Sound of Metal’s 2021 Oscar win for Best Sound may have introduced many to the name of re-recording mixer Jaime Baksht, but to the film industry in Mexico, he was already a big deal.
The Ariel Awards—the most prestigious in the Mexican film industry—have honored Baksht with 14 nominations and nine wins. In 2007, he swept the category, winning an Ariel Award for Best Sound on In the Pit and earning nominations for the other two films in contention that year, one of which was director Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Basically, Baksht couldn’t lose. And there were several years (2014, 2016, 2017 and 2020) where Baksht had both a win and a nomination. Sound of Metal just solidified his international acclaim, capturing BAFTA, C.A.S. and AMPS award wins on top of the Oscar.
Baksht’s secret to success? “We always do our best,” he says. “These films are like our babies. The budget doesn’t matter; it’s the film that matters. We are very lucky to work on the best films in Mexico, and it’s important to treat all of them as special.”
Whether it’s handling ADR on massive Hollywood films like Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, or mixing Sundance Film Festival indies like John and the Hole (nominated for a 2021 Grand Jury Prize with sound designed by Nicolas Becker, with whom Baksht worked on Sound of Metal), Baksht makes no distinction in terms of quality of work. “When the budget is small, you need to do big things with sound,” he says. “We learn a lot from the small-budget films, and then when we do the big films, it’s more relaxing. Well, not exactly relaxing; it seems easier in a way.”
THE STUDIO LIFE
Built for feature films, Baksht’s Astro Estudio LX in Mexico City was designed by architectural and acoustical firm Studio 440 (Hollywood) and features two Dolby-certified dub stages that support 5.1 and 7.1 mixing.
The main room, Mix Stage 1, is equipped with a 512-channel SSL C3048 console customized for a two-person mix team. It runs five separate Pro Tools systems, and the output is recorded to two 192-channel Fairlight systems. Baksht says, “Using Fairlight as a recorder is amazing. It’s like a wire—whatever you put in is exactly what is going to come out. You have 300 dB of dynamic range, so it isn’t going to distort, and the response is amazing. Everything is digitally connected with MADI fiber-optic cables. This combination of the SSL and Fairlight is a really nice match.”
Baksht’s monitoring setup uses three” TAD TSC-3415 three-way speakers up front with 18 Martin Audio Effect 5 two-way passive surround systems for the sides and rear, to go with eight TAD TSC-1118SW 18-inch subwoofers. He says, “We didn’t go with the typical JBLs. The TAD speakers we have are flat, so when we get the mix sounding great in our room, I know that it’s going to translate well on other systems.”
For Mix Stage 2, Baksht chose a Euphonix System 5 Fusion console running two Pro Tools systems and recording to a third. Playback is monitored through a Meyer Sound system. “We wanted to build the biggest post sound studio in Mexico, and that’s Astro Estudio LX,” he says quite simply.
Before building his own facility, Baksht worked at Churubusco Studios in Mexico City, a well-known center with sound stages for filming and dub stages for mixing. “It’s like the Warner Bros. Studios of Mexico,” says Baksht. “As a matter of fact, that studio was built by RKO, which was owned by Howard Hughes. It’s a huge studio in Mexico.”
During his 12 years at Churubusco, Baksht and Rosalinda Jimenez helped to create the first THX rooms in Mexico. Then he moved to a smaller studio called New Art, which catered to the advertising community.
“Many of my friends from Churubusco told me that I was going to do advertising work there,” he recalls. “But I told them, ‘No, I’m going to do films at New Art.’ No one believed me—but the third film we did there was Pan’s Labyrinth!” After finishing that film, director Guillermo del Toro invited Baksht to mix his next project, Hellboy II. Baksht knew they’d need a larger dub stage to do larger films, but the owners of New Art were hesitant to expand. Baksht found investors who were interested in funding a film sound studio—Juan Garcia and Simon Bross— and a deal was negotiated in 10 minutes. That became Astro Estudio LX.
The love of sound started with music. Bands like The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin—with their innovative approaches inside the studio— inspired Baksht to study music production in England. “I thought music was the natural thing for me to do,” he says.
But when he returned to Mexico, he lacked access to the big-name bands there. “I had some friends at the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica, like Guillermo Granillo (Ariel Award-winning cinematographer on Volverás, Aro Tolbukhin – En la mente del asesino and Profundo carmesí). He asked if I could help with his film. It was then I realized that in film, you have music, but you also have effects, dialogue and a story. The sound and image of the story work so well when they work together. It’s different from music only. It’s amazing. I realized that I was wrong to go for music only. I needed to do sound for film.”
