Aaron Glascock has been a sound editor since 1984, and has worked on more than 70 films. His total credits include another 14 television projects as well. In 2014, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his work as a Sound Editor on the Michael Keaton film Birdman. He also did sound work on Interstellar, War of the Worlds, Ocean’s Thirteen, and Crazy Stupid Love, among many others. We talked to Aaron recently about his work as a Sound Editor.
DVD.com: First off, what does a sound editor do?
Aaron Glascock: The Sound Editor works with the filmmaker by adding clarity and heightening the illusion—using sound—to support the storytelling. This involves choices that can seem small, or can be quite extensive, like the creation of a different world. Collectively the sound becomes a language, a set of organized signals, that together help with the identity of the storyteller’s voice.
DVD.com: What resources do you have for the sound you edit?
AG: The sound editor starts with the production picture and audio as a framework, and no visual effects. The story's environments and action sound are almost non-existent at this stage. It becomes clear what the story is and where it is sonically deficient. The idea of what sound could be is the true spark of this process.
What happens next is the recording of new sounds and the scouring of sound effects libraries (often personal collections). The unearthed library sound effect can be extensively modified to result in a new sound that fits a unique need. Props are found or made from unusual materials to produce sounds that cannot be found. A good sound effect can come from a carefully-planned multi-channel recording session, or from a bad recording off a phone having tons of character. Every sound editor brings their own way of visualizing sound to this process, resulting in choices that support a sonic identity that is unique.
DVD.com: Are you on set during the shoot?
AG: Occasionally a movie production will support having a sound effect recordist (or sound editor, recording) at the set location. Lately, in the modern age of visual effects it's a rare opportunity. The production location is an ideal place to efficiently access environments, vehicles, props etc. that are on screen. This kind of access occurs less and less lately.
DVD.com: Who do you, as the sound editor, report to directly?
AG: The sound editor works directly with the Director and Film Editor.
DVD.com: What is the difference between sound editing and sound mixing?
AG: Though the tools and methods used by both Sound Editing and Mixing are similar, the circumstances are completely different. The Sound Editing process is one of visualization and planning. Sound Editors can work with filmmakers for months, sometimes years. The work includes the invention of story concepts and their structured development and experimentation.
The mixing process takes place on a dubbing stage—a carefully-engineered sound theater. Mixing can take place over the course of several days, weeks, or more. It's a process of merging sound mediums. The music, dialog and sound editing are gracefully woven into a form in a manner that will be both unique to that story and carry the familiarity of the cinematic soundtrack.
DVD.com: Which comes first, the edit or the mix?
AG: Sound Editing can start as early as during production, but usually after the production has wrapped. The mix is the last stage of the sound work process.
DVD.com: How did you decide to pursue a career in sound in the motion picture business? Where did you study?
AG: I grew up around documentary film production so the elements of the work were familiar. My earliest sound work was as a Sound Effects Librarian, listening to sound effects. It is not easy to understand one's own career path. I feel that I have been extremely fortunate to have found myself in the situations where I could learn from independently-minded storytellers.
The culture of Film Sound is one of constant discovery. That discovery—the invention process—that is what the career path is to me. The best sound editors and re-recording mixers describe learning new methods, approaches to new challenges, [and] new ways of presenting ideas found in their work every day. I believe this is what happens throughout the filmmaking process in many other departments, too. This is what makes movie culture so rewarding to viewers. This approach to the work path is the only way I know how to guide myself.
DVD.com: How do you find new work? Do you have an agent? Or are you on staff at Warner Brothers and just simply get assigned projects?
AG: Finding work is not easy and generally Sound Editors do not have agents. The budgets for sound work are based on numbers that don't have much room for an agent's cut.
Sometimes the studio will help make a connection for work being produced under their roof, but usually projects have sound resources attached through prior work relationships.
DVD.com: Who are other sound editors whose work you admire and why?
AG: Ren Klyce, Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan to name a few. There are so many more. I am moved by work that has a strong identity. Much of this is dictated by the individual projects themselves.
DVD.com: Among the many movies and projects you’ve been involved in, which have you been the most proud of?
A.G: I believe when sound is driven by unusual storytelling it can be the premise for a memorable outcome—for instance, when I am reading a script and in my mind a spark kicks off something that is not on the page. This can also happen when the filmmaker's guidance includes taking risks. For these reasons, I loved working on Birdman.
Spring Breakers was out of the convention too for this approach.
For me, working in film is about trying to exceed the level of one's prior work.
The other great experience for me in my career has been the opportunity to do sound in classic film genres like heist film The Town or a modern film-noir Insomnia. It is quite satisfying to get to be a small part of a rich culture, with a great history.
DVD.com: Is the DVD a good medium for sound?
AG: The near field format is really good for understanding content. I think that how you have a movie experience totally changes with your state of mind. It can sound good anywhere that has the technical potential, but your state of mind can have an affect on this outcome, too. An example I'd make is an empty theater sounds better because I know the theater is empty.
DVD.com: What can people watching movies at home do to improve the sound of the movies they watch?
AG: First thing I would do is unplug the phone and turn off the porch light.