Where are you currently employed?
I work freelance.
What is your current project?
Fatherhood. My wife and I recently welcomed our first-born, Ethan Atticus, so I took a few months off to practice my diaper changing skills. I’ve also just started working with Danny Elfman on Alice and Wonderland with Bill Abbott.
Describe Your Job.
First you take off the old diaper, then you wipe the… oh, you mean as a music editor! The description can vary greatly from job to job. Sometimes I just do the temp score, in which case I’m involved with spotting the film and setting a tone for the composer. If that’s the case, I try to find out who the composer will be, or if they don’t have one picked out yet, at least an idea of their composing budget and expectations. I want to make sure I use appropriate temp music. For example, if the film doesn’t have a budget for a big orchestra, I don’t want to temp it with big orchestral music.
When working with a composer, I’m responsible for a variety of tasks, which may include spotting notes, helping with timing issues, dealing with conforming to new picture, preparing for the scoring stage, attending the scoring sessions, being involved in the music mix, building reels for the dub (which often means more conforming), attending the dub (which often means even more conforming) and final delivery of materials to the studio.
Preparing for scoring and working a scoring session can include preparing MIDI files for Auricle, or sometimes even running Auricle myself. It can include preparing pre-records and sometimes running the pre-records ProTools rig. I’m also responsible for taking notes during the recording sessions.
Finally, there’s dealing with songs, which means cutting lots of options and trying lots of ideas. Sometimes I help find songs (or source music). And of course, if it’s a musical, there are sync issues to deal with to make sure lip (or instrument) sync all look good.
How did you become interested in this line of work?
I went to Berklee College of Music to study film scoring. I was introduced to music editing there and fell in love with it. Now I both compose and music edit.
Who gave you your first break?
My first major feature film came about in an interesting way. Virginia Ellsworth was having lunch with her friend Angie Rubin, who had a friend that was looking for an assistant. Virginia told Angie about me, and then Angie called and interviewed me over the phone before referring me to her friend. That friend was Emmy Award-winning music editor Richard Ford, who consequently hired me.
What was your first union job?
Training Day––which was my first big break. Thank you Virginia, Angie and Richard!!
Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
That’s a tough question to answer; it’s like asking which is your favorite child. Okay, I only have one baby so that’s easy right now, but you get the idea. I put my heart and soul into every project; I’m proud of them all. So there isn’t just one, but I’m very proud of my work on the recent animated feature 9, as well as Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure, IMAX: Deep Sea 3D and Hustle & Flow. Each had it’s own unique challenges that I hadn’t had to deal with before and pushed me to find new technical and creative solutions.
What was the biggest challenge in your job––or on a particular project––and how did you overcome/solve it?
The biggest challenge is when a situation comes up that I’ve never dealt with before and I have to find a way to solve the problem at hand. That’s probably the hardest part of the job, but also the most fun. Well, maybe it’s not fun when I’m struggling to find a good solution, but once I’ve figured it out, the sense of accomplishment is pretty great. Hustle & Flow provided a few interesting challenges, from sync issues to creating all the sounds that came out of the little Casio keyboard. I ended up having the keyboard sent over, and literally recorded sounds from it and cut them to picture, not unlike recording and cutting Foley.
What was the most fun you’ve had at work?
Working with John Singleton is usually a blast. I first worked with him on 2 Fast 2 Furious as Carl Kaller’s assistant; Bruce Cannon was the picture editor. The four of us laughed and pulled pranks on each other all the time. I also worked with John on Hustle & Flow and on Illegal Tender, and each time there was a lot of laughter going around.
Job-wise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
I’d like to do a bit more composing than I’m currently doing. Right now, the vast majority of my work is music editing, and I’d like to even it out a bit with the composing. My ideal career would be to score a film, then cut a film for someone else, then score another film, then cut one, and so on. I enjoy composing, but I love editing and working with other composers just as much and don’t want to ever give that up.
To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite movie. I love the story, I love Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch, and everything that character represents––so much so that my son’s middle name is Atticus. Elmer Bernstein’s score is superb; it’s a great film. The Shawshank Redemption is another great film with a great score by Thomas Newman and great acting. Big Fish, which I was lucky enough to work on, is another favorite, and again another superb score, this time by Danny Elfman. I think I like these films because they all have great stories and are beautifully shot, directed and acted. And they all hold surprises within them.
Favorite TV Programs?
I don’t watch much TV, and it’s mostly The History Channel, Discovery, TLC, National Geographic Channel and the like. I love learning. The Planet Earth and Blue Planet documentary series are phenomenal. I used to watch Boston Legal. I liked it because it brought up very serious and interesting issues in a very quirky way.
Do you have an industry mentor?
Richard Ford was a mentor when I was his assistant, I learned a lot from him. I’ve worked with Bill Abbott a fair amount and he’s been wonderful to me.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
Be tenacious. I think the difference between those of us who have made it and those who haven’t is that the former didn’t give up. Work hard; never forget your job is to serve the film, the director, the composer and/or the producer(s). It’s not about you; it’s about the project and the people at the helm. And as a music editor, you have to be okay with the fact that yours is an invisible art. If you’ve done your job well, nobody can tell what it is you did.
Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?
On occasion I’ve needed help when creating a deal memo, or clarifying overtime issues. But for the most part, I’ve been very lucky to work for employers who respect what I do. I’ve never had a problem where I needed the Guild to step in.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members?
I’d like to plug Motion Picture Sound Editors, if I may. If you’re a sound or music editor––including sound designers, dialogue editors, ADR editors, Foley artists and Foley editors––consider joining MPSE and supporting your fellow sound editors. In addition to the Golden Reel Awards, the MPSE is expanding its reach to working with students, introducing seminars, like the Sound Show, and other networking events.
- Michael Kunkes