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Posted by on Jul 24, 2007 | 0 comments

Exclusive Interview with Gwen Whittle, Supervising Sound Editor on “The Simpsons Movie”

“The Simpsons Movie” does the Bartman into theaters July 27th. Helping bring the sounds of Springfield to the big screen are Supervising Sound Editor Gwen Whittle and Sound Designers Chris Scarabosio and Randy Thom. All fixtures at Skywalker Sound, the trio have each worn numerous hats in post sound. Each person has done a big film this year, Whittle Supervised the ADR on “Zodiac” and Scarabosio designed on “Pirates 3”, while Thom has kept it low key by supervised AND mixed “Ratatouille.” Though the four temp dubs mixed at a few different stages around LA,(read the editors guild article HERE) the film finaled on the Fox’s Howard Hawks stage with Andy Nelson and Anna Behlmer. This duo already has a big 2007 with “Shrek the 3rd” and “Live Free or Die Hard”. Behlmer, one of the only female mixers in LA and has been nominated for nine Oscars, all of which have been during the mixing team’s ten-plus years together. Original dialog on the film was shot by Greg Zimmerman at the Todd-AO West’s Stage A. Zimmerman a busy ADR mixer shot 20-plus films already this year. This great scene from one of TV show’s 400 episodes illustrates turmoil on an ADR stage….

The score was recorded on the Newman Scoring Stage at Fox. Hans Zimmer fresh of “Pirates 3” composed for the film and is lending his talents to my most anticipated film of next year “The Dark Knight.”


During the dubs, were there donuts on the stage?

GW: No! I’m glad though because I would have eaten them. We had them during editorial at the ranch one Sunday when we were working. Our fabulous assistant Josh Gold brought them in for us.

The Simpsons TV show editorial was done by Skywalker for a while, right? (side note here. I always saw skywalker sound credited in old Simpsons episodes so that’s what prompted this question. I was confused because after a little investigation I found out that the show was done @ skywalker sound south which is now Todd-AO West in Los Angeles…)

What differences in approach and detail are there between the TV show’s sound and the film’s?

GW: No, we only did “The Movie”. It was a challenge though expanding the track for a big screen. A few classic effects are straight from the show – Maggie’s pacifier for instance. But 99% of the effects are fresh for the film.

What are your favorite sound moments in the film?

GW: Hmmmmm. There are a few. Is it cheating to reveal them before the film is released? I love the “Bambi” feet in Alaska; The “bloop” sound as the silo sinks under; The bomb dancing on top of the dome; Homer pulling the arrow out of his head…those are a few of my favorite sounds!

Lucas spoke at the MPSE awards a few years back. He expressed interest in having sound crews on earlier to help the picture editorial’s creative process along; How early was your crew brought on?

GW: We were brought on about 10 months after the picture editor John Carnochan started. This film didn’t really call for early involvement from us. We would send FX to LA when requested.

I read in your Editor’s Guild interview that you guys had four temp dubs. Do you think that editorial will continue in the direction of multiple sprints rather than a long distance pace? Does this workflow hinder the creative process?

GW: This type of animation makes it possible to do super quick picture changes. The temps came every three weeks. It was fast, and the changes didn’t stop just because we were in the middle of a temp. The “brain trust” of the Simpsons think very quickly and don’t like to wait for things to be implemented. This type of schedule pleased them, so we made it work for them. In this case, the creativity was spurred by the temps.

I don’t see it being like that for all shows. Comedy needs an audience that’s fresh to see if it’s working on the funny level. Live action is limited by the footage you have on hand. You can’t reconfigure characters out of nothing in the real world the way you can in “Springfield”!

Did any sound mixed during the dubs add to creative decisions made in the animation?

GW: Yes. I think they changed things when places weren’t working as a whole – sound included. The music also played a tremendous part in solving issues “the trust” were having with certain scenes.

How long have you been at Skywalker Sound? What was your first gig like?

GW: A long time. I was very young when I began :-). I started so long ago that I know how to cut sound on Mag. I was an assistant editor working with Ben Burtt, Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom, and many other talented folks. I was lucky to have such a very inspiring start! [My first] film was “Willow” – one of the first shows to edit and the second to mix at the Tech building.

