Think You’re a Film Buff? Define Sound Designer/Mixer

I’ve got 140 characters, basically two sentences, to explain what my short documentary is about on Twitter.  It’s not as straightforward as I thought.

To briefly describe it, I’ve written:

“My next short doc is a profile about a self-taught Academy Award-winning Sound Mixer for Hollywood feature films:  Richard Beggs.”

Well, it turns out that wasn’t a good description.

I mistakenly assumed people knew what a Sound Mixer was.  I figured this out almost a year after starting this project when friends asked me what my latest short doc was about. I gave a similar summary to the one above.  In person, I could tell from their expressions they didn’t get it.

With a wrinkled forehead they replied, “Oh, so he mixes the music?”  Or, they said, “So then, does he design the special effects for movies?”  While Richard does mix the music and the effects, it’s after those elements have been designed and placed onto a reel by other sound crew members.  I told them their answer was partially correct, but it was clear; they didn’t understand the terminology.

I’ve got a problem.  People who don’t have a film background, even those who consider themselves film buffs, may not grasp technical terminology, unless I provide Richard’s explanation about it.  People who do have a background could be bored to tears with too much description.  Actually, the latter scenario applies to both groups.

To be clear:  Sound Designer/Mixer is a person who is responsible for the blending and the careful consideration of all the sounds on a film track including:

The dialogue.

The automatic replacement dialogue, known as ADR.  Dialogue acquired in a studio session when the original recorded words were difficult to hear.

The effects such as, gunshots and explosions, are basically sounds that weren’t captured during filming.  Sometimes effects are manually designed by foley artists.  They may be individually recorded during the original performance.  Or, effects may be selected from a library of sound recordings.

The foley, or the recording of fabricated sounds in a studio, are used to replace sounds that weren’t captured on set such as, footsteps, rustling papers, water splashes, etc.

Atmosphere sounds are background noises found in any environment that create an ambience such as, chatter in a cafe, train station or freeway noise.

And of course music, which sets the mood and tone of a film.

All of these elements of sound mixing happen during the final phase of a film creation, referred to as post-production.


Expert Sound Designer/Mixer, Richard Beggs, at work in his San Francisco Presidio studio.

My dilemma brought me back to the purpose for making the film.  If you follow my blog, Intrinsic Lifestyle, you know that I promote individuals who’ve followed their interest to success.  I’m passionate about the process of self-directed learning.

After all, my next film isn’t about sound mixing per se, it’s a profile of Richard Beggs and how his passion for hi-fi sound led him to success as a Sound Designer/Mixer in the film industry.  It’s about how his background in fine art oil painting and music have influenced his style or ‘taste’ in sound design and mixing work.

Richard’s appeal is that he’s a charismatic expert in his field.  It’s exciting to be a voyeur in his world, which consists of working with famous Hollywood directors for almost four decades.  What he has to share is film history!

The demographic I’ve targeted for my film includes people who work in the film industry, film professors and film students, and a general audience of people who attend indie film festivals.  PBS viewers interested in a legendary San Francisco film professional would also find my profile intriguing.

As far as the story is concerned, I’ll need to provide clarification for a general audience about the various roles of people who work in post production sound, and yet not bore or even worse, insult, a more sophisticated one.  The fact is  many jobs in post production sound aren’t easily defined.  Titles continue to evolve and roles are blended due to budget constraints and technological advancements.

Just to give you an idea, the roles in post production sound include:  Supervising Re-recording Sound Mixer (which used to be called Dubbing Mixer), Supervising Re-recording Sound Editor, Dialogue Editor, Sound Editor (effects), Foley Artist, Sound Designer (which could be interpreted as one who blends and conceives the overall tone or mood of a film, or one who designs a special effect.),  Music Composer, Music Supervisor, Orchestrator and Music Editor.

I’ve shot almost all the interview footage with Richard.  Additional interviews with a few key directors, sound experts, and family members are next.  I’m looking forward to the editing and the sound mixing process.  I’m fortunate to have Erin King as my Editor.

What remains to be determined is how much or how little detail to go into about sound mixing, technologically speaking.  Once again, I’ll remind myself:  it’s not a how-to mix sound film, a potential snore fest.  Stating the obvious, but a film needs to have ‘watchability.’  I’m taking my time to ensure my story about Richard Beggs is enjoyable and interesting.

Kristin Sherman Ølnes is a partially self-taught indie documentary filmmaker based out of Oakland, California, who promotes individuals who’ve followed their interest to success.  She’s also a backyard beekeeper, an urban farmer, and an environmental advocate.  Follow her at Instagram for updates about her upcoming film about Richard Beggs.

2 Responses to “Think You’re a Film Buff? Define Sound Designer/Mixer”

  1. patricia

    Do you think that if you simply show him doing what he does, that people will grasp it? I don’t know if it matters so much what all the different jobs in sound are–it just matters what *he’s* doing, right?

    I’m often surprised that when I tell people that H is a cinematographer, they don’t know what that means either. So I say, “camera guy” and they get it.

    I can’t wait to see this film! Well, I *can* wait, but I’m looking forward to it!

    • Kristin

      Dear Tricia,

      I know it was difficult for you to leave a comment, due to my platform treating it as spam. I’m not sure why that happened, but your persistence paid off for me fortunately.

      You mentioned “showing what he (Richard) does” as opposed to having him explain it. Well, that’s expert advice spoken from a Mom whose son went to one of the best film schools in the country. I totally agree with you. Visual images are powerful.

      A lot of what RB appears to do is stare at a computer screen and mouse click. There is much more going on than that. It’s up to me to be creative and demonstrate his explanations with images. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been permitted to film him at work with a variety of Directors and Music Composers. I’ll be using examples of previous films he has worked on along with his explanations as well. I’ll also be ‘visually’ interweaving what he taught himself to get to where he is now, his history.

      I plan to produce a ‘cinematic’ profile of Richard, a short doc in which a story unfolds. But Richard has a hell of a lot of interesting things to say, great stories from decades of experience. I’m thinking I have enough footage of him explaining the sound mixing process that I could use it to develop a curriculum for film students. We’ll see…

      I’ve got a long way to go until my film is done, but I’m sure enjoying the process.

      Btw: I interpreted what you shared about H as follows: keep content that might be unfamiliar to viewers simpler by using ‘common’ language or familiar expressions. That’s a great idea! Truthfully, I’ve had to remind Richard to say things simply. He’s quite literate; he has a fantastic vocabulary.

      Anyway, H is great cinematographer! I’ve been lucky that he’s given me tips. I can’t wait to see his work in L’s film.

      Thank you commenting, my good Friend.


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