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making waves

Tuesday, April 30, Regal Battery Park 6, 8:00
Thursday, May 2, Village East Cinema 4, 3:45
Festival continues through May 5

Longtime sound editor and teacher Midge Costin pays tribute to her discipline in the eye- and ear-opening documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, having its world premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. The celebration of sound focuses on three of the best in the business: three-time Oscar winner Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient), four-time Oscar winner Ben Burtt (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Star Wars), and seven-time Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom (Saving Private Ryan, Toy Story). “Before we were born, you’re looking at darkness. Sound is the first sense that’s plugged in,” Murch says at the beginning of the film. “Six months, seven months into the womb, it’s hearing the mother’s heartbeat, it’s hearing her breathing, it’s hearing Dad shouting from the garage. It’s making sense of the world. You have emerged into a kind of consciousness using only sound. And then you’re born. Sound affects us in a deeper way almost than image does. It goes deeper. And yet we’re naturally, seemingly oblivious to that.”

Documentary shows Ben Burtt recording a bear that will become the voice of Chewbacca in Star Wars

Documentary shows Ben Burtt recording a bear that will become the voice of Chewbacca in Star Wars

Costin was the sound editor on such major Hollywood films as Crimson Tide, The Rock, and Armageddon but left to become the Kay Rose Professor in the Art of Sound Editing at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, a position endowed by famous USC grad George Lucas. Lucas is among the many directors raving in the film about the magical work performed by sound editors, along with Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, Barbra Streisand, Christopher Nolan, Sofia Coppola, Robert Redford, Ang Lee, Peter Weir, and Ryan Coogler. They are joined by Murch, Burtt, Rydstrom, and such other sound editors as Pat Jackson, Teresa Eckton, Greg Hedgepath, Bobbi Banks, Victoria Rose Sampson, Mark Mangini, Ioan Allen, Karen Baker Landers, Richard Hymns, and Cece Hall, who describe the process of creating and adding sound, including redubbing dialogue, as well as the impact of stereo and, later, digital technology. Among the coolest scenes are those illustrating Burtt’s childhood fascination with science fiction, a look at the importance of the Beatles’ White Album, the transition from silent pictures, and the working relationship between PIXAR cofounder John Lasseter and the inventive Rydstrom. It’s a crash course in the art of sound, where viewers also learn about such key elements as production recording, dialogue editing, ADR, SFX, foley, ambience, and music. It’s also a big-time commercial for the art form and occasionally feels like an ad to study the craft in film school.

Writer, producer, and director Costin, a self-described technophobe who has a passion for teaching people how to listen, and writer and producer Bobette Buster, author of Do Story: How to Tell Your Story So the World Listens, take a deep dive into such films as Saving Private Ryan, Citizen Kane, A Star Is Born, THX 1138, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Ordinary People, Funny Girl, A League of Their Own, Top Gun, and Singin’ in the Rain, revealing some major tricks of the trade. But perhaps the most important thing in Making Waves is that all of the sound editors appear to love their job, smiling like children with candy when talking about certain sounds they captured and collaborating with directors. You’ll never look at — or listen to — a film the same way again. Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is screening April 30 and May 2 in the Movies Plus section of the Tribeca Film Festival, followed by Q&As with Costin, Buster, and producer Karen Johnson.

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