My newest interview subject, Mark A. Mangini, is an accomplished sound designer and editor. He’s helped create the soundscapes for films of all sorts. Ranging from multiple films in the Star Trek franchise to a frequent collaboration with Joe Dante, from Disney Renaissance classics like Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin to Mad Max: Fury Road, which would win him his first Oscar, Mark A. Mangini has created memorable soundscapes for almost half-a-century, with no signs of stopping any time soon. Mark took some time to speak with me this past December, and today I share my epic conversation with this great talent.
Say hello to Mark A. Mangini!
Johnny: Hello, Mark. Johnny Caps from Pop Geeks here.
Mark: Hey, Johnny. How ya doin’?
Johnny: I’m doing good. First of all, before anything, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Mark: My pleasure.
Johnny: Alright. I have my questions ready to go.
Mark: Yeah! Good.
Johnny: To start off with, as with several of my previous interview subjects, including Tom Ruegger and John Bruno, some of your earliest work was done at Hanna-Barbera. How did your early work at Hanna-Barbera prepare you for your journey into sound work for film?
Mark: Well, I’d say in a number of ways. The most vital is that animation teaches you to think abstractly. In cartoons, (and remember these are Saturday morning cartoons, not some kind of high-minded Disney animation), when you hit somebody on the head, you don’t hear the sound of flesh on flesh. What you want to hear is something comic and whimsical. In that search, one quickly learns the technique of sound substitution, using sounds to imply an effect other than the one of the reality of what you’re seeing. That’s fundamentally what sound design is all about.
It’s re-contextualizing sound. It’s taking sound out of its’ authentic or original context, and placing it somewhere that it doesn’t belong. Think of all the silly cartoons you’ve seen where someone gets hit or falls down, and you don’t hear a smack or a thump. You hear birds twittering as if they’re dizzy. Of course, birds don’t twitter when we do things like that. If a group of people fall down, you don’t hear body thumps. You hear a ball striking pins in a bowling alley. It’s this metaphorical use of sound that makes animation sound so fun, and that was really the training ground for everything I do, even to this day.
The other valuable skill I developed in animation was using musical instruments to create sounds. This has its’ beginnings in vaudeville where members of the orchestra had to supply the incidental sound effects for actors performing onstage. You learned to use a drum, or a trombone, or a piccolo to create funny sound effects to augment the action, and I’ve been using those techniques right up through Dune. In Blade Runner 2049, where I used a sousaphone like a giant tuba to create spaceship sounds, only because I like the timbre of that instrument, and it’s a great way to create the sound of something without using traditional tropes like jet engines and rockets.
Thinking abstractly and using musical instruments as a way of creating sounds were the two big takeaways I had working in animation.
Johnny: Well, you’ve done an amazing job of it.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. One of your very first big-screen credits was as an ADR editor on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As I asked Ve Neill when I interviewed her earlier this year, was the movie as tough to work on as reports made it out to be?
Mark: Well, I had a slightly different experience being in post-production. Some of my lasting memories were of weeks waiting for visual effects to come in so we could generate sounds for things we had never seen before. This waiting was exacerbated by a change of visual effects companies at the last minute. The originally-contracted visual effects company was not delivering the quality that Robert Wise wanted, and we switched to Doug Trumbull’s company very late in the process. This meant even more waiting around and wondering when elements would arrive, followed by mad scrambles over nights and weekends when a shot would come in and it had to be mixing in the mix studio the next day.
In one sense, it was fairly languid, and in another sense, there were these brief moments of terror where we would see a Bird Of Prey for the first time, or see the Transporter beam for the first time, and it was due to be final sound-mixed the next day, and we needed to summon our creativity, when it may not have actually existed, in a couple of hours to create sounds for things we had never seen before. Otherwise, the movie was fairly straightforward.
I wouldn’t call it tough. I have fond memories of working on the film, and especially working with Robert Wise, who is, to me, one of the great filmmakers of all time. Creatively we knew, in spite of the VFX challenge, we had a challenge to create, or design, the voice of V’Ger, which started out as Voyager 6. It had gone off to learn all it could learn in its’ celestial travel, and it had become an omniscient being; It had gathered all the information the universe had to offer. V’Ger became a significant sound design challenge that continued right to the last day of the mix because we really didn’t have quite a read on what ithe sound of the most intelligent thing in the universe should be.
We tried avant-garde electronic sounds. We tried bringing in voices and voice-over artists. We tried everything we could imagine because we didn’t really know what that should sound like. Creating the voice of V’Ger was made was additionally complicated because Bob Wise never really liked, maybe even until the last day, what it was that we created. I think it stemmed from a collective uncertainty about “what would the most intelligent thing in the universe sound like?”
Johnny: I can see where you’re coming from, and you did a good job of trying to figure it out. I know you would continue to work on the Star Trek franchise, but I’ll get to that in due time. In the meantime, another early credit of yours’ was as an ADR editor on 1980’s The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood. That movie was an early Cannon Films release, and with quite a few of my previous interview subjects, opinions on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus are mixed. What did you think of working with them?
Mark: Well, I didn’t actually work WITH them, so I’m unable to comment directly about working with them, but I did two films for them.
I do remember that working for their company was very unpleasant. It was widely known in our community that they were the cheapest of the cheap producers, and they were quite dishonest financially. My lasting memories of Cannon Films was the rush that all of us would make to the bank upon receiving our paychecks because it was well-known that if you didn’t get to the bank in time to cash your check, the account would run out of money. If you were the last person in line at the teller, you might not get your check cashed. That cast a pall over what it was like to work there, and it certainly didn’t engender ones’ best work.
That being said, the director of The Happy Hooker, Alan Roberts, was a lovely man and a hard-working director. The fact that this was softcore porn didn’t really matter to any of us. I was tickled by the idea I was working with Adam West, Batman, who was in this, and Phil Silvers, who was a very funny comedic actor, and the Happy Hooker herself, Xaviera Hollander. She was a real pro. I just had a blast working on it, other than those financial woes.
Johnny: Alright. You’re actually the second talent from that movie I’ve interviewed, the first being my good friend Kim Hopkins, who played the young Xaviera Hollander. She had some interesting stories to share about working on that movie as well, though her experiences with the director weren’t as good as yours’. To go back to you, and to a credit that definitely got a better reception (Mark laughs), you’re the second talent, after the aforementioned John Bruno, that I’ve interviewed who worked on Poltergeist. What was the easiest part of working on that movie, and what was the most challenging part?
