Sandy Gendler has worked in just about every aspect of audio post production – from effects editor to Foley and ADR editor to sound designer and supervising sound editor. His career includes many well known Hollywood features such as “Independence Day”, “U-571″, and Paul Haggis’s Oscar winning “Crash” . He has been twice BAFTA nominated and twice Golden Reel nominated. Recent projects for Sandy include “Grey Gardens” and “The Blind Side”.
WOODY: You are mostly considered a “supervising sound editor” how do you describe what that means?
GENDLER: It’s the person who is in charge of the effects, sound design, voice replacement, ADR, the Foley, the background, all of the sounds it takes to put you into a picture. It’s fair to say that the supervising sound editor is the boss of the sound editing team. The supervising sound editor puts together the team. If you have a team you like, you try and use them because there’s a shorthand that you use together. There’s a trust factor. You know they’ll give you what you want.
When you begin you start with the script, the director, editors and the producers. The postproduction supervisor is the one who tells you “these are the dreams for the sound, but this is the reality of the budget. How do we make it all work?”
The idea is to look at all the sound that is needed for the film excluding the music which is usually the music editor working with the composer and the director. What I like to do while I’m creating sounds is to give them samples of what I’m making, and just say, I’m going for these registers. Is this gonna be OK with what you’re doing? Because a lot of the time the music is playing through a scene and we’re going to hit on certain specific moments and all of the sound elements have to work together.
WOODY: How involved do you get with the postproduction supervisor?
GENDLER: We’ll talk about budget and scheduling. I submit a budget for what the deal costs, how many weeks the editors will be on for, and make contingencies if something happens – where we’ll need to work overtime or they change the picture edit the day before the temp mix all of this goes through the post-supervisor. Sometimes you have to be very creative to fix the problems. The post-supervisor becomes more like the line producer for post.
I make a budget list from the budget information that they give me. I explain where I see the money going. How many weeks of dialogue editing we’re going to need, how many weeks of effects editing, how many weeks of ADR, whatever, we will have this lump sum of money for the editorial section.
The post-supervisor doesn’t usually get involved in my day to day, unless it involves a mixing facility stage. If we’re on an ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement) stage he’ll make sure we got everything we needed for each actor and makes sure that the actors won’t have to come back and go into an overtime situation. The post-supervisor is who I need to talk to if there’s a bump in the road.
WOODY: When they are making a feature at what point in the process are you hired?
GENDLER: Usually while the picture is still being cut usually, but it’s always different. It’s gone both ways. Sometimes I come on board even before they’ve started shooting. It’s great if you can get on board while they’re shooting because every picture has something very, very special about it. It could be a specific car that is different from other cars than you have in your sound effects library. It could be doing different maneuvers than what you would usually have. In that case, it’s great if you can get it on set and get the actual car if they have it there. That way you can personally record it and get everything you need for it. It makes it smooth from going to the effects sound of the car in production.
It helps sometimes if you know that there’s a location that’s special. How many times do you go on films and say, Man, I wish I could’ve had somebody down there just to record the sound effects of that swamp or something. I was very lucky on some films that I’ve been on where they had big crowd scenes. I was very lucky that they gave me five minutes at the end of the day of shooting to work the crowd for a bit to get big sounds from them that were specific for the film. That was great.
I look at the script and say, I think this would be really great if we could bring my sound recorders down to the set. Sometimes you get that opportunity. When it works, it’s fantastic. They let me do that on Stargate and on Independence Day.
WOODY: What software do you typically use for your work?
GENDLER: I mostly work in ProTools; We use various plug-ins. I used to work a little bit on Control 24 mixing console. They are incredibly useful. It really helps, especially if you have a good monitoring system. I started in mag, [magnetic sprocket audio tape] but now I’m in Pro Tools.
WOODY: Pro Tools is what most of us seem to use here in Hollywood. What’s a typical time frame on a feature from when you start to the final mix?
GENDLER: Depends on the needs of the show. For a DGA [Directors Guild of America] film, the director usually gets 10 weeks to do his picture cut. I’ll usually come on after 8 weeks (8 weeks after the shoot has ended). Typically the reason that they put me on is because the director doesn’t want to show it to anyone without some sound things behind it.
For example if the door closes you’ll want to hear a sound for it. That way it doesn’t seem like a on – set door. If I come in early, I just start pulling sound effects. It’s a lot easier nowadays for other people to access it with the abundance of servers and SFX libraries today.
