I’m very proud to share “Maxxx”, a short doc I recently had the joy to score and mix for LonelyLeap Films in Brooklyn. Directed by Stevie Rappa and Nathaniel Vidal, the film follows Drag King Maxxx Pleasure, who finds a home in the Brooklyn drag community, an eclectic group of artists playing freely with gender and identity. “Maxxx” is all about honesty, connection, mettle, and no-holds-barred self-expression. It’s very, very satisfying to get to contribute to a story like this with my own musical voice, especially with brilliant collaborators like Stevie and Nathaniel. I hope it’s the first of many.
I’m currently in the middle of a foley pass on an indie feature that I’ve been mixing solo. The dialog edit is just about set and most of the sound effects work is in a good spot, but some remain. The cues that I tend to leave to the end are the ones that require the detailed touch of Foley.
I’ve always really enjoyed the process of Foley and I like to think most sound designers feel the same way because you get to actually perform sound effects. Sometimes it’s as simple as opening and closing a door several times until you get the right “ka-chunk”, but many times it becomes a creative problem solving exercise where resourcefulness, creativity and psychoacoustic knowledge combine to guide you to the perfect, natural sound.
But that sounds a lot like Mixing in general, so why is Foley different and why do I tend to leave it to the end? Foley requires a different work mode. Now you’re recording and moving about, not just sitting comfortably in your mix position. The room gets cluttered with props. Sometimes you’re performing the same action over and over again. If you have a lot of distinct cues, you have build sounds with multiple other sounds. And if you have a lot of quiet, subtle sounds, your focus becomes microscopic, which can get tiring.
There are loads of pro secrets out there for creating perfectly stomach-turning gore and bone-splitting, but I wanted to put together a list of tips for the process itself, which I’ve been consciously utilizing in order to help me work quicker and avoid burning out:
Use Playlists To Sort Your Recordings
I use Pro Tools, but I’m sure all DAW’s at this point support multiple playlists within one audio track. I used to record Foley sounds directly to the destination track, but this was mostly out of expedience (laziness) and it gets messy. You also risk over-writing existing work. Now I record everything to a devoted Record track, titled “FOLEY RECORD_”, and create a new playlist for the new sound. Not only is this neater, but it also allows you to recall sounds quickly that you may need to pull from later on, for example, clothing rustle and footsteps.
Proximity Effect Is Your Friend
Proximity Effect is the term for the increase in low frequencies a directional microphone picks up as the audio source moves closer to the mic. A low frequency boost can be an obvious gift when you’re trying to match a sound that benefits from low end punch, but it’s especially helpful if the sound on screen is “close” to the viewer. Not only will exploiting Proximity Effect save you time EQ’ing the sound with more low end, but the sonic qualities of the high frequencies and everything in between will also get an enhancement.
Use the Whole Room
If the sound cue occurs deep in the frame or was recorded far from the boom op’s mic, consider recording the sound the same exact way. (This works great for ADR as well. See below.)
If you have a room with similar reverb qualities as the one on-screen, it’s a no-brainer to record Foley there. The room tone might match even as well. I recently had to record items falling off a kitchen counter onto a parquet-like floor. My first instinct was to record all of these sounds in the pristine isolation of my mix room and process the sounds in Pro tools, but I instantly recalled recording footsteps once on my creaky wood floors in the hallway. In the end, my kitchen “sounded” like the one on screen (the reverb characteristics and room tone matched pretty closely) and all of the sound effects I recorded there matched impeccably.
Apply ADR Techniques
In ADR, finding out which model microphone was used on set and matching that in post is the first step for experienced ADR engineers. Consider that Foley is not a whole not different: you may have to record sound effects that already occurred on screen but don’t exist as an isolated clip that can be cut and manipulated easily. If the movie’s dialog is lav-heavy over the boom, perhaps switch to the lav for clothing rustle; or better yet, combine it with higher quality clothing rustle recorded on a shotgun mic so there’s both sonic continuity in the production track (from the lav), as well as more high-fidelity rustly sound that may sell it more naturally.
