It takes a lot to make a movie. It’s not just the acting talents, directors and screenwriters who make a movie what it is. It’s the technical personnel as well. Whether it’s an editor, a sound man, a make-up artist or a set designer, a lot goes into making a movie. I recently had the opportunity to speak to three-time Oscar-winning sound man Michael Minkler about some of the highlights of his career. Let’s Flashback again with an Oscar winner. Say hello to Michael Minkler!
Johnny: Among your early projects were the self-titled concert film of The Grateful Dead and the Bob Dylan epic Renaldo And Clara. Since you came of age in the 60s, what was it like to be doing sound work for these talents?
Michael: Truly amazing. I was so fortunate to be where I was so early in my career. The mix on The Grateful Dead Movie was the most influential time of my entire career. Three months, working alongside Jerry Garcia and his team of talented engineers and filmmakers was artistically educational and inspirational. Then to follow that up with Renaldo and Clara a short time afterward, that was like earning college degree in music appreciation from Bob Dylan himself.
Johnny: You did sound work on Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. What was your favorite part of working on the movie, and why didn’t you return for the sequels?
Michael: Star Wars was the film that changed film-sound forever. George Lucas told us that he didn’t want the film to sound like any other. So I took that as a license to do things that had not been done before. We broke all the conventional rules of mixing. Having Ben Burtt’s imaginative effects and voices to work with were also very inspiring.
Johnny: You were the re-recording mixer for 1978’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Did you ever cross paths with any of The Beatles and tell them about your work on the movie?
Michael: I did not cross paths with any Beatle then. I have since, but I did learn so much working along side George Martin.
Johnny: You were nominated for an Oscar for your work on TRON. Did computer technology help you create the soundscape for that movie, or were a lot of the sounds more organic?
Michael: Everyone involved in the sound of TRON was completely free to contribute any they could to that soundscape. My job was to make all those contributions work. Computers were not used as they are today. But computer controlled synthetic sounds were heavily used.
Johnny: In 1984, you worked on The Cotton Club, another movie with a very musical bent. Did any of the musical talent involved in the film come to you with suggestions for how it should sound?
Michael: No. We were sequestered in Napa Valley.
Johnny: In 1986, you worked on Cobra. What do you recall the most about Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon, the film’s producers?
Michael: I never meet them.
Johnny: You did sound work on two different movies about the JFK assassination, “JFK” in 1991 and “Parkland” in 2013. Was that a coincidence, and which movie did you prefer working on?
Michael: JFK was such a challenge and was so layered with sound. It will always be one of my favorites. Parkland took a more simple approach and the mix was short.
Johnny: In 1992, you did sound work on Pure Country. 18 years later, you were co-producer of the film’s sequel Pure Country 2: The Gift. What was it like to go from working on sound to working on forming a film?
Michael: Filmmaking is still filmmaking no matter what your responsibilities are. It is the most collaborative art form.
Johnny: You did your first movie with Quentin Tarantino in 1997 with “Jackie Brown”. Knowing his encylopedic knowledge of film, did he have a favorite film you worked on that you wouldn’t think of choosing yourself if you ranked your own work?
Michael: He knew all the films that I had previously worked on. We talk a lot about films. He always surprises me with his knowledge.
Johnny: You earned your first Oscar in 2002 for Black Hawk Down. After more than 25 years in the business, what was it like to finally win an Oscar?
Michael: The single most all-encompassing moment of my life. Every emotion possible simultaneously filled my body for about an hour.
Johnny: You won your second Oscar the following year for Chicago. Is Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein as rough a guy to work for as press portraits have made him out to be?
Michael: Harvey is fabulous. He works harder than most and expects hard work in return. His success and his eye for talent is unparalleled.
Johnny: In 2007, you took home your third Oscar for “Dreamgirls”. What was the biggest difference in craftwork between “Dreamgirls” and “Chicago”?
Michael: In the four years that passed, the technology in music production had changed and made life for me a bit easier. DREAMGIRLS was superbly crafted by the music production team.
Johnny: One of your upcoming credits is the remake of “Point Break”. Had you tried out for sound work for the original “Point Break”, but missed out on it?
Michael: No. I was not in any way close to the original.
Johnny: Rick Baker recently announced his retirement from make-up work because of how technology has changed special effects. Do you ever fear that eventually there may not be a place for sound mixers in film or TV?
Michael: There will always be a need for sound mixing. It is not the technical craft that people mistake it for. Sound mixing is all about creativity, the “Invisible Art of Storytelling”.
Johnny: What advice would you give to people looking to enter the field of sound work?
Michael: Filmmaking is art. Follow your passion. You may find it in sound or some other form of filmmaking. When you do find it, pour yourself into it and don’t give up, even at the risk of giving up other things in life.
I would like to thank Mr. Minkler for speaking to me, and I would like to thank Zack Teperman for setting this up. Keep your eyes on Pop Geeks because coming soon is a Flashback interview with genre film favorite Belinda Balaski.