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Thursday 30 July 2009

Writing? Huh? Wha? Why?

She said, "But why? Why do you want to be a writer?"

Because I get to have a voice. Because I get to have something to say and I get to say it. I get to create the world I want through putting words on a page. And maybe, just maybe, some people might like those words, they might relate to those words. And maybe those words will change them a little. Maybe a story about dreaming will make a little girl dream a little bit more, maybe a script about war will make someone care a little bit more, maybe a film about imagination will make a bunch of people feel inspired at least just a little bit more.

I write because if I just take things in and experience them, they'll get polluted with my judgements and belief systems, whereas if I turn what I think and feel into some kind of words, then it takes on meaning. And if I work hard enough on myself I can rid myself of those judgements and tear through the belief systems and then what will come out on the page is pure truth. Truth like Jimmy Stewart's voice, truth like Tom Hanks' eyes, truth like Marylin Monroe's body, truth like Billy Wilder's dialogue.

I could not write. I could try that. I could keep clicking on people's Facebook profiles and I could argue with someone in the street and work in a job I hate, but I'd rather do this. I'd rather live by inspiration-- I'd rather something just hit me out of nowhere and feel it say "Hey! I am an idea! Take a look at me! See if we get along! Dance with me baby! Come on, throw me down on that page. Give me some letters, give me some words."

When people say "Why do you write?"

I'm gonna say "Why do you have that ugly look on your face? You'd be a lot more beautiful if you said "You write, that's amazing!"

I write because a tree is just a tree. But once you get an idea of a tree, you can turn the tree into anything. You can imagine a beautiful woman sitting on that tree, you can write about the beautiful sunset behind the tree, you can do whatever you want with that damn tree. You see that tree outside your window right now? It's been sitting there for years and apart from when you jumped off it as a kid it hasn't had much reason to be there. But if you have that picture in your head when you write a script, that tree could take on a life of it's own. It could be the kind of tree that Forrest and Jenny would sit on, or a tree that the boys from Stand By Me would like . Before you know it the tree outside your window that inspired you is part of something sitting on some desk in Hollywood that's making some balding Executive think, "this is a movie!".

What people forget when they pull an ugly and say "A writer? What? Why?" is that anything any of us have ever been excited by or inspired by has usually come from a writer. A book you loved, a song you sung, a movie that scared you, a love letter that made you cry, a poem that changed you. This is all at the hands of some writer.

I don't care if you're a successful screenwriter, a hilarious twitter-updater, a novellist or a speech writer. Whatever you are, be proud that you do what you do. Take those letters, take those words; do something with them. Write a movie, write a love letter, write a text message, write yourself a note.

It's the write thing to do.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

The Writing Of The Feature.

I am not currently blogging very much as I am writing a feature film. And when I'm not doing that, I'm going to the cinema a lot (I'll be blogging about that soon).

I am writing the film right here.

And when I get a bit confused I walk around the garden bare-footed until I get a feel for the next few scenes.

Also, I added a new little thing to the left hand side of the blog.. which shows the last film I watched. I'll update it every time I watch a movie.. and the pictures are clickable, they take you to the IMDB page of the film.

Friday 24 July 2009

The Cinema Week.

Yes I love movies and yes I love going to the cinema-- but do I do it enough? No. So over the next week; I'm doing it as much as I can. Yes, I have work to do and things to get done-- but any second not spent doing those will be spent watching films in various places around London. It starts on Monday. So I'll see you all in the front row.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Inglourious Basterds Review - from the UK Premiere.

Quentin Tarantino came bouncing onto the Leicester Square Odeon stage with his usual, crazy amount of energy. His first comments were instructing the audience to turn off their cellphones, which he waited for everyone to do. And then after introducing Christoph Waltz and Diane Kruger (Brad Pitt was absent) he asked, "Are we ready to see some some basterds?' repeatedly until he got the required enthusiasm from the audience. It didn't take long. As he slammed the microphone to the floor - it was time for us, finally, to see Inglourious Basterds.

I offer my opinions honestly, I don't claim to be a film critic or have any kind of authority on film reviewing. I just know that I really didn't love the film. 'Basterds', as you might expect-- gets the full Tarantino treatment of retro titling, obscure music (featuring many post-war artists and styles) and over the top violence. Now don't get me wrong, the violence was fun to watch; but it's starting to feel a bit too Tarantino; like he's impersonating himself.

The things that made 'Kill Bill' inspired made 'Inglourious Basterds' seem old, and self-indulgent. As a Director, Tarantino has always liked the long, drawn out scenes. But I remember watching that painfully lengthy restaurant scene in 'Death Proof' and wishing it was about ten minutes shorter. Well, that happened in nearly every scene in this film-- everything was screaming out to be shorter. For vast sums of the film I felt one thing; pure boredom. The scenes were unnecessarily long without good reason; they weren't integral to the story and they didn't build tension. I hated feeling this way, who wants to be bored during a Tarantino film?

I think, for me, the main thing that was missing was any kind of characters we could care for, or believe in. Whilst Brad Pitt's smug look throughout was kind of amusing, it was hard to take seriously. The only character who really had depth to her was Shosanna (Melanie Laurent); who's tale of revenge was something the audience could really get behind.

Anyways, I don't mean to slam the film -- there were some great moments; I laughed quite a lot throughout. It's the little things that stick out in my mind, like Hitler turning to a soldier, looking serious, and just saying, "gum?," or Pitt sticking his finger in an open leg-wound as a way of torture, along with some typically brilliant violence (eeek, not a good phrase!) such as Eli Roth battering a soldier to death with a baseball bat, which will no doubt go down as one of the all-time great Tarantino scenes.

The film, as many of you will already know, does rewrite history in some small ways. This will cause a lot of division between viewers, I would imagine. Personally, as ridiculous as it is, I kind of enjoyed it. I kind of got to see what I would have loved to have happened in real life. But to say any more would give away the ending.