Mark: Well, the easiest part, oddly, was making the sounds of the ghosts and various spirits that haunt the family, only because, for me, I love sound designing and creating sound, and I have a fecund imagination. That stuff is a joy to do, to just sit in my studio, allowing my imagination to run wild, and wonder, “What does the other side sound like? What does it sound like when Carol-Anne is on the other side? What does that giant throat in the closet sound like? What does the giant white beast sound like when it pops out?”. All of those are fun opportunities to do the inventive, metaphorical sounds which I talked about in the Hanna-Barbera discussion.
It also gave me the opportunity to do something really goofy. I had this crazy idea that, if I could record the sound of an actual ghost, I would get big points with my producers, and they could use it as an advertising gimmick. At the time, my wife was friends with a parapsychologist who was the head of UCLA’s Parapsychology Department, and a certified ghostbuster. He had an interest in getting real recordings of real ghosts. He was doing, for lack of a better term, ghostbusting all over Southern California by visiting haunted locations and people, and trying to capture, photographically as well as sonically, the events that occurred in those moments.
For months, I accompanied him on seances and spiritual visitings, and I spent many a night in blackened rooms, waiting for something to happen. I would set up sophisticated audio gear around the room, attempting to track, or capture, or triangulate the sound of a ghost if it was actually in the room. I wouldn’t end up getting the sound of a ghost from those recording trips, but I had a lot of fun trying to do it, and hoping I would be able to brag that the film Poltergeist had the sounds of real ghosts in it.
The hardest part was the delicate nature of the relationship between Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg. When we came on, Tobe was just finishing shooting, and we developed the sound for his director’s cut of the film. We knew it was in the air that he might not last through to the end of the project, and there was always this sense of split loyalty. We loved Steven, having worked with him on Raiders Of The Lost Ark. We always honored our director. The director is our general, and our loyalties are always to that person, but it always felt awkward because we knew that there would be a shift at some point in the project and it would become something very different, and indeed it would. Steven would eventually take over the project in post-production, and the film became a very different film with a different aesthetic that begat us designing sounds and taking a different direction.
Johnny: Well, the end product came out amazing, and again I say this, you did an amazing job of helping create the sound for it. Speaking of which, if my research is correct, you helped create the roar for one of the MGM logos. Is that true, and if so, what went into the creative process for that?
Mark: That is true, and it’s a great segue from the Poltergeist discussion because Poltergeist was the first time I did that. I did it four times for MGM. I actually created four separate Leo The Lion roaring logos for MGM.
On Poltergeist, it came about because after we did our first audience preview, MGM sent us the audio master of the original MGM logo, which we needed to record into our master recordings for the final sound mix. This master recording was an old, ratty, optical lion roar that had been at the head of MGM movies for 50 years. It was decidedly non-high-fidelity, and remember, this was 1982. We were just four years after the widespread deployment of Dolby Stereo and wide-release high-fidelity audio formats in cinemas. I thought, “I can’t put this old, tatty sound at the head of a movie that otherwise sounds pristine and authentic and fresh”.
One of the things I had done to gather original elements for the sound of the closet throat monster was record big cats. I had gone out to a wild animal farm in Acton, and recorded tigers, lions, pumas, cougars…I’d gotten some really delicious lion and tiger recordings, and as I was working on the closet beast, I thought, “Why don’t I try recutting Leo The Lion from fresh material?”, and that’s exactly what I ended up doing. Steven loved it. Everybody just loved it. For the first time in 50 years, Leo had a new voice!
MGM asked me for the master after Poltergeist was over. They loved it, and made my master the de-facto studio recording for any subsequent MGM film. For their 70th anniversary, which was maybe about 10 years later, they came back to me and said, “We want to hear this in 7.1”, because the master I had made was only in stereo. I took those original elements and spread them out, and made a 7.1 mix. Five years later, they were doing an MGM jubilee, and they commissioned me to do an alternate version. I had just been in South Korea, recording big cats again, and I captured some incredible, really dynamic-range, big frequency-response stuff, and I recut it yet again for its’ final iteration.
Johnny: Well, it’s definitely memorable. I have to admit that whenever I see an MGM movie, I can’t have my feet on the ground when Leo’s roaring.
Mark: (Laughing) That’s gold.
Johnny: I wish I could explain it, but it’s something that’s always caught me off-guard since childhood, but you did a great job with the logo.
Johnny: No problem. Going to my next question, you earned your first Oscar nomination for Best Sound Effects Editing for 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. What made that movie so special for you to work on?
Mark: Well, there’s so many things to talk about on that film in no specific order, and I’ll give you a little bit of detail on each.
It was certainly working with Leonard Nimoy. That was the first time I connected with a director, and had a really close bond that would turn into a friendship for many years after that. I ended up doing three more movies with him. And of course, who doesn’t feel honored to work on a Star Trek film? It’s one of those plum gigs that everyone in the community, whether you’re in sound or costuming or cinematography, wants to get in on. It was an iconic TV program that virtually everyone has seen.
Additionally, I was proud of myself because it was a gig I really had to work for. It didn’t land in my lap. All the top sound designers in Hollywood were angling for it, and I worked my ass off to get the gig. I mean, studying Star Trek’s original sound design, getting my talking points correct, researching sound design for it, understanding what the historical sound ideas were and how we could improve on them…It was in the process of finding a way to convince them that I was the right person for them that I honed the skills that serve me to this day.
Back to Leonard. It was the first time where I found myself connecting with a filmmaker who I understood, and who understood the movie from a very deep, dramatic viewpoint, and the undercurrents of who the actors were. Leonard had deep training in live theater long before he became a film actor and director, and the kind of research and ideas he presented, the motivations for not only the actors, but the sound, were deeper than many of my previous directors. Of course, there was the pride of being able to brag to your friends that you’re working on a Star Trek. Everybody wants to know, “Well, gee, what does the transporter sound like?”. “What does a photon torpedo sound like?”.
It also gave me access to the Paramount studio’s library that very few had access to. I was privileged, so I could listen to all those really great and innovative sounds that Doug Grindstaff, the author of the sound design of the television series, made. I could find the elements that he made things from if he layered multiple sounds together, and I could hear them their original form, and then adapt from there. My sounds were new. I don’t think we used a single sound from the television series, but we used them as inspiration to create newer and fresher versions of them. For a sound designer, and a sound historian, that was really fun and exciting.
Johnny: Wow, that’s fantastic! I imagine it must be like opening a treasure chest.
Mark: Yeah (laughing), that’s exactly it.
Johnny: To go to another favorite of mine that I like that you worked on, you were the supervising sound editor for 1987’s Innerspace. What went into the sounds of that movie?
