Quick Chat: Ian Stynes on mixing two Sundance films

By Kristine Pregot

A few years back, I had the pleasure of working with talented sound mixer Ian Stynes on a TV sketch comedy. It’s always nice working with someone you have collaborated with before. There is a comfort level and unspoken language that is hard to achieve any other way. This year we collaborated once again for So Yong Kim’s 2016 film Lovesong, which made its premiere at this year’s Sundance and had its grade at New York’s Nice Shoes via colorist Sal Malfitano.

Ian has been busy. In fact, another film he mixed recently had its premiere at Sundance as well — Other People, from director Chris Kelly.

Ian Stynes

Ian Stynes

Since we were both at the festival, I thought what better time to ask him how he approached mixing these two very different films.

Congrats on your two films at Sundance, Lovesong (which is our main image) and Other People. How did the screenings go?
Both screenings were great; it’s a different experience to see the movie in front of an excited audience. After working on a film for a few months it’s easy to slip into only watching it from a technical standpoint — wondering, if a certain section is loud enough, or if a particular sound effect works — but seeing it with an engaged crowd (especially as a world premiere at a place like Sundance) is like seeing it with fresh eyes again. You can’t help but get caught up.

What was the process like to work with each director for the film?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some wonderful directors, and these movies were no exception. Chris Kelly, the director for Other People, who is a writer on a bunch of TV shows including SNL and Broad City is so down to earth and funny. The movie was based on the true story of his mother, who died from cancer. So he was emotionally attached to the film in a unique way. He was very focused about what he wanted but also knew when to sit back and let me do my thing. This was Chris’s first movie, but you wouldn’t know it.

For Lovesong, I worked with director So Yong Kim once again. She makes all her films with her husband Bradley Rust Gray. They switch off with directorial duties but are both extremely involved in each other’s movies. This is my third time working on a film with the two of them — the other two were For Ellen with Paul Dano and Jon Heder, and Exploding Girl with Zoe Kazan. So is an amazing director to work with; it feels like a real collaboration mixing with her. She is creative and extremely focused with her vision, but always inclusive and kind to everyone involved in the crew.

With both films a lot of work was done ahead of time. I try and get it to a very presentable place before the directors come in. This way we can focus on the creative tasks together. One of the fun parts of my job is that I get to sit in a room for a good while and work closely with creative and fun people on something that is very meaningful to them. It’s usually a bit of a bonding experience by the end of it.

How long did each film take you to mix?
I am also extremely lucky to work with some great people at Great City Post. I was the mixer, supervising sound editor and sound designer on both films, but I have an amazing team of people working with me.

Matt Schoenfeld did a huge amount of sound designing on both movies, as well as some of the mixing on Lovesong. Jay Culliton was the dialogue editor on Other People. Renne Bautista recorded Foley and dealt with various sound editing tasks. Shaun Brennan was the Foley artist, and additional editing was done by Daniel Heffernan and Houston Snyder. We are a small team but very efficient. We spent about eight to 10 weeks on each film.

Lovesong

How is it different to mix comedy than it is to mix a drama?
When you add sound to a film it’s important to think about how it is helping the story — how it augments or moves the story along. The first level of post sound work involves cleaning and removing anything that might take the viewer out of the world of the story (hearing mics, audio distortion, change in tone etc.).

Beyond that, different films need different things. Narrative features usually call for the sound to give energy to a film but not get in the way. Of course, there are always specific moments where the sound needs to stand out and take center stage. Most people usually aren’t aware of it or know what post sound specifically entails, but they certainly notice when it is missing or a bad sound job was done. Dramas usually have more intensity to the story and comedy’s can be a bit lighter. This often informs the sound design, edit and mix. That said, every movie is still different.

What is your favorite sound design on a film of all time?
I love Ben Burtt, who did all the Star Wars movies. He also did Wall-E, which is such a great sound design movie. The first 40 or so minutes have no direct dialogue — all the audio is sound design. You might not realize it, but it is very effective. On the DVD extra Ben Burtt did a doc about the sound for that movie. The documentary ends up being about the history of sound design itself. It’s so inspiring, even for non-sound people. Here is the link.

I urge anyone reading this to watch it. I guarantee it will get you thinking about sound for film in a way you never have before.

Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.


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