On a personal note, during that film I spent some quality time with the transfer department, and I met my future husband while waiting for an effects transfer from Ben’s library!

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Posted by on Jul 19, 2007 | 0 comments

“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” – Exclusive Interview with Co-Sound Supervisor Elmo Weber

“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” gets carried over theater thresholds July 20th. Veteran Happy Madison Co-Sound Supervisor’s Elmo Weber and David Bach promised to have and hold the sound editorial. Weber and Bach have been working together since 1995 and Happy Madison, ever the loyal prod. company, have utilized them consistently since 2001. Re-Recording Mixers Jeffrey J. Haboush and Bill W. Benton helped marry the sound to picture, with the majority of the mixing taking place on Sony’s Kim Novak dub stage. The two are fixtures on the Novak and are fresh off this April’s horror film “Vacancy”. Production mixing was handled by Thomas Causey. Causey has also been in a long term relationship with Happy Madison, shooting the production sound on five of their last nine films. The film took Rupert Gregson-Williams hand in composing. Tracking took place on Sony’s Scoring Stage. A great little article on the sessions can be found HERE Currently, Williams has been pollinating this fall’s “Bee Movie” with score.

Thanks to Co-Sound Supervisor Elmo Weber for taking time for this Q and A!

Designing Sound: With so many physical comedies under your belt, how hard is it to find the perfect sound that complements the wackiness?

Elmo Weber: When working on comedies, no matter what your job is, it’s important to have a good sense of humor. Every project is different. Your success depends on not only understanding the humor of each film, but also knowing your place in the “big picture”. Most of the time I find myself playing the “straight man” when it comes to comedy sound design. Don’t over-do it. The comedy is mostly in the hands of the writers, actors, and directors, so create realistic sounds that support and don’t distract. Then when your sound moment comes, make it count. The most important rule is to never make a moment un-funny. Then it’s back to the old sci-fi action and academy awards for you.

DS: The public understands sound effects editing and mixing in movies like Transformers because the visuals demand heavy editorial and mixing to work. Every film needs sound, so what can be said about sound’s role in comedies?

EW: I don’t think the public will every fully understand the true function of post-production sound. Regarding sound for comedies, if we really do our job well, then no one will notice. We’re like the airline mechanics that don’t generally cross people’s minds unless the engine catches on fire. In my view, every picture is unique and the true art of sound lies in the details, whether those details create an exploding robot or a quiet moment where the ADR matches the dialogue from three different takes.

DS: Re-recording mixers/supervisors impress me, though the majority of you guys also have gigs like this one, where you only do one or the other. What prompts you to mix and cut verses just cut?

EW: I love sound editing and I love mixing. When I get the chance to do both on the same project, it’s always the most fun and the most rewarding experience. I respect both as separate arts; not every editor would make a great mixer and visa-versa. As a supervising sound editor I’ve had the privilege of working with some fantastic mixers and I’ve learned a great deal from them. I began mixing FX early in my sound career and I know that it has made me a better editor. I started mixing dialogue and music in 1998 when I opened my small facility in Burbank. It was great building my dialogue mixing chops on documentaries and independent films, which seem to have the most challenging dialogue and schedules. I sold my facility a couple of years ago, but I’m very excited to be mixing around town at the major studios such as Sony and Warners.

DS: What’s your favorite sound moment in the film?

EW: The big fire scene in which Sandler and Kevin James save a 400-pound man. That sequence has some great sound opportunities. Sound FX Supervisor Derek Vanderhorst did an incredible job designing a threatening environment engulfed by flames with creaking and crashing all around. The foley team of Catherine Harper and Chris Moriana brought wonderful detail into the soundscape with the firemen gear, boot steps on debris, and chopping through walls with axes. The mixing team of Jeff Haboush and Bill Benton very skillfully brought it all together. I’d also like to acknowledge my co-supervisor Dave Bach, ADR Super Russell Farmarco, Dialogue Editors Cameron Steenhagen and Hugo Weng, FX Editors: Marc Glassman, Paul Berolzheimer, and Piero Mura, and my illustrious Assistant Editor: Matt Hanson. Without me they’d be nothing…uh, I meant that the other way around. Freudian slip.

