Three years ago production began on my documentary about Oscar-winning sound designer/mixer, Richard Beggs. Here’s a synopsis:
If a film’s soundtrack is responsible for half of a viewer’s experience, why aren’t the professionals who design the soundtrack acknowledged for their creativity? My film is a look into sound designer/mixer Richard Beggs’ self-taught, forty-year career — how his background in music and art influence his film work, how he collaborates with directors and other colleagues, how he uses ambience and audio metaphors to evoke the psychological aspects of sound. My film includes personal interviews with Beggs and expert colleagues Walter Murch, Randy Thom, Gary Rydstrom, Skip Lievsay and Lora Hirschberg, all of whom have set a standard for the integrity of this unrecognized film industry profession.
I’ve interviewed nine re-recording mixers, five directors, four former female sound assistants, Beggs’ current wife and first wife, two friends and a former art teacher from his high school in Eureka, California. What follows are anecdotes about my process and experiences with a few of those interviews.
My success in getting ‘A List’ film industry professionals to agree to be interviewed is due to the respect they have for Beggs and his work. But it was difficult and time-consuming to meet with busy professionals, requiring dozens of individual custom emails to nail down a location, date and time.
Preparing for the interviews
I thoroughly researched the history of sound for feature films. I familiarized myself with each subjects’s background and perspective about re-recording sound mixing using: books, web articles, videos on You Tube, iTunes University, whatever I could find. I wrote, edited and re-edited the interview questions in an effort to get candid, unique responses (which hadn’t been addressed on the internet already) from the subjects.
Their expert status in the profession did lead to some nervousness and intimidation before a shoot. It helped to quit drinking coffee. And I always felt less worried when I was fully prepared.
About a week before the interview, I practiced setting up and breaking down my camera, lights and sound equipment at home. I printed a personal release and location agreement, charged my equipment and drew diagrams of how I could potentially light the ‘scene’.
If I was nervous the night before an interview, I meditated. I’ve discovered a fabulous AP, Insight Timer, which helped. The day of the interview, I arrived one hour before the shoot to get my mics set to the same frequency air wave. I visualized setting up my equipment and reviewed my interview questions. I did a lot of deep breathing.
Beggs studio in the Presidio, the library at the San Francisco Art Institute and his four-story Victorian home were the locations for our interviews.
Typical to “run and gun” documentary filmmaking, for all of my other shoots, I arrived with no idea what the lighting or the room I’d shoot in looked like. I usually had a time constraint given to me by my subject.
Director Sofia Coppola permitted me to interview her during an afternoon break while she was working in New York City with Beggs on the final sound mix of her film, “The Beguiled.” Beggs was the sound designer for all of her films, up to 2017.
Interviewing American Director, Barry Levinson, in his studio in Soho was a favorite. His unique perspective on the importance of sound for film captured the essence of great filmmaking.
I filmed the director, Francis Coppola, at his sound ‘Meyer’s’ sound mixing stage in Napa, California. Beggs got his start in the film industry working on the sound for Francis Coppola’s classic “Apocalypse Now.”
I interviewed Eleanor Coppola during the final mix of her first feature film, “Paris Can Wait.”
Further footage I shot contributes to examples of the San Francisco Presidio’s independent filmmaking scene. Director Jonathan Parker permitted me to film while he and Beggs worked on the post sound mix for his film “The Architect.” And I filmed Phil Tippet and his crew and Beggs as they discussed the final sound track for “Mad God (part two)” with Richard.
Every shoot for my film had its interests. The weirdest was when a farm cat brought in a rat from the field and dropped it on the floor between Walter Murch and I and began chewing on its skull.
At Randy Thom’s home, the room where we met looked like it was straight out Architectural Digest and his perspective was unique. I filmed seven-time Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom in Marin. My Skip Lievsay interview was really interesting and took place in New York City.
My interview with Lora Hirschberg took place in an elegant conference room with custom Mission Style architecture and furniture and a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay. Most recent interviews with Heather Gross and Julia Shirar in New York provided keen insights for the film.
Working on this doc, “Richard Beggs: A Sound Life,” has been an incredible experience and I’m extremely grateful for everyone’s participation.
Please let me know what you’re working on, as I love hearing about self-directed interests.
Follow Intrinsic Lifestyle Productions vlog. (Look for the blue box on the right sidebar of the Home Page.)
For more information about the film and how to make a donation please visit this post.