FEAST OF FUN podcast interview

I was recently interviewed on the hit podcast FEAST OF FUN (you can subscribe on iTunes).  It was a great visit with Marc and Fausto, and at the time of this writing more than 24,000 people listened to the interview!

We talked about my friend the great actress Karen Black, filming EL GANZO in Mexico, digging up bodies on alleyways, punk rock royalty Pleasant Gehman, and the other current film I have on the festival circuit: HELL TOWN.  They also got me to talk about being betrayed by my ex the sociopath, but unfortunately the last half of our interview (which had to do primarily with commentary from the guys on the Rachel Dolezal crisis, during which I basically said nothing for 10 minutes) was cut when ProTools stopped recording without the guys being notified.

You can listen to the podcast HERE or at this link: http://feastoffun.com/podcast/2015/06/18/fof-2180-hell-yes-to-hell-town/

Enjoy!  I really loved my visit with FEAST OF FUN and am excited to share it with those of you who haven’t heard it yet.

HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 2 of 4

Click here to read PART ONE.

By that point the industry had changed so dramatically I wasn’t sure what was happening.  HD Cameras were becoming technically more advanced.  They were finally beginning to have the look and feel of celluloid.  Shooting on actual film was becoming obsolete.

Then I got an idea to do a documentary on the life of my friend—Los Angeles icon, writer/poet, and punk rock royalty Pleasant Gehman (aka universally celebrated belly dance star Princess Farhana).  Traveling with her, and filming her for a year, really helped put my career path in perspective.  Why was I making movies to begin with?

I didn’t need to have fancy equipment trucks lining the streets so it would “look” like I was making a movie to passers by.  I didn’t want the phony photograph with hoards of crew people posed behind me while I stood nose-to-the-sky next to the 35mm Arriflex (or today’s version: The RED).  I know those kinds of filmmakers and that isn’t the kind I aspire to be.  My desire is about what’s on screen.  What is there for the viewer, regardless of the format.

When a person is watching a movie they can’t see what kinds of snacks are on the craft service table, or if any of the actors had personal make-up trailers.  So why should I waste the money on frivolous stuff that doesn’t enhance the image?  Why worry about it?

I realize that many aspiring filmmakers out there try to mask the fact they don’t know what they’re doing by “playing the part” of Director.  To passers by, so long as they “look like” a director, they will feel like a director.  And the equipment, crew, cash, and drama of the “production” become props in their disguise.  And without those props they would feel amateurish and worthless.  And they will often talk down to the ones who don’t follow in their footsteps.

During this time, I learned David Lynch was planning to downsize from celluloid to video with a project called INLAND EMPIRE.  Getting rid of all the “production” associated with film and moving to digital has tremendous cost savings.  By omitting shooting on celluloid, we filmmakers would omit having to house and feed 42 people.  We also omit the excessive equipment rental costs and several hundred thousand dollars of unneeded expenses associated with a project shot on film.

I started thinking really seriously about the way Kubrick shot his movies.  And the way Cassevetes liked to work.

They preferred a kind of intimate production.  One where the crew was made up of just a few people: they did their own camera work, had just one or two people on the crew (sound, lighting) and a few actors.  Why, it would be no different than a few friends shooting in their backyards like we all did in film school.  It would appear to passers by to be exactly the same.  Amateurish.  Except that each person in that small group would be respecting their craft.  I realized that so long as there is a respect for what you’re doing, the appearance to passers by is totally irrelevant.

There would be no glamorous shoot, no luxuries, nor stylists applying make-up to actors in high-back chairs with their names stenciled on them.  It would be punk rock, baby.  We’d have to do our own work.  Lift our own camera case, do our own make-up and hair, bring our own lunch to the set.  Passers by wouldn’t stop.  They’d keep right on walking, paying us no mind at all.  We would be free of onlookers.  We would also be free of actors or crew people who placed more emphasis on the appearance of the set than they did their actual craft.

That possibility excited me to no end.

(To be continued next week.)

HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 1 of 4

In 1997, I made my first film PEP SQUAD.  It was a campy, subversive satire on America that predicted what would become a string of school violence incidents.  It was shot on 35mm and cost roughly the GDP of Barbados.  It took six weeks to shoot with 40 people on the crew and with long, tiresome fourteen-hour days.  In 2000 after the controversy surrounding American school violence had calmed down it was released on VHS.  YES!  VHS!  See, in addition to the yet-to-be universally accepted “world wide web,” DVDs were not established yet.  Can those of you under 30 even imagine?

2010 marked PEP SQUAD’s 10-year anniversary with a special Blu-ray release from Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma.  Critics have called it the best B-Movie ever made and it has become a cult classic.

In 2003, I made my second feature.  It was called FIRECRACKER, shot on Super 35mm, and also cost roughly the GDP of Barbados.  Preeminent film critic Roger Ebert gave it a special jury award on his list of 2005’s Best Films.  It was a demanding production: eight shooting weeks, six days per week, fourteen hour days, 42 people on the crew, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on camera and lighting equipment rentals, housing and feeding people, costumes, sets, equipment trucks, cables, generators, and on and on.

When it came time for FIRECRACKER to be released, the rules of the film industry were rapidly changing.  The Internet had caught on, everyone had email, DVDs had replaced VHS, and certain companies weren’t buying movies the way they had a few years prior.  The exclusive independent film deals from Hollywood Video, etc., were nonexistent.  The top-tier film festivals were becoming “owned” by sponsors who dictated which movies they could screen (often these movies were also funded by said sponsor), industry “buyers” were offering less and less upfront payment for distribution rights, and even if you did make a sale (like we did) they would likely never pay you (fairly, or at all).

Domestic companies didn’t understand our movie.  I encouraged them to market it to Mike Patton’s fan base but they didn’t know who he was.  I showed them our website stats, where the fans were coming from, and they still didn’t get it.  It was as if they simply didn’t believe me.

So I decided to release the film in theaters on my own.

I took the film on the road in a first-ever DIY kind of deal with Landmark Cinemas.  It was the “Freak Show Tour” which I modeled after the kinds of tours a musician would take.  We screened in a dozen or so major cities across the USA, having some of the stars appear at the screenings for extra media attention.  And it was a massive success.  Not only did we sell out all of the shows, but suddenly, because of the media attention and critical acclaim, domestic distribution companies were all over us.

We struck a distribution deal with two companies: one for domestic and one for international.  Internationally, the rights for FIRECRACKER were sold to companies in Greece, Germany, Australia, Thailand, the Middle East, the UK, Scandinavia, South Africa, among other countries.  As of December 31, 2009, the foreign sales receipts added up to $97,240.

FIRECRACKER was also released in the USA.  AEC One Stop, Baker & Taylor, Blockbuster, DVD Empire, Hollywood Video, Ingram Entertainment, NetFlix, among other re-sellers.  As of March 2007 (our domestic distribution company refuses to send us additional reports) the total domestic sales receipts added up to about $159,468.

Did we ever see that money?  No.  With all their so-called “marketing” expenses—First-Class flights to festivals and markets in Milan, Cannes, Berlin, five-star hotel rooms, and other useless fees—it was clear to me that we would likely never see anything.

Then there came a story on the front page of the New York Times about the producers from the Oscar-winning film CRASH not yet receiving any money from their distributor.  Turned out we had the same distribution company.  No joke.

Could we have taken legal action?  Sure.  We probably still could.  But it would cost more money to fight them than any we’d get in a settlement.  If they are ripping off big-guy Oscar-winners, who do have access to the kinds of money to pay for legal fees, there is no way us little guys even have a chance.  And if we did fight them and win, we’d be broke in the end regardless.

So we saved our time, money and energy, and moved on.  Productively.

(To be continued next week)

The Wamego Trilogy

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its initial release, I am making the WAMEGO TRILOGY available for FREE on Vimeo.  Spread the word and share these documentaries with every filmmaker (aspiring or professional) you know.