DS: I’m not sure why I haven’t asked this question yet in all my interviews, but you can break this one in: What was your first gig like?

EW: My first sound-editing gig was on “The Lawnmower Man”. I was working as a composer for Frank Serafine when one morning in 1991 he came in and asked me if I wanted to do some sound design for a sci-fi film. I replied, “I don’t think so. I don’t know anything about sound editing.” Frank then says, “I’ve got a scene with a monkey driving a virtual tank and battling laser-firing robots. The director will be here after lunch to check it out, so get busy.” That job was an incredible experience for me. An experience I hope to never repeat. :)

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Posted by on Jul 15, 2007 | 1 comment

The Audience isn’t Listening

Yesterday, I went to see Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix at a local theater chain and to my delight the soundtrack defaulted down to the stereo mix from the third reel on. I was obviously a little annoyed so I decided to talk to the manager and let them know that the film in their biggest theater was playing back in not so optimum conditions. They nodded and awarded my effort with lip-service about how they would “look into it.” I always get empathy but no action. They want to make me feel like they care about how the film is presented, but unless a majority of patrons file out of the theater to complain I don’t think anything will change. So, what do we do as a community? Is there anyway to champion a campaign to remedy this plague of bad sound? I mean I am sure if the picture looked crappy audiences would be up in arms. I asked Randy Thom about this epidemic recently and he had this to say:

“The two weakest links in film sound have always been the script and the exhibition. Neither of them has ever taken sound seriously except for occasional isolated cases. The picture and sound quality in most movie theaters sucks. In an era when exhibitors should be more worried than ever about competing with home theaters they have shown very little awareness of how important it is to exhibit the film accurately. The popcorn machine is almost always better maintained than the projector and sound system. True, the profit center of most theaters is the concession stand, but if people stop coming there won’t be anyone to buy the soft drinks and popcorn. For a huge number of movie lovers going to a well maintained and beautiful theater to see and hear a film with others who share their admiration for great film storytelling is a secular form of going to church. It’s an experience that isn’t duplicated at home, no matter how wonderful a home theater system you have. The fact that most theater owners are too lazy, ignorant, and/or greedy to make sure the movies sound and look first class is a shameful thing. Filmmakers everywhere have to demand better performance from exhibitors, and we need to set up mechanisms to make that happen.”

-Randy Thom

I agree that if the filmmakers knew that this kind of disregard for their films was going on regularly and everywhere, that something might happen. I would love to walk into a theater and not worry about how my craft will be presented.

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Posted by on Jul 13, 2007 | 1 comment

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” – Exclusive Interview with Sound Designer Andy Kennedy

” Harry Potter and the Order if the Phoenix” materializes into theaters July 11th. Helping to make all those spells sound “wicked” is sound supervisor James Mather. This the fifth Potter flick, is Mather’s first enrollment into Hogwarts. Joining an alumni that includes Randy Thom and David Evans, Mather enters a great pedigree of Muggle free sound soups. Sound designers James Boyle and Andy Kennedy join along in the editorial rebellion both of which worked on “Batman Begins” my favorite of the franchise. Mixing took place in London at De Lane Lea’s Soho post production facilities, with Re-recording mixers Doug Cooper, Mark Taylor, and Mike Prestwood Smith. The trio comes off a big last year with their work on “Casino Royale” and “Children of Men”. Production sound’s spell was cast by Stuart Wilson, his first Potter film as well. Wilson shot production on another film I am really excited to see later this year, “Eastern Promises”. Composer Nicholas Hooper handled scoring duties. Another Potter “first year”, Hooper is the third composer to helm a film in the series. A great little preview of the soundtrack can be heard HERE.

