Aural Achievements

Aural Achievements

Midge Costin has worked in the field of sound in Hollywood since 1986. With roles ranging from dialogue editor to sound editor and sound effects editor, she has worked on some huge movies, including Armageddon and The Rock for Michael Bay, Crimson Tide for Tony Scott and Broken Arrow for John Woo. She now arrives with her first feature documentary, Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, in which she talks to great movie masters about the use of sound in film.

ASFF: Talk about your own history working in sound?
I went to film school in the Eighties and sound is the last thing I thought I’d do. But my first feature was Days of Thunder – I was sound editing, whoever raced against Tom Cruise! Later I worked on Crimson Tide and Broken Arrow. It was very exciting; the truth is I was one of handful of women cutting effects back then.

ASFF: How long have you spent on Making Waves?
This whole process was nine years. We couldn’t get people interested, initially – just like when you’re doing sound, you can’t get people interested! We did do a Kickstarter campaign – but my sister, RoAnn Costin, is our executive producer, and she works in finance, and without her, this film would still not be done. And then our editor, David Turner, was absolutely brilliant. He started out as a student of mine and now we got him in the union! Most of the interviews were shot from 2013 to 2016. 

ASFF: Apocalypse Now‘s sound designer, Walter Murch, is a vital figure in the film. Can you characterize his importance?
MC: He’s such an important figure. The thing that blew my mind, Richard Beggs, Mark Berger and Walter had only worked on mono films. Think about that. The Godfather was mono, originally! For Apocalypse Now, they frickin’ made up 5.1 sound! Because he had played so much with sound when he was young, and understood it as an art-form, Walter really understood how to use sound design in an amazing way. And then to use multi-track…they devised the standard of what we do now. As Randy Thom says in the movie, “He is the father of us all.”

ASFF: Among many others, you also speak to David Lynch, a director whose use of sound is extraordinary. Was he easy to track down?
MC: David Lynch was the first one! His editor and then partner in life was Mary Sweeney and I teach with her and she’s a close friend. And he was the lynch-pin to all of it. He was so great. He does such dark things, but he’s a sweetheart! He’s an Eagle Scout and he acts like an Eagle Scout when you’re around him! And Alan Splet, his sound designer…what a brilliant guy he was. 

ASFF: When you hear sound in movies now, is it an after-thought?
MC: It all comes down to the director and producers, possibly. I feel like great work is being done – by Richard King, for example. But it really depends on the director and if they’re given time. I love Roma and Alfonso Cuarón’s work. Not all the big sound designers liked it! Really because he’s using sound much more aggressively in the surrounds; I used to say to students ‘Don’t mix too many things in the background’, but I loved feeling like I was in the front seat of the car when the camera was. Really though – too many times sound gets the short end of the budget.

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is released in cinemas on 1 November. For more details, click here.

James Mottram