Michael Wolf Snyder, 'Nomadland' Production Sound Mixer, Dies at 35

Michael Wolf Snyder
Searchlight Pictures

Michael Wolf Snyder

In a message via Facebook on Friday, David Snyder wrote that his son Michael took his own life.

Michael Wolf Snyder, a production sound mixer on Nomadland, has died. He was 35.

Snyder's aunt Cathy shared a Facebook message from her brother David — Michael's father — confirming his son's death. In the post, Snyder wrote that Michael took his own life last week and that he suffered from depression for many years.

The message read, in part, "Michael took his own life sometime in the last week and wasn’t discovered until I went to check on him Monday after he had dropped out of contact for several days. He has suffered from Major Depression for many years. For most people, this is an illness that waxes and wanes over the years. I’m sure it was difficult for Michael that he spent most of the last year alone in his small, Queens apartment, being responsible about dealing with the coronavirus. In spite of this, we all believed he was doing well, and for most of this past year I think he was. He seemed especially joyful and invigorated in these last few months since he was able to return to work on several different film projects. He was certainly thrilled about all of the accolades for Nomadland and told us many happy stories about his work on the film and the amazing people he got to spend time with."

Of Michael's career, Snyder shared, "We have always known how much Wolf loved his work in film; it was the brightest spot in his life." This year, Michael was nominated for best sound/effects at the CinEuphoria awards for Chloe Zhao's Nomadland. His additional credits in the sound department include Zhao's The Rider, mini-series HodoBuzz and Good Omens, and numerous short films. On set over the last decade, his roles ranged from sound mixer to boom operator, location sound recordist and sound director.

In sharing the circumstances of his son's death, Synder, a psychiatrist, urged others struggling with depression to seek support. "I hope that the shocking nature of Michael’s death will alert others to speak up, risk being vulnerable, and seek the help that they need," he wrote.

Searchlight Pictures shared the following statement with The Hollywood Reporter on Saturday night: "We extend our deepest condolences to Wolf’s family and to our friends, the company of Nomadland." 

At the Critics' Choice Awards on Sunday, Zhao, who won best director for Nomadland, paid tribute to Snyder. "The best moments of our day [were the] whole crew watching Wolf and he would say, 'Get ready to go to your zen place.' And we did. Thank you, Wolf, we honor you and we will see you down the road," Zhao said.

Meanwhile, the producers said in a joint statement, "While our hearts break with Wolf’s loss, we hope it is a comfort to know that his spirit will live forever in every laugh he recorded, every breeze,  and every gallop of a horse. He was part of our little movie family and his kind soul touched us all. Wolf truly brought life to our film. We send our condolences to his family on behalf of the entire Nomadland company. See you down the road, sweet friend."

Nomadland star Frances McDormand shared in a brief statement, "Wolf recorded our heart beats.  Our every breath.  For me, he is Nomadland."

Zhao wrote a tribute to Snyder in which she remembered their dynamic together on set. "On The Rider and Nomadland, I always looked at Wolf after each take," she wrote. "I didn’t wear headphones on set and so I heavily relied on Wolf to be my ears.  He would nod at me with a happy grin, or tears in his eyes, or sometimes he would discreetly signal 'one more.' During The Rider, Wolf suggested an idea we later took onto Nomadland — recording room tones longer than we need as a chance to experience silence.  After hustling on each location, we sat together, in silence, tuned in, listened and honored the world around us and each other. I will always miss him. He would always be with me on set, after each take, and in the silence of every room tone. See you down the road, my friend."

The close-knit Nomadland production team and Hollywood sound community was also saddened and in shock on Saturday. "His work is what makes the film sound as beautiful as it does," Nomadland's supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Zach Seivers told THR. "He captured the performances and every emotion. Not only did he record the dialog excellently, but he recorded additional sounds. He saw himself as a storyteller. He would take the time to go away from the crew and record ambiance and textural elements."

Seivers continued, recalling on-set elements such as geese in Northern California and how Snyder responded to them. "It’s highly unusual to capture the essence of the location… It lent the sort of authenticity to the film that Chloe envisioned," he said.

This was the first time Seivers and Snyder had worked together, and Seivers remembered his colleague as a "lovely, joyful person and our friendship was just getting started." Seivers added, "He has so much that he gave. I was really looking forward to continuing to build that relationship with him and the work that he has ahead of him. I’m so very sad and so sorry for his family’s loss."

Production sound mixer Don Hale, who did not work on Nomadland but was a friend and colleague of Synder, also shared a memory with THR. "When something like this happens, it comes to the heart of each of us,” he said, urging anyone having feelings such as depression to reach out to their friends and colleagues. Hale remembers Snyder as a very creative person, full of energy and enthusiasm, and passionate about his work. "He truly loved working on [Nomadland]. There were so many elements that he enjoyed the outdoors, the freedom. [He said] it was a great experience and he was so happy he was a part of it."

Among many tributes on Facebook, actor Yuval Davis wrote, "Michael Wolf Snyder was the super-cool award-winning sound mixer who recorded on set audio for the latest feature film I directed. His tragic loss is painfully heard." Filmmaker Craig Blair remembered Snyder as a "wonderful friend & talented collaborator," writing on Facebook that he "embodied everything that I love about filmmaking and the community that he was and will always be a part of."

9:09 p.m.: Updated with statements from Seivers and Hale.

10:43 p.m.: Updated with statements from Searchlight, Nomadland film producers, McDormand and Zhao.

6:59 p.m. March 7: Updated with Zhao's tribute to Snyder at the Critics' Choice Awards.