|It was at this time that Baker
decided to branch out and start making films of his own. He went on to make
seven shorts films, documentaries, and wrote and directed three of his own
features, including Kicking Bird, a film shot for $5K on an 18-day
shooting schedule. His films have played at festivals all over the world and
have been seen on Canadian and Australian television, as well as on PBS and
The Learning Channel.
Currently, Baker tours North
America and Northern Europe as “The Angry Filmmaker,” teaching aspiring
filmmakers the real ropes of Indie filmmaking.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Baker’s point of view about the importance of sound
design and the evolution of the Independent Film Industry…and what we can do
to change it.
|“Remember that many classic films were put together with
razor blades and tape”
IFA: How does designing the
sound for independents differ from bigger budget/studio films?
Baker: The biggest
differences are money and the levels of people you have to please.
When I am working on a small film,
I usually only have to please a couple of people: the director and myself.
When I am working on a studio movie there are tons of people putting their
two cents worth in and most of the time they don't know what they're talking
about. With the larger movies we have to do temp mixes for preview
audiences and so you have even more people giving you feedback based on what
other people think.
On the small films, you rely on
your gut instinct. You have a lot less money so you have to be more
creative. There are things you can't afford so you come up with other ways
to get the desired effect or whatever. On a big movie you can just go out
and rent a diesel Mercedes and record all the sound you want. On one small
movie I did, the sound of the Mercedes was actually a 10 year old diesel VW
Rabbit that belonged to a buddy of mine. No one can tell the difference. I
always say that if you have too much money you don't have to be creative,
you just throw money at the problem. But if you have no money, you have to
|“If you have no money, you have to be creative”
IFA: How has technology
affected sound design?
Baker: Technology is a
double edged sword. I am old enough that when I started cutting sound we
still used upright Moviolas and did it all on 35mm mag. I worked with some
old-timers who would use razor blades to cut shapes into the mag that would
essentially take out pops and all sorts of different stuff on the dialog.
Now, we have computers with lots of outboard gear and you're still trying to
cut out pops and other crap on the dialog. Computers are great because you
can work faster and you can make the changes faster. The downside is that it
allows some directors to keep changing their minds on cuts, sounds, etc.,
until you can have 12 different versions of the same scene with 21 different
sound effects on 12 different mixes of a reel.
I also think that there are times
when technology is driving the car. When I speak to students about sound,
or any part of filmmaking, I will invariably get the question: "What kind of
software do I use?" It's not about software. It's about your brain, your
creativity, your experience. Software doesn't make movies for you. You
have to do that yourself. Technology is just a hammer. It is no more
important than any other tool in your bag. It's the blueprints, the script
if you will, that's important.
When it comes to technology, I
think too much is not a good thing. Remember that many classic films were
put together with razor blades and tape.
IFA: Describe your approach
to the art of sound design?
Baker: I approach sound
design by first thinking: “What can I add to help move the story forward?
What can I use to tell you more about a character? How can I tell you more
about the physical space through sound?”
In a movie like Far From Heaven,
it was a period piece so we had to get the period sounds right. Then, Todd
and I talked about using as much "canned" sound effects as possible. He
wanted the movie to sound and feel like a studio film from the 50's. We
used a lot of foley in that movie, because that's what they would have done
if it was a studio film from the 50's.
In My Own Private Idaho,
it's about street kids and the sound is grittier, rougher. I went out and
recorded a bunch of stuff for that film. It's very urban. In my movie
Kicking Bird I used some of the same stuff I used on Idaho. I
wanted that gritty feel. My characters were losers, outsiders. You don't
hear any birds on the tracks, you hear lots of traffic and industrial
sounds. That was their reality - these were poor intercity kids.
Far From Heaven has this
really nice track as far as birds and nice dogs barking, this whole “Leave
It To Beaver” quality. In my film Birddog, one of the characters
lives in a very poor area, and every time we are at his house you hear
airplanes in the background. You never see it, but it sounds like he lives
right next to the airport. Who would live in a place like that? A poor
thief, that's who. Make the sound help move the story along, or tell us
something about the characters.
IFA: What are the greatest
obstacles for aspiring filmmakers to overcome?
Baker: It is what it has
always been: getting our work seen. The studios and even the so-called "Indie"
distributors don't really want our movies. They want 10-15 million dollar
movies with recognizable TV actors or stars who are slumming.
want anything too smart, or heaven forbid, a movie that an audience has to
really watch in order to figure it out. And Sundance isn't going to take
your movie either, unless you are connected to the business somehow, or you
fit in to one of the above. It's not going to happen.
|“Get used to rejection, get a thick skin and don't
listen to people that say you can't do it…you only fail when you give
After everyone has rejected you,
you need to figure out how you are going to market your own movies. And
don't give me that crap about how you don't want to learn about business and
you're an artist and all of that. I don't buy any of it. I make good movies
inexpensively and I self distribute them. A lot of people donated their
time, talent, and money to help me make my movies. I owe it to them to go
out and find the audience. My movies don't do anyone any good sitting on my
shelf at home and neither will your movies.
Also remember, the word "no" never
hurt anyone. Get used to rejection, get a thick skin and don't listen to
people that say you can't do it. Too many people feel like they can only
work in film, not video, or if they can't get into the right film festivals
then they have failed. You only fail when you give up.
IFA: What would you like to
see change in the Indie Film Community?
Baker: I'd like to see us
take the word "Independent" back! “Indie” has become a marketing phrase. I
have a tough time sitting through a 15 million dollar Indie movie. I want
us to recognize that Indie doesn't mean stars and all of that other crap.
We are independent filmmakers and we make movies whether we
have a deal or not. I want to see more theaters and media art centers
providing places for us to show our work, instead of just giving us lip
service about how they support independent film. I am fed up with these
"independent" film festivals that show all these movies with big names in
them. I think Sundance and any other festival that calls itself independent
shouldn't take films with budgets of more than $100,000. That ought to weed
out the phonies.
There are a lot of people out there
who do want to see real independent films, they just need to find out where
they can go and what kind of work is out there.