Is MZED’s Sound Advice Tour a Sound Investment?

by Hugh BrownstoneLeave a Comment

MZED’s tag line is “Education for Creatives” – and they deliver. I’ve personally attended four of their events now, and each time I’ve been blown away by their instructors — working pros who also happen to be extraordinary educators. Yes, the sponsors (always high calibre) have an impact on which gear is used for the hands-on segment of each event, but that does not diminish the result one lux. Or — in the case of The Sound Advice Tour with Frank Serafine which I attended last week – one decibel, even when Mr. Serafine couldn’t make it and Mark Edward Lewis seamlessly stepped in.

First: we understand Mr. Serafine is on medical leave with an uncertain return date (these shows can be brutally wearing), so we wish him a speedy and full recovery.

But with this written, it must also be noted that Mark was outstanding, absolutely cut from the same cloth as Alex Buono, Adam Epstein and Shane Hurlbut before him (The Art of Visual Storytelling; The Cutting Edge; and The Illumination Experience, respectively). What they all have in common is deep experience and skill; enthusiasm; humor; intellect – and the ability to place theory in context of actual practice.

In the case of the Sound Advice Tour, this might have something to do with the fact that as an 11-year-old Mark was blown away by TRON (Mr. Serafine was the film's sound designer, which Mark learned by remaining glued to his seat to watch the full credits roll).  According to Mark, it changed the course of his life as a musician, composer and sound designer himself.  Mark and Frank have subsequently worked together on several projects (including the Avenger S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at Times Square), and the two men co-designed the Sound Advice Tour curriculum.

The Day

Mark began the day with an incredibly liberating question: “What are your worst audio horror stories?”

Without doubt, my own personal audio Waterloo would have to be the well-intentioned but technically awful Skype interview I did months ago with – ironically — the Film Akadmie Baden-Wurtemmberg.

It was all on me, but I learned my lesson. I just wish I’d attended the Sound Advice Tour before that interview.

And there was at least one gentleman in the audience whose story was even more horrifying.

Thus primed for the rest of the day’s lessons, Mark took us on an enlightening journey, picking up and amplifying upon (pun intended) a point made by Adam Epstein, editor at the Saturday Night Live Film Unit during the Cutting Edge Tour: at least half – and possibly more – of a film’s impact is a function of sound.

I’m a believer.

Mark distinguished among the three types of sounds in film and the role of each: DX (dialogue); SFX (sound effects); and MX (music). I’ll keep you in suspense about the details (and encourage you instead to go to the tour or pick up the DVD), but I will write that it was classic MZED technique as Mark played for us a clip in which each of the tracks were isolated so that we could judge for ourselves.

It was so powerful that each one of us stood up and pledged never to do another film without all three (one attendee actually mused that the effects and music alone were so powerful that dialogue might not even be needed, but as a screenwriter myself I took great exception to this idea).

We went through how to create (we actually recorded) some of these effects; how to select and use equipment (Zoom [B&H | Amazon] and RØDE [B&H | Amazon], two of my favorites, were well-represented and I was intrigued by the Sony wireless setup he used [B&H | Amazon]); how to use software after the fact to improve sound quality (I was astounded by products from izotope [B&H | Amazon] and Zynaptiq; how to think about music in its various forms to complement and support the story and ambition of the filmmaker and how to acquire it; and more.

It was eye- and ear-opening (also quite distressing to learn that I really didn’t hear anything much above 14,000 Hz, even as Mark assured us that beyond…ahem…a certain age, this was quite normal).

Then again, a 7,000 watt 7.1 sound system from Samson helped.

Go If You Can!

As I have similarly come to urge at the end of each one of these MZED reviews: if you are looking to improve your game and you’ll be anywhere near a tour city, go. Just bring your own snacks and money for lunch and dinner, as these aren’t included (on the day of our tour, a number of restaurants down the block suffered a power failure – believe me, resorting to Snickers Bars is not the answer. Well: not the right answer).

Also: make sure to bring a pair of headphones.  If yours doesn't have the 1/4″ plug, no worries — they'll lend you an adapter (if you forget your headphones altogether, they can rent you a pair, too).

Happy hunting!

Sound Advice Tour Trailer

Via MZed:

Hearing is our most prominent sense. On the Sound Advice Tour with Frank Serafine you will be exposed to a comprehensive overview of every role sound plays in a film, web, or broadcast production. Designed for filmmakers, editors, and aspiring sound engineers, this all-day workshop will cover techniques and tools that will expand your skills and give you a solid foundation for the effective use of audio in all of your projects.

For more information or to reserve a spot in the the Sound Advice Tour, check out MZed's website.

(cover photo credit: snap from Hugh Brownstone via MZed)

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