. Very rare! The script was very funny and I expect it to be a big hit, as good as the first one!

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

Glen:  I have many movies that I love to see over and over, the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still” for its use of lights and shadows, and great score. As well as “The Godfather” 1 & 2, no explanation needed.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound Film & Writing Festival.