I'm sitting in the lobby of Hollywood post house SonicPool (www.sonicpool.com) with co-owners and supervising mixers Patrick Bird and John Frost. The big rear-projection TV is tuned to TNT, which is airing another in its seemingly endless supply of
Law & Order
episodes; the sound is muted, of course. Under the blue-felt mini-pool table are various baby toys for the days when Frost's one-year-old daughter visits daddy's place of work. A constant flow of people goes in and out, and nobody's wearing a suit — not even close. On this 85-degree midwinter day, the preferred wardrobe is cargo shorts and T-shirts, with the requisite sampling of backward baseball caps. Here, every day is casual Friday. This joint isn't overly fancy, but it has a vibe.
“You'll notice there's no fresh fruit on the coffee table,” Frost points out with a laugh. “There is candy, though.”
Co-owners mixers Patrick Bird (left) and John Frost
Also absent are mixing consoles. In the summer of 2001, when Bird and Frost started the company — renting one room in the then-empty building — they decided to take the computer route instead. The stripped-down approach to hardware “speeds up our workflow,” says Bird. “There are so many things you can do, and do quickly, with just Pro Tools and a computer. I feel like I get a better, tighter mix if I'm just going in and doing pinpoint marking rather than going back and forth and sliding the fader around. Also, it definitely helped us consolidate our rooms and create sort of a mini-dub stage where we can do 5.1 and still have plenty of space to have clients sitting in there with you and have a nice, comfortable room. The only downside is you don't have that ‘wow’ factor when clients walk into the room. But once they sit down and listen to the mix, they realize this is good — this works.”
“Nobody comes into our studios and goes, ‘This is an audio room? Where's the board?’ The only people who do that are from a music background, and that's a very small part of our clientele,” adds Frost. “Do we have $10,000 microphones? Not at all. Do we have expensive mic pre's? Not at all. What's interesting is we've never had a problem matching any sounds or issues with any audio that goes out.”
Presently, they run Pro Tools 192 HD systems on Mac G5 Quads, with Martinsound MultiMAX monitor controllers and Joemeek and PreSonus preamps; the workspaces also boast a mixture of JBL and Genelec monitors. In their most recent upgrade, the partners added a Facilis Terrablock shared-storage system, which “does more than most systems currently in use at a better price,” according to Bird.
“When we started,” Bird continues, “we didn't have a whole bunch of money to invest; we'd scraped enough dough together for a Pro Tools system and some outboard gear. Basically, the work is what's generated the finances to grow the business; consequently, we always had to be very conscious of how much we were spending and take every step in technological terms as finances would allow.”
Another thing that sets SonicPool apart from other L.A. post houses is its diversity of clients, none of which represents more than 5 percent of the company's business. “A lot of post places specialize in certain areas — film, promos, whatever,” Bird explains. “One of the reasons we started this company is that we were working in places where you're dealing with the same type of media every day and we wanted to be able to work on a film one day, the following week work on a couple of trailers, the week after that do commercials, squeeze in a little gaming work here and there.”
Work comes in from all over the entertainment landscape — film, TV, radio, videogames, the Internet. In recent months, SonicPool has done sound packages for the Scream, GLAAD and People's Choice awards shows; sweetening for concert DVDs from John Fogerty, Sheryl Crow and Seal; gaming trailers for Spiderman 3, Resistance: Fall of Man and Call of Duty 4; radio promos for Comedy Central series Halfway Home; trailers and promos for ABC Family Channel and ABC Daytime TV; trailers and TV spots for a dozen indie films; and radio promos for such major-studio features as Babel, An Inconvenient Truth, Blacksnake Moan and Smokin' Aces. On the day I stop by, the company is mixing trailers and TV spots and a behind-the-scenes Internet piece for horror film Abandoned (which is also posting in-house), as well as doing sound design and 5.1 mixes of promos for recently launched on-demand service and horror TV network FEARnet.
Trailers and promos for horror flicks provide the partners with particular gratification in that “we get the opportunity to build the wall of sound,” says Frost. “By that I mean you've got everything going on — dialog, voice-over, music, sound effects — and when it's a horror film, we want everything including the kitchen sink in there.”
Bird adds, “One of the things we pride ourselves on is the creative aspect of what we do — the sound design, getting the mix together, being able to push a mix with so much stuff going on and yet you can hear everything, and every time you listen to it, you hear different things. We mix a little more musically. It's really like mixing a little action sequence, but with voice-overs. When you're doing movies, there's a much wider dynamic range. With trailers and promos, they need to be loud, but you still need to hear everything and we mix toward that.”
“A promo or a trailer is a piece of advertising space and everything is being thrown at the viewer now,” Frost says. “That's the challenge: to get that dynamic range without actually utilizing dynamic range. Promos are the tightest because you have 30 seconds as opposed to a two-minute trailer.”
Along with hands-on work, the partners oversee every project that goes through their facility, as well as manage the building. “We have some really long days — or days that string together,” says Bird. “Last night at 11:30,” adds Frost, “I walked out with two clients, and there were people out on the corner talking, somebody was coming into the foyer from the parking lot, the Current TV people were walking in from around the corner. It's open late.”
“We didn't even get around to putting a sign on the building until about three months ago,” says Bird. It's worth noting that the sign is on the back wall, facing the parking lot — subtle. These guys have their own way of doing things, but it appears to be working.
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