Mark: You know, it’s interesting you picked that. It’s not a well-known movie and yet, at the time, it was Joe Dante’s follow-up to Gremlins, and it had huge anticipation. I think it’s a deeply underappreciated movie with a fun and funny script, and great performances and directing, and some really cool visual effects, but it just never found an audience, much to the surprise of Warner Brothers. I remember we did an audience preview early on as we always do. We tested an early cut of the movie with sound and music in a quick mix, and we got great scores; in the high 80s, which was great for a movie in that shape. Everyone was slapping themselves on the back, saying, “Boy, we’ve got a big hit here”, but it just never landed with an audience.
What went into that movie was, among other things, “How do we represent the sound of being inside the human body?”. We spend a great deal of time in that little capsule, and we go outside the capsule and actually inside the body. It was a fun project to develop and record. “What is the sound of blood rushing through veins?” “What is the actual sound of a real heart beating?”. I didn’t want to use the old, hokey, library sound effects of heartbeats, that “glub glub” kind of sound. I wanted the real thing. “What is the sound of a stomach?” “What is the sound of getting indigestion in the stomach?”. “What is the sound of being in the throat?” “What’s the sound of sneezing from inside somebody’s head?”.
We had these really fun challenges to make these sounds big, high-fidelity, and believable. Of course, many of them started life as raw recordings of myself and my own body. In trying to find new ways to record a heartbeat, we invented new approaches to capturing these difficult sounds. That included putting microphones down my throat to record breathing inside the esophagus and developing microphones that could hear inside the stomach so I could do my own stomach growls for the burritos sequence…All of that just made the film really fun.
The script, as well as the movie, had this omnipresent computer that talked with Tuck to get information from him. I can’t remember if the computer itself was just meant to display something on the monitor, but I decided it should be a talking computer, and that was a fun development. That started with sound. We wrote a script for everything the computer would say, and we cast a voice for it. I have forgotten the gentleman’s name, but his performance created a great back-and-forth with Tuck inside that pod, and brought life to some scenes where we needed information about what was going on that wasn’t in the script. Tuck couldn’t say it, but the computer could say it in a way that got it to the audience without being particularly obvious or heavy-handed.
Johnny: Well, again, it’s great stuff you did. I actually saw Innerspace for the first time in middle school. The teacher had assigned us to write stories in science class based on traveling through the human body, and then as a reward for having done that, she rented a copy of Innerspace and we watched it.
Mark: (Laughing) Oh! Good memories. I ended up doing 8 or 9 Joe Dante movies, and those are some of the fondest memories of my career because he was such a fan of sound. He loved genre movies, and genre movies, like science fiction, horror and fantasy, all rely heavily on sound as part of their storytelling success. Joe really gave me free range to do whatever I wanted to do.
Johnny: Well, speaking of Joe Dante, you worked on the sound for both 1984’s Gremlins and 1990’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Which of the two did you prefer working on, or did you like them both equally?
Mark: Oh, the first Gremlins is my favorite. The second I wasn’t as fond of but Joe liked quite a lot. Oddly, I have made a career out of sequels; Gremlins II The New Batch, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Lethal Weapon IV, Robocop II, Beauty Shop, Mad Max Fury Road, Blade Runner 2049, and now Dune. All great films that bring with the additional pressure of having to live up to the original.
On the first Gremlins, speaking of recording the body, after Gizmo has eaten after midnight and had the water sprinkled on him, he gives birth to these little Gremlins, and then they turn into these pods. From the pods hatch the full-blown Gremlins. I wanted the sound of gestation for this and, at the time, my wife was pregnant with my first son. We developed a microphone to record the sounds of my son intra-uterine, and those were the sounds of the Gremlins gestating in those slimy green pods in the Peltzer’s attic in the first movie.
Johnny: Wow, wow. Pardon me a moment. These are great stories you’re sharing, how you’ve been able to utilize your own ingenuity, and that of your family, to help create very memorable soundscapes. It’s very cool stuff.
Mark: I’ll tell another story. My task for the first Gremlins, and for the second, was to create the voices of these creatures that were puppets, essentially. Except for the smart Gremlin in Gremlins 2, they were all incredibly brought to life by Chris Walas, and then Rick Baker. They all needed to be brought to life with voices. That journey was an incredible process that would introduce me to the Mel Blanc of our time, Frank Welker, who would voice Stripe and most of the Gremlins in the two films, and through Frank, I met Howie Mandel. It may not be known that this was one of Howie’s first gigs in Hollywood. Frank recommended Howie. Howie had just landed in L.A from Canada, and wanted to get a career as a voice-over artist. I still have the audition tape that Howie made for the voice of Gizmo, and he has been the voice of Gizmo for decades since.
Howie told me a funny story. At the time, I was auditioning primal screamers in my studio for the sound of Gremlins dying, and Howie’s audition happened to follow one of those screamers. At the time, I didn’t have soundproof doors in my studio. One could hear these screams throughout this medical building that my studio was in. Howie recounted coming up to see me for the first time in the elevator, and the woman who he was in the elevator with was there to see a gynecologist on the same floor (laughing). As the elevator door opened, all they could hear was screaming, and he claims, as he exited the elevator, she hit the down button to leave the building because she didn’t know what she was getting into (Mark and Johnny laughing).
Johnny: (Still laughing) Wow, that’s funny. Well, to ease our way into the 90s, you worked on the sound effects for Disney’s 1991 classic Beauty And The Beast. When working on that movie, did you have any idea that it would become the classic that it did?
Mark: No, quite honestly. Although in fairness to the movie, and credit to Jeff Katzenberg, when I came on it was in a very rough form, two years out from release, and it was made up of mostly storyboards. When you see a film in that form, it’s not its’ fullest self. It’s not even pencil sketches. It’s mostly storyboards of the action that might be happening, augmented by the voices they recorded, and some early sound effects. I wasn’t that impressed with it when I first saw it. Naturally, two years later, having ultimately been hired to work on the film and bring it to life, I had the sense it was a good movie, but I had no idea it would turn into a great movie.
I reference Jeffrey Katzenberg because he did something very brave with Beauty And The Beast that no one had ever done: show a preview audience an animated film in this rough and very early form. It was certainly anathema at Disney’s studios. The prevailing wisdom was, “You never show an unfinished animated film”. You don’t want to lift the curtain. You don’t want to see how this all starts. Yet Jeff had this crazy idea that the audience might actually enjoy that, be intrigued and impressed by that, and he was 100 percent right. The audience loved it, and the notes on the preview screenings were just gushing about the movie, and the opportunity and privilege to get to look behind the scenes. Jeff intuitively knew this when no one else did.
