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entcol/turner/23″/mike1st/mark2nd During last month’s Academy Awards show, thousands of Americans headed to the fridge or to the bathroom during the exact same moment: When they were giving out the Oscar for best sound in a motion picture. For those who missed it, the team responsible for the audio portion of “The English Patient” won the prize. What’s that? You mean you still don’t care? It isn’t the most glamorous activity in Hollywood, and it’s far too technical for a segment on “Entertainment Tonight,” but the sound business is a critical component of show business and represents an important piece of the San Fernando Valley’s network of entertainment industry services. The dozens of sound companies in the Valley do everything from creating special audio effects to re-dubbing dialogue to supplying music for movies, TV shows, CD-ROMs, commercials, music videos and any other kind of filmed content. It’s a more interesting business than it sounds. Most people think of them as technicians, but the sound engineers who make movies as pleasing to the ears as to the eyes are often artists in their own right. “I don’t consider myself a technician, I consider myself a filmmaker,” said Richard L. Anderson, owner of Weddington Productions Inc. in North Hollywood. “I approach things from a drama point of view, from the standpoint of, ‘What should the audience be feeling in this scene?’ ” The creation of a film’s soundtrack involves a tremendous amount of editing and mixing, with much of the work done on computers. Sound effects are usually created by taking the actual item making the desired sound say, a car or motorcycle engine and slowing the original down, or layering it with a variety of other noises. As an example, Anderson (who was nominated this year for sound effects editing in the film “Daylight”) points to the work he did for the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” For one scene, in which Indiana Jones is in a fight/chase scene on a moving truck, Anderson mixed the sound of a lion roaring with the sound of the revving engines to instill in the audience a subliminal feeling of danger. Movie gunshots are almost always enhanced as well, because actual guns don’t make the booming sound audiences have come to expect. “You fire a .45-caliber automatic, and it just kind of goes ‘crack’ on the recording,” Anderson said. Sound editors slow down the actual gunshot sound to make it deeper. Sound effects are often created in special studios using a process called “Foley,” named after sound effects pioneer Jack Foley. Sound engineers beat slabs of beef to simulate a man getting punched, for example, or come up with other creative ways to make more-appealing sounds to replace the sounds that were recorded in the original filming. “There are times when we sit on the Foley stage with cold oatmeal to make ‘glorpy’ sounds,” said Bill Koepnick, president and co-owner of Burbank-based Advantage Audio Inc., which specializes in producing soundtracks for animated TV shows or videos. “It’s a constant challenge to come up with sounds that are new and funny.” Sound effects are only one aspect of the sound game. Another frequent activity at sound editing studios is a process called Automatic Dialogue Replacement (actually, if you’re in the biz, you just say “ADR”). In the ADR process, actors re-record dialogue that was flubbed during the original filming session, or that was ruined by background noises. One of the quirkier niches is occupied by special music libraries like the Southern Library of Recorded Music in Toluca Lake, where Roy Kohn has been running a one-man shop since 1963. Kohn has access to a vast collection of tunes that sound almost but not quite like well-known music from a variety of genres. In the sound business, it’s known as “source” music. For example, say a director is filming a scene in a bar and somebody turns on the jukebox. The director wants a sort of ’60s-ish, Beatles-esque song to come out, but he doesn’t want to pay for the rights to use an actual Beatles recording. So Southern Library provides a song recorded by a group that sounds like the Beatles, singing a tune that isn’t quite as well-known as a Beatles song. In one episode of the TV series “The Wonder Years,” two characters are having a fight in a car and they keep changing the radio station. The Southern Library provided about nine different songs for that scene, in addition to all the jukebox music in the TV series “Northern Exposure.” The Southern Library, which is owned by New York-based Peer Music International, gets its music from libraries in Europe, which contract with songwriters and unknown recording artists to grow their collections, Kohn said. “Our music is unknown commercially, but it sounds good on background and doesn’t take away from the dialogue going on,” Kohn said. Hollywood’s recent production boom is fueling the Valley’s sound companies, many of which are adding staff. But the major film studios are taking some of the wind out of the sails of smaller players; although most of the studios got out of the sound business in the mid-1980s, in recent years they have been re-creating in-house sound departments. So companies like Weddington Productions these days have to rely almost exclusively on independent movie and TV producers. “We seem to be doing OK so far,” said Anderson. “As the Academy Awards pointed out, there’s always a lot of independents.”

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