If you're a war veteran looking for a respectful account of your heroic work in the war, this isn't the film for you. If you have any interest in history or World War 2, again, this film isn't really for you. But if you like Tarantino and you like seeing shit blow up and all the cool stuff that comes with his movies, then you'll probably enjoy this.

I have always been a big Tarantino fan, and whilst this does show his usual skills and bountiful ideas; it seems a bit forced at times, and about 40 minutes too long. There were moments of boredom, interspersed with moments of being truly gripped, and other moments of laughing out loud. Worth a watch, but 'Pulp Fiction' this is not.

Quentin Tarantino at the London Premiere of Inglourious Basterds.

So this was Quentin's introduction tonight for the Premiere of 'Inglourious Basterds' - as recorded sneakily by my friend.

My review shall follow tomorrow morning!

My Self-Imposed Detachment From The Film Industry.

"The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself."
-Alan Alda, Actor.

I started out as a dreamer. My heart and mind were full of big ideas, dreams of inspiring people and saying something. And making people laugh. My early short films were full of ideas, full of energy. And they were sometimes awful, sometimes funny, always fun. They were just a front row kid running around with a camera, learning how to get his dreams on the screen.

And then people in the industry said "but the lighting is really bad" and "some of the acting is poor. Amateur." And I was like "okay okay, but did you smile?" and they'd say "the scene looks flat." And I'd say "okay, cool-- but did you like the way the characters met at the end?" and they'd say "Professional films would use a dolly, they wouldn't zoom like that."

So I met this Producer, and I was like, "here's my crazy, funny idea" and he was like "I love your crazy funny idea- let's make a feature!" So I started writing the feature, and then he said "What are you doing? That's not the story, let's make the character less sympathetic and let's make him insane," and I was all "If he's insane then he couldn't logically do the things he does in the later scenes," and the producer said "yeah but I want him to be a bit insane." It became clear that if I didn't make the changes he'd never produce my film and I'd still be sat at home not having "made it" in the industry. I made the changes and he still didn't make the movie.

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
-Albert Einstein

But still I'd be bursting with energy and creativity. And I'd start to look at the bulletins on, but people would be arguing over whether actors are getting paid enough, and they'd be insulting some young writer for wanting to use a different font in his screenplay. And I would jump on and apply for a writing job with a big company.

They'd say "We like your writing, we want to hire you,"
So I'd say "That's great!"
"But we can't pay you,"
"That's not great,"
"No it's not but we are 'big company' so you'll look good"
"Yeah but my bank account won't,"
"But we don't have the budget to pay you."
"Are you getting paid?"
"Excuse me?"

Everyone in the industry would be bound by these rules and these principles; namely how you have to do this, you will only be paid that, you can't have an idea with an elephant in it because elephants don't interest audiences.

I'd had enough. It got me down down down. I know we all know that "film is an industry, it's business." And I'd even begun to learn that and be a part of it. I produced a feature film last year; and it was fun for a while. But I realised that it's not me. It's really not me. I worked on a feature film earlier in the year, and as I plugged things in and got shouted at by the 1st AD, I decided that, no-- I really don't enjoy this. I don't enjoy the Assistant Director yelling at me just because he's the AD and thinks he's entitled. I don't believe that, just because I'm working on a film set that everyone should be assholes to each other. I'm not happy with peoples creativity being reduced to "Sorry, you can't have fruit in that scene. Fruit isn't funny," -- I'd had enough.

After a brief spell of industry-induced misery, I found myself again. I found the kid in me. It was like the beginning of Jerry Maguire. Breakdown? Breakthrough.... I set up this very blog; and rediscovered what I love about the movies;


When I put together a cast and crew for my new film-- I did it outside the confines of the industry. I only worked with people who I had a LOT of time for. I found people I was truly in-line with, creatively and personally. It was a set full of fun and enjoyment, and it felt like nothing to do with the film industry. Because what you begin to realise is that when you make a film, like when you do anything in life, you can choose to have anyone you want around you. At no point on the set did anyone moan about losing a cable, or bitch about a crew member. We just did the work, drank lots of tea, and shot a great film. Films can be wonderful. Life can be wonderful.

"The key to this business is personal relationships."
-Dicky Fox, in 'Jerry Maguire'

My point is-- I am now more of a Writer and Director than ever. And it has nothing to do with the film industry. I want to write what's in my heart-- of course, I'd love for millions to see what I do, and that's the plan--- but I want to do it without being talked down to, without being told no. Without being told I know best because I'm a proven producer. Because that means nothing to me.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

I'm going to be a part of it.

"Used to take the subway up to Houston and 3rd
I would wait for you and I'd try to hide"
-Ryan Adams, 'New York, New York'

Like the impulsive fool I am, or at least sometimes am -- except for the times when I'm not impulsive at all and the sum total of my randoness for the week is signing out of Facebook; I booked a flight to NY.

I'd love to hear your ideas on where to go, what to do. Also, if you know of where I might be able to stay/sleep cheaply, please let me know. I'll be there from Mid-October till Mid-November. Last year I rented a little tiny space in Brooklyn; which was quite hilarious, although this time I'd prefer a place that has access to a shower!

New York, I am coming back to see you. Can't wait.

PS: Sorry for my pretentious, blurry shot of NY. I had just found a photo editing program when I took it and went wild.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Sleepless In Seattle/You've Got Mail

JOE: Hey…he could be the zipper man.
KATHLEEN: Who's that?
JOE: The zipper man! The, uh…
KATHLEEN: Who is that?
JOE: …he’s the guy out, he… repairs zippers on Amsterdam Avenue.
KATHLEEN: Will you cut it out!
JOE: You'd never have to buy new luggage.

I was out with a friend the other night, and she asked me "which do you prefer, Sleepless In Seattle or You've Got Mail?"

Of course, my answer should have been "Um? whaaa? I prefer DIE HARD! As if I watch chick-flicks!" But that's the problem, I've always had a lot of time for a good rom-com. Don't get me wrong, I don't sit around watching 'The Women' and 'Mamma Mia' - what I mean is, if there's a film about New Yorkers falling in and out of love with each other with some amusing dialogue thrown in, I'm more than happy to watch it. This is my only defence for owning 'One Fine Day.'

