Ready, Set, Interviews: Documentary about Richard Beggs and Film Sound Design

Two years ago production began on my documentary about Oscar-winning Sound Design 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?  Peek into Sound Design Mixer Richard Beggs’ self-taught forty-year career.  Find out how his background in music and art influence his work.  Witness his method of working with Directors.  Note his use of ambience and audio metaphors to evoke the psychological aspects of sound.  Personal interviews with Beggs and expert colleagues:  Walter Murch, Randy Thom, Gary Rydstrom, Skip Lievsay, and Lora Hirschberg set a standard for the integrity of this unrecognized film industry profession.

Like my former freestyle-sprinter self, I’ve gone all out on my next profile, Richard Beggs.  Since I began, I’ve interviewed Richard and esteemed colleagues to compare their expert opinions.  I’ve interviewed seven Re-recording Mixers, five Directors, Richard’s current wife, ex-wife, two friends, and a former Art Teacher from High School.  What follows are antidotes about my process and experiences with a few of those interviews.

The reason I was successful in getting ‘A List’ film industry professionals to agree to be interviewed is due to the respect they have for Richard Beggs’ work.  Boy was it hard to get in contact with these busy people.  Richard wouldn’t share their contact information.  He was protective and  self-conscious.  It took sleuthing on-line and using unexpectedly wonderful connections.  It required dozens of persuasive emails to nail down a location, date and time with each person, but that was fun.

Before the interviews, oodles of delicious research (I like that part) about the history of sound for Hollywood feature films.   In addition, I familiarized myself with my ‘talent’s background and perspective about Sound Mixing using:  books, articles on the web, or videos on You Tube, iTunes University, whatever.  Then I wrote interview questions and edited them many times.

My nerves before a shoot were silly but real.  They were due in part to my subject’s status.  Their incredible expertise intimidated the hell out of me.  I discovered it helped to stop drinking coffee a few days in advance, and avoid it before a shoot. (An almond cappucino afterwards, heaven).

Okay, I admit it.  Quite a few times I called my Editor to vent, Erin King, who put things into perspective.  I felt prepared once I had done the following:

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Practicing setting up and breaking down my equipment efficientely for a two-person one-camera interview in Sacramento.

As a crew in one, I wear many hats.  About a week before an interview, I practiced setting up and breaking down my camera, lights and sound equipment daily 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, this sounds new-agey and corny, but I meditated.  I’ve discovered a fabulous AP, Insight Timer, which cleared my head.  The day of:  I arrived one hour before the shoot to get my mics set to the same frequency air wave. Pee.  Review my questions. Pee. Visualize setting up my equipment. Pee. (What can I say, I gave birth to three humongous babies!) And sometimes I listened to that AP I already mentioned.

Typical to “run and gun” documentary filmmaking, I arrived with no idea what the lighting or the room I’d shoot in looked like.  I had very little time to set up.

Director, Sofia Coppola, permitted me to interview her during an afternoon break while working with Beggs on the final sound mix of her breathtaking film, “The Beguiled“.  Richard has been the Sound Designer for all of her films.  Prior to that, I briefly interviewed Eleanor Coppola between the final mix of her enjoyable feature film, “Paris Can Wait.”

Richard Beggs has been a Sound Designer for Francis, Sofia and Eleanor Coppola for his entire career.  Although I didn’t get a chance to interview the legendary film Director, Francis Coppola, I filmed he and Richard working together at his sound mixing stage in Napa, California.  Mr. Coppola gave Richard Beggs his start in the film industry.

Further footage I shot contributes to examples of the San Francisco Presidio’s independent filmmaking scene in ’16 and ’17. Director Jonathan Parker permitted me to film he and Richard working on the post sound mix for his film “The Architect“.  On another note, I filmed Phil Tippet and his crew discussing the final sound track for “Mad God (part two)” with Richard.  Tippet and a few crew members bounced around ideas and impressions about Richard’s final mix in a swank screening room operated and owned by Kim Aubry of ZAP Productions.

During my interviews, I experienced a variety of circumstances.  The weirdest incident occurred when a 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.  Well, it was at his farm-house so that’s not surprising.  The cat was doing its job.  But it was quite odd to hear the crunching sound of a skull in my headphones.  I interrupted Walter to ask the cat to leave the room with its prize–which it did, luckily.  (I have a way with animals.)

At Randy Thom’s home, I had no trouble staging an exquisite scene to conduct our interview. The room where we met looked like it was straight out of an Architectural Digest magazine.  In another interview, I obtained permission to film seven-time Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom at George Lucas’s impressive Skywalker Sound facility.  The Skip Lievsay interview in New York City was an absolute highlight.

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In another example, I was granted permission to conduct an interview with Lora Hirschberg in a gorgeous conference room with gorgeous Mission Style decor and architecture, and a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay!

Working on my next short doc about Sound Design Mixer Richard Beggs has been an incredible experience.  I’m extremely grateful for everyone’s participation to get this untold story told and shared with Women studying filmmaking and audio and teens throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Please let me what you’re working on, as I love hearing about self-directed interests.  I’ll write back!

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