“Dreams are made of this stuff… Missing here are power-lunches and power-trips. Which is a breath of that fresh Kansas air.” – AFTERTASTE MAGAZINE

“Perfect! If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you’d be a complete fool not to watch all the docs in this trilogy… There’s a lesson to be learned from the Baldersons.”
FILM THREAT

“Hollywood should be jealous.” – ICON MAGAZINE

“Literally thousands of miles away from the world of red carpets, cocaine nose-jobs and botoxed to the bone, anorexic 40-year-old women pretending to be 21, Wamego is a world full of cinematic dreams and devoid of pretension.”
HOFSTRA CHRONICLE

“Steve Balderson’s approach to his work is not just a breath of fresh air – it is a gale-force wind that just may huff and puff and blow that famous Hollywood sign down right before the film industry’s eyes.”
OREGON DAILY EMERALD

“A constant reminder to never give up or give in…”
ALL ABOUT TOWN MAGAZINE

“WAMEGO is a testament to the hard work ethic of the Midwest. It proves that with determination, anything is possible – even making a feature film by yourself, in the middle of nowhere!”
LAWRENCE JOURNAL-WORLD

“What was ‘Lost in La Mancha’ could easily be ‘Found in Wamego’ … A warmfelt, honest lesson how to realize your dream without sharing a bed with the devil.”
PLANB MAGAZINE, NORWAY

“Balderson serves a fat slice of humble pie to his Hollywood peers. A reality-check to inspire indie artists worldwide!”
THE BLACKSMOKE ORGANISATION, UK

“Those who have filmmaking ambitions of their own will get a little more…”
MICRO-FILM MAGAZINE

“WAMEGO will have a league of moviemakers clicking their heels to be transported to the Kansan, Do-It-Yourself state of mind.”
BRAD JEWELL

“It’s fascinating, entertaining, inspiring.”
PLAYLOUDER, UK

“The documentary, more than any other movie-in-process film, actually demonstrates how to make a movie. It’s not a tedious and silly art school exercise, but a deep look into the thinking, perspective and determination that a filmmaker has to have in order to get a vision on the screen. Wamego is good story telling… A rich tale with fully developed characters, a well-developed plot and layers of conflict… Wamego is recommended viewing… Shows those professionals from LA how things should be done.”
DISCOVERY PUBLICATIONS

EXPOSURE AND MONEY

They aren’t one and the same.  Sometimes they go together and sometimes they don’t.

Because of my interest in eating well, I’ve known many restaurant owners.  Once, I asked a maverick restaurateur why her bottles of wine were priced less than other fine dining establishments.  She confided in me that her main objective was to move more product.  Her goal was to sell twice as many bottles of wine than her competition.  So she priced them affordably.  Usually the markup is ridiculous.  A good $12 bottle of wine in a liquor store usually costs $24-36 at a restaurant.  But, at her establishment, it might only cost $22-26.

I used to struggle with this idea until I started realizing what my preferences were when it came to releasing movies.  Often times, people will ask me which of my films has been the most successful.  It’s a really hard question to answer.  First, I have to ask them what they define as success.  Everyone has an entirely different definition.  Some people define success as the amount of money a movie makes, while others might define success based on the critical acclaim, awards, exposure, or in what countries your movie is released.

My film FIRECRACKER was released in almost every country on the planet, won numerous awards, pre-eminent film critic Roger Ebert gave it a special Jury Prize on his list of that year’s best films, yet the investors never made a decent return on their investment and in the USA it was basically shelved by the stupid distributor and is currently only available for streaming at Vimeo On Demand HERE: www.Vimeo.com/ondemand/firecracker

WELLSPRING was a really cool distribution company who wanted to distribute FIRECRACKER.  The company is now long defunct, but at the time they were the coolest boutique place to be.  They were distributing Todd Solondz’ movies.  WELLSPRING offered a decent advance, but only wanted to print 10,000 dvds.  While another distributor, FIRST LOOK STUDIOS, was offering a little less money but planned to release 50,000+ dvds on the initial run.  We decided to go with the FIRST LOOK.

