Recording Arts grad and 2009 Hall of Fame inductee Gary Rizzo took a couple of hours out of his busy schedule last week to chat with students, grads, and fans over on Full Sail’s Facebook page. The sound re-recording mixer (who won an Academy Award for his work on Inception) candidly answered questions about his latest project, Interstellar, and his professional relationship with director Christopher Nolan. Gary also shared advice for achieving career success in the film industry. Check out 15 of our favorite questions from the chat below.
What would be a new technology, software, or skill that you see is growing in the industry that you would recommend students start learning? For example, years ago, people with ProTools certification had a better opportunity to be hired.
Gary Rizzo: I’ll suggest you use your ears and your spirit. Don’t mix to the technology, the meters, nor to anyone else’s expectation other than your collaborative filmmaking group.
What was the first job you landed after graduating, and how long did it take you to land your first major deal? What’s your advice for new grads attempting to land these high-profile jobs?
GR: I was an intern at EFX in Burbank (a small but wonderful post facility) and then moved into being a mix tech. It wasn’t really high profile to start. Be patient and be focused!
Where do you fit into the sequence of creative duties? Does the film ever change drastically while you are working on it?
GR: I’m a re-recording mixer. We work in a movie theater but with an audio console in the middle of it. Picture changes often while we are mixing so we have to conform our sound and automation as well as sound elements to keep up!
Where did you mix Interstellar and what was the native mix format: IMAX 5.1?
GR: We mixed the film at Warner Brothers in Burbank on Stage 9. That’s the same stage we always use for Chris’s films ever since The Dark Knight in 2009. Up to this point, all of the Nolan films I’ve mixed have been native 5.1 mixes.
What is it like working with Christopher Nolan?
GR: I’ve been working with CN since 2005 on Batman Begins and every collaboration has been a complete honor. He is decisive and passionate and relentless in the pursuit of his vision.
When you were a student here at Full Sail, what opportunities did you take while in school that have been helpful to you while in the process of building your career? What are some difficulties that you still struggle with as a sound engineer, even with all of your experience?
GR: I watched and listened to A LOT of movies. It was part of my education! Balance of life is still hard.
What, in your experience, sets new talent and those getting ready to graduate apart from other candidates? What can help us get our proverbial foot in the door?
GR: If you have traits that people want, you’ll be fine. Be collaborative, helpful, considerate, respectful, and think ahead! Make people want to have you in the room.
With Interstellar being a space/otherworldly movie, what was the most difficult scene to make sound realistic and how did you overcome that issue?
GR: It’s hard to say which was the hardest but we spent a lot of time during the wormhole travel as well as Cooper in the Tesseract. Two very different scenes. In wormhole, we spent time figuring out a unique low end that would feel threatening and intrusive and it took a large combination of low end sounds to create that. The rattles and metal banging on top of that make for a very hostile environment. We wanted the Endurance to feel like it could have collapsed at any moment.
When you work on various film projects, what is your thought process like? Is everything from the mind or does it involve feeling as well?
GR: It is ALL from your emotions and your feelings. You have to get emotionally involved as though you are a first time viewer. Maintaining that perspective could be the hardest part of the job!
What was the thinking behind the low rumble that lasts for around 15 seconds during some of the scenes in Interstellar?
GR: Sometimes that low end is meant to make you feel uncomfortable.
You’ve worked on most of Christopher Nolan’s films, and most of them have been huge successes. One thing that people complain about though is being able to understand the voices (Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and Professor Brand in Interstellar). How would you reply to those critiques?
GR: At our mix each sound, be it dialogue, sound FX, or music is considered and weighed for its unique emotional value that it is adding or subtracting to any given scene. It’s decided at that time that some elements are very important to hear with the intention of properly and accurately communicating the emotional quotient of the moment. Some maybe not so much. Although these decisions are often discussed amongst the crew, that decision is ultimately made by our director and executed by the crew. And we always hope those creative decisions are properly reproduced in theatrical exhibition. My point to you is that sometimes what you think is important to hear ISN’T the most important thing to hear. The filmmaker is guiding you down the path they’ve mapped. LOTS of people in the public will have their opinions about it. Yes, I know the mix on Interstellar indeed takes some risks, but it’s a very emotionally moving track and many people are positively responding to it. Oh, and it’s very easy to hate. I don’t encourage that behavior. It doesn’t reflect well upon anyone. I’ll encourage people to perhaps think about the creative thought process behind the decisions made.
How long did it take you to become successful?
GR: That depends on how you measure success. Each and every step I took led to the next one. So my my mind, I’ve been successful since step #1 (enrolling at Full Sail) because it directly led me to step #2.
When you first began your journey after graduating, what did you find to be the biggest challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it?
GR: The biggest challenge for me was having to stop and leave at the end of each day of my internship. I’d get back to my studio apartment and I’d be a caged animal, pacing, waiting for the next day to start. I overcame that by finding no-budget projects to creatively work on after hours.
What was the most stressful part of working on Interstellar?
GR: There are two stressful portions … 1. Waiting for the phone to ring to hear if I’ve been hired for the job 2. Waiting to hear what people think about it once we are done.
In your opinion, what makes Interstellar such a great movie?
GR: The scale and the depth of the material in this film make it so very unique!