But the main question is, of course - Sleepless In Seattle or You've Got Mail? I decided the only way to know for sure would be to watch them back-to-back and then write my opinions. So I did that, and now let me say that for my money, 'You've Got Mail' is by far the superior film; both film-wise, romantically-wise and other-wise, Ephron-wise.

Watching 'Sleepless In Seattle' again I couldn't help but hate Meg Ryan. There really isn't a lot to her character; just that she is pretty desperate to meet Sam Baldwin. As she desperately runs around trying to hunt down the guy she heard on the radio, it just seems desperate and NOT romantic.

Now, Sam Baldwin's (Hanks) story I can really get behind. Tom Hanks is absolutely amazing in this film-- playing a character who truly loves his deceased wife; a man who's trying to keep it together for his son, himself and his sanity. There are many moments where his performance reaches a level of real emotion, real truth. You can believe what he's going through and you feel a lot of empathy for him, you can palpably feel his suffering. But Annie Reed (Ryan) is just an annoying woman taking up screen-time, running around trying to recreate 'An Affair To Remember.'

For me, 'You've Got Mail' takes the elements of 'Sleepless In Seattle' and makes a much stronger film. For one, it's all set in New York; and it's one of the most New Yorkian rom-coms you could hope for. It becomes a character, much like in Woody Allen's 'Manhattan' or in 'Serendipity' -- which I'll talk about a bit later.

'You've Got Mail' manages to be light, funny and entertaining-- yet also, it has real moments of conflict and emotion. The battle in the business lives of Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly really make for great rom-com storytelling; and Kathleen feeling the loss of her Mother and then going through it again as her shop closes gives Meg the kind of interesting backstory that was majorly missing in 'Sleepless...'

I think many people prefer 'Sleepless...' because it's more about fate. It's more about going to all the lengths needed to find your soulmate. I get that, I appreciate that-- but I think it makes for a boring film. It works in 'Serendipity,' I think, because John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale's characters know each other, and have got that link, y'know, the buzz. In 'Sleepless...' they don't have that. Even at the end when Hanks jumps on a plane to New York.. he doesn't do that to meet the girl, he does it to hunt down his son.

In 'You've Got Mail' though, two people do fall in love with each other. Through their words in their emails, and through the relationship that grows in the latter part of the movie over coffees, walks, and banter. I guess I just prefer that, I prefer that it's about the two characters rather than this airy feeling of fate. And as mentioned before; I think that is handled better in 'Serendipity' -- where their fate is driven by their need to find and be with each other. In 'Sleepless' it's just a desperate loon looking for a guy who's more interested in getting over his wife and looking after his son.

You've Got Mail will go down in film history as a completely average film; but it's one of my favourites. I think Nora Ephron completely nails what a rom-com should be; with two actors in their prime with some playful scenes and great dialogue to help them on their way. Ephron creates a version of New York full of meaning, romance and hope. I also think it's one of Tom Hanks' best performances to date. His natural subtlety and ease is masterful; with echoes of Jimmy Stewart (who was, of course, in 'The Shop Around The Corner,' which YGM was based on) -- he's at his most enjoyable. And unfortunately, we haven't really seen Hanks do fun since -- unless you count the dire 'The Terminal.'

Meg Ryan is far more enjoyable in 'You've Got Mail' -- in fact, she seems to get better as the years go by. I think her performances in 'Hanging Up' and 'In The Land Of The Women' are heartbreakingly truthful-- and I'd recommend you all to check them out (not if you're looking for a rom-com)

"and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home... only to no home I'd ever known... I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like... magic."
-Sam Baldwin, Sleepless In Seattle.

In summary; they're both classics in their own way. On a personal level; I'll go for 'You've Got Mail' every time. I've heard criticism of both films that they're 'not very realistic' -- my feeling of that is that, actually, people are too realistic. We create the world we want. If you want to be more romantic, be so-- the world will deliver.

Thursday 16 July 2009

An Important Question.

What's better.. To get the girl, or to write a great screenplay about the pain of her rejection?

Sunday 12 July 2009

Film Blogs Round-Up.

Michelle Goode has reached some incredible level of screenwriting drive, purpose and intent - as witnessed by her blog recently; with incredible posts like this which have more information than a screenwriting degree.

My favourite blog right now isn't a film blog, but it is possibly the most creative thing I've ever seen. It's a blog by a girl called Katie who is just one big walking idea box. Read her blog, your life will be better. I promise:
Color Me Katie.

I stumbled upon a great film blog recently. It's the non-pretentious ramblings of Vanessa, at
The World According To Ness someone who just clearly loves films and loves talking about them - her blog is a great dose of fresh air.

I guiltily realised recently that I hadn't visited
Silents & Talkies for a fair while. So I checked in today and Kate is still going strong, with plenty of artwork, competitions, and ramblings about the Marx Brothers.

If you're in the mood for a challenge,
Passing Thoughts has created a reel quiz, which I've done best to avoid for fear of not knowing anything -- try it if you dare.

So, for the

I really want to share three blogs for that.

CLASSIC MOVIES DIGEST - - Because Rupert is consistently showing his passion for older movies. It's amazing.

Michelle Goode's blog, because again.. she's showing unstoppable passion and effort in her attempts to become a great screenwriter.

And COLOR ME KATIE; - because it's guaranteed to make you smile.


As for me - this month has been mainly interviewing for me. I interviewed sound mixer Noah Timan (Awake, Capote) -- he gave a fascinating and in depth look at what it's really like to be working in the industry, I learned a lot:

Thanks all. Keep writing, keep watching, keep dreaming.

You can join the Film Blogs community HERE

If in doubt, ask Aaron Sorkin.

I threw a question to possibly the world's greatest screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The American President, Creator and Writer of The West Wing and Studio 60)

Kid: There's this voice in my head; and he says "Hey man, you suck! This script wouldn't interest a small woodpigeon, let alone large audiences!" I have no idea who this voice is. I feel it may be my inner critic but he promised to cut down on the bad reviews.

