night comes on - Crew Connection

‘Night Comes On’ producer talks indie film and being a soldier for art

‘Night Comes On’ producer talks indie film and being a soldier for art 2450 1536 Dani Lyman

There’s something unique about sitting across the table from an indie film producer. The energy of a fighter exists, quiet and understated, resting beneath the surface. For Danielle Renfrew Behrens, that energy reflects a 20 year career, multiple Sundance premieres and successes in both the documentary and indie feature genres. This experience has led her to become a champion for indie filmmakers, founding Superlative Films in 2015 as a “one stop shop” to fund low-budget films.

As a self-proclaimed “treasure hunter” Behrens’ job is to dig deep to find diamonds in the rough, screenplays waiting to be discovered, films needing to be made. Once the project has been chosen, a different side to the producer emerges. In this phase, she calls herself a “soldier,” someone who goes to battle to make sure these films find a screen and an audience. And, for Behrens, it is all about the story.

“Indie film is a grind. People are in it for something other than the money.” Behrens explains, there tends “to be a sense of collaboration on an indie set,” because the crew is there for more than a job. Due to the lack of a financial safety net, everyone involved matters and has to work together to contribute to a piece of art that matters too. A story that has to be told.

Eight minutes into Superlative’s latest film, Night Comes On, it becomes clear why this story had to be told. Dominique Fishback and Tatum Marilyn Hall give piercing performances as sisters who embark on a journey of revenge after suffering a great tragedy. The movie is unapologetically unsettling and raw, laced with moments of such tenderness and heartache you can’t turn away, even when you’d like to. It’s hard to watch, but you need to.

Those urges, the ability to move a human being, is likely what drew Behrens to the script to begin with. As Founder of Superlative Films, Behrens is the sole decision maker. She selects her projects by journeying through her virtual stack of scripts to find the one. But how do you know when you’ve found a stand-out, has to be made story?

“It’s all subjective. It comes down to my taste… something I read and can’t put down.” No surprise, her taste seems to resonate with viewers and critics alike. In May, Samuel Goldwyn Films acquired distribution rights to Night Comes On and critics from the LA Times to the NY Times call the movie “touching,” “stirring,” “authentic,” and “impressive.” Not bad for first time director, Jordana Spiro, who also co-wrote the script with Angelica Nwandu.

“It’s not by design” that Behrens finds herself continually working with first time directors. However, that tends to be what she gravitates towards. All five Superlative films to date have been directorial debuts. Perhaps that is because Behrens views herself as a person who “identifies talent, supports that talent and helps them get out of their own way.”

In this way, her adjective, “Mother Hen” also suits her perfectly. There is a maternal tone of affection when she speaks of how “proud” she is of Fishback’s and Halls’ “phenomenal” performances and how Spiro will move forward into new and interesting projects.

There is no doubt the indie film world is a hustle, tough and often lacking in financial reward. But, if Behrens and Night Comes On prove anything, it is also a heart-filled community committed to artistic growth and telling stories that mean something.

Night Comes On is now available to stream online.

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Make yourself and your crew known online

Make yourself and your crew known online 6000 4000 Dani Lyman

When you work in video production it is paramount that you have an online presence.  Vimeo and YouTube are excellent avenues to highlight your work and attract new clients, but nothing like a strong and modern website confidently says, “I’m a professional and you can trust me.”

So, here are a few tips to help you up your online presence !

Get in the game

First things first, you need a website. Everyone has one. Maybe a lot of your work comes from word of mouth and you’ve been doing just fine. But, if you want to attract newer clients and stay ahead of your  competition then you need a website. A slick site helps to gain credibility and prove you have the talent and equipment. It also showcases who you are and what you specialize in all in one place.

Looks are Everything

Now, how you execute your website is extremely important. The most crucial element is your gallery of work. Many video production professionals make the mistake of throwing all their work, from film school to present, on their site. In this case, however, there’s no question that we always want quality over quantity. Keep the newest, trendiest, cleanest work on your site and remove anything else that brings the standard down.

