‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Sound Editor Mark Mangini: "Sound Guys" Are Really Artists

Mark Mangini - S 2015
REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Sound pros are artists and authors of the sounds that serve a narrative — and they need to make themselves heard in Hollywood. That was the message of three-time Academy Award-nominated sound designer, editor and mixer Mark Mangini during a keynote at this weekend's Sound for Film conference on the Sony lot.

“Great sound begins with storytelling, just like film editing, just like directing,” asserted Mangini, whose recent credits include Mad Max: Fury Road and Black Mass.

He contended that the fact that they use technology “keeps us from being seen as authors and more like technicians. It’s why [sound categories] are all too often referred to by the many honorary societies as ‘technical awards,’ and why we are all to often referred to as the ‘sound guys.’

“Why can't it be, ‘I need to speak with the sound designer' or 'the director of sound' … the artists and collaborators we truly are?” he continued, adding that this needs to start with explaining the creative reason for a decision, rather than how to technically execute the idea. “When we learn to speak the ‘why’ of sound, we are speaking the language of storytelling.”

During the event — presented by Mix with the Cinema Audio Society and Motion Picture Sound Editors — Mangini also warned that there's a “Hollywood pandemic” in the sound community, surrounding the use of “mitigated speech, the notion that we speak to be polite to authority, often at expense of telling the truth and problem solving” as outlined in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

“How often to find ourselves searching for complimentary things to say to our filmmakers so as not to risk our political capital? Art doesn’t get created without risk,” asserted Mangini,

That message was emphasized during several panels at the event. “It’s incumbent on us as artists that we start to be heard again,” asserted Emmy-winning sound mixer Gary Bourgeois (National Geographic Specials). “Have an opinion. I hear of too many people not being heard.”

Oscar-winning sound mixer Lee Orloff (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) noted that this includes communicating and doing what is needed to record sound on set. “People say we're doing [something on set] for the sound. But we’re not, we are doing it for the movie, for the audience. There’s so much we can do to be collaborative on set. We need to get away from ‘fix it in post.’ ”

“As much as we can, we need to reenforce the idea that this is a process," said three-time Oscar winner Richard King (The Dark Knight), a sound editor, designer and mixer. "This is as important as visual effects or picture editing and it deserves the time that it takes. ... Sound is treated more as a service at the end of the film — even big-budget films are incredibly problematic. And they have the budget to work you overtime; that’s a cheap solution for them.”

Sound editor, designer and mixer Scott Gershin (Nightcrawler) agreed that the collaboration needs to begin sooner. “We spend a lot of time treading water, then one or two days before the mix it’s 24/7. Then you are on the dubbing stage and the picture has changed again. [With electronic editing] it’s just too easy to make changes.”

He added that another challenge to shortened schedules is the need for a growing number of versions. “There’s 5.1, 7.1, Atmos, foreign languages. … Sometimes I’m spending more time making versions than mixing the movie.”

There were varying points of view on how to approach these multiple mixes. Sound editor, designer and mixer Will Files (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) suggested starting with the mix for Dolby Atmos if that is being used, and then use that as the basis for the others. “I like to start with the highest quality," he said. "To me that gives you the best project. Moving forward, it’s all about how to bring the friction level down. I think as it continue to evolve, it will get more elegant it terms of the process and the flow, and I think the mix will benefit from that.”

King had a different approach: “Only 2 to 3 percent of the audience will get the Atmos version. I want to work on the one everyone is going to see, then go off [and create the other versions]. When there’s more Atmos theaters that’s all going to change.”

Speakers also warned not to rely too much on technology. “We have wonderful tools these days,” said sound editor Marla McGuire (Scandal). “But if we apply them too harshly, we [lose details].”

Addressing students in the audience, Bourgeois summed up: "You can manipulate [sound], but what are you trying to say? You have this thing called taste available to you. Use the tools with taste.”

The event was held across the Sony Pictures Post Production complex on the Sony lot, including in the Cary Grant Theatre, William Holden Theatre and Kim Novak Theatre.