What Our Members Do: Michael Babcock, Supervising Sound Editor/Sound Designer/Re-Recording Mixer

Michael Babcock, sound editor and re-recording mixer. Photo courtesy of Michael Babcock.

Where are you currently employed?

Warner Brothers.

Current Project?

Mixing “Dr. Sleep” (sequel to “The Shining”) for WB, and the TV series “See” for Apple.

Describe Your Job.

I’m a maker and/or polisher of sounds, interpreter of visions, organizer of creative elements, selector of team collaborators, reader of minds, navigator of constraints, and psychologist… for motion pictures and other content.

How did you first become interested in this line of work?

In my teens, before I knew what this line of work was, I was fascinated with movie soundtracks and multichannel audio. I pressured my parents to become one of the first people on the block to upgrade to a Hi-Fi VCR and Dolby Pro-logic system. I spent a lot of time not just watching and listening to certain “great sound movies,” but listening to music through their great Hi-Fi system and a great pair of headphones. I studied how musical instruments were panned and how reverb, delays, and other effects were used to make a musical soundscape. I was also quite serious about being a musician. I got degrees in music performance, music engineering, and electrical engineering. That path led me directly to this line of work. The same day I graduated from the University of Miami, I was offered a job at a commercial post house in Hollywood called Margarita Mix.

Who gave you your first break?

Through a helpful network of alumni from the Music Engineering program I went through at UM, a guy named Myron Nettinga helped me get my first union sound editing job just three months out of college at the now-defunct Todd-AO. He gave me some great creative guidance, and I got thrown directly into the fire.

What was your first union job?

Cutting sound FX at Todd-AO, mostly for TV. I cranked out episodes of “Melrose Place,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Profiler,” and more.

What credits or projects are you proudest of, and why?

Any that give me the chance to work in conjunction with the music department. It marries my world of music with the film world. I love to work on things that are rhythmic or have a “musical” sensibility. For “War of the Worlds,” I was given a task to come up with the “factory sound” you heard whenever the tripods moved or were offscreen. I created a rhythmic machine sound using bits and pieces of manipulated pneumatics, rollercoasters, gears, dry ice groans and metal hits that were sequenced in ¾ time. (They are tripods, after all!) I actually had a private conversation during the dub with John Williams. He told me he really liked what I had done and thought it integrated with his score perfectly. That was literally the proudest I’ve ever been, and may ever be, in my career.

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What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?

I try to grow and improve at every turn, but my biggest challenge is facing the proverbial blank sheet of paper. Some of my cohorts thrive on that, but I do my most creative work when there are constraints. Whether it’s someone saying, “look in this direction,” or just a plain old time constraint, I thrive with just enough structure to fire up the inspiration. It’s like cheating writer’s block. I used to think that as I got more career experience and the years rolled by, the creative process would get easier. It hasn’t — my own doing, of course! You have to keep finding ways to go deeper, get better, and come up with something that approaches being “iconic.” To help accomplish this, I use a skill I learned from being a musician: Every once in a while, you have to put down your instrument and get out. Change your perspective somehow. It’s a little easier to push that rock uphill when you take a break and find another angle. Sometimes that can be getting closer to nature or doing yoga, but most often for me, it’s listening to music.

What was the most fun you’ve had at work?

I can answer this in two ways. The first is when I take a field trip to record something. The second involves conversations I’ve had with people I’m in the trenches with. It’s the 19th day straight on a dub stage and someone starts a conversation that leads to strange and hilarious places. There’s a lot of super-smart and downright interesting people in this business. If I were to make a Top 10 list of the times that I’ve laughed the hardest in my life, at least four of them would have been on a dub stage.

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Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?

Honestly, exactly what I’m doing now.

What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?

Playing and listening to music, yoga, and helping steer my 13-year-old son in the right direction.

Favorite movie(s)? Why?

“Top Gun” is partially why I’m in film sound. It was the first movie I rented when my parents got the new stereo Hi-Fi VCR. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is an ‘80s comedy that used sound NOT like a comedy. I studied the mix of this one many, many times. “The Hunt for Red October” is my favorite movie ever. My dream is to work on a submarine movie sometime in my career. The sound job on “Master and Commander” makes me sweat in my seat every time. “Toy Story 2” is an amazing example of filmmakers who understand how sound can vastly augment a story. Every part of this movie is genuinely inspired. In my opinion, it’s Pixar’s greatest movie, if only because it recognized animation once and for all as a true bastion of original storytelling and filmmaking.

Favorite TV program(s)? Why?

“Mindhunter” has great production value, and it’s crossed that line from episodic show to something that uses the medium for real character development. “Breaking Bad” — talk about a group of people that came together for a moment in time and fired on all cylinders to make something truly special! “Deadwood” has Shakespearean prose, acting and storytelling – and Old West gutter-swearing. I think “Top Gear” and its cousin “The Grand Tour” are among the most original, entertaining, informative, passionate, funny shows ever made.

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Do you have an industry mentor?

I’ve been lucky to have a few, but the biggest one has been Richard King. Besides being a great sound designer and offering me opportunities to move up in the industry, he’s been a good friend and a great example of how to navigate the craziness of this business and remain a human being.

What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?

A professor in college told me this can be a tough industry to get into, but there’s always room for talent. I find that to be quite true.

Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?

Fortunately, not yet.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members, some words of encouragement?

We are a special, elite group of smart, creative and downright interesting people. I’m proud to be part of it.

 

Compiled by David Bruskin      

Editor’s Note: To recommend a member (including yourself) to be featured on CineMontage.org and the home page of the Editors Guild website, please contact davidnbruskin@gmail.com

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