Keep your gallery clean and organized by categories that are easy to view. Add an aerial reel, a commercial reel, a short film reel and keep the layout simple. There are many approaches to this, but after searching across multiple websites, this is one of the sharpest and most effective galleries I found.

Out with the Old

Remember to remove old videos across all social media platforms, as well. When people google you be sure they only find top notch examples of your work! Potential clients are going to judge you off that first viewing, so don’t let any old and out of date videos drag you down.

Post it, Tweet it, Share it

Link your website to every other social media platform and stay current! If you link to Twitter –  tweet! Have fresh and exciting content that lets the client peer into the experience they will have with you on location. If you link to Insta then post BTS photos, sunsets, quirky crew shots, new equipment – etc. Link to Vimeo and make sure it showcases your most current stand out pieces.

Brag a Little

Have you won an award? Were you featured in a magazine? Have brand name clients given you shout outs and accolades? Share it! If others have trusted you then new clients will be more inclined to do so as well. This is a great example from Motion Source in Chicago. I don’t even know half of these awards, but I’m immediately impressed.

Get Cheeky with it

Lastly, and the most endearing part of your social presence, is getting creative and adding some personality! The “About Us” section of your site is a great place to add some silliness and character.  You can personalize the experience by adding fun team photos, like this unique selfie example from Miami based crew Maxime.





animated video crew | Crew Connection

Four ways for production crews to avoid costly filming mistakes

Four ways for production crews to avoid costly filming mistakes 5000 3886 Heidi McLean

Gear failures, lighting blunders, audio fails—video productions are rife with opportunities for things to go wrong. Here’s some simple but hard-earned wisdom on ways production crews can prevent some of the most common and costly blunders.


How production crews can prevent costly filming mistakes


1. Plan, plan, plan…and then plan some more 

If you ever want your footage to make it to post-production, you have to do some pre-planning. If applicable, get location permits and talent releases signed before you even show up and have extras on hand just in case. Know what kind of tone or look you’re going for. Have a rough schedule in place to determine what scenes and shots you need.

Over-communicate to be sure you understand your client’s vision. This sets you up to execute it to the best of your abilityAnything you can do ahead of time, do it. And then be ready to adjust on the fly because there’s one guarantee: It will never go exactly as you’ve planned.


2. Know your equipment

Never put yourself in position to have to learn gear under pressure. Not only is it embarrassing fumbling around on a shoot, it can also slow down production. It’s better to use tried and true equipment than to attempt learning shiny new stuff on the fly. Give yourself enough time to get comfortable. Even if you’ve been hired to use someone else’s equipment, see if you can spend a little time ahead of the shoot learning unfamiliar gear. 


3. Expect the best, but prepare for the worst

Assemble a first-aid kit of sorts. Include extra batteries, memory cards, and lightbulbs as needed. Have two sources for capturing audio in case your first choice fails. Bring weather protection for your gear even if the forecast is clear. Include a world of gaff tape. The stuff works miracles—like rigging up a makeshift backdrop or holding microphones in place.


4. If you see something, say something 

A lot of magic happens in post-production, but no amount of mixing or sweetening can bring back non-existent audio or make up for a poorly-lit set. Even if you are knee-deep in an interview, be ready to interrupt. Redoing lights or waiting for disruptive wind to die down may feel inconvenient in the moment, but it saves trouble in the long run.


The bottom line

Have a back-up plan for your back-up plan, keep gaff tape and other quick fixes on hand to prevent gaffes, and don’t rely on post-production to fix preventable errors. Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the biggest difference. 



About Crew Connection

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Crew Connection puts a suite of marketing tools at your fingertips. Get your demo reels, stills, gear, awards, and more in front of the biggest clients all over the world—for free. At Crew Connection we pay video and post production providers within 30 days of receiving your invoice so your work and your life are never interrupted. Need live assistance or want to add quality jobs to your pipeline? Our crew coordinators are on call around the clock. Sign In to Crew Connection, call 303-526-4900, or email info@crewconnection.com.

Studio set | Crew Connection

Four ways to build a studio

Four ways to build a studio 500 375 Crew Connection

*This article was originally posted to productionhub.com. Read the original article here.


