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Posted by on May 22, 2008 | 1 comment

Exclusive Interview with “Ben Burtt” on the Sound Design of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

Ben Burtt has one of the best answers to the my favorite reoccurring question, “What was your first gig like?” After graduating from USC with a masters in film production, he was hired to record some sounds for this sci-fi movie fellow USC alum George Lucas was putting together. Some 30 years later, Burtt is credited with designing the most memorable sounds for some of the most beloved films as well as helping to put film sound into the public consciousness. In the late 1970’a he was there when what was Sprocket Systems started and has been a cornerstone in its evolution into skywalker sound. He is now an employee of Pixar and adding to his ridiculous resume, he has two huge films releasing this summer. Thanks so much, Ben, for taking time out to talk about one of those films, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Check back next month for a discussion with Ben about the other film, Pixar’s “Wall-E”.

LONG OVER-DO UPDATE: Finally got around to rehosting my phone interview thanks to Matteo from for the reminder.


If you like your interview’s visual and I know you do, Mix Magazine did the one below just for you.

Searching around for video about Ben’s work I came across this one that seemed appropriate.

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Posted by on May 14, 2008 | 0 comments

Randy Thom on the Sound Design of “Standard Operating Procedure” [DS Exclusive]

“Standard Operating Procedure” continues Errol Morris’s line of great documentaries May 9th. John Nutt operated as the film’s sound supervisor while Randy Thom proceeded as the films sound designer. Nutt worked on Coppola’s latest directorial effort, “Youth Without Youth” while Thom continues to contribute to the sound of animated films with, “Bolt” this fall. Re-recording mixers Lee Dichter and Pete Horner dubbed the film at Sound One in NYC. Horner is another “Youth without Youth” alum while Dichter is working on Woody Allen’s Cannes Film Festival entry, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona“. “S.O.P” featured a somewhat standard operating procedure for documentary production sound with multiple sound mixers lending their talents to the film. All coming from TV and film production sound pedigrees, production sound mixers John Garrett, Albee Gordon, and Steve Bores share credit on the film. Composing orders on “S.O.P.” were issued to Danny Elfman. Elfman, is currently helping “Hellboy” take on the golden army this July.


When Errol Morris asked me to do sound design for his film “Standard Operating Procedure” I jumped at the chance. Errol is an old friend, a brilliant filmmaker, and the issues raised by this film runs deep into so many aspects of our culture. I also relished the chance to work on a live action film again. Animated features have been my preoccupation for the last several years, and though I love them, I’ve been missing live action a bit. Errol’s approach to live action in this film is highly stylized, and he clearly designed the re-creations with sound in mind. In a way it’s all like a terrifying dream, and anything dream-like is a playground for sound design. It swings the door wide open to sound effects being used in an essentially musical way, do you know what I mean?… very evocative and emotional.

The imagery Errol used has lots of mystery in it, slow motion photography, lots of darkness around the edges of the frame, inviting sound to give clues to what we don’t see. Coming up with a sound for a slow motion shot of water spraying from a shower head was quite a challenge. The sound of pressurized gas escaping from a pipe turned out to be a key element in that sound. I guess, because that shower is basically part of a torture chamber, our historical association between shower heads and poisonous gas strikes a chord. Still, when you watch the scene you know that stuff coming out of the shower head is water, but the underlying message that something evil is going on gets through. I worked on “S.O.P.” at Skywalker Sound with John Nutt, an old friend who goes back to “Apocalypse Now,” and Pete Horner, an up-and-coming mixer/sound designer. Lee Dichter and Pete did the final mix at Sound One in New York. Danny Elfman composed the unusual and beautiful score.

-Randy Thom

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Posted by on May 10, 2008 | 0 comments

Exclusive Interview with Amy Kane, Foley Artist on “Redbelt”

“Redbelt” puts theaters into a suppression hold May 9th. Insuring audiences a cauliflower ear-less experience are supervisor’s Michael Kirchberger and Roy Waldspurger. The team last co-supervised last year’s romantic comedy “Feast of Love”. Mixing took place at Sony with Gary C. Bourgeois pounding the music and dialog faders into submission and Roy Waldspurger going no holds barred on the effects. Bourgeois is currently messing with “The Zohan”. Production sound on “Redbelt” was man-handled by Paul Lewis, an established TV mixer from such shows as “Allie McBeal”. Stephen Endelman composed the score for the David Mamet directed film. His work can be heard in the poker mockumentary, “The Grand”.