I have been getting a lot of comments recently about the inclusion of “sound designers” in my posts. Initially I decided to only include the supervisors, mixers, and composers because it was relatively easy to consistently find info on those craftsmen for every film. As momentum and interest has grown for the blog , I am going to be more mindful about posting about designers, too. Their role is important. Still, I am more then aware there are countless others that I still don’t include who are paramount to a soundtrack’s quality. I will eventually be able to include more info on their specific disciplines and I wanted to thank all of them for the hard work and dedication that has made my day job possible! With that said, on to the fun! I just wanted to thank Sound Designer Andy Kennedy for this brief Q and A! I know he must feel like he’s working in “the stone age” currently, so I appreciate his time.

DS: Designing Sound: First off, what stage did the movie final in @ De Lane Lea?

Andy Kennedy: The Mix schedule for ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ took place at studio one at De Lane Lea London. Pre-dubbing from the end of march till mid April and the Final mix over four weeks from mid April till 13th ‘ish of May 2007. The foreign versions (27) continued right through June. A generous schedule even by blockbuster standards.

DS: As sound designer on the film, what were your duties?

AK: I started on the picture September 18th 2006 at the Leavesden Studios were all the Potter films have been filmed – most of the big key scenes for the end of the movie still had not been shot at this stage and I started working on early animatics and previs sequences. James Mather the supervising sound editor thought I would be a good choice for sound designer as I have worked on the previous 3 ‘Potter’ movies on effects. This was an opportunity for an all british sound crew to rise to the challenge. Aside from the first film – Harry Potter II, III, IV Have always been headed by American supervisors and designers. David Yates the director had only made one previous feature film and his other work was mainly in television, so I guess he felt more comfortable dealing with James and myself ! He proved to be a discerning director with clear views on how the movie should sound. James and I tried to get as many recordings as possible – I nearly got blown up during a fireworks recording session with special ‘attempts’ department that went a bit astray – We also recorded Glass bowls shattering for a scene that had yet to be shot and existed in only previs form. 2nd Unit effects shoots were recorded extensively – A Tesla machine and high powered hoses were recorded during a visual effects session and Impulse responses from the sets were collected. I worked on designs for the fireworks or Thestrals which we could get the director to check on in the evening after shooting finished for the day or I would fold down 5.1 sounds to stereo mixes for Mark Day the editor to include in his assemble cut for David to listen too during editing. This soundtrack evolved over quiet a while and David Yates made time in his busy schedule to be involved in the audio process all the way.

DS: With more and more spell casting in these films, what motivates the sound design?

AK: Before we moved to De Lane Lea in Soho, London in November we did a mini mix for the head of Warner Brothers when he visited the studio at Levesden. I had to ‘temp’ up some wand effects for the scene where harry ‘teaches’ other students defensive spells. This proved invaluable in getting a sense of what David ‘didn’t’ like. He had a problem with explosive or dynamic elements and wanted to use ‘natural’ sounds (the term organic was used but I really don’t like it!) He wanted to turn down the Thunderous elements in favor of warped water and feed back blips with a touch of airy whoosh. I did try to create a wand language based on familiar styles of sounds from the other movies, but if the director wants you to make an original sounds with no bearing on what’s gone before you have to follow his lead! Alfonso Cuaron on HP III had the same desire to have wands sounds completely different to the other two films and got a very individual soundtrack. The kids spells during Harry’s classes start with Neville making a blunder of his spell and the wand spins and vanishes into the mirrored wall – This change very little from my first layout but essentially it had a comic firework feel about it but the rest of the spells within this section went through many forms. The warped water I made on my old Synclavier and the feedback wumpfs, built by James Boyle my co-sound designer, for the adult wands during the dual in the atrium. I felt there should be a sonic connection between the two scenes even if it’s subtle one. The airy whooshes came from light steam jets phased with a couple of other sweeteners added or deducted during the final mix dependent on completed visuals.

DS: What was your favorite sound design moment in the film?

AK: The room of requirement door forming was a glutinous – rocky – wooden – metal morph combo. It was more abstract on our temp version but in the end David preferred a quieter and more natural sound so we added Foley dust grains and metal to fit the CG image and favored the ‘real’ elements more. Grimmuld Place was also fun but I think the sub-harmonic element got a bit overdone. I also really liked the effects James Boyle designed in the wand battle with Dumbledor and Voldermort. A very cool power suck to a pin head of silence and blast back wumpf which shatters all the windows of the ministry. This sequence was outstanding and the only section in the movie without music so it gave a chance to let the sound effects rip.

