Interview with Sound Designer Mark Lanza
Sony Pictures sound designer Mark Lanza has been responsible for crafting the sound for major titles such as Independence Day, JFK, True Lies, Natural Born Killers, and so many more. His TV credits include Homeland, Justified, Grey’s Anatomy, The Shield, Dexter, Sneaky Pete, among others.
Mark has been a fan of Krotos plug-ins since he came across the first Dehumaniser, and he’s been using the full Krotos Sound Design Bundle ever since. We chatted to Mark to find out more about his work, career highlights, and his advice for those starting out in Sound Design.
Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We’re curious to find out how you got into sound design, and how you ended up at Sony?
I had a friend in a programming class in college that was doing live sound and then moved to post. He eventually started doing movies. I was a programming major in college and my friend wanted to use computers to do the sound, but they were not really ready for that and not very intuitive. He had me hired at an up-and-coming sound house (Soundelux) as his assistant. He used his sound knowledge and my computer knowledge to do a movie “Born on the Fourth of July” for a director named Oliver Stone. We were the only digital system in town and I learned the craft of sound FX and design there. In a few years they made me the other digital sound designer at the company. Since I was schooled as a programmer, I never had a film class. I learned all of my film skills on the job. I was at Soundelux for 8 years and then ended up moving over to Sony Pictures as a feature sound designer under Tom McCarthy.
That’s excellent! What’s been your proudest achievement over the years?
Recently winning the MPSE Golden Reel award was a big one. I love how it’s judged by your peers. I have had a number of nominations through the years, but this was my first win. There have been many projects, awards, and milestones through the years but that was a great one.
Congrats! You’ve worked on so many projects, do you have one that stands out as the most memorable for you?
Everybody still talks about Independence Day. That movie was a LOT of fun to work on and it seems that no matter what age you are, you have a soft spot for that movie and can quote some lines. I have heard my effects in the pinball machine from the movie as well as toys. I have an Independence Day toy spaceship that has some of my sounds in it. I also really love what I created for Natural Born Killers. It was a great vehicle for design, I got to make some crazy stuff.
And what was it like working on the sound design for Texas Chainsaw 3D, that must have been interesting…?
Wow, that one… I never go to watch horror movies, but I LOVE to work on them. I like when I am able to get creepy and scare people. It really lets me stretch my design skills into new areas. This one was great because I tried to pay homage to the old one with the sound effects. You might notice there is a generator playing at the house as they arrive. This is what made them realize someone was in the house in the original movie and lured them in. I actually looped the original generator sound and used it in the new movie. I also asked the director if we could get access to record the production chainsaw and record some moves on it that I needed. This made it blend seamlessly in and out of production. I topped it in some of the crazy scenes, but it really helped me in the more subtle ones. There is a shot where the chainsaw idles right by the camera, this sounds amazing in the movie because we actually did the move in front of the mic to get the actual Doppler. I also love the sound of cutting the body in half with the chainsaw. I put some really gushy flesh rips and when he chainsaw gets to the middle I added bone crunches through the spine. It was gross. When the bottom half of the body falls away, I had a gushy thud off-stage on the ground. Then a second smaller thud as though it bounced.
So, do you have any of your own tricks or techniques for sound design that you could share with us?
I try not to use anything all the time. I love to try new plug-ins and techniques to keep things fresh and I am always running around with my recorders to capture new sounds. I just got back in from recording thunder outside, I have a new Zoom H3-VR recorder I am trying out. I can’t wait to hear it.
You’ve been using Krotos software in your work for quite some time now. How have you been using it and what’s your overall impression been?
I first learned of Krotos a few years ago when I purchased the original Dehumaniser. Since then I have everything Krotos makes, I am a BIG fan of the latest Dehumaniser and have been getting into Reformer Pro and just used Igniter in a new series “Becoming a God in Central Florida”. I recently did an interview for Sound and Picture about my work on Futureman and mentioned several Krotos plug-ins including Weaponiser that I used in the design.
How do you see sound design technology evolving in the future?
A lot more AI is going to be used. I am already seeing it in noise-reduction software such as the Audionamix software and iZotope. I can’t wait for more of it in design. I am seeing a lot of different players and ideas coming out for some crazy manipulation of sounds. This is my favourite kind of plug-in. I play with it on my own time and see what it can do, then when I am faced with a design challenge, I have the tool in my head and I can use it to make the sound I am imagining. Sometimes I am on my way to making the sound in my head and I make something unexpected that might be even better, or I can save the new sound or knowledge for another project.
Finally, do you have any advice for anyone starting out in sound design as a long-term career option?
Learn the craft of storytelling. You can have a box full of hammers, but not know how to build a house. All these digital tools are just there to support the story the director is trying to tell. If they hinder it, you are doing it wrong. Learn the craft first and use all the technology to help you get there. Also be nice to people. If you don’t like people, you are in the wrong industry. I deal with directors, producers, actors, editors, mixers, technicians, studio people, and more every day. I need people to believe in my abilities and I need editors to follow me “into battle”. Sound is a balancing act of politics, editing skills, diplomacy, psychiatry, technical abilities, and work ethic. No matter the job, do it well and you will move up to the next position when available.