Now, a fun story about Beauty And The Beast. As is common in Hollywood, I was bidding on the film, or interviewing for it, with a lot of other prominent sound designers. I took my interview with the entire Beauty And The Beast animation team in a big meeting room at Disney, seated at an oval table with 12 of them and one of me. It was a very daunting process facing these inquisitioners. They had sent me an early copy of the film so I could be familiar with it, and talk intelligently about it, and their first question, because it was on the lips of everyone, was, “What do you think of the voice of the Beast?”. My reaction was, “I didn’t like it at all”, and I encouraged them to rethink whoever that voice was, and to replace it with somebody more suitable. To my ears, it sounded too youthful and small, and I thought the Beast should be big and beastly, and I thought we should cast someone with the appropriate voice for that.
I would find out, 20 minutes after leaving, that I had blown the interview on that one question. It turns out the Beast’s voice was that of Robby Benson, whom Jeffrey Katzenberg had personally cast. There was no universe where that voice was going to be re-recorded. I had blown the interview. Fortunately, one of the interviewers was the film editor. He really liked me, and he knew that there was another approach to this. He said, “Mark, I want you to rethink your approach, and I’m going to get you another interview. I want you to come back and re-pitch this movie”. I went home and thought about what I would do to make Robby Benson’s voice suitable and acceptable in a way that supported the movie and my vision of it.
I came up with an approach to change, slightly, his voice, to lower it just a little bit, add a little bit of depth with equalization to give him more of a bass frequency, and then to surround and embellish his voice with beast-like sounds. I would take lion, tiger and camel utterances, real recordings of real animals, and feather them in and out of his dialogue so he sounded more bestial. That was the secret sauce that would eventually get me the gig. It was a successful approach, I think, to bringing Robby’s performance more in line with what you see visually, and that made the film really fun.
Johnny: It’s amazing work, easily one of the greatest animated movies of all time…
Johnny: …Easily one of the greatest movies of all time. I’m actually friends with Kimmy Robertson, who voice the Featherduster in that movie. She’s a sweetheart, and we talk every week. I’ve interviewed her twice, and she’s very proud of that movie, as she should be and you should be. It’s an all-time great piece.
Mark: Yeah, it is.
Johnny: Staying with Disney, you also worked on the sound for the following year’s Aladdin, which would earn you your second Oscar nomination for Best Sound Effects Editing. Aladdin, of course, memorably featured Robin Williams, so did you cross paths with him, and if so, did his frequent improvisations make your work easy or difficult?
Mark: The improvisations made it wildly difficult for this reason: The directors, Ron and John, knew intuitively that Robin had to be given free reign to do whatever he wanted while recording his voice. They had him in for five sessions total, and he would really just go off. He was every bit the comic genius that we all think of him as. You just let him run. You give him the premise, “You’re a genie who’s just come out of the bottle. What are you thinking? Run with that”, and we would roll tape for two hours. He would riff on everything under the sun. You don’t control Robin in the studio. You just let him go. Now, that sequence in the Cave Of Wonders when he’s uncorked only lasts about three minutes so you have to take two, four, six hours of improvisation, and whittle that down into a manageable performance that is addressing the storytelling beats.
It meant that what I received in post, after the editor assembled it, looked more like a ransom note. There would be a word from performance 1, and then two words from performance 2 three months later, and then five words from performance 3 two months after that. It was a montage. It was literally a ransom note, frankensteined from words pulled from hours of performance, and it was a painstaking process of finding the original recordings.
The reason I’m detailing this is that at the time, in 1991, sound was still done on magnetic tape. Digital recording was still in its’ infancy, and over the three years that it took for Aladdin’s sound to gestate, the analog recordings, after running over the head of a recording machine hundreds of times, started to lose the fidelity. The high frequencies disappear, and the sound becomes muffled. So I had to reconstruct this performance word-by-word, and I often had to find just a word, in the midst of eight hours of performance, to bring Robin’s performance back to life from these original recordings. It’s needle in the haystack searching for days that was required to put together Robin’s final performance.
So the short answer is no, I never attended those sessions, but I felt like I was there because I listened to them constantly to get his performance together in a high-fidelity fashion to present the dialogue for Aladdin. Nonetheless, Aladdin was one of the most rewarding films to work on because I had always wanted to be the 21st century version of Jimmy MacDonald, the great Disney sound designer who developed all those wonderful sounds for the Silly Symphonies and the early Disney animations. He was not a mentor as I never got to meet him, but I followed in his footsteps by mimicking his techniques of recording and metaphorical thinking. It was just a joy to be able to be that on Aladdin.
Johnny: Well, again, it’s amazing work, and I don’t think you sound curmudgeonly at all. I get a sense of how overwhelming it must have been, but the end result was amazing. Staying with animation…Well, kind of, you were a supervising sound editor on both 1996’s Space Jam and 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back In Action. Which of the two movies did you prefer working on?
Mark: Definitely Looney Tunes: Back In Action for a couple of reasons. One, again reuniting with Joe Dante, who I just adore. This was now our fourth film together, and we developed not only a shorthand, but a longstanding and deep, abiding love for Looney Tunes, the Chuck Jones Looney Tunes, the characters, the history. That has a deep history with Joe and I, and because of this, Joe had stronger insights on what they should sound like. Because he understood that I understood and felt the Looney Tunes universe, I was allowed to help out in the process of casting the actors who would revoice them. Mel Blanc had long since passed away, and all of the beloved characters had individual actors revoicing them, whereas Mel had done them all himself.
Joe wasn’t happy with the previous efforts to render those voices as faithful to the way Mel did them, so he put me in charge of supervising those sessions, and helping in the casting and recording processes. That included discovering some of the secret techniques that the Warner Brothers sound department had used to process those voices. It may not be known that voices like Bugs and Daffy were sped up and pitch raised from Mel’s original recordings. However, there was no written documentation of how they were sped up, and what machines were used to speed up their voices to get those unique characteristics. I got to do that research, and do critical comparisons with the original recordings and the ones we came up with, so that we would get as faithful a reproduction of those voices as possible. Joe had the right sense of humor for these films. On Space Jam, I felt the director, Joe Pytka, didn’t quite understand these characters as fully as Joe did, and maybe didn’t relate to them. He didn’t have the looney sense of humor that Joe Dante did, and I felt the movie reflected that non-zany sense of humor.
