You need to have good sound in your film. That’s always been the advice to filmmakers and it couldn’t be more true. Nothing loses the audience faster than bad sound. Beautiful cinematography, touching story, and powerful acting performances are all rendered useless if you can’t hear the dialogue. Sound is where the amateurs are instantly revealed, especially on short films. With all the time and effort put into making the short film Adonis, this was something I was determined to do right. Adonis has great sound because I put it into the hands of great people.
Creating a New World with Sound
Adonis takes the audience away into a bright, cartoon-like world. Along with the colorful visuals, the sound plays an important role in bringing this world to life. Though I use the word “cartoony” a lot when describing the short film, that is definitely not the direction the sound needed to go. There would be no “boing” when Adonis jumped, or screeching when characters came to a stop. The sound design needed to be grounded in reality but with more character and personality. It needed a subtle balance that only an expert could determine.
Forming the Adonis Sound Team
About six years ago, I began discussing this “dog movie” with Stephen Fitzmaurice, who works as a rerecording mixer for Westwind Media in Burbank and has a very impressive list of credits. I marched with him in the USC Trojan Marching Band, so I have known him and of his passion for sound for a long time. Actually, it was at USC football tailgates where we began discussing the possibility of him being the sound designer. In discussions infused with our friends’ famous jello shots and rum cakes, he talked about some fun ideas that could make this little world vibrant both visually and aurally. Since the short film took a few more years to get rolling, there would be a lot more jello shot and rum cake discussions, but I was excited that he was enthusiastic about being involved.
In the meantime, I had a short film to shoot. I had to give Stephen the best material to work with so I recruited Tony Smyles. I loved working with Tony on several documentaries and he is very active working on TV projects. He’s currently busy working on Hardcore Pawn. Over lunch at his favorite Mexican restaurant (everybody should make deals over tacos), he was happy to join the team as the sound recordist. For the days he wasn’t able to work on Adonis, he recruited Mary Jo Devenney.
I’ve worked with Mary Jo in the past as well and was enthused that she would be part of the film. She has some amazing credits including Dances with Wolves, so clearly, I had a pretty awesome sound team. To top it off, both Tony and Mary Jo are really fun to work with. They are the kind of people that I want to have on set.
I kept Stephen waiting another 2 years while I plodded through green screen compositing. Finally, I declared the picture locked and was able to sit down with him in a spotting session and discuss ideas. I had put my own temporary sound effects in while editing. This served as a guideline but even in that brief session, he had already started making suggestions that would make the film even better. I anxiously awaited the sound mix day and get to hear the new Adonis.
The big day was very exciting. Adonis was on a BIG screen with BIG sound and a BIG mixer. The board reminded me of the helm of the USS Enterprise.
Stephen, as Sulu, navigated (worked on dialogue, music and effects) while Chekov (David DiPietro) worked on the other side organizing his own set of sound effects. The each pressed a lot of magic buttons.
Together, their work came together and did indeed create a new Adonis. The dating service truck had more personality with it’s Model-A engine effects and subtle backfire. The train tooted instead of screeching. Things that I would never have thought of, such as cat meows over a shot of cat books, added a different layer of life to the movie that I hadn’t imagined. Being that Westwind Media allotted a
certain amount of time for the mix, the hours seemed to tick away incredibly fast, which made me nervous. However, they have done this many times before and completed the sound mix right on the nose. Not only does Adonis have an entirely different flavor, it surrounds you in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Pretty exciting!
Making this short film has been about stepping things up: Great actors. Great crew. Great sound team. Adonis aims for the top and I think it gets there thanks to the talent and hard work of the Adonis team.