What better place to go for advice on how to build a successful production house than where competition is the stiffest? Mike Levy started Levy Production Group in 1987 and succeeded where many others failed—Las Vegas. We figure if you can make it in the entertainment capital of the world, you can probably make it anywhere. Here are our top four takeaways from Mike on how to build a successful studio:

Get experience

The best thing young, aspiring editors, camera people, and future business owners can do is get experience. If you want to become the go-to person in your field, take online courses, college courses, and even unpaid gigs as opportunities to learn the ins and outs of video production. Learn the industry overall, not just your position. Understanding everything from production through post makes you a well-rounded teammate or team lead. Not all jobs offer glamour, but all jobs offer experience.

Be nice

Being talented isn’t enough. Don’t just learn to be good at what you do, but also at how you do it. This is not your typical desk job. Our industry is famous for long hours, late nights, and many consecutive days on set. Tough conditions can bring out the worst in people. Those who can communicate clearly, listen well, and stay level-headed are invaluable. You’ll be remembered as much for the way you conduct yourself as for the work you produce. Be humble. Look to learn from people rather than to be right.


4 ways to build a studio

Behind the scenes with Levy Production Group.


A warehouse is just a warehouse

You can’t just call a large, open building a studio. Having enough room to shoot properly is just the beginning. If you really want to do it right, you have to be ready to invest in heating and cooling, overhead and floor lighting, and soundproofing, for starters. If clients have to redo a take because they hear an ambulance in the background, they’ll be taking their business elsewhere next time. You also need creature comforts so you can accommodate not just the shoots, but the people, too. Clients want to go to a facility that feels good—with nice dressing rooms, kitchen areas, restrooms, etc. Fresh-baked cookies (a Levy Production Group signature), goodie baskets, meals, snacks, candies, sodas, and gourmet coffees and teas go a long way toward making people comfortable and earning repeat business.

Find your niche and do it well

It seems simple, but most of the important things are. When you have the best resources and do the best work, you’ll get return clients. Word of mouth and reputation are irreplaceable.

After starting as an ad agency and outsourcing to local TV stations, Mike Levy decided to invest in a small stage to facilitate smaller projects like ChromaKey insert shoots and single-car shoots. Realizing that they were good at something and that they could get paid for it, Levy Production Group bought their first camera and editing package and have grown along with Vegas ever since. In their current 14,000 square-foot facility, they do everything from everyday interviews to shoots with big-name celebrities, athletes, and musicians.

Building any business can feel like a gamble, but with these key practices it’s a sure bet.


4 ways to build a studio

A peak inside the top-of-the-line studio at Levy Production Group.


About Crew Connection

Crew Connection logo

Crew Connection puts a suite of marketing tools at your fingertips. Get your demo reels, stills, gear, awards, and more in front of the biggest clients all over the world—for free. At Crew Connection we pay video and post production providers within 30 days of receiving your invoice so your work and your life are never interrupted. Need live assistance or want to add quality jobs to your pipeline? Our crew coordinators are on call around the clock. Sign In to Crew Connection, call 303-526-4900, or email info@crewconnection.com.

Heidi McLean | Crew Connection

Heidi McLean: A Pioneer in Film and Video Crewing Services

Heidi McLean: A Pioneer in Film and Video Crewing Services 399 399 Crew Connection

Everyone can see opportunities, but successful people act on them. With a 2-year-old, a newborn, and a home under construction, Heidi McLean had every reason not to fill the need she saw in the film and video crewing services industry. But instead of making excuses, she went for it—starting a business that connected the film crews she knew from her freelance news work with the companies that needed them. Crew Connection‘s film and video crewing services started with just Heidi, incorporated a month later and hired its first employee within a year. Crew Connection and PayReel (its sister company) now employ over a dozen full-time people between them and consistently rank among the top Colorado Companies to Watch.

A few decades’ worth of experience provide some great tips for anyone looking to grow personally or professionally:

1) Be persistent

If it seems overwhelming at first and at many points after, that’s because it is. Take small steps. It doesn’t matter if you’re moving slowly, just as long as you’re moving forward.