Johnny: Yeah, I can see where you’re coming from. Looney Tunes: Back In Action is my favorite of the two. I mean, when it comes to Space Jam, I can recall reading that Chuck Jones was so upset with how Space Jam worked with the characters that he was escorted off the Warner Brothers lot. When I read that, I was like, “My god, Warner Brothers was escorting studio royalty off the lot because he didn’t like the movie? That’s horrible!”
Mark: I heard that story and I was shocked, but it was sort of emblematic of the kind of cynicism the movie was made with in the first place. I mean, the Looney Tunes characters in this absurd plot with sports stars that arguably had no business being in a movie with them…It was clearly a movie that had its’ birth in the marketing department to make money, and not something reverent ot wonderful first.
Johnny: You did good work with them anyway.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. To go to my next question, you’re the second talent I’ve interviewed, after Oscar-winning makeup artist Lois Burwell, who worked on the 1997 movie The Fifth Element. What made that movie stand out for you?
Mark: Well, it’s standing out for me now because Lois has long since become a friend. I served on the Board Of Governors at The Academy and sat next to Lois for many years. Give a shout-out to her if you talk to her again. I wish I had known her then.
There were so many amazing things about working on The Fifth Element, but it really all started with Luc Besson. He lives in this pantheon of great creative collaborators that I put Denis Villenueve and George Miller and Gavin O’Connor and Joe Dante in. These are directors who inherently, distinctly understand the value that sound brings to their projects, and the narrative contributions it can make. Luc was everything that I expected him to be, a person who deeply respected what I do, and gave me the unlimited free reign to go and do it without micro-management, and that’s pretty rare.
I would say with 95 percent of the films I work on, the filmmakers feel the need to put their thumbprint on what I’m creating. I never felt that with Luc. It was always, “Mark, you go do what you do, and I know it’s going to be great for this film”. I heard this from most of the other department heads as well, from editing to costume design to music. Luc had a very light touch on everything we did, allowing us to follow our creative instincts and let that flower and bloom, and see what came of that.
Of course, no one would know this, but he came to Los Angeles to do post-production, and he rented this gorgeous home on the beach in Malibu. That meant that I took any and all opportunity to go and talk about something related to the film, or play my sounds for Luc and Sylvie, the editor, I just found excuses to go out there because it meant I could spend the whole day hanging out while having lunch on the beach. We’d have some wine, and maybe we’d talk about the movie, or maybe Luc would go out and surf while I would talk with Sylvie. It was this beautiful, almost vacation environment. It didn’t feel like work at all.
Johnny: Wow, that’s amazing, and again, a very memorable movie.
Mark: There’s another story I’d like to tell. As we always do in post-production, Luc and I had what we call a spotting session. That’s that time when the director sits with the sound designer and the editor, and watch the film together. You talk about the director’s goals and ideas, and then go off and begin to create that world for them. In our spotting session, there was an important beat that, for whatever reason, we had neglected, and that was a set-piece battle scene where the Mondoshawans are under attack by the Mangalores. The Mondoshawans are destroyed, and they crash into the planet. It’s part of a three-or-four-minute-long epic space battle, one of the set pieces of the film.
I had developed and designed a lot of sound for this sequence: Spaceships, futuristic weaponry, futuristic explosions and space sounds. It was grand and bold. It felt big, like the attack on the Death Star at the end of Star Wars: Episode IV. That was my moment, and as was the case with everything we did with Luc, he did not sit in the early stages of the mix. He allowed the mixers to make their contribution, and Luc came in for the final mix, for us to present the finished sound with music and dialogue and sound effects. When we got to that sequence, it was gorgeous and epic.
Luc stopped the mix, and turned to me and apologized from the bottom of his heart. He said, “Mark, this is my fault. I forgot to talk about this with you, but Eric Serra [the composer] and I, who’ve known each other since we were children, wrote this story together, and this sequence was always envisioned as a ballet, as more operatic. We saw it as more of a musical expression to evoke the emotions we wanted, as opposed to a visceral or diegetic one, so for those reasons, I’m going to take out these incredible sound effects that you made, and I want to thank you for the hard work. I recognize what a great job you’ve done, but this is the direction this scene is going to go in”. That just speaks to his integrity. I couldn’t have been more honored for him to just speak honestly about it and own the mistake, and it didn’t hurt the scene one bit.
Johnny: Well, it’s always great when you have a kind collaborator like that.
Mark: Yeah, it makes a huge difference.
Johnny: To go to my next question, you worked on 1999’s The Green Mile. Had you read the book beforehand, and if so, did reading it give you any ideas on how to create the soundscape for that movie?
Mark: I had not read the book, and to be honest, I don’t think I’d read any Stephen King books prior to that film. As such, there wasn’t anything from the books that gave me ideas on what the soundscape of the movie would be like. Nonetheless, the screenplay, which was adapted from the book and was very faithful to it, gave me lots of ideas.
Arguably, a film about prison and being on death row needs to have a sense of loneliness and despair. I mean, none of these prisoners, least of which was John Coffey, are ever going to get outside their jail cells, and I wanted to create a soundtrack that augmented that sense of despair and loneliness. If it has a voice, it might say, “I’m all by myself and I’m never going to get out of here”.
That would be realized in ways such as the jail cell doors opening and closing. We made sure, with sound, the audience was quite clear that this was solid steel, and when that door closed, it was final. There was no getting out, no escaping. You’re in here for the rest of your life. That sense of loneliness would find its’ way into the atmospheric sounds of the prison cell, which were incredibly spare, so much so that you felt like, even though there were five other prisoners in that space, you were simply alone with your thoughts, and there was no liberation from that.
One of the memorable sonic sequences occurs at the end, when John Coffey is sharing his vision of what actually happened when the two girls were murdered. He shares this vision with Paul, played by Tom Hanks, and we flash back to the events that led up and went through to the killing of the two little girls. All of those dream sequence sounds were made from organic sounds of the actual killing of the kids themselves and the voice of the guy who killed the kids. For example, when he’s painting the side of the barn with the paintbrush, we took the “shh” as he tells the little girls to be quiet before he kills them, and that’s what I used for the paintbrush sound. All of those sounds were generated from sounds from him, so there’s a connection in the nightmare to the killer himself.
Johnny: Wow, that’s very powerful, and again, a testament to your great skill of how you can utilize these ideas to create memorable soundscapes.
Mark: Thank you.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. To jump genres, you were the sound designer for the computer game Unreal 2: The Awakening. How does the sound design process for a computer game differ from that of a movie or TV show?
Mark: Well, it’s so much more exacting, partially because, at that time, there were very limited resources for sound, literally. Because the amount of storage space for all sound was so challenged, it meant that I would receive detailed instruction on how long every sound needed to be, down to a tenth of a second.