Do you have any advice for conquering this voice? I find there's a thin line between "you suck!" and "well, this needs reworking" - how do you tell which voice is the self-loathing-critic and which one knows what he's talking about? To be honest, I'd like this voice gone altogether so I could write what's in my heart, even if it was a 200 page script about waste disposal.

Aaron Sorkin: I'm afraid you're going to have to get used to that, Front Row. Every time I finish something I think I'm never going to be able to write anything else. And every time I start something I think that this is the one where I'm going to get found out as a fraud. Every time I read a bad review it bothers me not because I think the critic is wrong but because secretly I think they're right. "How did the lady from the Bergen County Shopper's Guide get it right but not the guy from the New York Times."

There's a great line from the movie Arthur. Dudley Moore says "Not every drunk is a poet. Some of us drink because we're not poets." You asked for advice so here it is: Don't be an alcoholic. And try to remember that nothing you write, no matter how good, is going to make everyone in the world like you. Good luck and let me know how it's going.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince Premiere.

I arrived in Leicester Square with the intention of meeting a friend for a drink, but was distracted by the gathering crowds who had descended on the square to, I assume, watch a bunch of reasonably famous people walk into a cinema.

I was intrigued by the phenomenon in a way that I haven't been before. Exactly what is it that makes thousands of people think "I know, today I am going to stand in Leicester Square in the pouring rain, so that I can watch Daniel Radcliffe get ushered in on the red carpet under an umbrella."

Whatever the reason, only these people would know.

I wonder if the girl on the right with the homemade cardboard banner saying "I came all the way 4rm Miami 2 C Dan" made the banner in Miami before travelling, or after arriving in London. I also wonder how smudged the words got after the torrential rain, which I witnessed from the comfort of Yates bar, before I strolled over to the Prince Charles Cinema to watch 'Double Indemnity.'

People get their kicks in strange ways. Suffice to say these girls and slightly-too-old balding men managed to still scream wildly, despite the heavy rain. Or maybe they were screaming because of the rain. I don't know.

Saturday 4 July 2009

'Noah Timan' Sound Mixer Interview.

Noah Timan is a New York based Sound Mixer who's credits include 'Awake', 'Capote' and the upcoming Wes Anderson film 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'. What separates Noah from many others is his incredible passion for what he does and for the process of filmmaking. The interview is not a light read, it's an in depth look at the life of a working sound mixer. If your interest in filmmaking is anything like mine you're going to find this fascinating and insightful.

You went to NYU - how was that experience for you?

I went to NYU for close to four years, but it got a little complicated because I started working on films professionally while I was there. NYU was a pleasant experience. It is not really a trade school per se where you go to specifically learn one particular craft -- it's more about getting students to understand the medium as a whole. It was a great opportunity to meet people. I still regularly work with classmates and people I knew then, and am thankful to see them out on sets when I have the luxury.

At the time I was there, a lot of the professors I studied under were very educated about cinema but didn't really have a lot of direct on-set career film experience. That became somewhat frustrating. I did get to study with some wonderful sound professors -- Barbara Malmet, who had a career in radio and was able to teach me many sound and recording fundamentals, and then Chat Gunter, who had a longer career as a film production mixer and was able to really teach the nuances of the craft from experience. I ended up studying with Chat for about two years -- both at production mixing and sound design -- and even working as his assistant on a couple odd gigs. That was the most obvious and beneficial link between my NYU experience and what I have ended up doing with my life so far.

The other really essential thing I did at NYU was to make my own short film. I never finished it, but it was a key educational experience. I was wearing a lot of different hats during that process, and that taught me a lot of fundamental filmmaking lessons. These helped contribute to an overall understanding and appreciation of the issues that producers, production managers, and other departments need to address that may affect the course of a shoot day or schedule. I find these things can be quite baffling and frustrating on the surface to those of us who work on the crew, so being able to have some understanding and empathy about why certain decisions are made makes the whole process easier.

After two years - you left to go and work in films. Was that a tough decision?

I actually didn't leave -- I just started working while I was in school. During my second year in college, I spent a semester studying production mixing with Chat and got bitten by the sound bug, and went on to mix my first feature (a no-budget film that was eventually was released with Oliver Stone's support, albeit composed almost entirely of subsequent reshoots I wasn't involved in, called "Gravesend"). After that, I took a long leave of absence to go to work at my father's orphanage there and travel.

After I returned to New York, a friend called me to replace him as sound mixer on a feature called "Vertical City". That led to my first paying job (barely -- I think $100 per week was the stipend), a film called "One Take" that we shot later that summer/fall in upstate New York. One thing continued to lead to the next, and after a while people were calling me on a somewhat steady basis.

Also, friends in film school knew I was working as a sound mixer, and would often corral me into mixing or booming their student films. I did as many of those shoots as I could. In film school most everybody has ambitions to be a director, so those of us who were pursuing other crafts were in high demand. It was a great opportunity to practice and learn.

At this time, I also had enrolled in a full semester of classes, was trying to produce my own student film, was working part time at a public relations office for magazines for income, and was trying to squeeze in as many paying and non-paying shoots as I could amongst that, so I had quite a full plate on my hands. There came a point where I was failing some of my regular liberal arts-degree requirement classes because I was so busy with everything else going on. At this point Chat kind of came to the rescue and allowed me to secure college credit doing "independent study" with him, which allowed me to go out and work and shoot -- there was regular sound work coming in at that point -- and we would meet once a week and look at dailies from the various projects I was working on. We would discuss and he would critique, and his insight was always immensely helpful. I think, despite his title and call to duty as a college professor and adviser, he understood that I was going to learn more out in the field than in the classroom, if it had to be one or the other.

Could you explain a bit about how you get involved with a new project -- where does the work start for you?