2) Be Flexible

Sometimes progress is painfully slow, and sometimes growth happens so fast you have to scramble to keep up. Every stage of life and business brings its own challenges (which Heidi sees as opportunities). The sooner you accept that there will be endless challenges, the better. Just grow with it.

3) Be Willing to Evolve

The minute you settle for what is, you get behind and lose the joy of pursuing what could be. Crew Connection couldn’t get too comfortable operating with the phone lines and fax machines of its inception. With the launch of Crew Connection’s online database—which offers customizable online crewing—the business has evolved for the digital age. Being industry pioneers is hard, but a lot of fun.

4) Surround yourself with the right team

The luxury of being able to shut up is a direct result of being surrounded by advisors and team members who are smarter than you and whose strengths function well together.

5) Attitude is the ultimate trump card

For team dynamics, attitude trumps everything. If you have to choose between working with someone inexperienced with a positive outlook or one with all the training, but a sour demeanor, the choice is easy. You can develop skills, but a bad attitude is like poison—deadly and difficult to remove. Once it’s in the system, things go downhill fast.

About Crew Connection’s Film and Video Crewing Services:

Crew Connection connects you with video production crews across the country and around the globe. With more than 25 years of experience and thousands of shoots with film crew pros to our credit, you can trust our expert coordinators to match you with the right freelance video crew and equipment—every time.

video set in open room | Crew Connection

Being freelance: advice and tips from production crews

Being freelance: advice and tips from production crews 3265 1837 Crew Connection
Graham Nolte, one of Crew Connection’s best DPs—and so much more—shares tips and advice for production crews on everything he’s learned from freelancing.

Crew Connection: What is the most challenging aspect of being a freelancer? 

Nolte: Managing your finances. If you make great work, people will find you. But if you can’t organize your own capital, you’ll never reach your full potential. I see a lot of freelancers living outside their means. If you are going to seriously attempt to pursue a life of freelancing, then you need to start with your financial management habits. Freelancing has great uncertainty, and great rewards. You have to understand how to wield that power, and some basic accounting skills are a must.

CC: How do you manage your time? 

N: Essentially, you’re managing unpredictability. Even if other people think you’re unemployed for a week, understand that you’re on call for bigger opportunities, while doing the back office work of running a company.

Even if you feel you “have more time” being a freelancer, you’ll have to manage that time with your personal life so you can take work at the drop of the hat. If you turn down enough gigs because of other engagements, eventually those calls will stop. It’s not personal, you’re just a less ideal candidate than someone who can manage their schedule to fit the needs of their clients.

One time, while I was in Boston shooting a concert, I got a call to cover the Baltimore riots. They needed me there at 7 a.m. the next day, except that I had to pick up the equipment in Philly. I thought about it for all of two seconds then said, “Yeah, I can do that.” Because that’s what it takes.

CC: What is the main benefit of freelancing over working for a corporation or production house?

N: I think the corporate world is a lot like joining the army, whereas the freelance arena is like being your own mercenary. As a mercenary, you can always contract out with the government, as per your specific interests, but you don’t have to join the recruits at 5 a.m. to raise the flag.

Some people like being part of something big. Others like creating those bigger things while steering the helm themselves. That’s not to say you can’t do so in the nine-to-five scenario, but you certainly don’t start off with 100  percent control of the ship from the very first day.

CC: What advice would you give someone just starting out? 

N: Talent, hard work, and a positive attitude are mandatory, so don’t think you’re doing anyone a favor by offering them. The rest is up to you, and you’d better believe it’s going to be difficult. But remember, the payoff is huge. I’ve made in a day what I’ve made in a month working hourly wages.

Find what you like to do and follow it. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing in life, then get off the train. You’re in the driver’s seat. Don’t worry about anything else, because the money will follow.

CC: What are your top three tips for production crews?

N: Be on time. Talk less. Do great work.

