A symphony of behind-the-scenes cinematic artistry comes to life in MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND, director Midge Costin’s deliciously deep dive into the wondrous — and largely overlooked — world of sound design, from every angle of the spectrum. Making her feature directorial debut, director/producer, Costin, considers herself a “born again” sound person — having started out on a bit of the “technophobic” side; however, her enduring passion for sound and awakening people to ‘hearing’ its power, proves otherwise, in spanning a twenty-five year career; one that advanced from sound editing, where she nabbed two Academy Award nominations for her work (Crimson Tide, Armageddon) to being appointed Head of the Sound Department at USC, later becoming the first person to hold the endowed chair position of Kay Rose Professor in the Art of Dialogue & Sound Editing in 2005.
MAKING WAVES clears a path for engineers, developers, and designers to shatter the myth; they’re not just “technical” geeks adding bonus elements; they are elemental artists to the movie making process. Their immersive work is shown through captivating film clips, a history of talkies, audio journeys, and insights from visionary filmmakers — from George Lucas to Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler, who embraces “sound as part of the imagination”; from Ang Lee to Barbra Streisand, who pioneered surround sound with a Star is Born; Alfonso Cuarón to David Lynch, whose Eraserhead soundtrack left its indelible, experimental (nightmarish) mark, inspiring a new wave of atmospheric sound design and musicianship. And alongside these bold filmmakers, their award-winning innovative sonic collaborators — including sound design maestro, Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I,II,III) and acclaimed re-recording mixer Lora Hirschberg (The Dark Knight, Inception) -- are not only given some overdue shine, but also a proper ‘voice’ to both contextualize and share their tremendously powerful, yet sublimely ‘invisible’ contribution to cinema. Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas both declare, “Sound is 50% of the movie.”
In fact, beyond capturing this creative process, Costin’s film also reveals a not so secret secret — the unsung and largely unacknowledged power of female sound artists, who comprise an essential part of the film world. For Costin, who asserts “there are so many kick ass women in the industry”, it was important for her that MAKING WAVES would also highlight the “real story” of “how many women are working behind the scenes, but not necessarily put in supervisory roles.” Her entertaining and thoroughly enlightening film captivates on a primal level, through a sense that most take for granted. Making its world premiere at 2019’s Tribeca Film Festival, Midge Costin’s MAKING WAVES serves up sonic stealth that you’ll never be able to unhear. Exactly the point!
—By Lisa Collins
LISA COLLINS: As such an accomplished filmmaker/sound editor, with Academy noms in your own field, if you had to switch and work for a solid decade in another area of sound artistry, which one might you choose (Foley, ADR, V.O.)? And why?
MIDGE COSTIN: I’d definitely choose editing and designing sound effects. It can be super creative. You can make things sound larger than life and affect the audience without them being aware you are doing it.
LC: Is there a common thread among the best, or maybe better to say, most talented sound artists?
The great sound artists really care about and understand story! And character. But basically the most creative sound artists are obsessed. Totally obsessed with sounds.
LC: Your thoughts on the Academy's temporary (an ultimately reversed) decision to not televise other key collaborative film nominated categories (including Best Cinematography) at the Oscars — to ‘save time’?
MC: Arrrgh! Are you kidding me?! Decisions like this make me think these people don’t understanding how films are actually made — all talent and artistry of the below-the-line (our names come at the end of the film) people. We’re all contributing creatively to the film! Argh!
LC: Looking back to your youth/coming-of-age years – which movie(s) made the most lasting impression due to sound? Why?
MC: My favorite movie as a kid was The Sound of Music! It was more about loving to sing and having a big family who all liked to sing and roughhouse with each other. I loved The Wizard of Oz as a kid — the sound of the bad witches cackle. That scared the crap out of me!
LC: Do you think that silent films from the past (or current day movies using little-to-no dialogue) suggest something about the importance of sound to audiences, in a special way?
MC: When I interviewed Sofia Coppola she said people don’t talk the way they do in movies. What interests her is the space between the dialogue. And I totally agree with this. If you’re going to depend on dialogue to tell your story you should be in radio.
LC: Great to learn about Barbra Streisand and so many powerhouse women in the sound world. Was shining a light on (unsung) female sound artists an essential part in telling this story?
MC: Absolutely! It was super important for me to tell the real story of what goes on and how many women are working behind the scenes but not necessarily put in supervisory roles. There are so many kick ass women like Teresa Eckton (Star Wars) and Ai-Ling Lee (Deadpool, First Man) in sound, I was bound and determined to feature them.
LC: Thank you for showing such a diverse palette of sound artists! In order to help further diversify this creatively rich field, can you suggest one or two paths for aspiring sound artists who may not be able to afford full-time formal education (film school)?
MC: Volunteer as a P.A. for the student films and learn from those students who are doing sound. Show up consistently early and pitch in wherever you can and you’ll get asked to work again and again. Be an apprentice at a post sound house! Bug them for a job until they say yes! Become an intern! Organize their library.
LC: With so many amazing anecdotes in your film — like the sound design strategies that went into Top Gun (where soaring planes were in reality roaring animals) — which one was the most exciting to discover?
MC: The Barbara Streisand story blew me away! How the studios didn’t want spend the money to convert theaters to Dolby with stereo and noise reduction and she had the clout to just say “No, we want to do this” on a Star is Born and she helped usher in great sound for movies. And my friend Bobbi Banks and Greg Hedgepath talking about as African Americans that sound editing on Ava DuVernay's Selma was so important to them. It made me cry.