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Degas wins ALA Award

The video “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists: Degas,” which I sound-designed and mixed, has won the American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Video award.

You can watch a clip of “Degas” here.

Congratulations to everyone at Getting To Know!

Project Spotlight: Book teaser

We’ve just finished the first in a series of short promotional videos for Chicago author Jean Latz Griffin’s “In The Same Breath.” The book traces the history of spiritual awakenings and realizations about the immanent nature of God/Spirit over the past 3000 years, and includes weekly readings from an incredible variety of ancient and modern writers. Christine Tobias’ stunning artwork, which we used in the video, ties the ages together.

The book is available at Amazon and CyberINK. The teaser video can be seen at CyberINK’s YouTube channel.

For further discussion about Griffin’s philosophy of the non-dualistic immanence of Spirit, please read her blog, “God Swimming in God.”

(full disclosure: Jean Latz Griffin is Joe’s mother.)

What I meant was…

how to communicate with the director during the design process?

“…judge by results, not intentions.” – Cicero

Directors, designers, help me out here. I have questions. First I’ll tell some stories.

1) I was cutting footsteps for a film where the main character is kept in the dark, off balance, isn’t sure what’s happening. I “walked” the character tentatively, avoiding heavy, deliberate, determined footfalls, thinking I was serving the character by doing so. The director looked at the scene.

“He sounds like he has really tiny feet.”

Somewhat defensively, I explained why I had cut the feet the way I did, talked about the character, the feel I was going for.

“Yeah. He sounds like he has really tiny feet.”

In retrospect he was right; I’d gotten a little carried away with the thematic approach and went too far. It was an experiment that didn’t work out. We went with heavier footsteps. More realism, less film-student thematics.

If I’d told the director in advance, “I cut the feet this way because blah blah,” would he—having my intention in mind as he watched—have been more likely to let the original, wrong footsteps stay in?

B) I was reading about the sound design for Watchmen, and how the film’s sound guys decided that they’d already mixed two big fight scenes in a row with huge up-front effects, and that for contrast and to give the film some dynamics, they’d favor the music for the third fight sequence, and turn the effects down. Director Zack Snyder saw the cut and his response was: where are the effects? The sound crew explained their intention, and Snyder’s response was, “well, we’ll just have to undo that.”

When I read that I first thought, well, there’s an example of a director not trusting or listening to his sound team, going for the obvious cliché choice to have big thwack-y punch sounds like every other fight sequence in every other action movie.

Then I started to wonder: what would have happened if the Watchmen sound team had set Snyder up for it in advance?

“Here, Zack, we thought we’d do something different in this sequence. We’ve gone ‘big-effects’ on the last 2 fights, why don’t we make this one a little more oh-I-dunno-balletic-or-abstract-or-whatever and favor the music in the mix instead?”

“Huh, interesting idea,” Snyder might say. “Lemme see it.” …roll the scene. Snyder watches.

Now, he can either say, “yeah, you know what? That works; let’s do it that way.” Or he can say, “No, I really wanted the big punch and kick sounds, bring the effects back in.”

Which way would things have gone?

iii) I’m about to start working on a short film where the two main characters fall in love over the course of the movie. I want to draw the audience’s focus tighter on the couple as the story progresses, partly by stripping away the ambient sound over the course of the film: as they get more into each other, the rest of the world falls away. Not in a Bergman-abrupt-dropoff way, not playing scenes with no ambience or diegetic effects, just subtly turning stuff down over time. But I envision playing that mix for the director and hearing “why is the fireplace not louder here?” Should I explain in advance what I intend to do? Will that bias his reaction to my choices in favor of them, when those choices may not be the right ones? Will playing the mix without any explanation cause him to over-react to those choices?

Part of this, of course, is: maybe if the sound designer is making big thematic design decisions, he should discuss them with the director before putting a bunch of time into developing them. In theatre design we talk much of this stuff out in pre-production meetings, and the tech process is such that you really can’t position the director as “first-time audience member” and surprise him/her the way you can with a film mix. But without making the director approve every one of hundreds if not thousands of individual effects…I mean, at a certain point in the process the director has to be able to trust you to go off and do your job for awhile, right?