Graham Nolte runs his own production company, creates virtual tours for Google, and is a  DP/camera operator on commercial content for clients such as Yahoo, ESPN3, and Dell. He has directed 2 feature length films and 25 shorts. His movies have played in theaters and festivals in  San Diego, Toronto, Anchorage, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Baltimore,  Washington, Vancouver, and Nice, France.

About Crew Connection

Crew Connection logo

Crew Connection puts a suite of marketing tools at your fingertips. Get your demo reels, stills, gear, awards, and more in front of the biggest clients all over the world—for free. At Crew Connection we pay video and post production providers within 30 days of receiving your invoice so your work and your life are never interrupted. Need live assistance or want to add quality jobs to your pipeline? Our crew coordinators are on call around the clock. Sign Up on Crew Connection, call 303-526-4900, or email info@crewconnection.com.

freelance icon | Crew Connection

A Freelance Camera Crew’s Guide to Success

A Freelance Camera Crew’s Guide to Success 800 536 Crew Connection

One of the best-known perks of freelancing is the flexibility. But for a freelance camera crew member, all that freedom comes at a cost. Sourcing new clients, managing a hectic schedule, and staying up to date on your insurance requires discipline. Whether you’re a beginning freelance camera crew or part of the old guard, everyone can use a little help. That’s why we reached out to one of our favorite freelance camera operators Rodney Lane Butler to pass on some of his hard-earned advice.

Rodney’s Tips for A Freelance Camera Crew Member

1) Be early.

Though no one notices when you’re on time, everyone knows when you’re late. So always be early. That is, if you want to keep working. Bonus tip: Apply this advice to every part of your life—not just call time.

2) To get on a crewer’s preferred list, do good work. 

Edible Arrangements and a round of drinks alone won’t get a freelance camera crew more work. Great work gets you more work. Let your product speak for itself. When it does; crewers, directors, and producers will talk, too.

You’re only as good as your last job. Live sports and concerts are fun to shoot, but they’re unpredictable. You have to be on your toes 100 percent of the time. If you miss a moment, it’s gone. As Rodney says, “If you screw up three events in a row, they’re not booking you again.”

3) Join every hotel, rental car, and airline frequent whatever program! 

Reap the rewards while clients pay for expenses. Points and miles do accumulate! After 20 years in freelance media, Rodney rarely pays for personal flights, hotels, or car rentals.

4) Don’t pigeonhole yourself. 

We’ve probably all heard that complacency is the enemy of excellence. Don’t take the same gigs year in and year out because they’re easy and you don’t have to learn anything new. Make yourself available for new opportunities. If a last-minute shoot comes up—take it! You never know where it might lead.

For example, say your 10-year stint with NASCAR comes to an end when they move to another network and you don’t. Such a change can leave you high and dry if you haven’t kept your options open and your skills sharp.

5) Learn to say “No.” 

For Rodney, the flexibility of freelance media was the initial draw because it paid great and allowed him to spend time with his mom, who was fighting leukemia. He’s grateful for the time it provided with her before she passed away. However, the flexibility can also pose a challenge. Rodney’s says the hardest part of his job is “knowing when to say no to jobs so you can create time for your family.”

Once you commit to a freelance job, you’re going to have a hard time replacing yourself on set—even if it means missing an important birthday or family vacation. Rodney’s advice? “Just don’t take it if you are iffy.”

Rodney Lane Butler has been a freelance cameraman in sports television production for nearly 20  years. Rodney has filmed live concerts—his favorite!—with bands like KISS and Aerosmith and sporting events including NASCAR, NHRA drag races, the NBA finals, the Stanley Cup finals, and a Super Bowl. He’s even filmed shows with cameos from Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama. He  specializes in robotics, RF cameras, handhelds, and remote sports camera operations. Book Rodney at 704-724-6287 or butlerr@bellsouth.net.

About Crew Connection:

Crew Connection connects you with media professionals—including the best freelance camera crew for your project— across the country and around the globe. With more than 25 years of experience and thousands of shoots with film crew pros to our credit, you can trust our expert coordinators to match you with the right freelance camera crew and equipment—every time.

man behind camera | Crew Connection

Featured Camera Crew: Crew West

Featured Camera Crew: Crew West 760 350 Crew Connection

We vet every camera crew we work with to make sure our clients get the best. One of those is Crew West, which treats both large and small projects with the same level of service and detail. Plus, they have one of the best time-lapse guys in the business.