His love of cinema started with John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969). “It made me cry and laugh,” he recalls. “When the film finished, I walked out of the theater like a mummy. I didn’t say a word. It got into my head that much and that impressed me. It wasn’t a big action movie, but the story was amazing.” Likewise, he retains equal admiration for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), which his father took him to see in 70mm in Mexico City. “At that time, I wasn’t really thinking about working in movies, but it had quite an impact. I couldn’t sleep for a month.”
Since 1989, Baksht has been an agent of change in the Mexican film industry, determined to improve the quality of film sound. “We had this Golden Age of Mexican cinema in the ’50s and those films sounded quite good—but in the ’70s and ’80s, the sound was absolutely awful,” he says. “It wasn’t because of the ideas or the creativity, but because of the old technology. Technology for Mexico was so far away from being good.”
Gradually technology improved and Baksht welcomed the arrival in Mexico of Dolby Digital and digital cinema. “Better computers and better technology made it easier to get a better end result,” he says, “but that’s on the technical side. It didn’t affect the storytelling—what we are trying to say with the sound. That was a completely different problem.”
As a re-recording mixer, Baksht’s creative impact comes from his mix choices. “In real life, we can focus on sounds that are important,” he explains. “That’s something we do to survive. On the dub stage, we’re telling the audience what they should be listening to. Mixing is the art of focusing things.”
FROM PAN TO METAL
The challenges Baksht faced on del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth—creating more than 600 sounds for some scenes while working on a Pro Tools system with only 48 outputs—taught him the importance of getting creative to solve technical issues. “I wondered, ‘How are we going to do this?’ We developed a method of using pre-rendered stems, but it was scary. Guillermo [del Toro] was asking for too many things at the same time, and to be able to change between all the things he was asking for us to do was very complicated.
“At one point, I thought, ‘This is probably going to be the last film that I do in my life.’ Not because I didn’t want to do another one, but because they are going to throw me out of the film industry,” he laughs. “I was sweating—but at the same time, I was determined to make it happen. We ended in an interesting place. I’m not sure if I like the sound of the film for my part.
If I was able to do that film now, I would do it in a completely different way, and I think it would have resulted in a completely different sound.” Lessons learned in the fire of Pan’s Labyrinth have helped Baksht to grow as a mixer, as did his work on Sound of Metal, which came with its own unique challenges.
“Nicholas Becker’s approach was quite different from what I had been doing before,” he explains. “At the beginning, we tried to follow our instincts and our way of doing things. Then we realized that this wasn’t the way to do it. I think we realized just in the right moment; we changed the way we were doing things, and then we started to enjoy working on the film very much.”
After Sound of Metal, Baksht faced the challenges of Covid-19 lockdown and remote mixing. Because Mix Stage 1 is a large room, he felt it was safe to continue mixing there if they took proper precautions: wearing masks, quarantining at home for 10 days prior to a session, and testing for the virus regularly. Session attendance was also limited to Baksht, a second mixer and maybe the director.
“We were mixing a film when Covid hit, and one day the director says, ‘I have to go back to Israel and I won’t be able to come back because Mexico is closed and Israel is closed. How are we going to do this?’” says Baksht. “Randy Thom at Skywalker Sound gave the advice of making the mix, sending it via the internet to another stage for playback, and then the director could send notes back to the mixer. We could send the mix at night for the director to play back in the morning. He’d send back his notes, which would be there for us in the morning. The eight-hour time difference worked out well.”
THE PATH AHEAD
Since the 2021 Academy Awards, Baksht and his sound team have been busy mixing three films: director Lorenzo Vigas’s The Box (La Caja) in competition at the 2021 Venice Film Festival; director Joaquin Del Paso’s El Hoyo En La Cerca for Venice, too, showing in the non-competition Horizons category; and A Cop Movie (Una Película”de”Policías) by director Alonso Ruizpalacios, coming to Netflix later this year. “After the Oscars, we haven’t had time to pursue any big L.A. films,” he says. “We’d like to do bigger films! And that’s something that’s going to happen, I think.”
They’re now wrapping up those mixes and wondering what’s next. With the Oscar in hand and the new decentralized approach to filmmaking being enthusiastically adopted, Baksht sees a world of opportunity for their next gig. If he had his pick, Baksht would love to work with director del Toro again. Also on his wishlist are actress/director Natalie Portman for her directorial debut work on A Tale of Love and Darkness.”
“Natalie has great taste in film, and her first film as a director touches the heart of everyone,” he says. Directors Amy Poehler, Greta Gerwig, Clint Eastwood, Werner Herzog and Leos Carax make Baksht’s wishlist, as well. “I’d also like to work with Pete Docter because of the animation films he has made, particularly Soul and Toy Story. Those were part of my daughter’s life as a child.”