David MacMillan at LMU SFTV

Oscar Winner David MacMillan Teaches Me About Sound

Last Friday, Academy Award Winning Sound Engineer David MacMillan, conducted a workshop at LMU and I attended.

David is one of the most important sound department experts in the world, winning Oscars for his work on The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, and Speed.  He’s batting 1.000, going 3-for-3 at the Academy Awards.  Some of his other film credits include Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Flatliners, Point Break, The Firm, Natural Born Killers, Nixon, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Twilight, The Proposal, and many others.  You get the idea.

David has worked with the best directors of our time, helping Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Sydney Pollack, Oliver Stone, Ron Howard, Tony Scott, Lawrence Kasdan, Alan Parker, Joel Schumacher, Kathryn Bigelow, Nora Ephron, and many others, achieve extraordinary sound.

Born in Northern Ireland, David emigrated to Canada with his family, where he apprenticed at The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  Then, as fate would have it, he met Francis Ford Coppola while working on a documentary in San Francisco, and was hired to wire Coppola’s studio.  That studio was American Zoetrope, which holds great significance to me, as you’ll soon see.  David worked there for 3 years and Coppola facilitated David getting both his Green Card and his Union Card.

I don’t need Six Degrees of Separation here at all.  The first studio David worked at was American Zoetrope and the first studio I ever toured was American Zoetrope.  When I was a budding young filmmaker of 12, my mother arranged for me to get a private tour of Zoetrope in San Francisco.  I don’t need Six Degrees of “Kevin Bacon” either, considering I worked with David on the LMU soundstage and David worked on Apollo 13 with Kevin Bacon.

Getting to see American Zoetrope when I was 12 was awesome.  Everyone there was so welcoming and encouraging.  I remember how cool it was that one of the editors I met was a fan of King Kong (1933) just like I was, and I told him that Kong’s “making of” featurette, was how I learned to create my first stopmotion claymation videos.  You can see in the pictures just how excited I was that day.  I got to see the actual cans of film that held Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Back to the present day, and the actual workshop with David MacMillan.  Part of it involved setting up a scene (it happened to be one from O Brother, Where Art Thou) and recording some dialogue using the boom mic that I’m holding in one of the pictures.  Being part of David’s sound crew for a day was a fantastic experience, and since there were very few of us, we really had a chance to get personal instruction.

One trick that I’m very glad I learned, is to point the boom at the actor’s chest rather than their head.  It causes the input to be less “direct” and makes for much better sound quality. Also, I was surprised when David told us how often dialog is picked up by mics placed on the actors, rather than from a boom mic.  In the fall, I’ll be taking my first recording arts class and, after this workshop, I feel much better prepared.

Just another day at LMU, learning to be part of 3-time Oscar winner David MacMillan’s sound crew. Then later, sitting around a table, sharing pizza and movie talk with him.  I love LMU!

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