I spend a lot of time making sure that things are consistent through the film: I’ll make sure the hero’s car has a certain feel. If there are firearms involved I will find the sounds for the hero’s gun. You want to make sure that the principle sounds in the film are consistent. I like to get involved in the sound design in order to give the director and producers some samples. That way I can get input from them. I also like to be involved so that I’m not shocked or surprised when we watch the temp mix in the screening and the director says, What is that?
Let’s say there are two weeks before the temp, then there’s usually there are at least 4 weeks of sound editorial. It could be more. They may have a couple of previews but you won’t be able to get through all of it.
Then there are also the pre-dubs. The length of the pre-dubs depends on the budget and the complexity of material as well. It could be a few days or it could be a couple of weeks. ADR can be time-consuming, recording and then trying to work the ADR and get it to match and not sound like ADR. But generally on a small budget, it’s usually 6 weeks until we get to the mixing stage. I’ve done it for less.
WOODY: ADR can take some time. Newer directors can be a bit cavalier about “we’ll just get it later in ADR.” They may not quite realize that besides getting the right performance and the correct lip-sync, takes will have to be auditioned and chosen and then those will have to be finessed in a mix to match the production recordings it is being cut with.
GENDLER: When I did Muppets in Space, there was a lot of ADR. They used drop down lav mics for the actors during the shooting of that picture. When we did the ADR, I went and got those mic contraptions that the puppeteers used during production so that it would match or at least get as close as we could to the production residence of the voice.
WOODY: So tell me, how did you get involved in sound?
GENDLER: I was a picture editor. At the time, it just seemed a lot less political to be involved in sound. You know, it gets really political on the cutting room floor. I helped with sound while I was in school, and I liked it. It was very straightforward and not as political. I haven’t touched picture in the longest time, years and years and years.
WOODY: A sound guy who’s not a musician?
GENDLER: No, not a musician. I can strum a little bit [laughs], but no, not a musician.
WOODY: No more picture editing?
GENDLER: No, I haven’t touched picture in the longest time.
WOODY: I remember digging through bins for frame numbers, I was an assistant film editor for my first job when I came to LA. A friend of mine was a feature editor cutting film on a flatbed. He said I can get you a job, probably only about 5 dollars an hour, to dig through the trims and find me frames to put back in. Then I started working with the mag and the grease pencils and it fascinated me.
GENDLER: So you know what a synchronizer is? [Laughs]
WOODY: Absolutely. I mean it’s such a completely different world now with Pro Tools and computers and digital world. The stuff you can do with a firewire drive and a laptop these days is just incredible. What I tell my interns these days is to buy a four track recorder and a microphone, because you need to learn the real thing. With computers what happens is you end up with crashes, conflicts with drivers, plug-ins and operating systems that need updating and you end up getting stuck there and not making audio. The fastest way to learn audio is to get out there with a recorder and a microphone, that’s how you’re going to learn this stuff.
GENDLER: You know it.
WOODY: So I see that you’ve worked with some directors on a regular basis, for instance Roland Emmerich. I’ve also noticed that you’ve done a lot of action type movies going back as far as Charles Bronson and Stephen Segal, Van Damme, and Chuck Norris. Now those I would imagine are very audio intensive, certainly in terms of the foley and fighting and gun fire etc. What type of particular challenges do you have when doing action movies?
GENDLER: It depends on the script. One tip – You want the guns to sound big and bad, but you want the hero’s gun to sound better than the bad guys guns. You have to ask yourself, why do people want to watch the car crashes at the Indy 500? They want to hear all these visceral thrills, the impacts and skids. It helps to put you into the action.
The thing is that you are really only there to serve the narrative, I mean I’ve also worked on quieter films like say two people talking in the kitchen about a relationship. You want to make sure whatever you are doing serves the narrative.
The thing about an action film is that it will be big and loud; everybody wants that. But it’s much harder when there is nothing there. You have to create mood. You can use a colder air with a little bit of whistle in it or whatever is needed to create the reality of that world. You want to give what will help, whatever supports the narrative.
WOODY: Have you found that because you’ve worked on so many action films that you are like a go to guy for action?
GENDLER: [Laughs] Get me Gendler.
WOODY: [Laughs] Right! I got crashes, I need Gendler.
