There’s no denying the recent success of New York-based audio production and post services studio Sound Lounge. The team has been on a hot streak, working on two Oscar-nominated films (Rachel Getting Married and Frozen River) and successful advertising campaigns for corporate giants E*TRADE, Castrol and H&R Block.
Continuing their success, the company has recently done work for three innovative indies shown at this year’s SXSW: Splinterheads, Breaking Upwards and Saint Misbehavin’. Heading the team that worked on Splinterheads and Breaking Upwards is veteran sound editor and mixer Cory Melious, who worked closely with directors Brant Sersen and Daryl Wein, respectively, to ensure that his sound editing and mixing set the perfect tone for the movies.
MovieMaker spoke with Melious about his busy schedule, struggling to mix sound for computers and whether or not anything can really be “fixed in post.”
Mark Hurley (MM): Sound Lounge recently had three films that were featured at SXSW: Splinterheads, Breaking Upwards and Saint Misbehavin‘. Was that just a coincidence?
Cory Melious (CM): Yes, doing three SXSW films was a coincidence. By the time they got accepted into the festival, we were already slated to do the audio work.
MM: Can a festival screening impact your work as a sound editor/mixer?
CM: We’ve worked on quite a few festival films, so that aspect doesn’t influence the mix. More often than not what influences the mix is the medium at which it will be most heavily viewed. I have to tailor the mix in a way that it will be heard as intended in a theater, but I also have to be sure it works for the TV and computer audiences as well. The films I work on rarely have the time or budget to return after a festival to create a special mix for small playback systems.
MM: How exactly does your approach change with each of these mediums?
CM: My approach to mixing is definitely influenced by the medium in which it will play. Theaters have a set standard monitoring level, which is really quite loud, but it is supposed to be relative to all theaters. With television, on the other hand, listening level is all in the hands of the viewer.
One analogy I often tell clients when we start a mix is to think about the difference between a network TV show and a movie channel, i.e. HBO. You will notice the dialogue in the TV show is a lot louder than the dialogue in the movie. That difference is because the film was mixed specifically for a loud playback system (theater), and the TV show was mixed specifically for a quieter playback system (little TV speakers). Now imagine if you had to hear that TV show, with that kind of level, in a standardized theater. You would have a splitting headache and your ears would hurt in less than 10 minutes.
MM: What exactly is it that a sound editor and mixer like yourself does with a film or commercial to improve its overall quality?
CM: A lot of people think a mixer just turns stuff up and down. Nothing could be further from the truth. A film is like a mosaic of different locations, shots and, ultimately, sounds. My job as an editor/mixer is to tie all those shots together, sometimes by adding elements like room tone, sometimes by subtracting elements. In some cases, I go out and record sounds myself, and match that to the original production. I want the soundscape to be so smooth that it doesn’t take you out of the film.
MM: How did you become involved in a field like this? What was the most interesting aspect to you?
CM: I grew up a percussionist. Realizing the difficulty to make it as a performance artist, I decided to pursue a career in recording. I studied sound recording technology in college, with the idea of being a music engineer. It wasn’t until I graduated and accepted a job at Sound Lounge that my interest in editing/mixing to picture really grabbed my attention.
I am lucky to have honed my skills at a company that has such a strong commercial mixing side. Advertising agencies don’t tend to work many overtime hours, which means the mix rooms are vacant in the evening hours. Because of the generosity of Sound Lounge, they allowed me to spend the early years of my career mixing director’s cuts, agency versions, short films and the occasional feature film at all hours of the night after my shift finished.
MM: Sound is truly one of the most important parts of any film or video project—but is often overlooked. Why do you think that’s the case? Is it possible to “fix it in post” when it comes to sound?
CM: The lack of attention to sound during production never ceases to amaze me. I suppose directors are so busy thinking about their next shot that sound is sacrificed. True, we can do a lot of fixing in post-production, but isn’t it a much quicker fix to just turn off that rattling air conditioner in the corner of the room?
If I could give one bit of advice to a director it would be this: Whenever possible, at the end of each take, hold just two to five seconds for room tone. You have no idea the amount of cleanup an editor can do with just a tiny bit of clean sound.