He regularly throws out his work and starts over and he regularly gets a lot of praise for what he achieves. We got the opportunity to ask a few questions to industry veteran Charles Maynes.
Charles, you’ve been in the movie industry since the mid 90’s. What lead you into this field?
I got into the film (and TV and game) industry through being a musician mainly, back in the mid 1980’s I played in alternative rock bands in San Diego and worked at a local music store. In the progression of networking there, I got hired to work at a music instrument sales and repair shop called Musicians Repair Service (later renamed Professional Sound and Music) after I had purchased an E-mu Systems Emulator II sampling keyboard from Mike Krewitsky, the owner of the shop. He hired me since I dove pretty deep into digital sampling and was creating a fair amount of material for the system.
Through that connection, I started developing samples for Optical Media International who developed the first CD-ROM libraries for the Emulator (and expanded their product line to other sampling systems). From there I went to work in the San Francisco Bay Area with an offshoot of Optical Media named Invision Interactive which continued making CD ROM sample libraries, and expansion sound boards for the E-mu Proteus and Korg M1 synthesizers.
From there, I went to work at Digidesign at the time that the development cycle for ProTools had begun. I took a position in their Customer Support department, and transitioned to their Product Testing Dept. It was there that I became interested in working in film as a vocation and in 1995 moved my family to Los Angeles to take my first film job with Universal Studios sound department.
You have divided your career between post production and field recording. You share that with my colleagues here at Pole. Would you say it’s an advantage to have knowledge of both parts?
Most of my work is in post production, with the lion’s share being a Sound Designer and Sound Editor. I also occasionally do re-recording mixing and Sound Supervision as well as field recording. I would say there is certainly a great benefit in working across the dimensions of the art, as you get a much broader appreciation of the possibilities available to achieve creative solutions. It really is simply a matter of having a greater degree of knowledge and experience through all those jobs to guide the way you approach challenges you come into.
Probably the most obvious thing is when doing sound editorial, as we are usually thinking of tapping existing sound recordings to achieve our objectives for a soundtrack. Knowing when it makes more sense to go record new materials, versus trying to manipulate existing recordings, usually can allow a more interesting, and believable result… You also have the benefit of being able to react to new and interesting sounds you might come across by going out and recording them. Ideally speaking, it is always a great thing to be able to record new material for every project. I think it provides you a touchstone to remember the project, and how you tried to make it unique through your creative process.
Since you started out you’ve contributed to numerous very successful productions and worked with, I suppose, very talented and experienced people. How has that shaped your skills?
I love the phrase “We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants” when I think of this. In the creative realm of storytelling, there are really few truly new ideas, and there is such an amazing body of film and TV which has set a really high bar of quality for cinematic storytelling. So I would say for anyone in the field, we are in debt to people that go back as far as Treg Brown (the Sound Editor/Designer of the early WB Looney Tunes Animated films) Jimmy McDonald and Jack Foley, who created the idea of recording sound effects in sync with picture (otherwise known as Foley), to people like Murray Spivack who created the sound of the original King Kong, to contemporary Sound Designers like Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Randy Thom, Gary Rydstrom, Ren Klyce, Dane Davis, Skip Lievsey, Jon Johnson, Alan Murray and the Weddington Productions folk, Steven Flick, Richard Anderson and Mark Mangini. There are dozens of others who are deserving of mention as well beyond that and each one of them made a permanent impression on the art of Sound for Film.
As for my personal inspirations, I was motivated to do this work most significantly by Gary Rydstrom, and his work on Terminator 2. I have had the very good fortune to be able to work with so many of the titans of film sound – Steve Flick, Jon Johnson, Randy Thom, Alan Murray and Richard King – that I feel quite insignificant when considering their accomplishments.
U-571 and Iwo Jima received Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing. You were on both productions. You’ve also received two Emmy Awards (The Pacific and Gettysburg). On top of that you have 5 MPSE awards and numerous nominations. All of this is massively impressive. What’s the secret behind your success?
If there is any sort of secret of success, it would have to be hard work, and never being satisfied with your prior work… If you aren’t making mistakes and throwing out your own work on a regular basis, I think you might not be critical of the work enough.
Short but huge question, in what ways does sound contribute to the outcome of a movie?
Ultimately, the sound of a film should be transparent to the experience of the storytelling. If a sound distracts from the characters and their journey in the story, it is doing a dis-service in my opinion. My personal opinion is that the work should be believable in the real world, whether the story is live action or animation, or a game. I think our brains are terrifically sensitive to knowing when something sounds like it is happening in nature, vs sounding like something that is being laid on top of reality.
And has the use of sounds in movies changed during your time in the business?
I think we tend to have films that in general might be too loud which is a consequence of digital soundtracks. When sound was carried on the film itself, as a magnetic or optical soundtrack, there was a definite limitation as to how loud it could be. I think with the advanced technologies we are using now; we sometimes lose sight of how the dynamics of a soundtrack can cause discomfort to an audience.
Has better recording equipment, better organized sound libraries, more extensive libraries, better field recording techniques – changed the prerequisites for the sound designer and allowed him/her to make sound take a bigger and better part of a movie?
Those advancements have had an incredibly profound impact. The proliferation of high-quality libraries of the type that Pole Position does, provides resources that were largely unavailable to all but the biggest film and TV shows in the past. The boutique sound effects universe has been an incredible advancement in the art of sound for film and TV.
As a recorder, do you have any favorite fields of recording?
I love recording most things as they are all such different challenges! Guns have always been quite interesting, as now having a bit of a deeper understanding of the roles locations, mics and mic placement makes for much more intellectually stimulating recording sessions.
You’ve helped Pole out with field recordings in the US on two occasions. What’s it like working with the Pole crew?
It was certainly a great experience and took me a little outside my normal role as a field recordist. The first time, which was to record World War 2 weapons that were used by German, USA, and Soviet militaries was a bit more traditional in the manner how things were done. I, along with the obvious recordings itself, were to arrange for armorers, the range/facility and insurance coverage (we are very reliant on such, especially with weapons) which was quite interesting – especially since Pole Position is not a US business – as both the weapons providers (armorers) and facility require significant liability insurance for the events.
On the second session, which was recording World War 2 aircraft, specifically an F4 Corsair and a Mitsubishi Zero fighter (the only intact flying one in the world!), I functioned not only as a recordist for the enterprise, but also worked as a local producer/location coordinator for the sessions so that included filing filming permits in the US county here, as well as securing the productions insurance. We required the same insurance coverage as well as the weapons recordings, but also coverage for the airfield, which was a government function, and the personnel that were attached to it which were county employees. The shoots were conducted without incident, though the day following them, we encountered a somewhat significant earthquake which occurred on our US Independence Day Holiday.
Max, Mats and the Pole team were (as always) a great group of super talented and thoughtful professionals, and recordings are now available via Pole’s catalog of sound effects. Whenever Pole calls, I am also quick to say yes, as they are fantastic people to work with and always approach recording in clever and unique ways!
And finally, where do you think we are heading regarding sound in movies? What developments will we see during next five or ten years?
I think the technical advancements are making our job easier, and certainly with tools like RX, we are able to work with sonically imperfect recordings in a manner that was unimaginable in the past. With the signal processing tools presently available, amazing corrective things are possible, and we are getting much closer to the sort of “Photoshop of Sound” ideal we have been chasing for the last 30 years.
I also think we will see 32bit recordings be much more common. Their usefulness for the Field Recordist is really quite amazing – as we seem to have an incredible amount of latitude in adjusting recordings volume after the fact that makes the present 24 linear formats seem very limited in their resolution, especially at low volumes.
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