We chatted with Michael Barcless, a managing assignment editor for Crew West/Sat. West. Barcless is a producer by trade who staffs shoots, provides cameras and formats, and covers MLB and the NFL.

Crew Connection: Tell us about Crew West and what sets your camera crew apart.

Michael Barcless: Jim Farrell was a news cameraman before starting the business in 1994. With about a dozen full-time staffers and a network of the best freelancers, we like to say we’re small but mighty.

One thing that sets us apart is our focus on great lighting. Lighting for shoots is like spicing for meals. It can take an average shoot to extraordinary and it requires a lot of practice to perfect the skill and the art.

We are known for our network-level HD. We also have satellite trucks for game backhauls and corporate clients who want to do video uplinks.

CC: We hear you have a great time-lapse guy on your camera crew. What can you tell us about him?

MB: His name is Dustin Farrell and his stunning videos have racked up millions of views. Some people think it’s just pointing a camera in the right direction, pressing a button, and taking a nap while the magic happens. But good time-lapse photography is truly an art. Dustin has perfected the technique. You can see his growth from the first volume to the latest. Samsung even took notice and put his videos up in their stores.

He’s known for his time-lapse skills, but he’s also adept with quad copters for those sweeping overhead shots. It seems like everything Dustin does is epic.

CC: Who are some of your clients?

MB: Our list of clients goes on and on. We’ve done the Today Show, Nightly News, the Daily Show, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and HBO Real Sports—among others. We do everything from sports to news to corporate.

CC: Give us an example of how you go above and beyond for your clients.

MB: After doing a shoot for a corporate client (Phoenix Children’s Hospital) where we installed lights, they wanted to take us on the road. Their next shoot was in LA, but the client was so impressed that she wanted to take our guys. LA! She said we do better work in Phoenix than she finds there.

featured camera crew crew connection crewcloud

Michael Barcless (left) and Kurt Warner at Super Bowl Media Day.

About Crew Connection

Crew Connection connects you with video production crews across the country and around the globe. With nearly three decades of experience and thousands of shoots with film crew pros to our credit, you can trust our expert coordinators to match you with the right freelance video crew and equipment—every time.

elevator pitch sign | Crew Connection

A production crew’s guide to gaining new clients

A production crew’s guide to gaining new clients 4272 2848 Crew Connection

A prospect you’ve been trying to reach for weeks ends up in line ahead of you at the coffee shop. When you introduce yourself, your handshake better be firm, not clammy; your delivery better be natural, not desperate; and your pitch better compel them to ask for more information. Whatever solution you offer, you’re more likely to end up selling its value on the fly than in a conference room full of decision makers. Gain clients with your production crew’s 30-second pitch.

With your production crew’s talent and experience, you already know you offer a great experience and a dynamic final product from broadcast to reality TV and corporate interviews to marketing drone shots. The 30-second sale gives you a chance to make sure your prospects know. The market is crowded and despite topnotch talent, you may struggle to get a seat at the table.

Keep your production crew’s services in demand and your phone ringing with these three steps:

  1. Communicate your value at every opportunity.
    To become the talent of choice, you must be ready to communicate your value—anywhere, anytime. Have your value proposition memorized so that you can recite it at a moment’s notice. Treat your prospects like the big agencies do. They come to each interaction equipped to sell—knowing they must earn confidence to earn business.
  2. Consider your services, strengths, and technology assets from your potential client’s perspective. 
    This allows you to communicate in a way that resonates with your potential client. They must walk away understanding how working with you benefits them.
  3. Create opportunities to play with all those cards in your deck.
    Effective and consistent industry networking is the foundation for your growth. Identify key stakeholders within your network and pursue departments and businesses you know are an obvious or immediate fit. Spend time in the right places so you can put yourself on the other side of the table. Show up where potential clients hang out. Drink lots of coffee. Eat two lunches a day if it gives you an opportunity to share your value. Create your seat at the table—whether you were invited or not.

