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.