For me, at that time in my career, it was more important to have the volume and exposure, even if I was setting myself up for less financial reward.

When it comes time to release a film, I always ask myself, in the event I’m unable to strike a deal for global exposure AND financial reward, which is better: to release the film globally, in as many countries as possible, for potentially less return?  Or is it better to have a smaller release in a just a few countries and make more money?  Each movie has a different set of criteria and a different set of questions and answers.

Of course we all want as many people as possible to have the chance to see our work.  And we also hope for great financial return so we can continue to make more movies.  This is why it’s important for me to keep costs as low as possible.  That way, I have a greater chance of financial reward.

Some of you might not know that exhibitors take 50% of any ticket sales at the movie theatre.  So if a studio movie cost $50million to produce and market, they will need to have box office returns that exceed $100million before they’ll ever see a cent of profit.  If you’ve sold your movie to a distributor, the distribution company will take even more, so the likelihood is you’ll need a box office figure closer to $150million before you’re living the Sinatra “good life.”

If your independent movie has a chance to make about $250,000 worldwide over the course of a lifetime, it might behoove you to keep the budget for that particular project about a third of that or lower.  The Movie Business is a business, albeit an idiotic and incredibly limiting one, which I’ll explain more in another article.  But it can be incredibly rewarding and successful on many levels.  Just depends on what you define as success.  And how you’d like to share your work with the world.

VANITY ON THE CLOCK

If you’ve worked on a film set, you know how important it is to remain on schedule.  The art of scheduling a movie accurately is really one of the most important parts of the filmmaking process.

In order to schedule a movie, clear communication needs to take place between the crew and cast who will shape it.  Some DP’s will want to spend hours lighting “that shot” while some actors want another hour to prep for the scene – and soon you’re behind schedule.

The first thing I do is limit the DP set up time.  If he or she has truly given it some thought, there will be an easy way to light nearly any scene in less than 15-30 minutes.  On any given budget.  But, it takes the self-discipline to be able to sit down and plan it.  If you wait to decide what to do until you show up on the set, you won’t know what you’re doing until you get there.  In that case, you will not be prepared and it could take a long time before the camera team is ready to get the shot.

Another thing I do is tell my actors to show up Make-Up and Hair ready.  In some cases I have hired a hair and make-up person, but I tell them to be in charge of their own schedule.  And if Hillary needs to be camera ready at 3pm, she should be on set at 3pm.  It’s the responsibility of the make-up artist and Hillary to make sure this happens.

Preferably there won’t be any make-up or hair person, and each actor can just be responsible for doing it themselves.  If my actor isn’t comfortable doing it on their own,  they can hire their own make-up artist.  I’m happy to give the artist credit in the movie, but they most likely won’t be a part of our overall schedule and planning process.

I understand that everyone wants to look his or her best whether it’s in front of or behind the camera.  The DP wants the best lighting, the actors want to look their best, the props, costumes, all of it.  Each person wants to achieve their best.  And I think that’s great!  When I’m directing something, I want it to be the best possible experience for the viewer.  So I totally get everyone wanting to be and do his or her best.

What I don’t understand is how few people are really willing to take responsibility for themselves to make sure they achieve their goals.  I sketch storyboards before showing up on the set.  There’s no reason the DP can’t look at them and design his lighting plan in advance.  There’s no reason the actors can’t look at them and know which side of their face will be seen.

I made my storyboards available to the cast and crew of FIRECRACKER and I believe only about four people (out of 42) looked at them.  Karen Black was one of them.  There was only one moment Karen didn’t like where I was putting the camera.  But, I told her that now wasn’t the time for that discussion.  The time for conversation was all those weeks earlier when we went through each storyboard together.

Since I filmed FIRECRACKER, I’ve never had an unorganized shooting day.  And I’ve never been behind schedule.  Even if I’ve experienced a scene running over the pre-planned time, I average about an hour ahead of the scheduled wrap time each day.

