FILMMAKER Magazine recently sat down with Digital Filmmaking professor Jon Vogl to talk shop about post-production – and how filmmakers pay for it. A leading industry publication for over two decades, FILMMAKER offers editorials on the art and the business of film, boasting an average monthly 60,000 print readers and 100,000 web visits each month. Below is an excerpt of the conversation:
Filmmaker: How did you get started working in post-sound?
Vogl: I was in college [at UCLA] and studied music as a composer. I eventually earned a PhD. I loved electronic music, working with synthesizers and multi-track recording. In school, I discovered that film scoring would be a possible way to make a living with music. When I graduated, I decided that one of the best ways to find out how film scoring worked was to go work in a post-production company to see how that was done. I found a company that was a very reputable and popular place at the time, Todd AO Glen Glenn Sound in Hollywood. I must’ve sent about 18 resumes to them to just get a meeting. Todd AO Glen Glenn was an independent post production company, which I thought this was kind of fascinating — that they were working on these huge films that were being made by Paramount, Universal, Disney, Fox, Sony. I wondered why they would outsource everything to this independent post company when those studios have their own sound departments on the lot? The studio sound departments on the lot can only handle so much work. They were making 25 films a year and could only run five or ten of them, max, through their own departments.
I ended up getting hired to work in their film library, working essentially in the mail room making minimum wage, with the hope that I’d get an opportunity to work on their mixing stages. It was a union company and all these big films that I wanted to work on in any capacity were all union productions. It was catch-22 — you have to work on a film to join the union, but you can’t work on a film unless you’re in the union. So this company made a deal with me and said, “Find your way around and you’ll be in line. We could have the possibility of putting you in the union if you continue to work here.” For three months I worked in the film library. When my shift was over, I stayed five hours later and went into all these fancy stages and machine rooms, learned the equipment that these guys were using and hung out with them. I don’t know who knew I was doing it, but I was doing it. After two or three months of that, I was pretty proficient and a position did open up.
Later on, I had the opportunity to work at 20th Century Fox and was on staff in their post production department, doing many of the same things that I was doing at Todd AO but on even a larger scale, because now you had a a corporation that was not only doing the individual post production work, but they’re [also] a production company. I remember working on Independence Day. No film had ever reached $100 million at that point, and we hit it. Coming back to work that day, there was a big banner over the front of the lot that said, “$100 million.” We never made any more money as an employee, but it was fun to be part of something that was so successful.
Filmmaker: What are some best practices you recommend for independent and low budget filmmakers, especially if they plan on working with a professional post house? How can they stretch their post budgets?
Vogl: Set aside a budget to work with that’s reasonable, that you would expect somebody to work with. When I budget films, I suggest that you spend 15 or 20 percent of your film on post production. Hopefully you can do that. As for sound in production, I would absolutely, without hesitation, say get a reliable, experienced production sound team: a production sound mixer, a boom operator, and a utility person that can help facilitate whatever the recordists or boom operator needs. If you can get good-sounding audio during your production, you’re 90 percent of the way there, literally. If you don’t, then any money that you have to produce a soundtrack is going to go towards repairing and rebuilding your bad production audio. If you get good production audio, then 90 percent of the money that you have can go towards enhancing your soundtrack, building detail and levels and cool stuff that can give you a really deep, beautiful soundtrack.
Check out the full interview here.