Time Shift is a common tool to make Foley recordings work. The recording isn’t usually dead-on synced up, so a nudge and a slight time shift can help. Pitch shift is maybe a little less obvious. As with any Audio Post tool, if you have to use too much of it, you simply didn’t record it right, but a slight pitch shift can do wonders on Foley recordings that are almost there but not quite.
I recently used Pitch Shift with success on the sound of a whiskey-on-the-rocks being handled, drunken, and put down on a table. I didn’t have ice cubes small enough to match the ones on screen and it sounded noticeably different in the recording, but I found that a three-semi-tone pitch shift made big cubes and clink and sing like little ones.
“Disposable” Season One Trailer, written by Katie Gray, mixed and scored by myself, Brian Flood.
Late in 2017 I wrote a Facebook post in large font with some catchy background: “Anyone want to develop a podcast together? I’m a recordist, mixer, sound designer and composer.” Something like that. I got a lot of replies. The first one I responded to was to Katie Gray, who wrote and produced the “The Paper Store” (with Penn Badgley and Stef Dawson) in 2014, which I recorded on set. Katie is herself an accomplished playwright, producer and podcast maven. My gut reaction was right: Katie had a superb idea for the podcast and the experience to get it to market. Her recent curiosity about the vast underworld of Waste and Consumption in NYC (and why almost no one seems to know or ask questions about it) spawned “Disposable“, a podcast about the things we throw away.
The first episode will focus on the infamous Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, and the significance of the closure of a landfill three times the size of Central Park in what many experts consider the “most wasteful city in the world.” We spent the winter interviewing current and former DSNY administrators, Parks Dept. officials, S.I. Residents, and one scientist who grew up on S.I. and is currently studying the landfill site’s return to a natural state. Future episodes will focus on Recycling, Compost, and Private Carters, just to name a few. Our goal is to learn for ourselves precisely how we (everyone) is handling Waste wrong, and how we can dispose of Waste smarter and send even less of it to landfills, by talking to experts in every facet of Waste Disposal.
The second amazing podcast opportunity I landed this year was mixing the first four episodes for Amy Schumer’s new podcast “3 Girls, 1 Keith” for Spotify. I was often heard cackling loudly from the opposite end of my apartment while I mixed these. Hope I get to do more of these this year!
“Dinette”, Official Selection, Tribeca N.O.W. Episodic Showcase
One year after the premiere of Shaina Feinberg’s “Shiva” at Tribeca’s N.O.W. Showcase in 2017, I got mix the pilot episode of her latest web series “Dinette”, which also premiered at Tribeca this year. Produced with support form BRIC, Dinette is “a series of vignettes focused on a group of diverse female and gender non-conforming friends reuniting for a wedding as they explore relationships with each other, the world and themselves.” I promise to share once the pilot is available online. Shaina and the Bankrukt team are possibly my favorite filmmakers I get to mix for, and with each new work they produce, their style becomes even more charming, sophisticated and uniquely funny. (Since “Dinette”, I’ve been working on newer works of theirs which I cannot share yet, but stay tuned.)
I’ll confess: though I don’t consider myself a beginner mixer anymore, I’m sometimes struck by how new and different each mix feels from the last one. This is, after all, what makes freelancing worthwhile. But the reason this is a confession of sorts, rather than just an observation, is that every time I’m struck by the new-ness, it’s usually accompanied by a twinge of regret for not asking enough detailed questions before I’ve begun to work. It’s kind of like the doctor asking the patient, “So what brings you in today?”. Don’t we all agree the best doctors are the ones that really listen to us rather than proceed as if they’ve got our condition all figured already?
And this got me thinking: Technique is arguably *the* marker of one’s prowess in his or her field. And not just pure skill, I mean raw intuition, i.e. “getting it”, and having a wealth of references and experiences from which to draw inspiration and new ideas. To be honest, I obsess over this. I read tons of blogs and facebook conversations by pros, video tutorials, etc.