Yes, it is possible to make a feature film wherein you don’t have to work 12-14 hours a day.  The trick is to check vanity at the door, really communicate with clarity and focus, and work with people who love taking responsibility for managing themselves realistically.

DENNIS HOPPER’S HOUSE

Pulling up to his compound on a side-street in Venice Beach, California, not far from the beach, I was struck by the surreal corrugated metal façade.  If I hadn’t known he lived there, it would make sense that someone offbeat did.  And the white picket fence out front, planted firmly with tongue in cheek, was the perfect touch.

My dad, Clark, was with me.  We were ushered in the front door and navigated a seemingly endless row of classic cars, luxury cars and more cars.  At the end of the parking area we climbed a flight of stairs that was open to the second floor, with an enormous ceiling probably 20 feet high.  As we climbed it became brighter and brighter, and I took notice of the original Warhols, Basquiats, and other incredible pieces of modern art.  (Later I would learn that his collection was vast, valued at $10 million.)

My favorite lesson was finding out Dennis shot two bullet holes through an Andy Warhol portrait of Mao Zedong.  And, instead of Warhol freaking out about it, he called Hopper “a collaborator.”

At the top of the staircase I was surprised at how plain his house was.  Just one big space with dining area on one side and sitting area on the next, kitchen beyond, and a doorway to the bedrooms.  Hopper’s then wife Victoria was in the kitchen and greeted us as Hopper came in from the back wearing sweats and a hoodie.

I’d brought him a gift.  A coffee table book of photographs called BACKYARD VISIONARIES.  Dennis grew up in Kansas, down the street from my grandmother’s home in Dodge City.  He loved the book.

The first thing he told us was that he thought FIRECRACKER was one of the best scripts he’d ever read.  I presented him with my storyboards of every shot of the entire film.  He carefully read it, commenting how amazing this film would be.

He proposed coming to Kansas for five days to play the character FRANK, and then we settled back and spoke about life and other interests.  Dennis had been in negotiations with Lehman Brothers (the former global financial services firm) to produce 10 feature films for $10 million each.  Lehman would bankroll the venture for $100 million and Hopper would be in charge of the slate.  Hopper asked if we could use FIRECRACKER as the first of these projects.  I was over the moon.  “Of course we could,” I said.  And we shook hands.

(Eventually the Lehman deal fell through.  Lehman changed their offer to Hopper and said they only wanted to put up $50 million, telling Hopper he had to come up with the other $50 million.  He told them to forget it.)

At some point during the discussion Victoria turned on the television and we watched in horror as reports came in that the Concorde had crashed on take off in France.  My sister and I had flown the Concorde back from the Cannes Film festival when my film PEP SQUAD had premiered.  We talked about how incredibly small it was inside and how anyone over six feet tall couldn’t stand up straight walking down the aisle.

Dennis Hopper was a fascinating man and a super nice guy.  He was complimentary of my work and gave me some damn good advice.  It’s a shame we didn’t have the chance to work together before he became ill.  When I learned of his passing, I took a moment to remember the Backyard Visionary he was when he started out making art and movies, and I smiled.

Dennis Hopper's house

Dennis Hopper’s house

HOLLYWOOD APPLE TURNOVER

I’m not speaking of the traditional apple turnovers, which are tender and flaky, with apple pie-like filling and a thin, white glaze.  Nor am I speaking about Gwenyth’s daughter.  I’m speaking of the kinds that are just a bit flaky and work as executives at movie studios in Hollywood.

When I began my film career in the 90s, I met a slew of awesome people who had great jobs with MGM, Miramax, and so forth.  After Harvey Weinstein called me personally to express his interest in my film PEP SQUAD, I became friends with his assistant.  Or, rather, his assistant du jour.  That person was quickly replaced by another assistant, who, shortly after being hired, developed a crush on me.  It was kind of bizarre.  Of course I never met the guy in real life, but to be funny, I sent him an 8×10 glossy of my face as a joke.  He hung it up on the wall by his desk.  And each time I called to visit with Harvey, the assistant thought I was calling to visit with him, not Harvey.  It all became very confusing.  But, just as soon as he was developing some long-distance feelings for me, he was axed as well.  So in came another assistant.  By that point I’d sold my movie to another distributor and I didn’t think Harvey would appreciate me continuing to bother him, so I stopped calling.  I’m not sure who his next assistant was.