Need a little support keeping that pipeline full of legit clients and paying gigs during your slow season? Sign up for Crew Connection here, call us at 303-526-4900, or shoot us an email by clicking here any time. We’re here for you.

mic sitting on sound board | Crew Connection

What Any Video Production Crew Needs to Know About Sound Design

What Any Video Production Crew Needs to Know About Sound Design 4928 3264 Crew Connection

Sound designer Ed Kaufman of Coupe Studios provides post production insight for any video production crew wanting to understand more about how to best make dialogue, music, and audio pieces all fit together!

Q: How did you get your start in the industry?

A: As a young musician, I took an interest in recording and album production. After playing professionally with rock bands and burning out on life on the road, I worked in music stores learning about the gear. In the mid 80’s, I sold a piece of recording gear to my future partner—Scott Roche of Coupe Studios. He asked me to work with him at his fledgling 16-track studio. We’re still working together!

Q: What is one piece of advice you always follow?

A: Philosophically, just follow your passion. My dad told me that one. On the practical side, I tell to all young engineers to double check their work before they send it. It saves a lot of grief.

Q: What does a video production crew need to know about how the dialogue, music, and audio pieces all fit together?

A: I first learned to mix by doing music projects. I like to approach all mixing from that background. In a rock song, you build the energy first by creating a cohesive and punchy foundation from the rhythm section. The rest of the layers—the melody, both vocal and instrumental—are added to that core.

In commercials, documentaries, and other pieces with visual elements, the dialogue and narration are usually the core of the soundtrack. You build from there. So it works for me to mix from the top down with music, effects and production sound—all used to support and drive the emotion and credibility of the spoken word. When a scene is more visual and less spoken, the music track builds the intensity and the mood, giving opportunity for good sound design. Whatever the audio component available, the goal is to enhance the storytelling and its emotional impact on the audience.

Q: How does sound design contribute to communicating the message/story of the piece?

A: In live action, literal (real) sound effects bring viewers into the scene while non-literal (cartoon, for example) sound effects create the feeling of viewing from a distance. In animated pieces, the literal sounds versus non-literal effects greatly change the mood and message. In addition, adding reverb or delay can put words or sounds into thoughts or a dream.

Q: What makes a well-designed finished product?

A: A good audio mix becomes one with the visual, revealing the story. For my part, that often starts with lots of dialogue smoothing and noise reduction. After that, I choose production sounds that work and replace what doesn’t, and then I add sound effects that make the soundtrack bigger. Finally, I finish with the music bed, which brings the emotional effect. If I have enough time to fully develop the project, the director is usually surprised at the final product because of the transformation through the sound mixing process. It’s a whole new experience—even for those most intimate with the project.

Q: What do you do when the sound quality is bad?

Sometimes, potential clients make poor decisions on set or just have bad luck with location sound. Although there’s always something that can be done, big improvements can be very labor intensive and costly. I do my best with all the technology available, but there’s no substitute for good decisions. I sometimes spend a lot of time polishing the proverbial turd.

Q: Why is sound design worth investing in?

For the audience, the soundtrack is half of the experience of any animated or live action video piece. Some clients tend to worry only about the visuals and ignore the audio. I strongly believe that if the audio isn’t enhanced, it will detract from the visuals. On the other hand, good sound design will intensify the visual experience. If you are an audio guy like me, you surely know that most people use their eyes more their ears. I’m always noticing sounds that no one else around me does. But even so, I know that a good soundtrack will add a sense of quality and impact to a video project that everyone will notice.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for studying exceptional sound design?

I think the best advice, especially for a young sound designer, is just to open their ears up to the everyday world around them. In so many situations, that’s what we’re all trying to recreate. Take a moment to listen and study everyday environments. Listen for what makes things sound far and close, busy and still, outside and inside. Knowing what goes on in the real world can also help you push the audio boundaries for unreal worlds with more sophistication. Imagination is key. Keeping a childlike wonder about our world is a powerful tool for developing effective sound design.

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