“Life as an aging actor” (When failure is your friend.)

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:

https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/wnyc/#file=/audio/json/736279/&share=1

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.

Film Composition Reel, 2014

It’s been years in the making, but I’ve finally put together a reel of my favorite composition work from the past couple of years. It showcases my work on primarily narrative film and animation. To state the obvious, I’m trying to book more work as a film composer! It’s hard to pick a favorite, so I’ll just talk about pretty much all of them. (No pressure to keep reading…)

The first track is from an intern project in my early days in post production, back in 2006 at Flavorlab. “The Team” was an animated series for SpikeTV, a sort of Archer pre-cursor. One of our early assignments was to sound design and mix a random episode. While I was at it I recorded this fun, psychedelic number.

The second track is an untitled piece for the international feature, “Once Upon A Time in Bolivia” (2013). Of the several others honors and awards, it won Best International Feature at London International Film Festival this past fall. Director Patrick Cordova hired me to sound design and mix it. In the process we realized this scene desperately needed a track that underscored the desolation, restlessness and ambiguity experienced by the two main characters in this pivotal scene.

The third track is from a short called “The Jacket”. A bit of a political/psych thriller.

The fourth track is titled “A Brunette” and I’m sort of “borrowing” the clip from Submarine (2010) because I love it and it’s precisely the kind of moment the track is written for. I have plans to shoot a music video for it with some friends, but until then, this is how I want people to listen to it.

The fifth track, two short little moments, are actually “vines”, animated by my friend Andy Basore for Illy, the espresso company. I wish I could’ve written an entire 2-3 minute track, but alas, a vine is only a 6-second loop.

And finally, the last track, for “Woo Woo” (2013). The first short film I fully scored from opening to closing credits. I like to think this track really strengthened my composition skills, mainly because it’s a bit unusual and it really nails the black-and-white period piece – it’s short, kind of wry, minimal and it’s as curious and introverted as the opening of the film.

If you’re still reading – I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to share it and pass it on! 2014 will be the year I truly take off as a film composer!

Best,
Brian

Advance Human Ability Campaign

In early 2013, The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) unveiled their plans to raise $550 million for construction of a new research hospital as part of the “Advance Human Ability” Campaign. I had the privilege of working on production (dialogue recording and editing) of the three short films that screened at June’s groundbreaking ceremony. Above is my favorite of the three, titled, “Will”.

I was joined by Rob Bywater of Generation — a northeast-spanning branding agency that focuses on non-profits — and Brooklyn-based filmmaker/cinematographer Joe Tomcho. My friend Chris Ungco held down B-camera, media management and the millions of other details needed to keep this very dense production running smoothly. He also edited the films with Joe.

We conducted a series of interviews with patients, rehabilitation therapists, doctors, and the CEO herself. As the interviews rolled on, it felt like we were shooting a full-scale documentary piece and not merely a video for potential donors.

Not surprisingly, the stories told by some of the patients and doctors had the intensity and honesty to thrust you out of your bubble of everyday complaints and trifles, and force you back to ground level. I took it as an opportunity to absorb a new perspective, the way traveling does; only rather than expanding my worldview, I was brought back to the very basics I take for granted.

I won’t lie, there was one particular moment when the realness became almost too much to handle. At the end of the second day, Joe and Chris were grabbing B-roll of physical therapy before our final interview. I followed Chris into an active gym room in the percolating moments prior to a group work-out. There were a dozen or so small bicycles adapted for upper body aerobics. Most of the patients no longer had use of their legs. Above us the speakers blasted “Walk of Life” by Dire Straits. And I mean, blasted. That inimitable, cheery organ melody was a soundtrack to the positivity buzzing all around me, its sound bouncing off the glass and wood of that grand room. A lot of the patients were athletic-looking, active men, engaging each other, many smiling and upbeat, while others stretched and got loose and amped up. The whole thing was ten times more powerful than hearing all the stories combined of every patient here recounting how they became paralyzed. Because this was pure evidence of the resilience of the human spirit that everyone was talking so much about; and that I couldn’t say I had really ever witnessed so profoundly. And that completely knocked me out.

Thanks for reading and watching.

Roadkill Ghost Choir

Just about every outdoor shoot I’ve been on in the past two months has been a cross-your-fingers kind of day. What I’m referring to is the, ah, uncooperative weather we’ve been getting. And when I was hired by Ben Altarescu of Bows And Arrows – http://bowsxarrows.com – to record an outdoor performance of Roadkill Ghost Choir, that day was no exception.