But this misses a huge point: if you work for people, your technique is only as valuable as your ability to listen. More specifically, to what they envision but don’t have the technique (or time) to pull off themselves – and that’s exactly where I come in. Sometimes people aren’t great at this, but luckily for mixers, there’s always the editor’s reference mix. And I can’t overstate how valuable this reference mix is.
I’ve experienced more and more, quite humbly, that I’m hired to execute a specific vision and nothing more. My input is obviously always necessary to some degree (obviously of a technical nature) but input doesn’t mean hijacking a mix. It can just mean having the intuition to ask a question about a particular part of the mix. It can simply mean knowing something special is needed at a certain part and inquiring about it, rather than plunging into ideas under the assumption that you “get it” or that you can pull off something better than what director would’ve ever thought of.
The irony isn’t lost on me – the “ability to listen” is precisely what I’m paid to do in the first place. But there’s great maturity in humbly and patiently asking plenty of questions, and holding back the urge to take charge on something.
Of course, that said, plunging into ideas isn’t something I strive to repress – it’s all about the balance between unsolicited input and humble restraint. What’s the ideal ratio? Is this a new client? Did he/she ask for your input in the first place? All of these questions deserve a lot of thought before any work has even begun.
And back to the doctor analogy – I would concede that the best doctors can actually figure a condition out with minimal questioning, but the fact is, I have years to go before I reach that point, so until then, I’m going to strengthen this habit of listening and asking questions.
September! Personally I love September – I don’t lament the end of summer, I embrace the exhilarating cooling off of everything (I’m in NYC), the promise of a busy rest of the year, Oscar season, Halloween (yup, still enjoy Halloween) and sure, Thanksgiving’s pretty awesome too, but that’s a way’s off.
As summer comes to an end I wanted to share my audio mix highlights of this summer. The first one that launched online is called “Hotel of Hope”. Check it out here:
I feel very lucky to’ve gotten the call to work on this. When I first watched the unmixed reference I got that jolt of confidence and excitement to have the opportunity to do what I love to do – make things sound awesome – to a piece that had immense, inspirational potential.
Hyatt and the Atlantic teamed up to celebrate Hyatt’s 50th anniversary, whose auspicious beginnings intersected with the Civil Rights movement in the summer of 1967, when they became impromptu hosts to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s 10th anniversary convention. Leaders of this convention were being turned down from other venues and so Hyatt opening it’s arms gave it the name “Hotel of Hope”, and even signaled the beginning of a subtle positive shift to the leaders of the movement.
In this inspired short, Tank Ball (from Tank and the Bangas – do check them out) visits the same lobby in which Hyatt warmly provided civil rights protestors to gather 50 years ago today (while they were still under construction!), and performs the spoken word piece “Come Together”. It’s a powerful, classy, and eloquent tribute to the heros of the Civil Rights struggle, and it’s also a superb ad.
More about this piece can be found on TheDrum.com, where it was rated Ad of the Day shortly after it launched in late August.
Well, I never really went anywhere, I just got a new font and catch-phrase, and most importantly, a new STUDIO. I finally have a dedicated mix room in my new apartment in Astoria/LIC, complete with Pro Tools 12 HD, Genelec monitors, a couple extra screens and faders, DIY bass traps (!), some miniature synths, and most importantly – the client couch. I’ve even built some double plexi-paned sound-proofing panels custom-fitted to my windows to get it nice and quiet in here. The final project is a formal VO booth.
And I’m officially dedicating myself professionally to Audio Post and Composition. Yup, it’s official. Of course I’ll still be still be working on set – I can’t quite say goodbye to Production, I love my long-time clients, and the friendships and experiences that set life brings. But my ambition now is to put Post on the front burner.
And I’ve set another new goal for myself – weekly posts, either writing something or sharing a recording. I’ll lean towards recordings over writing, because that’ll be more challenging (and possibly) more interesting.
Talk to you soon and thanks for checking out the renovations!
