Editor’s Note: At the sixth annual Mix Presents Sound for Film & Television 2019, held at Sony Pictures Studios September 28, 2019, supervising sound editor/sound designer Wylie Stateman delivered a pointed, yet rousing speech on the importance of sound in visual mediums, imploring all sound professionals to own the title of Sound Director, or more accurately, Sound DP+D. Following is an excerpt of the speech.
Most audio people pursue show business because they connect with sound. Working in sound is not a random choice. It is a passion; a lifestyle.
Today I am going to share with you the four most important words of advice ever given to me by a mentor. It came from a director, producer, writer and showrunner. His name is William H. Brown. Bill would say that when a director, producer or virtually anyone on the production asks you for your opinion, whatever the question is, the answer should always begin with, “In terms of sound….”
When film directors ask, “What do you think of the script?” they are not really asking you about the script. They are seeking input about how it might be imagined by an expert in sound. You might say: “Well, in terms of sound, I hear multiple themes,” or, “In terms of sound, I see these as pivotal moments, worthy of exploring beats.” If picture editors ask, “How do you feel about the pacing, or the visual effects?” They are not asking you about the cut. The answer should always be: “Well, in terms of sound….”
I went on to collaborate on more than 20 feature films with Bill, starting with John Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, then moving seamlessly onto The Doors, JFK and Natural Born Killers for Oliver Stone. This journey brings us to today’s keynote, in which I offer this room a big-picture idea for achieving respect in terms of sound: the Sound DP+D.
DP/D stands for Director, Producer, Designer—that is Sound Director, Sound Producer and Sound Designer. This idea is a compilation of three very different mindsets, and the result of my 100,000 hours of in-the-thick-of-it industry experience.
The Sound Director is a role that begins where it should—in pre-production. It involves breaking down the script, studying the shooting schedule, outlining sound-related action moments, and building an audio-specific mission list. The Sound Director discusses big-picture expectations with all applicable department heads, and consults regularly with the production mixer, editorial, sound designers and final re-recording mix teams.
In terms of sound, every film project has some kind of novel idea at its core. It is the Sound Director’s job to pitch a sonic vision to the director and the editor, refine it, and guide the sound team toward those goals. This involves considering the entire process in sequence.
While nobody makes a movie just to save money, Sound Producers manage the cost of creative opportunities against their budgetary drawdown. From the Sound Producer’s point of view, filmmaking is a business, perhaps not in its heart, but for sure in its execution.
We should never forget that they call this show business, not “show friends” or “show patience,” and definitely not “show restraint.” Standing up for good sound at the start saves money downstream.
Sound Producers must be precise communicators. They discuss schedules daily with the production team and continue until the project is delivered. They are the keepers of the “sound” calendar. Using “R.B.S.” (i.e., Reality-Based Scheduling), you eliminate “B.S.” scheduling.
The final “D” in Sound DP+D stands for Sound Designer. This part of the sound making process emphasizes the creative presentation. As a Sound Designer, for years I have been working with teams experimenting with a process we call “Post 2.0.” It starts with “ABC,” Always Be Cutting, and then “ABM,” Always Be Mixing.
Every Sound Designer will be asked at various points to deliver temp mixes—not rough mixes. This means “ABP,” Always Be Prepared, to version out a sound track that demonstrates the full dynamic range and spatial capabilities of the sound team’s creative work. Whether you are making sound for film, television or streaming media, you are involved in the process of creating sound, and the business of finishing it.
It is a business—your business, my friends.
Sound is a form of art, governed by science and subjectivity, worthy of individual recognition, elevated compensation and respect. There is an art to making movies and, quite possibly, a lesser-appreciated art to finishing them.
Mixers are transforming themselves into great sound designers. Sound designers are becoming excellent mixers. There is a new seamless workflow now possible. Work your skills. Refine your taste. Be brave. Be curious. Be open-minded. Whether you’re looking at new content, new software or a new piece of equipment, acquire every edge and work to sharpen it. Own the title of the Sound DP+D, and make it work for your clients.
Ordinary people focus entirely on outcome; extraordinary people focus much of their time on process. Define these processes for yourself.
Manufacturing content, working in show biz, making movies…it is a wild and wonderful ride. Never forget to enjoy it.