The original goal, for both sound and picture, was to capture a performance in a way that felt spontaneous and natural; more akin to an NPR Tiny Desk concert than to a traditional and formal LP-bound performance. For that kind of performance, they asked for no more than a boom mic for everyone and a lav mic for the lead singer. Normally a seasoned sound recordist would go much farther than than, but the simple and raw sound that the boom-and-lav approach yields is precisely the point.

However – when we had to move indoors, the word ‘simple’ went out the window.

I immediately had a pow-wow with Ben and told him that an indoor recording of a 6-person band in a Fort Greene apartment would necessitate lots of mics. (Specifically we ended up with 6 channels total, the maximum for my Tascam recorder.)

He was completely on board and had the crew van re-route to my apartment where I grabbed just about every mic I owned, along with cables and mic stands. (I also grabbed my self-painted psychadelic Yamaha acoustic, which has just been immortalized by this video.)

The rest of the day was basically me shifting gears to recording engineer mode. I was covering music, not dialogue, so I had to bring back some of the very early skills I picked up years ago at internships. For example, figuring out how to maximize only six tracks when you have to record vocals, two guitars, a low tom drum, bass guitar, organ, trumpet and banjo. (Oh, and the other songs we recorded, but didn’t make the final cut, had a pedal steel.)

Enjoy the video – I personally think it turned out great considering the curveball!

SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY


Hello Again!

Yes, It’s been a while, but I wanted to wait for something big. Winter kept me busy with tons of great stuff — an Adult Swim pilot, a documentary with the NYC Ballet, a verite-style feature with a Soprano’s cast-member (can’t say who yet), and many other shorts, pilots, commercial spots — BUT all are still in the arduous process of post-production.

SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY, directed by Drew Tobia, is the first feature I ever worked on as the sole location sound mixer, back in January 2012, and it’s the second feature film I mixed and sound-designed in post. I completed the final mix in the wee hours of March 5 and it premiered at the Chicago Underground Film Festival on March 10 to a very pleased audience who went on to vote and bestow it with the festival’s “Audience Award”.

I can proudly say I was the one-man-sound department from start to finish on this one! I found the post process fairly smooth, mixing the same dialogue I recorded one year prior. I certainly had all the inside knowledge as to why something didn’t work immediately, and where to find what I needed in order to patch things up. Though traditionally not a common workflow at all, a one-man sound department in the era of low budget independent filmmaking kind of makes sense.

I didn’t know ahead of time I would be the post mixer, but I always roll sound as if I’m going to be. Therefore, I was aggressive when it came to collecting sound effects on set. Ambiences and room tones were a gathered frequently, as well as highly distinctive sound effects that would work best in the final mix when recorded directly from the source on set.

A drama-slash-dark-comedy, there are tons of scenes that rely heavily on creative, almost eccentric sound design. And because the film frequently intersects serious and often over-the-top drama with raw (and frequently-nonverbal) humor, the sound design needed to act like a guide walking you through the constantly-dramatic lives of these three very-flawed principal characters.

Drew was insistent that certain scenes push the limits of abrasiveness, jarring-ness, bassiness, sometimes absurdity when humor was the focus. There are multiple “fight” scenes, for example. Some purely dialogue-driven, others very physical. For heavy drama we went with bass and heightened ambiences, to create a more point-of-view effect. Other times I simply added incidental sounds like sneaker squeaks and borderline cartoonish swipes. There’s even a scene where Mona, the main character, barfs endlessly on the sidewalk, after a meltdown at a party. But we don’t see barf everywhere; we mostly hear it splashing comically on the pavement. Sound design is the guide.

And I leave you on that note! Check out the trailer. (But please be aware it’s not intended for younger ears, not like any children follow my sound career…)

Best,

Brian

Jeep

I recently acquired the final cut for one of three Jeep spots from this past summer. This one is my favorite of the three, featuring the inimitiable DJ Whoo Kid. Other spots included moments with Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks, and fashion designer Maxwell Osbourne.

The Boss on this shoot was the same for the unforgettable Harley Davidson shoot from Atlanta-to-Daytona last spring. Coming up weekend will be my third excursion with Team Satten as I head back to Atlanta for, well, I can’t spoil it. Stay tuned!

“FOPS”

A few weeks ago I had the hilarious privilege of working with the brilliant crew from PERIODS. (Check out www.periodsfilms.com)

Created by Victor Quinaz and Anna Martemucci two years ago, PERIODS is historical comedy/period shorts. Sometimes they parody a classic work of literature or film (Deerhunter, Ethan Frome); and other times, they take one part history and one part reality TV and end up with something like “FOPS”. (You’ll get the pun within the first 10 seconds.)

