Coll Anderson Special: Exclusive Interview

To get things rolling on this month’s featured sound designer, here’s a little introductory interview with Coll Anderson.

Designing Sound: How did you first get interested in sound?

Coll Anderson: My Mother was a DJ at a country radio station in Des Moines Iowa. She did that and was a VO artist… I started hanging out at the station when she was doing her show, and then hanging at sessions… That led to playing with stuff, the record players, making mix tapes, faders… I was like 12… I mean I was a little kid playing with cutting 1/4” and stuff to make my mix tapes. Then one day I got the microphone to work… That was it. My brain just exploded. I recorded music for a while, played the drums for a while but it was always that microphone thing that illuminated so much for me. Then Allison Humenuk asked me to record sound on her thesis documentary and the two ideas, recording sound, and working on movies just came full on.

DS: What was your first gig like? Did you learn anything profound thatʼs stuck with you throughout your career?

CA: My first gig was recording production sound (that is what I used to do, and how I got into post…) on a Documentary for a student at Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies Department. I fell in love with Documentary film making. We drove around the country filming three couples and how they functioned in their relationships… It was so amazing to just go and watch people exist, and then to see it through a camera and see how we affected their reality by filming it… I think the Jack Handy “deep thought” I learned was “keep your mouth shut when you are rolling…” I still can’t seem to get that one to work, but then neither can anyone else. No really, learning how to keep your thoughts to yourself until you have had time to let them work out. It is a balance between just trusting yourself and trusting yourself enough to not have to open your mouth just this second… What we, or anyone on the inner circle for that matter, say to a Director can really change the path they are on, not to mention we have their ear directly… That is a pretty big responsibility. I try (often unsuccessfully) to let my thoughts simmer for a while before opening my mouth and putting my foot in it.

And of course the most mundane always give me pause, pin two is hot, up is louder… Right is later and left is earlier… Oh and always, anything good is better louder. Work hard, love what you do… Don’t put it up till you can stand behind it. Let people know when you don’t know what you are doing and are experimenting…

DS: How has living and working on the East Coast shaped your career?

CA: I think starting in Boston, and then NYC have been huge for my Doc. resume. I really love Documentary film making and I think that the home of creative Documentary film making is here. NY is less of a company town and I think there are a lot of outside influences here on “our” art that keep you thinking…

DS: You work in a lot of different genres. What do you look for when deciding whether or not to accept a project?

CA: It always comes down to how sincere a Director is. Take Disturbing the Universe and Death Race… Could not get further apart than those two films. Sarah and Emily (DTU) made a film about their Father. I mean this was their life on view… Exploring your story while telling your Father’s could not put you out there more. They were wonderful that way, and they were open to sounds that let you connect to the material not just on a literal way, but on a way that let you in to the emotionality of the film and their history with it. Then on the other side of the same coin, Death Race. Paul is just in love with big and fun and loud. He is like a kid who just lights up when a film gets into amusement park mode. His reactions are so honest during playback that you know when you are on or when you need to work more on things… Knowing you are going to get honest and sincere feedback, knowing that you are going to be an important part of the “team”… That is what I look for when I take something on.

DS: What do you find challenging about your work, and what do you find rewarding?

CA: I find most of the things that challenge you provide you with rewards… And with that the greatest challenges provide the greatest rewards. Simple I know, but for me new ways of looking at problems is always the challenge. Creating new sounds, not resting… Trying new things and always searching. I am not much for “cool” sounds… Yes, it is nice (and fun) to make “cool” things but what I really love is when people have no idea what I or my crew have done to make the sound and the story, seem totally normal. I am always trying to achieve this sort of sonic invisibility that does not interrupt the connection between the audience and the story, and perhaps even extends the subconscious understanding or emotional connection to that same story…

DS: Where do you find inspiration to apply in your work as a sound designer and mixer?

CA: I am pretty immature and am constantly breaking things and making things and just playing… I find movies move me. They help me to dream and pretend and I carry that to what I do. I had an opportunity a few years ago to build a mix stage on top of a mountain in the woods and for me building a room that is much more a living room than a “stage” in an environment where at any time I can walk outside and feel the ground, the air… Record outside at the drop of a hat… That is my inspiration. That and I try to keep reading a lot. Something worth mentioning, that we should not overlook, is the work of our peers… Listening to Craig H. or Skip L. or Craig B. or Sean G, Barden, soundjohny… the list just goes on and on and is full of people whom are so amazing at what they do… I find serious inspiration in the work of the guys out there who are WAY better at this than me.

DS: How does your work-flow or approach change between theatrical and broadcast projects?

CA: Differences between Film and TV really means differences in Dynamic Range to me. I can be a bit subtler with Theater. Broadcast I usually have to keep things a bit less dynamic and usually a bit louder. That said, I don’t have a creative approach that changes much, short of the schedule limitations that broadcast often imposes, but some of my favorite work is in the episodes that I have done for The American Experience.

DS: What are some of your “go to” tools, in either the field or studio, that you canʼt live without?

CA: Schoeps Microphones, Contact Microphones, a few different dynamic microphones, Sound Devices Recorder… Lots of clips and clamps and shock mounts. Black Powder. Oxygen. Gas. Lots of different kinds of shoes. Tubes of all sizes. Metal bits… Some big enough two people are needed to move. Junkyards (bring cash…). I have few Sony D-50 recorders as well. I use Pro-Tools. I have to say I am a big fan of Arjen’s plug-in’s. Altiverb and Speakerphone but I go back to River Run all the time. Mondo Mod… Can someone please make a good in the box dynamic EQ / filter set for mixing dialogue? How about Coffee? I can’t live without Coffee.

DS: Whatʼs your ideal project?

CA: For me, projects where the Director, the Editor, even Producers, and the Sound department are on the same team are ideal. When Directors and Editors come to the sound department with what they are trying to “say” and listen if we can at all help them “say” or express that. Good Directors / Editors listen to what we have to offer and use the tool-set we bring to the project to make it better. Really for me, all the good directors, good editors have that trait in common. My favorite thing to hear is a Director say “I am trying to get this scene to be about (X) but it does not feel like it is working or I think it can work better… Can you help me with it?”

DS: What projects are you working on now?

CA: I just finished Martha Marcy May Marlene for Sean Durkin and am now mixing Simon Killer for Antonio Campos. I am recording EFX for Warren Shaw and Tower Heist. I have a long form Doc for the American Experience that I am really looking forward to… And then Sundance is right around the corner.

DS: If you could plant an idea into the head of every sound professional (or student) out there, what would it be?

CA: I think the one that sticks with me is “every day is new.” What we do, every single day, can be different from the last. There is a beauty in that. I love when people bring new sounds to the stories we help tell. More than that remember that we help tell stories. If you fill your life with ever new experiences, they will inform and improve the creativity you bring to the projects you commit to.

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