DS: Many different crews and directors have worked on these films. Is consistency an issue? What established sounds did you guys have to use and what sounds were due for an update?

AK: Each of the Potter films retreads familiar sonic themes, fortunately this one didn’t have the proverbial Quidditch match which incidentally we have always used the sound designs from HP I made by Martin Cantwell for the Snitch, Qwaffles and Bludgers. Broom sounds have been a common reacquiring sound effect and I think each time we try NOT to make them sound like jets but under the barrage of complex orchestral music they color up like A10 fighter jets. Randy Thom established the Pheonix sound in HP II and it makes a brief fleeting appearance in HP V and the producers were keen to reprise this sound. Richard Beggs created a tonal bell sound for the ‘Lumos’ constant illumination from the wands in HP III. I took this and ‘Pure Pitched’ it down so it did interesting things against the slow’d Glass Harmonica / Water-phone background sounds in the Hall of prophecy.

DS: Have you ever worked in the States? Are there any differences in work-flow or technique from across the pond?

AK: I haven’t worked in the united states – It’s difficult for us Europeans to work on a movie in the US without a green card or union ticket! Although I have had the privilege of working with excellent technicians from the US on movies over here. Randy Thom and Dennis Leonard came here to do HP II and IV and we had a fantastic time on both movies. We proudly won an MPSE award for ‘The Goblet of fire’ for Best Sound Editing in Feature Film: Foreign. Nearly all the sound designers/fx editors are working 5.1 over here. I’ve been plying my trade this way since working with Randy and Dennis on ‘Chamber of Secrets’ and developed a common Busing I-O within pro-tools with other sound crews in the UK over the 5 years since. So when I did ‘Goblet of fire’ again with Randy and Dennis, the technique had developed were it was possible to keep every piece of automation on the effects from temp to final mix using the ‘virtual’ method. Mike Prestwood Smith has refined the technique for dialog premixes ‘in the box’ and works from his home ‘Liondubbs studio’ in Somerset and has pre-dubbed some great films this way (‘Flight 93 – Constant Gardener – Casino Royal and of course Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix’) James Mather and myself with Mike and Mark Taylor our effects mixer, decided to go for a total virtual mixing method for the film before our first temp. So from the start in post and during the mixing all parts of the soundtrack were kept virtual: Production dialogue with ADR – Crowd – Backgrounds with foley and sound design and hard effects where then played back from five pro tools rigs. Three D commands and two command 8’s were used for internal balancing within pro tools during the mix – The VCA faders in the pro tools 7.2 software provided overall bus output control which made it conformable during changes for visual effects and re-cuts during mixing. We were completely flexible during the whole editing, design and final mix process and we never conformed any ‘stems’ because there weren’t any! So I am proud to say our team of audio wizards produced a fantastic end result and at the cutting edge of muggle technology.

DS: When I go see movies like these I get so excited about working in sound. I love hearing all the unique and interesting work the crews cook up. What excites you about your job?

AK: I have always thought I was lucky to be doing a job that I enjoy – So many people in this world just work to earn the money to live and loath the daily grind of a regular job that they hate. Sometimes in our line of work, we moan and groan about this ‘budget’ and that ‘time-frame’ but, some how in the end we get the job done and strive for excellence and satisfaction in our craft. Occasionally we receive recognition for the late nights and long hours in the form of trophies or awards – None the less I am always amazed at mixes, how producers and directors suddenly become experts in sound and rarely appreciate the guidance or advice of the people in the room who do this all day, year in, year out.

It makes me laugh when we get notes like: ‘make the door louder at 320ft’ at he first temp mix and at the review we get: at ‘320ft make the door quieter so we can hear the dialouge line’ but I suppose it’s now part of the course to be able to change everything at a whim or a even the click of a mouse. On a final note I would like to thank the whole sound team on ‘Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix’ for being wonderful people work with and making the whole creative experience so pleasurable.

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