My mentor Eric Sherman always suggested it was a really good idea to network and make friends with executives at certain companies because at some point they might be able to help me get a movie made, or whatever.

Besides Harvey Weinstein’s assistant, I met some great people who were VP’s of production, directors of acquisitions, and other higher-ups that, one would think, would be relatively great connections.

One incredible woman, Sara Rose, was an inspiration to me.  After seeing my film at the Cannes Film Market, she came up to me afterwards to introduce herself.  Any time I was in LA I would stop by and see her at MGM.  She always took my meetings and was always a delight to visit with.  She then became VP of Production at MGM and we spoke many times about making my film FIRECRACKER together.  That didn’t happen, but we kept in touch and I always looked forward to working with her in the future.

While I was on track to develop these relationships (some of the people were awesome, like Sara Rose, but some of the other ones were the flaky kind and not so cool), a strange thing kept happening.  They kept losing their jobs.

Some executives moved to other companies on their own free will, some were moved into different jobs within the same company (but not a job that had anything to do with why I was talking to them), and then there were some were fired and were never seen or heard from again.

After several years it became clear to me that most movie executives can’t keep a job for more than about two years.  This Turnover Syndrome is a bizarre fact about the movie business.  Even Penny Marshall mentioned this phenomenon in her memoirs.  If there is someone working with you on your movie when you start the process, they won’t be working at the studio when you finish the movie.  Just as simple as that.

My question is: WHY?  Why can’t most movie executives keep a job for more than a couple years?

DESIGNING MOVIE POSTERS

When it comes to design, there are no rules.  But there is such a thing as bad taste.  Bad taste on purpose can be a great way to communicate your product—especially if it’s a campy satire.  But if you’ve made a gothic horror or character drama, you don’t want to have crappy looking artwork.

There’s a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that looks like the latest hit.  There’s also a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that is totally misleading, just so that company can make a buck when the film is released.

My film FIRECRACKER could be cataloged as a Gothic horror.  But it is far from a horror film.  But the distribution company had the idea of marketing it as a horror film, with blood dripping off the letters and so forth.  That was a horrible idea.  I fought them, and got them to release the film with the Key Art I had designed, which communicated more honestly about the atmosphere and tone of the film.

My film CASSEROLE CLUB could be cataloged as a drama, or character study.  It has some campy moments (it takes place in 1969, so the costumes and art direction lend itself to looking campy even if the subject matter isn’t funny at all), and might have some sexual situations, but there really isn’t anything “sexy” about it.  The distributors for that film wanted to market the film as a “sexy” and titillating soft-core exposé.  I thought that would be a horrible mistake as well because the people expecting to see a sexy and soft-core movie would be totally disappointed.  But why did they want to market it that way?  Because sex sells.  That’s why.

My thinking is: if you want me to make and then sell you “Babes & Bikini Bingo: Summer Camp” or “Haunted Carnival, Part 3” I’m happy to do so, but don’t do something dishonest by marketing a movie that isn’t the movie.

When you design your movie poster, it’s important to remember that although different fonts can sometimes look cool, they do not look cool when you place them all together at the same time.  I always cringe when I see a design that features more than two or three different fonts.  It’s a dead giveaway that the designer just discovered Photoshop when you get the sense they had an urge to use EVERY font they could find.

I try and keep fonts simple and usually only use two.  One font is used for the main title, and another for actors names, blurbs, and other copy.  I try and make sure that the font I use for the main title is not used anywhere else in the design.  Using it more than once diminishes the impact of the main title.  So I always find a complementary font to use for everything else.  Remember: less is more.

