George Lucas is a master at it. Disney does it all of the time. The major studios can’t seem to get enough of it. We’re talking about adding bonus features and “never-before-seen footage” to DVDs. It’s a big-time trend, and this month we talk to boutique audio post-production studio Santisound that has created a niche for itself in mixing and editing these DVD additions for some of the biggest and well-known Hollywood productions.
CARVING A NICHE IN A HOT MEDIUM
Smack-dab in the heart of the entertainment district on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles lies Santisound, owned and operated by engineer/sound designer Rick Santizo. While the company can and does do all sorts of audio post projects, its primary focus is on editing and mixing behind-the-scenes footage, Blu-ray bonus material and commentary that is included on packaged DVDs.
“I’m not sure how many studios in town are doing what we do. It’s definitely a specialty,” says Santizo, who runs his 800-square-foot studio with his wife, Veronica Matus, and two additional staff: Michael Malerba, his second engineer, and David Astasio, the studio’s office assistant. “The cool thing is, we get to see a lot of footage that not everyone sees and work on big titles without all of the pressure from the studios, which is great.” (Though he adds, if the studios came to him to do sound design on a feature, he surely wouldn’t turn them away.)
And when Santizo says big titles, he’s not kidding. Some of the most recent films that have made their way through Santisound include Avatar, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Three Musketeers, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Star Wars 3-D: Episode 1. For these films, the studio’s work included mixing and editing bonus material that focused on everything from how the actors trained to how the environment was created to how the film was composed, to commentary on how the films were put together.
CHALLENGES: THEY'RE ALL RELATIVE
While Santizo and his team may not have the type of pressure associated with sound designing a featuring film, the work is certainly no leisurely stroll in the park. Working on bonus footage, which typically ranges anywhere from one to 30 minutes in length (and averages about five to 15 minutes of work per minute of program), carries with it its own set of challenges. One of the most prominent is a very quick turnaround. “Oftentimes, the studios start prepping the DVDs before the film hits the theaters, and typically we have about two days’ notice to get a job done so we are almost always up against the clock,” says Santizo. And the deliverables must always include a full mix, a mix-minus and dialog only, music only, sound effects only versions so that it can be repurposed.
Another regular hurdle in completing mix and editing of bonus footage is effective noise reduction and dialog cleanup. This, Santizo says, is almost always an issue because a lot of the footage used in the bonus material is captured in high-traffic areas. “The most challenging situations are ones in which there is construction going on behind the interview,” he explains. “The crew may be building the set so there’s hammering and sawing going on, which is all somewhat acceptable if there is a visual of that in the shot. As long as there is an image to support the sound, the audience is okay, but it gets a lot trickier when we have to deal with sit-down interviews that are on location but shot in front of green screen and there’s hammering and sawing in the background. The audience starts to question what is going on if they can’t see what they are hearing, which means we have to come up with creative ways to remove that extraneous sound.” Santizo’s go to? iZotope RX 2, which helps him and his team visually pinpoint noise and remove or minimize it effectively.
In addition, the fast pace at which these extra bonus programs are cut—while eye-catching and perfect for the medium—can also present headaches from a sound-editing perspective. “The editors do a fantastic job cutting the footage, creating a really nice pace,” says Santizo, “but what we are required to do is ensure that the mixing matches these cuts and the timing of the musical hits are spot-on and blend correctly.”
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS, CREATING OPPORTUNITIES
You may be wondering how a small-sized studio located in the most competitive town in the entertainment industry landed this sweet gig. So was I. As it turns out, it comes back to one of the things this whole business boils down to: relationships. Here’s the short of it: Santizo’s former studio space was located in the same building of a production company. He became friendly with a few of the guys, and they wound up asking him to build an audio post studio for them in their facility. This led to a request for him to do some engineering work for them that they couldn’t handle, and that, in turn, led to another call and another. Eventually, they left that company and joined Mob Scene Creative, a production company that works with the major studios. The guys didn’t forget Santizo. In fact, when they had overflow work to be done, they called him. Eventually, they started calling Santizo anytime a bonus-footage project came in, and the partnership has been nothing short of a win-win.
“It’s really pretty amazing the way it all worked out,” admits Santizo. “Finding this type of work for major studio productions is extremely hard to do. Because of the relationship we built with Mob Scene, we don’t have to try to pound on the doors of the major studios, which is usually futile.” In fact, Santizo says that a small studio like his simply wouldn’t survive if they didn’t have and weren’t able to maintain relationships like the one they have with Mob Scene. “It’s certainly something I don’t take for granted," Santizo adds. "I know we are very lucky, and I know that we can’t fail on the promises we make. We always focus on keeping our relationship in good standing, make sure the client knows we care about them and always go the extra mile on a project."
The best part about his job, says Santizo, is the freshness and variety. “We get to be the audience, in many respects,” he says. “I love the fact that we get to see footage that no one else gets to see. What we get to work on changes every day, and that makes it fun and interesting, and that’s the best part.”
PopMark Media is a unique partnership that offers creative and marketing services, custom music and music production, and audio post-production services to music, film and business clients.