Where are you currently employed?
I’ve been at Warner Bros. Studios since 1990.
What is your current project?
I’ve been working on a couple of films—Cyrus, directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, and Salomaybe?, directed by Al Pacino. I also have between five and eight episodic television shows in my weekly schedule.
Describe Your Job.
An ADR mixer records principal and group actors when the picture gets to post-production. The typical reasons for shooting principal ADR are noisy production tracks, overlapping dialogue, performance issues and exposition in order to punch up story points. The group actors create the background ambience. This has to be done in almost every scene of every show that has extras working behind the principal actors.
We also re-create all kinds of backgrounds for when the production was shot on a set and you need the feel of an office, a tenement building or a restaurant, for example. It’s critical that I get a good match to production audio so that when my material gets to the dub stage, it lays in without sounding like a loop
How did you become interested in this line of work?
I had just come off the road as a touring musician in 1983, and a friend of mine asked me to help him splice circled takes together for a cartoon voiced by Mel Blanc. Dan O’Connell, Ellen Heauer and Rick Ash were next door Foleying a movie, and the whole concept of what they were doing intrigued me. They were gracious enough to let me hang out and watch them work and I was hooked. I found that my skills as a musician were very helpful in dealing with a lot of issues in post-production audio and decided to make a career out of it.
Who gave you your first break?
A guy named Peter Smolian had a Foley/ADR stage with some editing rooms, called Warren Sound West. The entire company went union in 1984, and that’s when I got my card.
What was your first union job?
If memory serves, my first union job was as a Foley recordist on Purple Rain.
Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
Getting a credit on Schindler’s List meant a lot to me. I feel that this film will stand the test of time and remain an important part of western culture, long after I’m gone. I’m very proud of the work our studio did on Training Day. Denzel Washington recorded a ton of ADR and he won an Oscar for his performance! As an ADR mixer, you can’t ask for much more than that.
What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?
My first ADR stage at Warners was a temporary space created within an unused scoring stage; this was also my first real ADR gig, and getting it dialed in took a bit of work. Thankfully, our head of engineering, Kevin Collier, lent me his full support and we built a very cool stage out of practically nothing. I was getting great tracks right away.
There are no second chances in ADR. The actors are booked for a set amount of time, and it’s my job to make sure the editors get what they need to match production. None of them want to come back to do it again, so the adrenaline factor is pretty high. The real challenge is convincing new clients that it is a viable entity. My recordist at the time, Carolyn Tapp and I, both believed in the room and we worked very hard to make sure that the people who booked it felt the same way.
What was the most fun you’ve had at work?
I’m almost always surrounded by very interesting people. When the work is going well, everyone loosens up and some very clever and funny things are said––most of which can’t be repeated here. As far as pure work fun goes, I’d have to say it was when I was mixing Foley. Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, we had these enormously long schedules so that we could design all kinds of effects for the films we were working on. Supervising sound editors gave us the freedom to come up with some amazingly cool sounds. I’m sure those effects still exist in many sound libraries all over town. I don’t think there are many films that have a budget for six weeks of Foley anymore.
Job wise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
I really enjoy being an ADR mixer. I don’t have any plans to change jobs in the future but I’m always open to new challenges.
What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?
I play bass and sing in several R&B and funk bands. I made a living playing upright and electric bass from the time I was 16 until I was 30, but now it’s purely just for fun. I love to flyfish, but that’s hard to do in LA.
Favorite movie(s)? Why?
I love films with well-written dialogue. It’s impossible for me to choose, but these are the kind of films I prefer.
Favorite TV Program(s)? Why?
Californication for its pure hilarity; Breaking Bad, just to watch Brian Cranston work; and Men of a Certain Age, because I am one.
Do you have an industry mentor?
Sarah Monet, Robin Harlan, Linda Corbin and Greg Curda all helped me get started as a Foley mixer. Doc Kane though, is my true mentor. He always found the time to give me advice and explain the technical aspects of the craft. Ten years ago, I was very ill and he was the only mixer in town who called to ask if I needed help at work. A very stand-up guy.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
A good understanding of ProTools is essential these days, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of learning from the masters of the craft. Never be afraid to ask questions. You’ll get a bunch of different answers, but they’ll all point you in a similar direction. If possible, monitor some sessions to see if you really want to get into it. And perseverance pays off.
Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?
There was never a critical circumstance where I needed the Guild for help. But the office has always been helpful with various questions I’ve had over the years.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members?
I’m constantly reminded of how many extraordinarily talented people there are in editorial. Our business is truly a collaborative effort and I want to thank everyone that I’ve worked with for making it a great ride!
- Michael Kunkes