With regards to the image or visual art, think about a memorable moment in the film and use it.  Before someone sees your movie, they don’t know what that image means, but after they see your movie, next time they see the artwork, it’ll remind them of your movie.  I try and avoid showing something if it’s giving too much away.  Like, if your movie is a murder mystery you probably wouldn’t want to show the killer on the cover holding a knife, because it would ruin the viewing experience.  But maybe if you wanted to throw off the viewer, you would show each character holding a weapon—then the viewer won’t know whodunit.

Saul Bass was a great designer of movie posters.  You might want to look him up.  His designs were far from the traditional Key Art you see today.  But, in this world of the Black Market Punk Rock Film Distribution, Key Art that is actual Artwork might be the perfect idea.

SOUND MAKES A MOVIE

The sound quality of a movie is the single most important thing to focus on.  Audiences will tolerate inferior image quality if the sound is perfect, but they will not tolerate a perfect visual image if the sound is inferior.  Naturally, you want to have both the image and the sound as perfect as possible, but if you must throw more money into one or the other jars—pick the sound jar.

When I started out in the business there were specialty sound houses that produced and edited a movie’s sound.  Even if you had no money, it still cost around $50,000.  Of course, back then, we were shooting on film and had to imprint the final sound onto celluloid.  Today, since film is obsolete, and almost everyone can get a copy of ProTools, it’s possible to get the same level of sound quality those sound houses provided for a fraction.

I can’t remember all their names, but Lisa Hannan and Paul N. J. Ottosson worked at that sound house who did the post sound on my first film PEP SQUAD.  They were both incredibly nice people and also very talented.  I remember telling them I wanted my sound design to rival that of THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, that surprisingly cool movie with Geena Davis.  They agreed it would, and they did it, and the sound in PEP SQUAD is phenomenal.

Paul and I have continued to work together many times over the years, and he won back-to-back Oscars in Sound for THE HURT LOCKER and again for ZERO DARK THIRTY.  He’s the best in the business, and the lessons he taught me are immeasurable.

I’ll mention one thing he taught me during the post sound in WATCH OUT.  There’s a hilarious scene with Peter Stickles at a Lobster restaurant where the production sound had an echo to it (either because the boom wasn’t placed in the right location, or for whatever other reason).  On the reverse angle, the production sound of the other character, played by Matt Riddlehoover, was not nearly as echoey.  Instead of removing the echo from Peter’s shots, Paul added more echo to the reverse shot.  So the echo matched.

That is one lesson I loved, and that never occurred to me before.  You don’t have to have crystal clear sound, you just need to make sure the sound goes by smoothly so the audience doesn’t get sonically jarred from shot to shot, or scene to scene.  I then remembered all the “bugs” and “weather” sounds Paul used in my film FIRECRACKER.  Instead of removing the bugs, they added more.

It’s about how to take what would normally be considered an error, or a sonic mistake, and using creativity to solve the problem.  If you use this way of thinking, and have taken good steps during production to insure you’ve got at least a good foundation to your sound, you, like me, will never need to do any ADR.  I remember Paul telling me that my production sound on FIRECRACKER was better quality that the production sound in the blockbuster SPIDERMAN 2, which required a ton of ADR, and also for which he was also nominated for an Academy Award.

Another trick I learned about sound, is that if you remove the bass from the dialogue, it’s easier to hear.  Try this next time you’re in your car listening to NPR.  Put the bass and treble at equal, listen for a bit, then remove just a small bit of the bass.  See what I mean?  Or, rather, hear what I mean?

It’s also fun to play around with Foley.  And sometimes the absence of Foley.  In FIRECRACKER I wanted to have the mother’s character (played by Karen Black), have really heavy Foley – like the gravity in her world was intense.  On the flip-side, I wanted them to remove all the feet Foley when it came to the carnival world, so when the carnival singer (also played by Karen Black) walked across the room, it was as if she were floating, feet never touching the ground.  Of course, that is all absorbed subconsciously.  Most viewers never notice those kinds of things.  But, they’re fun to play with.

Creating sonic landscapes is just as much fun as creating the visuals.  Remember this next time you’re watching a movie, or making one of your own.