Where are you currently employed?
I’m freelance, with a loan-out company. I work with a lot of different teams of people. I prefer it that way, having seen friends be put into tough situations when their primary or sole client decides to stop working with them for whatever reason.
“The Comey Rule”
Describe your job.
I work primarily in music for movies and TV. I’m what they call a Pro Tools operator. Even though there are so many jobs in our industry that use Pro Tools, the work that I do somehow is the one that is named after the software. In the simplest terms, I run the recording, video, and prerecord rigs during the recording sessions and also edit the musical performances during and after the sessions. For preparation, I receive musical files from the composer or their assistant, video files from the music editor, and recording session specs and track layouts from the recording engineer, then put that together into .ptx sessions for each cue to be recorded.
During the recording sessions, there is a lot of pressure on the Pro Tools seat because there’s a lot of money being spent per hour when you have about 80 musicians, plus the studio and other technical personnel. I never want to be the bottleneck in the session, so efficiency and speed is especially important. I actually enjoy the pressure and challenge of the job. I think I may be unusual in that way.
Because of the current pandemic, things have been quite different during the few months that we’ve been on lockdown. The projects that I’ve been working on use live musicians, and everyone records their part individually at their own home studio. They are recording to click and synth mockups and aren’t hearing each other, so when I receive the material, the tuning, timing, phrasing, and dynamics aren’t nearly as cohesive as they would be in a group recording situation. I’m receiving around 60 individual recordings on some of these projects, so it takes a fair bit of work to make it all work together as a piece of music. In the end, it comes out sounding different than recording at a scoring stage, but it sounds surprisingly good after I send it to the mixer and they work their magic.
How did you first become interested in this line of work?
I started as a musician when I was seven years old. I played in club bands for about eight years until my early 20s. I really loved when we’d go to the studio to record, so it was a natural step to start working in a studio in my mid-20s. That led me to working as the recording engineer for the non-orchestral material in the first “Matrix” movie (1999) with composer Don Davis. Don had a long-time working relationship with Armin Steiner who did all of his orchestral recording. Armin asked me if I would run Pro Tools for the Matrix sessions at Fox, and I said yes. It was my first time working on a scoring stage with an orchestra. Little did I know that would be the beginning of a career as a Pro Tools operator.
Who gave you your first break?
John Du Prez gave me my first movie score recording/mixing job on the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie (1990). I did several movies with John and still work with him to this day. Armin Steiner gave me my introduction to being a Pro Tools operator. For years after “The Matrix,” he would always ask me to work with him on whatever movie he was doing. I loved working with him. He always gets a great sound, has a deep well of great industry stories, and is a lot of fun to be around.
What was your first union job?
That’s a good question! I worked on many, many, union movies before I was ever in the union. Pro Tools operator was a very new position when I started in 1999. When I talked to the union about joining IATSE in 2006, it was difficult for me to come up with the qualification of 300 hours on non-union movies. I had plenty of hours on union movies but not non-union. They asked me, “How are you working on union movies if you’re not in the union?” I said, “I don’t know, they just hire me!” Fortunately, the requirement of documenting 300 hours of work on non-union movies was waived for me because of this.
What credits or projects are you proudest of, and why?
I still love “The Matrix” — I think it’s an amazing score and movie. WALL-E (2008) is another one that I love — fantastic music to go with a great movie. I feel extremely fortunate that I get to work with a lot of really talented composers and mixers.
What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?
The one that comes to mind is working on the Academy Awards rehearsal/prerecord sessions during the week before the show. Beyoncé was to perform that year, and the orchestra recorded the track without her being there. When the execs and arranger were happy with the recording, the orchestra was dismissed for the day. But when Beyoncé arrived to rehearse and record her part, she wasn’t at all happy with the arrangement because a section of the song had been left out that culminated in a break/climax that really showcased her voice. I asked them to give me 15 minutes. They left the room, and with different tricks like transposing, time stretching, and the general magic you can do with Pro Tools, I was able to manufacture the arrangement that Beyoncé wanted.
What was the most fun you’ve had at work?
I almost always have fun at work. It usually doesn’t even feel like work to me, which is the best kind of work there is, right? However, I have to say that working on Thomas Newman’s projects is the most fun. I’ve worked with him since 2005. The rate of laughs per hour is extremely high.
Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
I’d be happy to be doing more of the same of what I’m doing now. I hope the business doesn’t change so much that we stop doing much live recording of orchestras here in Los Angeles. We are in a bit of a golden age right now. There is so much content being created that requires music. Hopefully, the powers that be don’t screw things up and drive the business away.
What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?
My main hobby is photography. Mostly, I like to take pictures of people. I also play piano at least a little bit most every day. I always like to find something to learn about and get better at. I hope that over the next 20 years, I’ll become 20 years’ worth of better at things than I am now.
Favorite movie(s)? Why?
Some of my favorite movies are “West Side Story” (1961), “Groundhog Day” (1993), “American Beauty” (1999), and “Lost In Translation” (2003). I love a movie that makes me really feel something. (Shhh — don’t tell anyone, but I like it when a movie makes me cry.)
Favorite TV program(s)? Why?
“Breaking Bad” (2008-2013), “24” (2001-2010+), “Survivor” (2000-present), and “Homeland” (2011-2020). These are the kind of shows that you wish you didn’t have to wait until the next week to see what happens next. They are the equivalent of page-turner novels.
Do you have an industry mentor?
Armin Steiner, and also Steve Kempster. Steve is one of the smartest and most evolved humans that I know! I tell him that if we need a representative for the human race when aliens arrive, I’m picking him. Also, I appreciate the company of — and sharing knowledge with — a couple of other Pro Tools operators, Kevin Globerman and Vini Cirilli. Smart guys!
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
Find a way to be in the studio a LOT, whether it’s your own studio or someone else’s. The many hours of learning the craft is an adventure, not work. Learn how to use a macro program like Keyboard Maestro to become more efficient. Find a team to be part of. Always look for a better way to do something. Observe someone else’s workflow — you learn so much that way!
Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?
As far as any work disputes or getting paid, no. It’s been enormously helpful to have the MPIPHP health insurance when needed, like for a couple of procedures for my wife. It’s so nice to know that I don’t have to worry about that end of things.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members, some words of encouragement?
I’m happy to be included in this group of professionals who have such a high standard of excellence. What we do isn’t easy, but it’s work that we love.
Compiled by David Bruskin.
To be considered for this feature, email Scott Collins at SCollins@editorsguild.com.