GENDLER: Yeah Crash, for the most part, is a quieter film, and mainly just dialogue. You really want to make sure that the dialogue is clean, but even there we do something that tries to help the mood. When the father, the locksmith played by Michael Pena, comes home and sees his little daughter hiding under the bed because she’s afraid, we wanted to make it almost like a church in there. We played the recordings of Ave Maria and mixed them into the air, just subtly there, so that it almost feels like she was praying. You probably wouldn’t notice, but we wanted to make it real subtle, just to create that ambience.
WOODY: That’s a great technique. Do you use that on a lot of quieter film like say The Blind Side?
GENDLER: Well I was just the effects editor, on Blind Side, I wasn’t the supervising, Jon Johnson was the supervising on that. I cut the football sequences and I put a lot just to make the impacts of our star, Michael Ore, really big. I always cut explosions into the impacts so it would make it that much bigger. What you’re looking to do, especially in a lot of these actions films, is you’re always looking for the jaws effect. You’re expecting to see the shark and expecting it to be so big, so big that it scares you. I try to do that with sound sometimes, you expect it to be so big and then I make it even bigger so that you get a punch on it.
WOODY: When you’re doing a picture like that, these Oscar winning movies, do you have a sense of that when you are working on it?
GENDLER: It’s hard to say. Some movies are very special when you’re working on them, and you hope they do well. Sometimes they get discovered and sometimes they don’t. But you work just as hard on every film. It’s not that you work harder on any of these films; you just work the best you can because everybody’s got a lot riding on them, so you do your best. Some films we knew were going to be big you felt like, Wow this film really works – I hope one of these is catching. But, I don’t think you can predict ahead of time what it’s going to be.
WOODY: That’s just sort of the way it is, there’s a lot of stuff out there and some of it gets attention and some of it doesn’t.
GENDLER: Some of it’s really good and for whatever reason.
WOODY: just falls through the cracks. Even stuff with a name actor, I’m sure if you look up Al Pacino there’s fifteen pictures on there you’ve never heard of, never seen.
GENDLER: There are always different reasons; maybe they weren’t correctly marketed, wrong timing, whatever the reasons are.
WOODY: I just heard that Jackass 3 was such a huge hit they’ve ordered three more.
GENDLER: It cost them 20 million and the first week they were in profits.
WOODY: Yeah it’s a good business if you’ve got a hit! Do you have favorite moments from projects that you’ve worked on?
GENDLER: Oh gosh you know, I love a lot of the movies I’ve worked on. They were fun to do. We’ve done some crazy stuff just trying to record things. You used to be able to go out in Palm Dale and record vehicles on this one road that had gravel right out on the side of it and you could get tires on rock, dirt and asphalt.
We had this school bus on I think it was Universal Soldier that Jean Claude Van Damme is being transported in, and the driver gets shot while the bus is going off the road. We tried to mimic this shot, so we were in a car following the yellow school bus. It gets pretty wacky. We even had police coming down after us, and we didn’t have permits. But it sounded great!
There are moments in a lot of projects that are just really fun. The nice thing about SFX is that it’s like a candy – an instant gratification. You know right away if it works or not. The hardest things are the subtlest. It was difficult in the Field of Dreams to create the voice that he hears. We went through a lot of different processes treating different reverbs on parts with different pitches, the repeat on the higher and lower parts. The director didn’t like any of it until we finally nailed it, but that was a looooong process and we went through a lot of permutations.
I learned a lot though. It’s almost like every project you work on is like a term paper; you become an expert about one specific thing by the time it’s done. I think most sound editors are like that; they really need to get deep into things.
WOODY: I know you’ve done so many shows, is there one or two that stand out as a real highlight for you, as a career moment?
GENDLER: Well I’ve really enjoyed the latest.
WOODY: What’s your latest project?
GENDLER: The last one I’ve worked on is Battle of Los Angeles, which will be coming out in March (I think).
WOODY: Another action picture?
GENDLER: It’s an action picture. I was just the sound editor on it. I supervised the Foley and backing up the stage on it, because there were so many changes coming down the pipe I was trying to keep up with that. That is a great movie.
The one picture I really liked a lot is the film Stargate – that would probably be my favorite.
WOODY: On what level? Just loved the movie or the experience?
GENDLER: I loved the experience and the satisfaction with the work. It just felt like we nailed everything that we set out to do.
