MPSE Wavelength

Spring 2022

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M OT I O N P I CTU R E S O U N D E D I TO R S I 51 antagonistic, or when they're in this drug-induced world, everything's beautiful. Gus and I didn't have any personal experience with that state, but we really felt it. Cinematically. It was a real epiphany for me about the potential power of sound design. Sometimes by planting a sound that has an association in it, the audience expands the impression that sound makes. I used screams a lot on Bound to subliminally add fear or anxiety. There was also a scene where the two women are walking around the camera, plotting. To me they were so catlike. These two beautiful, smart, calculating women, they seemed like big cats to me. So I put in a lion sound for one of them, and for the other one I added in a tiger sound, and it's alternating. I didn't know how much I could get away with. The Wachowskis have a zero-distraction tolerance—if a sound calls attention to itself, it's out. The fact that they loved those sounds meant a lot, and emotionally it raised the scene quite a bit. That was a big lesson in Drugstore Cowboy. We added bowling pins being knocked over when the cops knocked down the door, that was Gus's idea. I thought it would be too contrived—too obvious, on the nose—but Gus was totally right. Moviemaking is poetry. We also put in fireworks going off when there was no literal story-driven reason to do so. It opened me up to poetic sound design in a way that I never had the freedom to try before. I also worked on a movie that is very underappreciated called Romeo Is Bleeding. The director, Peter Medak, a Hungarian director, was unbelievably passionate. Walter Murch was brought in to restructure the movie a bit, and he came up with a great framing device for the movie that made it all work. Walter and I chatted about ideas for thematic sound design for the film. He said, "We're going to create categories for every character," so every character had a bell, a train and an air sound. I came up with a vocabulary of each of those "materials" for each character. It was the kind of stuff that I'd been trying, but I hadn't had the creative context to take it that far before. Or the inspiration from Peter and Walter! I love the movie and how the story sounds. EM: When you're not knee-deep in projects, how do you unplug from work? DD: I've run my whole life. While working on Resurrections, I got an apartment near the studio outside of Berlin, right on the edge of the forest so that I could sprint out in the morning before work. I'd see nothing but trees for half an hour. Then take a shower, go to work in my studio. For me, running for an hour is like eight hours of sleep. I also started painting again a few years ago. Mentally, that helps the sounds in the forefront clear out for me. I paint very much like the way I do sound design. In fact, color theory and musical theory are very related, and I approach the spectrum of sound and the tool of abstraction similarly to how I paint. I get ideas because painting is so different, but so not different. I love hiking. On The Matrix Reloaded, it was nine months of endless weeks, no sleep. But then I had 11 days off before starting on Revolutions. I went to Death Valley for a week and barely spoke to anyone. Then I went to Mammoth, it was wintertime. I hiked in the snow, spoke to one person in a restaurant where I ate dinner, but nobody else. It was just snow and sand. Then I drove back to L.A. and started on Revolutions and didn't sleep for nine months. And I try to play the clarinet every day! Those are things I do to give my creative mind some space. EM: What advice would you give a young aspiring sound designer who's just entering the industry right now? DD: Well, I had a great internship program for over 20 years, and many of my former interns are my competitors now. I'm very happy about that. I would tell young sound designers not to merely learn Pro Tools or sound design. Learn about everything else. Start with physics and biology, because doing sound design is ultimately the physics and biology of storytelling, of the world that the stories are being told in. If it's the physics of the world you and I live in, which is most movies, certain things can't happen. Visual effects try to follow physics, and sometimes they fail. That's when you know it's fake. It's the same with sound, so learn about that, the mechanics of what we perceive as sound. Also, biology and evolutionary psychology are key to understanding the way movies work. You're going to talk with directors about everything in the universe except sound design, because directors don't like to talk about that. They just want to hear it working in the movie they are making. Learn about history. A lot of directors talk about artforms, and a movie is an artform to them. If you can't talk about Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock or modern conceptual artists, you're going to fall flat. Directors are usually geniuses and polymaths, and they're going to take you down this path. You better be prepared to go. That path will lead to the sound design solution to a storytelling beat in that script. So do everything except the obvious, because that becomes your toolset. EM: That's so insightful. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to talk today, Dane. DD: Oh, I appreciate the great questions. It's been really fun.

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