The making of “FOPS” also symbolized some progress for the PERIODS family. When I first arrived and introduced myself to everyone, I was given delightful mock-praise for being their first genuine sound-guy. Also, “FOPS” features actor Wille Garson, who you may have seen on Sex in the City as Carrie’s friend Stanford, and most recently on White Collar.

Working on this was a blast mostly because everyone from the PERIODS family is just down-to-earth funny and positive. Shooting a short under 6 hours, fully improvised, run-and-gun style can be quite stressful on a crew, but by virtue of their awesome-ness, everyone made sure the process was precisely what it should be — fun as hell. They also appreciate good sound, which makes me thrilled to do my job.

(Again, check out www.periodsfilms.com)

My first national television spots!

Back in March I teamed up with Cortell Communications and whiz-kid cinematographer Adam Milt for two national television commercials for Smart Living Company. I was lucky to be working with a few other friends as well, including Etan Gidansky, who was the Assistant Director. (Etan was the first person to hire me as a sound recordist back in January 2011, and I also got to score that same film.)

Above is the first spot, shot on location in Stamford, CT. The one below was shot the next day at the legendary Palace Digital Studios in Norwalk, CT:





Can’t wait for the next two!

“Once Upon A Time In Bolivia”



I’m only a few short days away from finishing the sound design and final mix of Patrick Cordova’s micro-budget feature “Erase Una Vez En Bolivia”, (see translation above). It will be my first feature-length film as a sound designer/post mixer, and I’m proud to have been a key part of it.

Shot entirely in Bolivia two years ago, and independently financed in the UK, the film recounts a strange and life-threatening road-trip of two half-brothers during the infamous 2003 protests. In an attempt to escape the country for a safer, more prosperous life in neighboring Chile, the older brother hijacks his younger brother’s borrowed car and they set off into the unknown.

They fail miserably, narrowly escape death numerous times, and end up profoundly changed. (Of course, there is a beautiful twist at the end.) It’s not merely an action film, however. In between the suspense is the eternal fight of the two extremes — power and virtue — played out in the tense quasi-brotherhood of Rocky and Nene. The older brother, Rocky, is ruthlessly selfish, dark and cynical, and values nothing but wealth and security. The younger brother, Nene, is sheepish, innocent, and devout. He tirelessly believes in his heritage, his people, and his God, and cannot fathom leaving Bolivia, for leaving would be the ultimate act of selfishness and betrayal.

Oh, and it’s entirely in Spanish. I had to get my chops back, and of course, refer to the translated screenplay (and to Patrick himself, who was exceptionally patient in guiding me through the subtleties of the story.)

Here is the (unmixed) teaser:



It was an excellent learning experience as a sound designer. As my first feature film, it was, without a doubt, a challenge simply because of it’s length. The most notable quirk of working in Post Sound is having to be tirelessly meticulous while constantly heeding the big-picture. That sounds completely self-contradictory, but that’s really how mixing works, even on a 5-minute short.

I had a great time finding the right ambiences for the desert-like, mountainous exteriors, and adding foley to sweeten the hits to the fight scenes. My extensive sound library helped too. Of course, 90% of my time was cleaning up dialogue, but even that has its own satisfaction, for therein lies the story.

Thanks for checking in!

“What I Did For Spring Break”

Bike Week in Daytona, Fl. is probably the most legendary annual motorcycle experience in the world. I’m not a biker, so I can’t say for sure, but I am a sound-guy, and I can definitely say it’s one of the LOUDEST places in the world.

I was hired by Harley Davidson via Travis Satten of Team Satten, and joined by talented cameramen Matt Mitchell and Real Sprague. Our mission was to follow and document the life and times (and the riding) of a band of Black motorcyclist friends, each from various Georgia-based Black biker clubs, from Atlanta to Daytona and back.

The stereotype that Harleys are for white guys is slowly eroding, and Harley Davidson is helping to continue that trend by reaching out to all the Black riders out there — as well as educating everyone in the process — through their new web series “Iron Elite”. We learn that the common Harley rider obsession with meticulous customization — almost to the extreme, from the chrome, to the pipes, to the high-fidelity on-board sound systems — is shaped quite a bit from these early Black riders who went to town on their bikes in past (and much different) times. The tradition continues today as you can see in episode 2.

Highlights of the trip included, but not limited to…

1.) Roaming around the parking lot of the largest Harley dealer in the world asking people “Hey, can I record your pipes?” and ending up with about 7 hours of motorcycle sound effects.
2.) Recording interviews in tough-for-sound, but gorgeous locations.
3.) Jumping in the Atlantic at 3am on the last day.

Stay tuned for Episode 3!