WOODY: So is Battle of Los Angeles the latest thing that you have coming out?
GENDLER: I did another small little thing that I did right after Battle of Los Angeles called The Chosen One, which I did the sound design for.
I did another small film with Jeff Bridges in it that for whatever reason never saw the light of day. Another recent film was The Amateurs. It was just such a sweet movie. I really enjoyed working on it. Jeff Bridges leads a really great cast.
WOODY: Yeah, you know I saw that on your IMDB and what a great cast – Bridges, Tim Blake Nelson, Fichtner, Danson. It was totally off the radar, I had never even heard of that movie.
GENDLER: It only opened in two cities, Los Angeles for one week and Dallas. They only spent like a dollar fifty for publicity on it, but it was a really sweet movie. I really enjoyed the process working on that movie.
WOODY: I’ll look for it.
GENDLER: Yeah, for some reason it just never caught the waves. Jeff Bridges is great in it, he is really just incredible and a pleasure to work with.
WOODY: Do you have any favorite actors that you’ve worked with?
GENDLER: Well he would be up there, but there are a lot of really good actors. The thing is with actors, what they do is amazing. I am so amazed at what they do. How they are able to convince us of their emotions and what they’re doing and thinking. How sometimes with the slightest movement or slightest variation they really change the meaning of something. It’s just amazing.
WOODY: I see you’ve done a lot of projects with supervising sound editor Jon Johnson. A lot of mixers work in teams. Is it sort of like that in the editing aspect as well?
GENDLER: Yeah, you just know that you can rely on each other. You create shorthand. You know you can be creative and work well together and communicate with each other. We feel that it is always in the best interest of the project to do a good job and have fun while doing it.
WOODY: So what would you tell an intern or somebody who is just learning sound editing? Do you have any career advice for them?
GENDLER: I would say to meet as many people as possible. Make sure they know you’re available. It’s an old thing of looking for a job while you’re not looking. I don’t know why it is, but people for whatever reason get nervous if someone is too hungry for work. Try to learn as much as you can from everybody, but understand that it is a work situation and not school. They can’t answer every question. Pay attention and you can learn, do your job, and do it well. Be curious and try to learn as much as you can about everything. Then – go back to law school. [laughs]
WOODY: Do you have any particular approaches to working with directors and getting the sound edit done?
GENDLER: A lot of times some directors aren’t sound savvy. They know the visual and music, but sound they are not always really involved in. You need to specifically ask them what they are trying to do or looking at the cut this is what I’m thinking. Is that in the right direction? Do you want to add something here? Some of the things you can do sometimes can help directors expand their vision. It’s like they only had money for four people on the set, but if you somehow want to convey that there is a lot of activity you can do that with rooms and backgrounds. You can coax it out of people. One of my favorite director lines was from Roland Emmerich. I want it to sound like something I’ve never heard before and I said, Well, can you explain that and he said, No, I’ve never heard it before. [Laughs]
WOODY: Do you have any advice that you would give a new director to improve sound for their projects?
GENDLER: Definitely listening to their production mixer that is probably telling them when they can’t shoot. There are a dozen things going on the set that they can’t even begin to fathom like they are losing light or they only have the location for so long and they need to shoot 5 more pages of the script. So there tends to be this fix it in post mentality.
Get the room tone with everybody in the scene still; it will sound different without the people. Hire a good production mixer; it will save you a lot of money on the back end. There is a magic that happens when the cameras are rolling, the actors just feel it. It’s always hard to get back to that with ADR. If they have a line that they think is questionable, get a wild track on set and we can generally piece together a pretty good sync of everything. It saved having to loop it later.
I like to work with new filmmakers too because their stuff is just edgy and great. But there are always a slew of problems on their projects that can’t be fixed. No matter what the budget is, there is still a certain amount of work that has to be done there has to be Foley, there has to be ADR, there has to be sound effects, backgrounds, and it all has to be mixed.
The question is often how to be creative and stretch the budget. Sometimes you can do a lot. Balancing everything against each other. If there isn’t money for predubbing, you can do a lot of the predubs in the box while you’re in the edit.
WOODY: Final Words? Something we didn’t cover?
GENDLER: To aspiring filmmakers: Sound is 50 percent of your movie so pay attention to it.
WOODY: I hope people hear that! Thanks Sandy, I appreciate your time.
GENDLER: Let’s go make some movies.
WOODY: Great idea!