When the phone rings from an interested client, I first discuss the size, scope, budget, and ambition of the project. I hope to feel confident that the resources available for the project as a whole are sufficient to achieve its ambition somewhat gracefully. I also need to ensure that I am going to be able to be able to get the kind of quality recordings expected of me with the alloted budget and crew size available, without driving myself and my team completely crazy in the process.

If it seems vaguely feasible, I ask that they send a script over, which I review. On the first pass, I read the script as I might a novel. I temporarily put aside technical or practical considerations, and just read it as an audience member to see if I can personally connect with the material. If I like it, and the production wants to meet with me, I do another pass on the script, this time focusing on the technical requirements and aesthetic sound choices, and red-flag all of the potentially problematic issues. I outline these so that we can discuss them at the meeting.

If I am hired, the next step is finding crew members. I've been blessed with having very loyal boom operators and utility technicians for much of my career who join me for each new adventure. However, there are periods where things are slow or I chase after other pursuits, and in such times my crew members sometimes need to take other jobs with other mixers. If my regular folks aren't available, it can be a battle to find the right people in their stead, because the pool of really high quality boom operators and utility sound technicians in New York (where I work primarily) can be shallow, and the handful of really exceptional people are always in high demand.

Crewing up is one of the most critical aspects to preparation for the shoot. Sound, just as filmmaking as a whole, is a team sport. If the operator can't put the microphone in the right place on a consistent basis, or the utility person can't quickly and effectively put out the fires that always break out on set, the sound is probably going to be bad regardless of what I do behind the cart. In addition, my crew is going to represent our department as a whole. I need to
make sure that they can get along with me, with each other, and with the rest of the shooting crew. I need to ensure that they can communicate effectively to the director, camera operators, and everyone else whom I am sometimes going to be too physically far away from on set to address myself. We need to effectively communicate as a team as we break down our strategy and plan for each shot, and be able to quickly and effectively adjust when the shot inevitably changes, so that the mix can be executed correctly and I can come away with the best track possible.

The next step revolves around technical preparation. This means workflow establishment and discussions with everyone else in the chain -- telecine, editorial, the studio, and production as a whole. This may mean complicated modifications to my sound cart and equipment layout, the negotiation of hiring additional crew members on certain days, and may also mean special
purchases or construction of equipment that will help us solve certain problems or achieve certain feats specific to the needs of the film.

Then comes location scouting. This is also very critical because often location managers and directors will often choose a location that, while visually wonderful, is a terrible place to record. If I can't solve things myself, I have to get in there and try very, very hard to use negotiation and diplomacy and see if we can find solutions to problems that will make it work. If the issues prove unresolvable, it falls on me to ensure that directors, producers, and any post production staff that may be on board at that point are aware and alerted that the production track has been decided to be sacrificed. I make sure everyone is aware of the effort and expense that will be needed to repair the problems later. The worst possible situation for me is having a director or producer find out about a problem after the fact and feel frustrated because they would have preferred to correct the situation on set, or for me to feel that something would have been corrected but wasn't. That's the fate I have to fight to avoid.

Sometimes the issues are less dramatic, but allowing us to see the location beforehand will allow us to properly plan on approaches and anticipate problems, and perhaps alert other departments in advance of help I may need from them. There are also practical considerations, such as how we are physically going to get the equipment into places, where we can park the noisy generators so they don't interfere with the recordings, whether the airwaves in a location are free for the wireless mics and headsets that we have to use, whether the location managers will be able to control intrinsic noise problems, and so forth.

Finally, there are a series of production meetings, discussions on problem solving with other departments, the ordering and packing of equipment and supplies, and finally, the loading of the equipment onto the trucks. Then, at long last, we're off. It's always a relief to be done with pre-production, which I often find to be one of the most taxing, stressful, and difficult stages of the process.

Do you ever find times when the director chooses something visual, or a performance, over the importance of the sound recording. And how do you deal with that? It must be frustrating, I'd imagine. Can you think of any instances where your work has been compromised against your better judgement?

Sure. The most common example is the one I’ve already mentioned, where a location is chosen that looks acceptable but is impossible to record in. In some instances there isn’t a better option elsewhere — a scene at the base of a large waterfall, for example. Where it gets frustrating is when we shoot scenes in plain bars, restaurants, houses, apartments, or offices that sound terrible and don’t need to. Sometimes these are chosen a matter of convenience to the schedule, to avoid having to move to another location in the middle of the day. Sometimes these are a sacrifice to everybody, not just me. It isn’t that the locations people are being necessarily malicious or completely absent-minded, but it does follow that when everyone from the director on down is forced to compromise, the priority of the production track tends to fall a ways down the priority ladder.

There are many, many different ways to die on set, and as basically every other department on set besides ours is working toward a visual element, they could all be construed as compromises for such purpose. A noisy costume; directors, A.D.s, or stunt coordinators talking over the dialogue; a generator truck parked too close to set; fans or smoke machines that aren’t silenced; noisy non-sync cameras being used in sync applications (or, in this day and age, HD video cameras with five fans on the camera body and two on the battery); actors overlapping their off-camera dialogue onto the on-camera actor’s in a way that will make editing impossible; crew members working and talking while shooting is taking place; so on and so forth. Sometimes a huge part of my (and especially my utility person’s) job becomes less that of technician and creative contributor and more that of set policeman. That’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day our job is to deliver good tracks without a million preventable noises in them.

Some of the most frustrating instances are when the process of the filmmaking itself creates the sound problem. A good example I can recall is from the set of a small indie film called “Luminous Motion” that was shot about twelve years ago. In the original script, the main character (a depressed and mentally unstable 13 year old boy) returns to his childhood home where his life unravelled in tragedy. When he arrives to finally confront his past and his memories, he finds that another family has moved into the house and remodeled it and there is no trace of what happened before. The camera turns on the boy bursting into tears and the film ends. When we got around to shooting it, the director of photography wanted to see a curtain blowing around in the background of the boy’s close-up. This could only be accomplished by a noisy fan that was going to render the performance of the boy crying unusable. There are times where I may elect or agree to sacrifice the track for the greater good. However, here I felt like losing this key performance moment, so central to the film -- only to gain the visual of a curtain blowing (out of focus in a small window in the back corner of the frame) -- was a terrible sacrifice, so this was one of those issues I went to battle for (and won).