With traditional narrative filmmaking, I take the time to free-associate and invent sounds because I have the ability to use them for as long or as short as I want to, but what I received was a list of 535 sounds. Some had to be 1.7 seconds, and some had to be 1.3 seconds. It was a big enough challenge to create these sounds that hadn’t been created before, but it also ensured that if my idea for them was longer than the amount of time they had, I had to rethink the sound and design it again.
I must say it was the hardest gig I’ve ever had, designing 500 some-odd sounds from scratch in about two or three weeks. I had to be creative, inventive, and follow this mandate to fit within the template of how much memory space the game had for all these sounds. I felt good about the work, but I’m not sure I want to do a game again.
Johnny: Fair enough. To go to my next question, similar to my question about Robin Williams, you were the sound designer for Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. With the many different takes Will Ferrell and crew did, how did that impact your work on the film?
Mark: It didn’t impact it creatively because the takes themselves were very modular, almost like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Adam McKay knew the gag beats, and he shot it as such. He knew when Will was going to deliver the funny line, and because Will, like Robin Williams, is an incredible improvisational actor, when you got to that beat, the shoot would stop for that shot, and Adam would give Will 10 or 15 takes. Will would just riff, one after the other. He’d come up with one improv for the delivery of the gag line, and then he’d do another that was completely different.
All of them could literally be lifted and replaced without much impact on the length, timing, or work we had to do to prepare the sound. Nonetheless, we would do one version of the film with all the gags in their proper place. We’d play it for an audience, and we’d get X score and X amount of laughs, and then would ensue the modular replacement of the gag line, experimenting to find the best combination of lines to get the best laughs. I think we ended up doing 9 iterations of the movie where these lines would be moved and replaced with another improv he had done to find the maximum amount of humor for the movie.
It didn’t affect me creatively because those beats didn’t really use much in the way of sound design. They were dialogue moments. We would have to find those dialogue pieces, edit them into the film, make sure they were smooth, and move on. It was fun to sit back and watch that happen. In fact, we would record the audience’s vocal reactions during our test screenings. We’d place microphones in the theater and record the laughter for every scene we did. That track would be put in the editing machine, and we could literally move from joke to joke as we swapped them out, one for the other, and hear the audience response, and gauge which was the best laugh for any given line. We always had that as a resource online at any moment.
Johnny: Very creative thinking.
Mark: Yeah, a smart crew.
Johnny: To move to a more serious project, you were the re-recording mixer for Steven Soderbergh’s two-part biographical film Che. What went into the creative process for that movie?
Mark: Well, I was also a sound editor, and would find myself editing the sound for the big battle sequence that comes near the end of Che, Part 1. Larry Blake was the supervising sound editor for that film as he has been for almost all of Steven’s films, and he was really the creative visionary of the film. I did not supervise that film, but Larry and I worked together for years, as well as on other Soderbergh films, and we understood that, for sonic success, we wanted to be period-correct, to be honest, and to be geographically correct with sound.
Larry Blake is a freak about authenticity. He was determined to get authentic Bolivian and Cuban atmospheres. Get authentic Bolivian and Cuban voices. We weren’t going to put this through the Hollywood sausage mill and have this movie not sound authentic. There was a huge effort put into casting authentic voices with real, authentic accents, rather than bringing in the traditional walla voices we might use otherwise. There were a lot of gun battles, and Larry and I would talk extensively about how we would record fresh new weaponry. Where would we go to get those obscure and hard-to-find weapons that are hard to find in the United States? What’s the best way to edit them in the movie to have them have the most sonic impact?
Johnny: I see. I guess, in a way, you’re sort of acting as an audio historian when working on a movie like that.
Mark: Partially. We just want to be honest.
Johnny: Alright. Well, to go back to the realm of the fantastic, thirty years after Star Trek: The Motion Picture, you worked on the sound for the 2009 reboot. How had the franchise changed for you since your work on the original films?
Mark: You know, I don’t think it had changed much at all, honestly. I knew JJ Abrams was a huge fan of the TV series and the earlier films, and I found that his casting and direction, and writing and shooting style, was very faithful to the original, so I didn’t find that much had actually changed. To be clear, Mark Stoeckinger was the supervising sound editor, and one of the sound designers of that film. I was only brought in to do the Mind Meld sequence where Spock and Kirk are trapped on the ice planet, and they’re trying to figure out what the future holds for them. I only worked on that one 3-minute sequence.
That was a last-minute request. They were in the throes of the final mix. JJ wasn’t getting the sound that he wanted, and a call went out. “Who’s available to bring a fresh new approach to this?”. I was brought in, and I only spent a weekend redesigning the sound. I came in with fresh eyes and ears, and I saw it differently.
The sequence, to its’ detriment, felt like a trailer for the movie…within the movie. It said everything it needed to say in a very sort of obvious way. There was little subtlety to the approach. My idea was to remove the music and voice-over they had recorded for Spock, so it was much more elliptical. In doing so, the audience wouldn’t really be clear on what was happening at all. In the original version, they were leading the audience, and we wanted the audience to be ahead of us.
We removed the expository ADR. We removed the score which was playing action beats like a trailer, and we built a more interesting and evocative sound design. JJ really responded to that. As a footnote, my partner Mark Binder, who did the work with me, and I were given my favorite credit in 155 films: Mind Meld Soundscape By.
Johnny: Well, that’s definitely a fitting credit, I mean, because just like you have the landscape, you have the soundscape, and you’ve done an amazing job of working on that for so many movies. To move to my next question, you were the supervising sound editor, and also wrote some music, for 2011’s The Rum Diary. I think that movie should’ve done better at the box office than it did. What was it like to work on that movie?
Mark: It was a real joy. I had been a fan of Hunter S. Thompson since I was a teenager. I had read Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and some of his short stories. I loved that style of writing, and I thought Johnny Depp was the perfect casting. I felt that Bruce Robinson was an incredibly inspired choice for the director. I mean, Bruce has so many other endeavors outside of filmmaking, and he had made a number of very quirky films like How To Get Ahead In Advertising. I really hit it off with Bruce. I saw, in Bruce, this dedicated poet-artist who was open to anything and everything, and that made it a joy to work with him.
All that creative energy also brought with it the craziness and impetuousness that comes with artists. This meant that meant that the film was in a constant state of flux because, often, Bruce wasn’t sure what he wanted, which begat many iterations of the edit, and a lot of time on my part having to keep up with them. So much so that my creative time was compromised to get the mechanical work of conforming done at their expense, but I never begrudged him that.
