Article By: Maria Shamkalian
What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it?
The last feature I worked on had to be turned around in 2.5 weeks, which is an extremely tight deadline for a 90 minute narrative feature when you’re handling all aspects of the audio post. There were editorial issues and my assistant and I received the project 3 weeks late without synced production sound and missing several shots and almost all the VFX. While it’s not unusual to receive a post-audio project in less than perfect circumstances, it is pretty insane to turn around a 90 minute film in 2.5 weeks. I had my assistant work on the basic dialog editing for each reel while I developed the sound design, communicated with the composer about where cues were going to be, recorded and synced Foley, and later mixed the dialog as well as completed a final 5.1 mix. We met our deadline in time for the premiere and the studio exec and investors were very pleased. There’s still more work to be done to prep the film for the international market but that first phase was intense.
How did you get started in the film industry?
Like a lot of sound people in the film industry I gradually transitioned over from the music industry as illegal downloads and streaming became the norm and ate away recording budgets. I’ve been working in audio since 1995 but in TV and film since 2005. It started with helping out friends with their shorts. Eventually word spread and requests to work on TV and film projects outnumbered music projects. It took a while to develop a solid client base because many people around Philly thought of me as just a “music guy”. That gradually changed the longer I worked exclusively in film and became friends with some very talented Philly-based production sound mixers.
Why do you choose to work in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania has a little of everything. I can live in a diverse urban environment but be in the Amish countryside or the Pocono mountains in a little over an hour. The ability to quickly transition between these environments make the state conducive to a wide array of projects, which helps to keep work interesting.
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?
I work with a lot of LA and NY based production companies. I’m usually the only local on set so I become the defacto ambassador for Pennsylvania, which I love. My favorite places to film are in Central-PA, specifically Centre County and the rolling hills of the farms as well as in the state forests north of there. I did a feature called “The Lost Within” (directed by Steve Gibson) many years ago around the Lewisburg area and it’s beautiful. It was shot on farmlands, an old motel near Lock Haven, in a newspaper office in Sunbury, and a trestle bridge outside Williamsport. It’s a great film that also showcases the wide variety of scenery in PA.
What do you love the most about your job?
I especially like the variety of projects that I get to work on and the variety of people I get to meet on those projects. Within any given week I could be working on a documentary about water conservation in rural PA, an interview with an Eagles player, a true crime docu-series, and doing sound design on someone’s feature. All these jobs bring different personalities, work methodology, and unique personal backgrounds. I graduated from PSU with a B.A. in Anthropology and I’ve always been fascinated with other people and their stories.
What is your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story?
As a production sound mixer you often hear things you can’t unhear. If you’re not careful and diligent while working you can hear some pretty awkward things. I’m a vault both professionally and personally. When you mic someone up you have both a moral and professional obligation to be discreet with anything you accidentally hear off camera. I turn faders down anytime someone isn’t on screen but occasionally you catch something very awkward. I usually ignore it and keep it to myself but every once in a while I’ll hear something that I think may embarrass the person saying it and I’ll discreetly remind them that they are wearing a hot mic. Everyone appreciates when you respect their privacy and look out for them.
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?
I think the next PA-based project is sound design and general audio post for some corporate videos for the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company. I’m also in talks with a director about doing post on a horror feature that takes place in and around the abandoned town of Centralia, PA and in a large cave around that town. I’m excited about that one.
PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?
I just wrapped on a PA-based feature that benefited from the tax credit, which was filmed in Reading. The credit not only provided the opportunity for a month of uninterrupted work but it literally put money in the hands of my local community. Productions spend a lot of money in the locations they shoot in, way beyond just the wages of local crew members. Everything from dry cleaning, catering, hotels, Uber drivers, permits, location renting, private security, etc., it all gets hired locally. Providing a larger tax credit will attract more productions to Pennsylvania, which will literally put money back into the hands of local residents. The tax credit pays for itself many times over.
What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?
There’s no magic secret to success in this industry. It’s all about just working hard and treating other people well. I could be the best sound mixer around but if people don’t enjoy spending a long day with me then I wouldn’t get hired. The best advice I could give is to take pride in your work and always be mindful of what other people are going through. The people you are working with can become some of your closest friends.
What are some good strategies to find more gigs?
Finding future work is just as much a part of your job as working a gig. Figure out how many hours you want to work per week and treat each of those work days seriously. It’s also a good idea to find the professionals who have worked on projects you love and start making connections with them and their circles. Overtime, your name will start to get passed around and more jobs will come.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
The best advice that I could give is to be humble and remember that it’s not a race, it’s a marathon. Figure out what “success” specifically means to you and devise a plan to gradually get there by working hard everyday.
What is your favorite film shot in Pennsylvania?
Trading Places. Though not entirely shot in Philly it’s one of Murphy’s best comedies and I love the scenes in Rittenhouse Park.
What is your favorite project that you worked on?
Hmmm, I’m not sure about my favorite project of all time but a recent one that I absolutely loved working on was a documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Company called “Rare Bird Alert”, which was about Birding and Birders. Interestingly, we spent a lot of time interviewing people about the relationship between bird watching and punk rock. I had no idea there was a connection but I found it fascinating. Birders in general are fascinating people.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
I love what I do and feel very fortunate to be able to make a living doing it. As a freelancer, I don’t always get the chance to pick what I work on. My goal each year is to continue carving out a path where more and more of my work are documentary projects on the lives of musicians, social change, and nature. Even when the job isn’t my cup of tea I still enjoy the work and the people I get to work with. Being able to support myself and my wife by doing what I love is a great feeling.
What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
Anybody needing professional production and post-production audio services should check out my website to learn more about me and my work. If you think I’m a good fit for your project then I’m just a phone call (or email) away. I can be reached at www.nadasoundstudio.com.
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 firstname.lastname@example.org