There is often a very dismissive attitude on set toward the production track. Other crew members, like you yourself have suggested at one point, have often bought into this idea that a high percentage of the film is going to get looped, no matter what. So they say, “Well, why I am going to make sacrifices of my own work for the sound department when their tracks are not going to end up getting used anyway?” Or they say, less thoughtfully (and based upon zero personal experience in the realm) “this can be fixed in post.” Sometimes, in the latter case, they are right — but they are often completely unaware of how much work is involved by the post team to accomplish that, as opposed to far simpler solutions that often exist on set if there is some small semblum of patience and cooperation. Folks can be oblivious to the limited resources of post production. Time in post spent fixing production track problems will inevitably be time lost making the film sound great in other ways. As with all aspects of filmmaking, there is what’s genuinely possible in a theoretical ideal situation, and then there’s what’s actually going to happen given the limitations and restrictions of the reality. Having other members of the filmmaking team insist that the post-production staff will get to indulge in the former over the latter, while the entire time the latter’s cold realities are driving those same people crazy on that exact same production — is dangerous, lazy, uneducated business, in my personal opinion.

By the time the final mix has been completed; after all the foley work and sound design - do the films sound like what you recorded, or something completely different?

Every project is very different. On lower budget projects, there is often very little money set aside for post production, and some of that tends to get usurped in the overages that occur during principal photography and picture editorial. So on very small shows, sometimes there isn't resource for post to do much beyond gentle massaging of the production track and the addition of some basic music and effects. On bigger productions, there generally -- but not always -- is more money and more time to fine-tune things. The quality, depth, and experience of the post production staff and facilities also tends to vary greatly with how much money is allotted (and/or left over) by the time the project gets to post sound.

How much post work is needed also depends on the circumstances of production -- a big action movie with Ritter fans and constant screamed stunt cues is going to need a lot more ADR than a small, dialogue-driven project where characters sit around a room and talk. So I guess the short answer is that some films sound exactly like what you recorded, some films sound like what you recorded but a bit better, some like what you recorded but a bit worse, and some (very few) nothing at all like what you recorded.

And when they sound nothing like what you recorded - does it bother you? Or do you just take it as part of the job?

Well, I suppose I’ve been fortunate in my career in that I’ve never been surprised by having a huge portion of a project replaced unexpectedly. It’s certainly happened with individual scenes or shots here or there, but I think that’s thankfully been the extent of it. I expect it’s the same for most mixers - generally, if something’s not going to work, you know it while you’re shooting. And if something’s going terrible on the set — say, a jackhammer two blocks away is destroying all of the exterior dialogue — you probably HOPE some excellent ADR is going to replace all that noisy track.

On the film “Winter Passing”, the production spent months lucklessly searching for a location that featured a distinctive house, a separate wood cabin outside, and a large rolling property that fit the director’s vision. Most of the film was set on this property, and the production wanted all three real location elements to be in the same place, so they could change the schedule freely without having to deal with moving the company each time. Once they finally found something the director, producers, and DP liked, they contracted it right away. Then they showed it to us. I flipped out when I realized it was right next to a very loud interstate highway. The problem was intensified by the fact that in the script, the location was supposed to be very rural and pastoral — there was even dialogue with the characters saying things like “How quiet and peaceful it is here”. After they had already paid many thousands for the location, and were about a week away from shooting, they couldn’t ditch it and go back to the drawing board. However, I think the producers, for whatever reason, honestly didn’t realize just how bad that was going to be. Once made aware, they were very concerned with limiting the damage to something reasonable. To their credit, others might have just shrugged and said, “Fuck it. We’ll loop it all.”

To that end, they budgeted for test recordings so they could get an idea of what they were dealing with beforehand. These eventually led to clearance for labor and materials to properly soundproof the barn, which was done with considerable effort (a plexiglass and vinyl construction was set up enclosing the cabin, which otherwise wouldn’t have offered much in the way of shelter from the noise). Ed Harris’ character never really leaves the cabin, so we got all his tracks cleanly in this modified space, and they avoided having to do any ADR with him. For the other exterior locations, there wasn’t really anything we could do — there were no enclosures and we completely exposed to the interstate highway. So a fair portion of those scenes was looped, but we all had a pretty good idea that would be the case when we were shooting.

How hands on are the Directors with what you do? I can't, for example, imagine Nora Ephron having a lot of input in your sound work.

I only worked with Nora for a couple of days when we were doing the New York unit of "Bewitched", but I remember her as always being very concerned with the sound and how deeply location-based noise problems were going to affect the track. She, like many good directors, understands that if the sound is bad, there is more at stake than the financial and time considerations that are going to affect post production. She knows that the performances she is personally working so hard to extract from her actors on set are going to be lost, and that those performances many not come back in the same way in the ADR booth. At the end of the day, most people go to the movies to see actors perform, and those performances tend to drive most movies. So if the recording of those performances is lost, it isn't just a technical and financial concern that plagues the production -- it is an aesthetic concern that may plague the quality of the film and its ability to resonate with audiences. Every director is different, and so are their attitudes about their production sound. Some will always insist on doing another take if there is a sound problem. Others will say, "do the best you can, and don't bother me about it, and we'll figure out whatever you can't get in post." Some will get very involved and personally address sound issues with the actors or other crew members whose execution of their tasks are causing the sound to suffer. Those might be dolly grips, costumers, property people, electricians, directors of photography, set dressers, or any number of others. Some directors will take the time and make the sacrifice to change the shot if there isn't a way to get usable sound, or at least do a variation take without the offending factor. Other directors don't even bother to wear headsets while the take is going on, and might look at me as if I had three heads if I suggest we go again because there was a sound problem. It always depends on the individual in question.