Early this year I was tapped by Brooklyn-based Production Farm to sound design and mix five super stylish and slick instructional short films for one of Nike’s latest soccer product lines, HypervenomX. The link above is the trailer for the launch of the five videos, and below is my favorite of the five.
Crossing my fingers I get to spend more time mixing spots like this in 2017. Thanks for viewing, and feel free to share.
The last feature film I worked as a production sound mixer was back in summer of 2015 for “No Pay, Nudity” (now available on Amazon and iTunes.) It stars Gabriel Byrne, who plays a middle-aged theater actor in New York City, trapped in the struggle all artists undergo at some point in their lives: attaining success as an artist truthfully, while managing to pay the bills in the process. Many creative people manage to do one of the two throughout their lives, but a talented few pull off both.
Here’s the trailer:
And here’s the inspiration for this post:
In the link above, Gabriel Byrne is joined by director Lee Wilkof and co-star Donna Murphy on wnyc.org’s Leonard Lopate show. They all speak to this struggle from genuine experience, and share their personal takes on the murky process of navigating a creative career amidst constant setbacks and failures.
At one point, Mr. Byrne boldly confronts the taboo of giving up. Ironically it’s cinema that does such a good job reinforcing our obsession with winning, particularly when it’s the underdog or when the dream is so big. And it’s not just cinema, we hear it in politics too. Mr. Wilkof references Churchill’s famous line, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” And of course there’s his famously blunt and almost hyperbolic, “Never, never, never give up.” It’s so significant it requires three Never’s.
Mr. Byrne adds a little grey (if not pessimism) to this black-and-white, win-or-lose way of measuring one’s standing in the world. He says what many people are afraid to even think, which is that sometimes you really need to reconsider your dream and possibly give up on it. Though he does more or less try to de-throne the sacred “Never, never, never give up” in the noble interest of just being honest, his character (and myself) are not quite as pessimistic.
His character takes a beating in the film, but its his turnaround that motivates the jist of this post: It’s worth simply re-considering dreams from time to time, depending what the world throws at you. Is the dream simply unrealistic to the point of fantasy? Is it even “you”? Is it okay to make a few tweaks and realign your true talents with what the actual real world is giving you?
I hadn’t realized this but I absolutely did this “realignment” before I even had a career and I was a bit embarrassed to admit it for a while. After discovering a passion for multitrack recording that begun on a Zoom 4-track recorder in my dorm room, I dreamt of becoming a record producer/studio engineer. I was convinced it would happen because I had good taste in music, I was developing technical chops, and I was in New York. And it didn’t happen.
What made me comfortable moving forward was the realization that dreams can be flexible. When I later interned at an audio post-production facility, I realized sound-for-picture and composing was actually more fun and more satisfying, more “me”. It re-exposed me to cinema and expanded my intellect. It forced me to bridge the aural world with the visual world and it continually expands my mind with each job I get. It also forced me out of a purely musical and introspective world and into a world populated by other minds, particularly, storytellers. I realized I wanted to help these storytellers with my talents as a sound person.
And the glamor of the “record producer” lots its luster when I realized that “sound designer” was simply way more bad ass to me, more mysterious, elusive, and creative. Like a painter, but with samples of audio. Even recording sound on set took on an aura of its own, the entire craft and sensibilities that came with it.
And by no means did I trade one dream for an easier-to-achieve dream. It’s just as challenging! But it’s more suited to my talents and more aligned with my world. There’s no shame in tempering a romantic vision with a little realism and honest introspection.
This winter I had the great joy of working with talented up-and-coming writer/director Erin Sanger, via Ben Altarescu of Bows & Arrows, on the sound editing and mix for her short film “Mutt”. And I’m thrilled to report it’ll be premiering at SXSW this spring, a first for me. Centered on a young man whose father and sister plead him to check himself into a rehab clinic once and for all, Mutt is a beautifully-written, -directed and -acted family drama, and with the bonus of a special canine character who reinforces our belief that dogs are just the best.