Burbank — Motion picture sound re-recording mixer Steve Maslow got his start in the entertainment industry in late 1969 as a roadie for a local LA band called Strawberry Alarm Clock.
From there he entered the recording industry, becoming a recording engineer, for acts including Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and A Taste of Honey. Maslow earned a Gold record, a Platinum record and a Platinum album, for “Oh What A Night (December 1963)” and “Boogie Oogie Oogie.”
By late 1978, Maslow moved into the film audio industry, working on such films as The Last Waltz, Ten, Hair, More American Graffiti, Star Trek and The Postman Always Rings Twice.
He received the first of his three Academy Awards in 1980 for Best Achievement in Sound for Raiders of The Lost Ark, and again in 1981 for The Empire Strikes Back. He was nominated again in 1984 for Dune. Then came another Oscar in 1995 for Speed, which also gave him his first British Academy Award. More Oscar nods came, for 1996’s Waterworld, 1997’s Twister and 2000’s U-571.
Recent films include The Town, The Conjuring and The Great Gatsby. Maslow can often be found working at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.
Maslow has been using the new plug-in, Penteo 4 Pro, which converts stereo to 5.1. In this Q&A, he talks about what led him to sound for picture, his workflow and using this new plug-in.
What led you to a career in sound for film?
I started off in records. My last big hit was with Taste of Honey and The Four Seasons. Then it started getting tougher to make a living in the music industry. It became garage band sound and people recording out of their home studios, so things didn’t look as rosy as they used to be. I transitioned into the film business when the door opened for me, and I started mixing music and eventually went into dialogue and music.
Let’s talk about turning stereo into 5.1 surround. What was your process?
I would take the left and right track of a 2-track and run them through a couple of panners, fold it in a little so the left and right contributed to the center just a little bit. Then I would take a boom box, take a bass feed from the left and the right and return it to a fader to get the bottom end. That would give me left, center, right, and the bass for the subwoofer. For left surround, right surround I would try to get a very short reverb to feed to the surrounds. That was the problem; it would always put some sort of echo into the track.
You currently use Penteo. How did you discover the product?
One of the engineers or mixers told me about a device that would take a 2-track and make a 5.1 out of it.
What type of music do you use Penteo on? Does it perform better for rock, pop, symphonic, sound effects?
I’ll use it on any 2-track mix that I get. Sometimes, like for the film I am working on now, I will get maybe 10 stereo tracks. It’s kind of retro to think that some people are still giving you 2-track scores, its 2, 2, and 2. I’ll get 2-track strings, 2-track brass, 2-track percussion, and then I have to think about how I’m going to work with them. I can’t just put them all left-right. Sometimes I’ll take the percussion and put it in the center, but with Penteo, I just feed all the 2-channel stereo mixes in and it comes out as a great sounding 5.1 surround score.
Can you then manipulate it from there and adjust where you want things to be?
Yes, typically I don’t go straight across on the outputs. I pull the surround up or down using the Penteo fader. There are a lot of parameters inside the Penteo process, in terms of preferences. But I generally just use the default settings, because I’m usually under a lot of pressure to get going and Penteo is a real time saver. I’ll just use a default setting and pull back on the left surround, right surround and sprinkle the bottom in to “taste.”
What are some recent stereo-to-surround projects you have worked on?
I just finished a film called Tammy. Everything was 2-track. Every cue in that movie from source needle drops to score was all 2-track. I used Penteo from reel 1 to reel 6. The last film I used it on before that was the Bruce Willis film Red 2. I had to work with a lot of 2-track music.
How valuable is Penteo to your workflow?
For me now, it’s an essential workflow tool. I wouldn’t do another film without it if 2-track music came in. Penteo makes you sound good, and it definitely expands and turns a 2-track mix into a great 5-channel mix.
Photo Caption: Steve Maslow using Penteo 4 Pro at Warner Bros. Studios.