On average, how much of a films dialogue tends to be ADR? You hear stories sometimes of how it's like 90% - I'd hate to think that's true.

There is no such average that has any effective real-world indication. Every project is very different, and it’s very misleading to the public (and, as I’ve noted, even to some film professionals) to say things like “X percentage of all movies are looped”. A few movies (of all budgets) have 0% ADR, a few have 100%, and all the others have wildly different percentages in between. Budget, time, locations, director choices, mixer talent, re-recording, performance issues, edit decisions, and so many more unique factors specific to a single project are going to indicate how much looping is done on any given movie.

I think a good film for us to look at in more detail is 'Awake' - because it's a movie most people will recognize, and I think the sound work on it was really interesting. In most of the scenes, the dialogue we see is not based on what we see on screen. There's lots of dreams and flashbacks and all sorts going on - was it like this at the script stage? And did it make things more complex to plan?

The original script for "Awake" was considerably longer and more complex than the cut that was eventually released. It was always based upon flashbacks and time jumps, but those issues didn't necessarily affect the process of recording the production track. From my end, I still had to approach the dialogue recording straight-forwardly, even though I knew it would be manipulated later.

You can get an idea of this in the deleted scene selection on the DVD --particularly one where Jessica's character introduces Hayden's character to the outside and inside of a restaurant in Brooklyn. Those scenes feature bits of what eventually ended up in the flashback montages and contain just the raw production tracks as we recorded them on set, before the wizards at C5 and the re-recording mixer processed them as part of the eventual whole.

So much of Hayden's character's dialogue was scripted as voice over, because once he is anesthetised he obviously isn't actually speaking. The production wisely scheduled a session before shooting where all of Hayden's scripted voice-over dialogue was recorded. This was to provide the editors with a track to cut against. I knew the much of the voice over might be replaced later with ADR (voice over often is, not for technical reasons butfor timing reasons that relate to the edit), but it would have been impossible for the picture editor to compose the film without this track. If I remember correctly, I also recorded Denis O'Leary in pre-production --he played a voice over-heavy character called "The Narrarator" in the original script that ended up getting cut. Terrence Howard's character's VO was not part of the original script, and that was recorded entirely in post-production.

Just after Clay (Hayden Christensen) is Anaesthetised - the scenes that follow are really intense and in some ways, quite scary. There is a lot going on with the sound.. there's dialogue we can hear clearly, dialogue that is quieter and mumbled -- there's the scraping noises of utensils - and many other things going on. Could you tell us a little bit about your work on these scenes; because it's really fascinating how it all came together.

Most of that overall effect was acheived by the post team -- that kind of effects processing is in their domain, and not normally carried out on set.To assist them, we did do a fair amount of effects recording for the operation room scenes. It happened in two stages. We recorded a lot of sound effects of the medical machines and tools during production. The prop machines and instruments were all real rented medical tools, as the budget did not allow for quiet fakes to be constructed and implemented. These recordings were a challenge to orchestrate, because all of these big, heavy, immovable, hard-to-procure medical machines were located right on the set. We couldn't simply take them onto another stage to record them in between setups while the grip and electric crew were setting up the lighting for another shot (and making a ruckus doing so). We were always horrifically behind schedule on "Awake", despite consistently very, very long shoot days-- the scope of that project was much bigger than the budget we actually had to work with -- and there was really no way for the A.D.'s to grant us time to get the rest of the crew to stop working and leave the set for half an hour while we recorded wild track of the machines.

The way we eventually worked it out was doing the recordings over a couple of lunch breaks -- we just stayed behind and recorded the various effects and sounds that each unique machine and tool made. A prop person also kindly gave up his lunch break and stayed to manipulate the machines so I could record them. My production manager on that film, Robin Sweet, was wonderful in understanding the importance of getting those tracks and helping us find production-friendly solutions to recording them so these things didn't get brushed under the rug.
About two months after we wrapped principal photography, I went to the hospital where one of our on-set medical advisers was performing a real heart transplant operation, and I recorded about an hour of further sound effects while the operation was taking place. Some or all of these recorded elements may have made it into the eventual sound design in the scenes you speak of.

Good sound-mixing, like Make-Up, is best when unnoticed right?

Hmmm. I think that in general, the audience only consciously notices sound when it's very bad. That said, sound tends to affect the general audience in an extremely subconscious fashion. If the recording has a spellbinding effect on the ear, the audience may not notice it on an obviously apparent level, but may find themselves more drawn into the story, characters, and picture than they might otherwise. Watching a film is a sensory event, and while the obvious primary sense that interacts with a film is vision, the way that the sound affects the experience of viewing the picture, and the way that it affects how the audience responds to the actor's performance, is a very essential part of cinema and the visceral response one has to the actors and dialogue (and thus, the story).

My friend Tom Richmond, a very talented director of photography, once told me about his moment of discovering how detailed sound was going to complement what he does visually. In dailies of one of his projects, he saw two takes of a dynamic action scene he had shot with actors speaking as they ran through a trench. In one, the sound department had gotten their way, removed a conflicting noise problem, and had been able to record the scenewith more sensitive overhead boom microphones. Tom said that the take as a whole had a lot of dynamics and felt emotionally affecting and stirring. In the second take, the sound mixer apparently lost whatever battle he was fighting, and the noise issue was once again present. This forced that mixer into using less sensitive and less rich-sounding wireless lavaliers in the actors' clothing to overcome the noise problem. In that take, he said, even though the actors' dialogue could be heard clearly, the shot felt corny and lacking of gravity.

Are you able to relax when you go to see a movie in the cinema?

Yes, I can always relax. In the case of seeing a film that I have mixed for the first time, I might be a bit nervy and out of the general audience's perspective. In that scenario, I probably revisit the scenes and locations that we shot, and am paying attention to how the post team manipulated (or disposed of) my tracks. In the case of a film I have not worked on, I tend to just slip into the picture and watch it as anyone else does. It's not that I don't notice the track, it's just that I don't focus so excruciatingly on it that I am barred from getting caught up the rest of the picture.