DS: What fight elements or sweeteners in “Redbelt” did you guys cover? What other unique foley coverage is in the film?

AK: The sound supervisors were very (in a good way) particular about what they were looking for… it was kind of cool, because in this new age of internet, we never met these guys. I would talk to them on the phone, or get an email, and then we would give them some sample sounds and just send it to them immediately. They would pick the one they liked best, and call us back within minutes… weird…

We did all of the body falls, all of the grabs and flips and lands and rolls, the cloth of the robes flapping as they flew threw the air, stuff like that.

DS: On average how much discussion between you and sound editorial happens before you start?

AK: Like I said, we never actually got to sit down with them and talk, which is what we usually do but I had several phone conversations before we even started the film, and they let us know what was most important to focus on with the VERY limited foley schedule that we had. They were also wonderful about asking US what would be most helpful for us, what they should focus on cutting, if we had no time to perform it, and lots of freedom to “marry” sounds if we had to.

DS: Foley is such a performance art. What dramatic shooting techniques evolved along with your experience on the stage?

AK: There are still plenty of days (and I’ve been at Sony for a long, long time) when I still feel like it’s my first day on the job, when I feel uncoordinated or unsure, but for the most part, the biggest change in any kind of “performance technique” would simply be the general ease with which I do my job now… I know how to walk differently for a 300 lb. man than for a small child, without having to think about it or looking too hard for the right pair of shoes…

The best thing I’ve ever learned is that it doesn’t pay to cheat the sound, even if you are in a hurry. The sound of a fork on an empty plate just never sounds the same as a plate with a big mound of spaghetti (or whatever magic thing we use to sound like spaghetti) on it, that fork pushing through the food to hit the plate. An empty glass will always sound like an empty glass, so just fill it up for Pete’s sake, even if it takes an extra five seconds. In playback, your ears will thank you.

DS: I am sure working on TV made you adapt to short schedules. What gets left behind in your creative process when shows allow only a few days of foley?

AK: Wow. Honestly, everything and nothing. I happen to work with two people(foley artist: Anita Cannella and mixer: Mike Marino) who have an unbelievably strong work ethic, and I’d like to think that mine is pretty good too, so no matter how little time we have, we give every single project 100%, sometimes to the detriment of our health and well being. We never stop trying to make it really, really good; We never choose the less than creative sound and sometimes that hurts us to help the project. We have a hard time finding the balance, because it really isn’t an option to give less than our best, but, especially with a schedule like the one we had with this movie, it’s hard. Someday, maybe people will realize that Foley is as important as a lot of other aspects of filmmaking, and give us a little larger piece of the scheduling pie.

DS: What is one of your favorite props? How often does it appear in shows you do?

AK: I love leather… wait, that sounds wrong. We have a leather tool belt that Anita brought in that I love dearly. It sounds great for anything, whether it’s a cop belt, to add to the sound of, say, branches swaying in the wind on a spooky night, or to add to a great saddle that we have. We also have a real pay-phone that we got when they finished the final show of “Party of Five.” We don’t use it often, but when we do, there’s nothing like it. From the sound of the disconnect, to the latch-thing, to the sound of coins dropping into its belly… Nice.

DS: What was your first gig like?

AK: I have worked at Sony for so long that it’s hard to remember working anywhere else. Just know that it’s a long haul, learning to do this work, and most people start by sweeping stages and sitting around taking it all in for a long, long time before they get a shot. That and it’s a lot harder than it looks.

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Posted by on May 8, 2008 | 0 comments

None More Unsung…

Ok, if sound folk are some of the unsung hero’s of filmmaking, these men and women are the even more mute(does even that make sense?). Stage engineers are baby sitters and miracle workers. Cradling editors and mixers when their crying for help and solving the impossible. How the hell to make 800 tracks of audio light up all these meters? Check out some of their stories, HERE.

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