I remember a beautiful expression he used when describing what he wanted the sound of the scene to be like (He often spoke in metaphors). “Mark, I want it to sound like flowers issuing forth from the bell of a saxophone”. (Laughing) That didn’t mean he wanted it to sound like a saxophone. That was a poetic allegory for how I might interpret the scene, and find a beautiful way into it.
Johnny: I see. Well, that’s a rather interesting way to explain something, but again, it helped create some great work.
Mark: This was a passion project film with independent financing so, of course, there’s never enough money to do things the way Hollywood films are done.
Part of that meant shooting in Puerto Rico in not so much a soundstage as a warehouse, and this warehouse was inhabited by a noisy variety of indigenous frogs called Coquis. They make a loud and recognizable chirping noise, and because they didn’t have the time or the money to shoot in a soundproof studio, our production sound had these frogs chirping on all the sound recordings made in that warehouse. It became a Herculean task for our dialogue editor, Curt Schulkey, to remove, one at a time, every one of these frog chirps underneath the character’s dialogue. It was a painstaking piece of surgery that happened before we had the digital tools to actually remove them automatically.
Johnny: Wow, that’s quite an effort, but it worked out well. To go to my next question, having worked with Disney on some of their most successful films, was there any hesitancy on your part about working on the 2013 film Escape From Tomorrow?
Mark: A huge hesitancy, especially because, at the time, my youngest son, Rio Mangini, was employed as a cast member on a Disney kids’ show. We were afraid that it might not only affect his career and ability to continue to work for Disney, but it might affect my own ability to ever work for Disney again, but I liked these filmmakers, and I liked what they had done. I have a real soft spot for independent filmmakers, and I loved the guerilla style with which they approached it.
I spent a few hours with my attorney, vetting if I would be in any kind of actual legal trouble if I worked on it. The answer would be no, but I did have to do a certain amount of soul-searching, and arrived eventually on the decision to work on it because, as I would come to understand, there was a fair amount of legal precedent already that would allow them to release this movie.
Disney would eventually decide not to litigate, and ignore the film entirely so as not to give it any energy. In the end, I think that was a smart decision on their part because the film never really found an audience. It might be noted that I’ve not worked for Disney since (laughing). I don’t know if I’m on a poster in their post office. You know, “Most wanted: Post-production sound designer.
Johnny: Well, I can understand where you’re coming from. Staying in 2013, you were the sound designer for the 2013 half-concert/half-narrative Metallica Through The Never. Are you a Metallica fan, and if so, what was your favorite part of working on that movie?
Mark: I would say becoming a Metallica fan. I never liked that kind of metal. I had religiously avoided it my musical life, and it wasn’t until working on it, listening to the music and starting to understand how complex it was, that I developed a deep appreciation for the songs and them as artists. They’re incredibly gifted and hard-working musicians, and I found myself starting to listen to them in my car and at home. That was an unexpected benefit.
One of the other fun parts of working on that movie was discovering that these guys, whose image is that of hardcore metal dudes, were really family guys with minivans. When we’d work together, they’d talk about PTA meetings and the troubles of being a dad, reconciling that with the crazy life they have on tours, and how that gets in the way of their family life. It was beautiful to see this other side of them as the sort of normal blokes they really are, not that you wouldn’t assume they weren’t good people. They were just fun guys to hang around with.
Johnny: That’s fascinating. Yeah, you never know how they’re going to be offstage. I mean, Alice Cooper…You could never tell from his stage performances that he’s a mild-mannered golf player in his off time.
Mark: (Laughing) Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
Johnny: Well, we now come to Mad Max: Fury Road. What was your favorite part of the sound editing process for that movie?
Mark: Ooh, there was so much. I was given the opportunity, and I took the opportunity to redefine the sound of the film. I was brought in to get that film back on its’ feet sonically. It had already been in post-production for over a year, and George Miller was not happy with the sound he was getting. He reached out to the mixers he was working with, Chris Jenkins and Gregg Rudlof, and asked who might be brought in to help, and they recommended me.
I moved to Sydney for 7 weeks and got the job done,, but I didn’t think I’d actually given it the lift I wanted it to have. I knew the film could jump another level, but I had only really had the time to make sure the ship didn’t sink. I screwed up my courage and asked George if there was a universe where I could bring it back to Los Angeles, where the coterie of sound designers and sound editors I was familiar with were, as well as the environment I was familiar with, where I could more directly control it so I could rethink the film in the way I had imagined. He sat on that for a few months, and came back with a yes. We then brought the film to Los Angeles, where it would take another seven months, along with my partner Scott Hecker, to redesign the sound design of the film to great effect.
There’s a beautiful story I want to tell that sums up what we achieved, my belief in sound’s strength: When I had gone to Australia, I’d helped them get the film on its’ feet. We did a mix, and we’d done an audience preview, very common for a studio movie. We previewed Mad Max in a theater in Los Angeles, and invited the public to comment. We did cards and got a score in the high 70s, not a very good score for an expensive, blockbuster tentpole film.
After that screening, I pitched the idea of redesigning the sound to George, and we came back to Los Angeles and redid the audio for the movie. The edit itself hadn’t changed. The music score hadn’t changed. In fact, nothing had fundamentally changed, other than our redesign of the audio. We then previewed Mad Max again in Los Angeles, same theater, and our score went up 10 points. We were now in the high 80s, and if you want to read between the lines here, or don’t know how to, I’ll tell you what that means. Every one of those points has a number of zeroes attached to it that tell you what the box office potential of that film might be. That means that, simply by changing the approach to the quality of the sound, it improved an audience’s enjoyment of the movie, and that meant bigger box office.
Normally, you’d think this could only be achieved by an improved edit, or a reshoot of the film, or any one of a number of traditional ways of approaching how a movie tells its’ story through acting/directing/editing/cinematography, but we found that sound, too, has a material effect. We now had concrete proof that sound, in and of itself, could make a movie more successful. That makes me feel supremely confident and satisfied with what I do for a living.
Johnny: And indeed you would earn a lot of acclaim for that and, of course, Mad Max: Fury Road would win you your first Oscar. Were you nervous on Oscar night, and do you recall what you felt when your name was announced as a winner?