People always ask me, "Doesn't working on movies ruin the ability to enjoy the experience of watching a movie for you?" I always feel the opposite. Not only does it not ruin it, but it adds all sorts of other facets to appreciate. It's sort of a heightened movie experience -- I can appreciate the story, characters, and events as the average audience member does, but at the same time I can also appreciate the cinematography, editing, soundmixing, costuming, and other aspects of what has been achieved that the average person wouldn't really understand without direct exposure to the process of filmmaking.

It actually works really well in the case of a poorly executed movie -- instead of just sitting there being bored and listless, I can focus instead on the technical achievements and appreciate the individual parts and efforts, since I know exactly how difficult it must have been to pull something off and how rare a beautiful shot often is to accomplish. I can appreciate the value of the parts even though those parts might not add up to a greater sum overall. Sometimes I might go to see a really techincally well-made film that doesn't end resonate with me emotionally from a story or performance level. While someone else might sit there annoyed, I am able to mine the experience by enjoying the successful execution of the craft that, while not contributing to a great film as a whole, is a wonderful victory in itself.

What projects do you have coming up? Is there anything particularly different or challenging you are going to be facing with the sound?

Next I’m doing some small bits of stuff — some second unit work for an action/fantasy picture called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and some reshoots for Wes Craven’s horror film “25/8”, which we shot the principal photography for last year. Big action movies are always very challenging for production recording because the nature of what needs to be done creates so many obstacles, and “Sorcerer’s” will doubtlessly be no different. Wes’ movie was very challenging last year for a variety of reasons, and I expect that there will be some familiar hurdles to leap on the reshoot. After that I’m most likely working on a television series, whose challenges lie in the pacing (an hour’s worth of material has to be completed in seven days).

Earlier on you mentioned that one of the first things you do is read the script. How important is the material to you?

It’s key. A movie shoot takes over one’s life. The hours are very long — twelve to eighteen hour workdays, five to six days a week, plus travel back and forth from the set (which may not be right outside one’s doorstep). One often wraps after sunrise on Saturday morning and is required to be back on set before sunrise Monday morning, and the weekend gets quickly consumed by sleep, laundry, and all the other “regular life” chores and errands one can’t do during the week.

Sometimes one is on location for months, away from significant others and family the entire time. The environment on set is often tense and stressful. Feeling like you’re working on something meaningful and contributing to something with potential for greatness can go a long way — not only in justifying the personal hardship and sacrifices that this way of living can bring, but also in steeling one’s drive and focus toward the picture. When one feels like one is giving up everything just to make a piece of junk, things can get pretty unhappy in a hurry, and unhappiness can be very contagious on set.

In short, the film is your life while you’re making it. If the film sucks, your life sucks. That said, this is what I do for a living, and I’m not often lucky enough to have the luxury to sit back and pick and choose between multiple projects that I’m really excited about. Sometimes scripts are really well-written, but the plan for production looks to be disastrous. Sometimes it’s obvious that the ambition of the project cannot possibly be achieved with the resources available. The process of trying to achieve it portends total misery for everyone involved. There may be other conflicts, too. It has taken me years to accept that the best eventual movie does not necessarily correlate with the best day-to-day on-set experience. Sometimes it may become a choice of one over the other -- of what you want to accomplish as a sound mixer versus what you want your life to be for a matter of months. Sometimes the appearances of the projects may not be obvious and clear, and you may think you are selecting the project that yields one of those results when it ends up yielding the other, or vice versa.

What is your favourite movie?

Barton Fink.

Is sound mixing something you'd recommend to young people? What particular skills and traits do you think are essential to do what you do?.

One needs a lot of patience and diplomacy, good people skills, and an anal-retentive fussiness and attention to detail. It isn’t so much about having great hearing as really learning to listen carefully. One needs to have a good understanding of (and interest in) technology, a real understanding of how the film production and post production chain works — what the goals are aesthetically as well as technically. One needs to understand one’s role in the larger picture of the film as a whole and how to be a team player. It’s critical to be able to understand everyone else’s job and needs — the picture editors, the electricians, the costumers, the property masters, the directors, the actors, the dialogue editors, the production coordinators, the assistant directors, the truck drivers. One needs to have quick decision-making skills and have a fairly pragmatic attitude to problem solving. To do anything in film production, a strong sense of humor is essential, as is a willingness to forego sleep.

And one last thing. For me, New York is the greatest place to shoot a film. Why is that? What is so special about it?

Well, what makes New York special is a longer answer than we probably have room for here. New York is a very challenging, difficult place to shoot. The weather is unpredictable and tempermental. The traffic is awful. The roads are poor. The parking is a nightmare. It’s tremendously noisy, light is unpredictable, and there are always a million elements out of control. Locations are small, and access to them can be very difficult. The high rents and property values make large, spacious, quality sound stages hard to find, and what fills in as a substitute for them can be a miserable work environment. One can go to Los Angeles, with its great weather, constant light, good roads, spacious and cheaper stages, and understand very quickly why it was once chosen as the industry’s capital.

And yet many of us stay here in New York and shoot, rather than go to Los Angeles. That says something about the allure of New York. I feel like the appeal of Los Angeles to the public at large, beyond palm trees and beaches, is really that the entertainment industry is there, and entertainers live, work, and play there. That energy of celebrity and the perception of glamour is infectious to the public, but I’m not sure the energy of the place itself is. If you took away the entertainment industry, the movie and music stars, and the nostalgic history for Hollywood, I am unsure if the public would continue to be as interested in Los Angeles as they are. However, in New York, the film industry almost feels like a side note. I feel that if you completely removed the entire existence of the film industry here, the city would barely notice.

That attraction and fascination that the public has with our city translates when you shoot a film here — the infectious energy of the city shows up on screen. Sure, you could fake New York on sound stages in other cities — and people certainly have. But it’s a lot like using ADR instead of the real performance. In either case, you can create an acceptable product that the general audience won’t be the wiser for. But you can’t fake magic.