Is it reasonable to assume that if a particular design choice takes the director out of the film, the audience will react the same way? Or is the director’s perception different because of the nature of the job?

So my questions:

Designers: how do you present your ideas? More specifically, when you have a design element prepared, and are ready to show it…do you set the director up for it or just hit play and see how s/he reacts?
Directors: how do you want design ideas presented to you? Do you want to know up-front what the intention and approach are, or do you want to see the moment as the audience will see it, with no preamble and no explanation? Are you perhaps never in the position to ever see anything as the audience will see it, since you are the director?

And of course, the flip side, the unnerving, insecure question: as the designer, am I prone to be more in favor of a design choice because I thought of it, and I know what my intention was? Will I fight for a bad idea simply because it is mine?

Chime in, please.


Updates and Downdates

  • Our current theatre sound design project is Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” at Moraine Valley Community College. I’m working on adapting the songs in the show to work as 1950s/60s pop tunes. Elvis, Donovan, the Supremes. I’m having lots of fun trying to mimic the orchestration and production styles of the era. And of course, trying to sing like the Jordanaires…
  • Tim Bradstreet has worked on Hellblazer, the Punisher, a series of sourcebook covers for Vampire: The Gathering, among many other things…and also created the cover art for my 2006 album, Rough Cut Love. If you’re a comics or graphic arts enthusiast, check out Tim’s new series of podcasts.
  • As I ease back into performing music, I’ll be doing a short set with Tim Hort and Tamara Vendetta in Madison, WI at the Art Fair on the Square, Saturday, July 11 at 2 pm.
  • Jared Newman at Technologizer posted a link to a Hollywood Reporter article: the 1979 arcade game Asteroids is going to be made into a movie.

    “Universal has won a four-studio bidding war to pick up the film rights to the classic Atari video game “Asteroids.” …As opposed to today’s games, there is no story line or fancy world-building mythology, so the studio would be creating a plot from scratch. Universal, however, is used to that development process, as it’s in the middle of doing just that for several of the Hasbro board game properties it is translating to the big screen, such as ‘Battleship’ and ‘Candyland.'”

    I’m not sure what disturbs me more about this, the idea of turning a completely plotless video game into a movie or the fact that four studios in Hollywood were bidding on the rights to do it.

  • We’re now done with shooting for the second Michael Brownlee short. Fortunately the weather was cool enough that it never got really nasty hot on set (the actors may disagree with me on that one). Props to Kevin, Steve and Phil for outstanding performances. Dave and Blood got some great noir looks on tape, and we’ll continue editing after the holiday. Happy Fourth everyone!
  • If you’re not automatically redirected…

    …click the link below. Actually I know you won’t be redirected, so just go ahead and click it.

    Last night I attended a very cool panel discussion sponsored by The Recording Academy and Shure, featuring record producers Mike Clink, Ron Nevison and Keith Olsen. These guys have recorded the Who, Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses, Heart, Bad Company, the Rolling Stones, Whitesnake, Fleetwood Mac, and countless other amazing bands. I’ve written a little bit about it over at the Donny Who Loved Bowling blog because, well, it seemed to make more sense over there. Feel free to check it out and let me know what you think.

    Project spotlight: Getting to Know

    Since the mid 1990s I’ve been the sound designer/voice recordist/mixing engineer for the Getting to Know series of educational videos. Based on a series of books by Mike Venezia, Getting to Know has won five Notable Children’s Video awards from the American Library Association. The “Getting to Know the World’s Great Artists” videos tell the life stories of Vincent Van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Andy Warhol, as well as showcasing their works. The “Getting to Know the U.S. Presidents” series so far includes George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.

    Andy Warhol

    Andy Warhol

    Chicago actors and voiceover artists, including Timothy Griffin, Harlan Hogan and David Pasquesi provide the voices of the artists and presidents.

    You can see clips of the Getting to Know videos at Getting to Know’s website, and on my sound for picture reel at the Toxic Bag website.

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