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Past Featured Members

MARK ONKS - SOUND ENGINEER:

August 2011

Where are you currently employed?

 

Sony Pictures Studios, Post-Production Sound, as a post-production sound engineer for the feature film mix stages.

 

Current Project?

 

The big project now is installing a new Harrison MPC4D console in the Burt Lancaster Theatre.  It will be the sixth of these new consoles that we are running in the Sony Sound Department.  I believe it is one of the most flexible and powerful tools in the industry for making movies and television shows sound as good as they look.

 

On our other stages, we are currently finishing the sound for Moneyball and Straw Dogs.  We recently finished dubbing Transformers 3, Real Steel, Man on a Ledge, Friends with Benefits and The Smurfs.

 

Describe Your Job

 

First and foremost, I set up the technical resources for each stage to be functional for each project that is booked in them.  Under Bill Banyai’s direction, I interface with mixers, recordists, editors and clients and give them all the tools and technical support they require to get their project completed.  It is no small task to get all of this together.  Every client, mixer and crew has their own methods of working but our facility is well equipped and offers them the flexibility and quality they expect to produce a technically superior product.

 

Second, paying attention to the daily requirements of these projects always turns up things that need improvement, repair, replacement and sometimes even redesign.  It is my job to address these issues directly and work with our engineering team to fix or improve the facility.

 

The third important aspect of my job is interfacing with equipment vendors, like Harrison, Soundmaster, Digidesign, etc., to find ways to repair things that break: hardware and software. Fortunately, the Sony technical team has a good working relationship with the manufacturers and can almost always find solutions to problems and the occasional “gee-it-sure-would-be-cool-if-it- could” requests.  Our manufacturer relationships allow us to react quickly to provide solutions and are crucial to getting the jobs done.

 

How did you first become interested in this line of work?

 

I started as a musician with an interest in the technical side of recording and reproduction.  I’ve always been fascinated with the process of capturing sound by recording.  The challenge of reproducing sound as nearly identical to the original performance as possible is no small task.  While earning my electrical engineering degree in college, I got a job as a DJ on a local FM radio station.  Soon, I got involved with the engineering side of broadcasting and building and maintaining radio studios. 

 

I really enjoyed it but I wanted to be working where the music was being made!  So I loaded up the truck, moved to LA and landed my first studio job at Westlake Audio, where I served as a studio maintenance engineer and ultimately chief engineer.  After eight years in the music studios, I wanted to try my hand at post-production, so I took an engineering position at Pacific Ocean Post where I worked for 3 years—then jumped at the chance to work at Sony Pictures in 1998.  I have been here since that time.

 

Who gave you your first break?

 

Ben Carr hired me at Westlake Audio, giving me a chance to hone my studio chops there.  I also had the privilege to learn a great deal about acoustics and studio monitoring with a real audio guru: Glenn Phoenix, Westlake’s owner.

 

Bill Feil gave me the opportunity to support commercial post-production at POP and then Barry Ross hired me at Sony to join the engineering team in post-production sound.

 

What was your first union job?

 

The job I have now at Sony Pictures.

 

Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?

 

It was a great honor to be nominated to become a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Sound Branch a couple of years ago.  I’ve been privileged to work with many of the industry’s most talented mixers, editors, engineers and recordists.  To have their confidence and respect means a lot.

 

With the relentless evolution of technology, every movie seems to get bigger, more detailed and more demanding.  Being a part of the post-production technical support team for movies like Transformers 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Rango and The Smurfs is rewarding because I know the final products entertain millions of people.  If I can in some small way contribute to that, it makes me proud.  More than ever, people need to be entertained. 

 

What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?

 

It takes a lot of guts to stay on the cutting (and sometimes bleeding) edge of technology, and a lot of sweat to keep it operating efficiently.  One of the biggest challenges in a post-production facility this large is making the seven biggest mix stages compatible with each other.  We’ve made great strides recently by almost completely configuring the consoles, motion controls, picture playback, ProTools players and recorders, and outboard processing gear the same in most of the stages. 

 

Frequently, movies are so limited on time to mix and release that they will use multiple mix stages here to effects pre-dub, dialogue pre-dub, final and print master simultaneously.  While one stage is making IMAX deliverables, another may be doing the M&E and another may be starting a Latin-American Spanish version.  It helps to be able to move picture, sound elements, console setups and mix automation from stage to stage fairly quickly.  Multi-room compatibility tied together with a robust fibre storage network has required a lot of effort by many folks here, but it’s close to completion.

 

What was the most fun you’ve had at work?

 

I am really in my element when I get to build, install or upgrade a mix stage.  It is so much fun seeing all the pieces of a well-planned installation come together, like the console upgrade we’re currently installing in the Burt Lancaster Theatre.

 

One of the most intense movie mixes I supported was Michael Jackson’s This Is It.  It was 16- hour days, seven days a week for six or more weeks in the Cary Grant Theatre.  While it was exhausting, the significance of this documentary celebrating the music and talent of the late MJ made this project a joy to be a participant.

 

Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?

 

Exactly what I’m doing now.  It’s what I love to do!

 

What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?

 

I love my wife and two kids.  I enjoy music, riding my motorcycle when I get a chance, flying stunt-kites on the beach and roasting coffee for my family and friends.

 

Favorite movie(s)? Why?

 

There are so many great movies, I cannot list them for you here but I will mention two films that hit personal chords:

 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is hilarious to me because it is almost like watching a documentary on my engagement and marriage to my wife (she’s Greek)!

 

The Patriot is an outstanding drama set in Revolutionary War times.  The scenery reminds me of Virgini,a where I grew up, and the music and sound completes for me what is a movie with great impact and depth.

 

Do you have an industry mentor?

 

Bill Banyai is the Chief Engineer for Sony Post-Production Film Sound and is my supervisor.  I’ve learned much of what I know about the process of film sound from him.  His patience, depth of experience and willingness to share his knowledge—as well as giving me latitude to think up my own solutions for solving problems and improving our facility—have been blessings for which I am eternally grateful.

 

What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?

 

Educate yourself on the process and technology of making a complete movie or television program.  Then find someone who is great at doing what you want to do and learn from them.  Soak in it, live and breathe it, until you find yourself doing what you set out to do.  Never stop learning and you’ll be able to contribute to the art and science of each production in new and exciting ways.

 

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members, some words of encouragement?

 

Do what you love, love what you do, and always pursue excellence!

 

- Compiled by Edward Landler

 

Editor’s Note:  To recommend a member (including yourself) to be featured on the home page of the Editor’s Guild website contact edlandler@roadrunner.com

 

 

 

 


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