Mark: Oh, yeah. I was insanely nervous. That was my fourth nomination, and the nerves got worse each time. What normal human being wouldn’t worry about having to go up on stage and say something in front of a billion people? Who wouldn’t worry what they’re going to say and how they’re going to say it; worrying if they’ll muff that opportunity. Of course, I’m not asking for pity. This is not a horrible problem to have but, nonetheless, it’s still nerve-wracking, three hours of sitting in your seat wondering, “Is it going to be me?”. When they finally did say Mad Max and my name, I didn’t believe that they actually said it. It wasn’t until my ears kind of unblocked and I heard my wife screaming, “HONEY, HONEY, HONEY, IT’S YOU! YOU WON, YOU WON, YOU WON!” that it sunk in and everybody was standing up and applauding.
I went into a dream world, quite honestly, and I stayed in that dream world for probably an hour. That included walking up onto the stage and stopping before I got to the podium, and dropping the F bomb in front of a billion people. Now you don’t know me, but I don’t use words like that, and I especially don’t use them in public, but I was so overcome with joy and elation and wonder in that moment. I looked out over the audience and saw in the audience the Mad Max team, a gypsy band of creatives who had been winning before me, and I just had to acknowledge how proud I was to be part of that group. I shouted out, “Fucking Mad Max!” to align myself with them. This utterance would get me in some amount of trouble with my peers and the sound community later on, but it’s a testament to how out of a present state of mind I was, and how surreal it is to be up on that stage. You go backstage and you do the interviews with the press, and it’s an hour before you come back to sit down with your wife.
Johnny: Well, I’m glad you had that experience, and in retelling that story, I can tell the sense of joy you had finally winning the big prize. To go to my next question, one of your more recent movies as a supervising sound editor was Dune. Considering the scope of the movie, were you as in awe working on it as audiences have been seeing it?
Mark: Well, terror is probably a better word. As with Blade Runner 2049, Die Hard and Mad Max, I was doing another sequel, and I felt the pressure and the expectations of an audience that loved those movies and books. I also understood that audiences had very strong opinions about the David Lynch version, for better or for worse. The burden is immense, to satisfy those expectations and, having read the book as a kid, I was never convinced that this would be easy to make into a film. It’s long, dense and political, and not the kind of movie that makes a popcorn audience pleaser that can return half a billion dollars to justify its’ production budget.
I went into this film in a state of terror because you not only have all this expectation, but you also have this mountain of creation and invention to tackle. On day one you think, “How am I ever going to do all of this? What do worms sound like? What do shields sound like? How do I invent this stuff?”. You’re literally staring at the tabula rasa, the blank canvas, and wondering, “I don’t even know where to begin. What foot do I put forward to begin this journey?”. But of course you do. You put a foot forward. You take a chance. You risk something. You go down a path,
The joy of Dune is that Denis Villeneuve is one of the great collaborators in cinema. He allows us the time, money, and schedule to experiment, and that’s part of the secret of our process. Because sometimes that first footstep is an errant one and you go down the wrong path. But Denis will be the first to say, “I see where you’re going with this. I don’t think it’s right for the worm, but let’s try another direction”. Sometimes that first footstep is a great path to take, and he’ll be the first to say, “I deeply love that. We’re keeping this and moving on”.
Having worked on Blade Runner 2049 with Denis, I always had the assurance and confidence that we would get through this together, and we would discover this movie sonically together. Denis inherently understands that the creative process is an iterative one. It’s one of, “Try something small, and if it’s good, make it a little bit better the next time, and even better the next time”. We knew we could work that way to achieve success by the end, and as fate would have it, we would be on the film for a year-and-a-half, Theo Green, my partner, and I found success with sound in Dune in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. I’ve been hearing encouraging praise from peers in the sound community that sound was a big part of the narrative of the movie, that it explained and told them things that words and phrases maybe couldn’t.
Johnny: Again, it’s a testament to your great skill, and your many years of experience, that you’ve been able to earn such acclaim like that, and that’s wonderful. I now come to a question I have been asking a lot of my interview subjects over the past year-and-a-half or so: How has coronavirus impacted the way you do your work?
Mark: Well, it has certainly limited what is normally a very in-person, interactive process of collaboration. Working with directors usually happens in an edit room where you’re meeting in person and you’re reading body language. There’s something different about being in a room with someone that affects the interaction you have.
With Dune and many other films, you have a team that you’re working with, directly interacting with. I’m working with sound effects editors, and dialogue editors, and foley editors, and foley artists and assistants, and field recordists. Normally these interactions take place at my studio in Hollywood, and we’re all together in a pod, rooms next to each other. I can pop out of my studio into one of my editor’s studios on a moment’s notice and say, “Lee! What are you working on? Let’s look at this sequence together and talk about it”.
That’s a very different process than how we interact over Zoom. You set up meeting times and send out invitations, and it just changes the dynamic slightly. Nonetheless, though Dune occurred almost entirely during the pandemic, it didn’t seem to affect our ability to achieve good and creative results. We found effective ways to use remote meetings and collaborate, and hopefully the results speak for themselves. You can do great work during a pandemic, or remotely, if you just find intelligent ways to work around it.
Johnny: I guess that goes not only for sound work, but really for anything in our current chaos. Now I come to my final question: What’s next for you?
Mark: Well, obviously, Dune II (laughing), but they don’t start shooting until mid-July. I guess I’ll start somewhere around holiday time 2022 for a release in the Fall of 2023.
I’ve just completed a beautiful documentary for Amazon called Good Night Oppy, about the rover Opportunity that went to Mars 18 years ago on what was supposed to be a nine-month mission, and it turned into a 15-year scientific bonanza. It’s a beautiful look at NASA, and science and scientists, and the love you begin to develop for an inanimate object that’s bringing back incredible gifts to science and humankind.
The other is 32 Sounds. This is a documentary that I’m doing for Sam Green, a very gifted filmmaker in New York who has created a film/theater experience that will see its’ premiere at Sundance this January. It’s about our relationship with sound, and how sound reflects and informs our lives.
Johnny: Very appropriate, and I look forward to seeing them. That does it for my questions. I thank you again for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Mark: Thank you, Johnny.
Johnny: You’re an amazing storyteller, and when it comes to having created the soundscapes for movies like Gremlins and Innerspace, and Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin, these are all movies I grew up with, and movies I returned to in some pretty dark times for me. You did an amazing job on them, and it was an honor to hear you share your stories of working on those and so many more.
Mark: Thanks for giving me the opportunity. I deeply appreciate it. I love to proselytize about sound.
Johnny: No problem.
I would again like to thank Mark A. Mangini for taking the time out of his schedule to speak to me. For more information on Mark’s work, past, present and future, you can visit his official website, which has links to all his social media.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview are conversations with actor Gabe Jarret, whose credits include Real Genius and The American President, and Charlotte Kemp, Playboy’s Miss December 1982, the month and year I was born.