Burbank's Oscar-winning Soundstorm is one of a handful of privately owned post sound houses that continues to flourish. The company is working on a roster of projects that ranges from major feature films (Warner Bros' Tentpole summer release "Space Cowboys", the football drama "The Replacements" with Keanu Reeves and director John Schlessingefs ("The Next Best Thing") to telefilms, commercials, trailers and video games.
Having survived the past 20 years in various incarnations, the firm has just notched its first anniversary under the current ownership team: sound supervisors Bruce Stambler, John Leveque and Richard Yawn; supervising ADR editor Becky Sullivan; president John Fanaris and head of transfer Gary Blufer. Stambler is a tive- time Academy Award nominee who won an Oscar for 'The Ghost and the Darkness" and Leveque has received four Oscar nominations and BAFTAs for "LA Confidential" and "The Fugitive."
The past two years have seen the largest expansion in SoundStorm's history, in terms of the number of projects flowing through and the addition of staff talent. The company has 10 supervisors on staff, having recently broadened its bench with the addition of Sandy Berman ("AnaIyze This," "Double Jeopardy"), a BAFTA winner for "JFK," and before that, Alan Murray (Clint Eastwood's longtime sound supervisor and an Oscar-winner for "Unforgiven") and Juno Ellis (a veteran ADR supervisor, renowned for her work with Jerry Bruckheimer and Barry Sonnenfeld).
At this historic point in SoundStorm's history, the company is focusing on new technologies while finding creative ways to deal with tighter schedules and smaller budgets. "Things are changing, and that's very exciting, but sometimes I wish it was less exciting!," said Leveque, who just finished TNT's "Freedom's Song," directed by Phil Alden Robinson, and is gearing up for Miramax's "Bounce".
The firm is a one-stop shop for post-production sound - offering foley, ADR, sound design and sound editorial services as well as sending supervisors onstage to oversee the mix. 'We supervise and edit everything having to do with sound, including music," said vice president of client services & sales Daniel Chavez. The company has 42 editorial suites and just bought the building across the street, which will be used for foley, ADR and expansion for more editorial and administrative offices.
Though SoundStorm has a small stage for pre-dub work, it does final mixes ata variety of stages around town. "We've got relationships with many stages in town. Because of the volume we do, we can usually work out a great deal wherever the client would like to go, whether it's a studio lot or an independent stage," Chavez said. In addition to the main studio stages, indie facilities where SoundStorrn supervisors have recently worked include the Wilshire Stages in West Los Angeles and Burbank's Westwind and Intematlonal Recording. "You still get fantastic sound. You're just not on a studio lot, which some clients prefer." Chavez said.
SoundStorm's effects library is one of the world's largest, with almost 10,000 hours of content and 7 million individually recorded and custom-designed sounds. Portions of the library will be made available for third-party purchase beginning in June. "One of the big advantages of our never having made our library available is that these sounds are not widely heard," Chavez said. "We're constantly expanding our library by building on our base sounds and recording new material. We always approach a movie with a fresh style." To create that sound, the company uses a variety of tools: Fairlight for dialogue, and a combination of Fairlight, ProTools and Fostex Foundation for effects. "They all have their benefits," Leveque said, "I think Fairlights are the perfect tool for dialogue. For effects, simplicity is the way to go. The Fostex is by far the most simple operating tool, and a real workhorse in the sense that it never breaks down." Since Fostex has discontinued development on the Fostex, Leveque anticipates replacing those machines, over the next few years, with ProTools and Fairlights.
Looking ahead technologically, Stambler -currently finishing up Universal's 'Rocky and Bullwinkle"- said the company is excited about video streaming, "the stuff Qualcomm is working on," said Stambler. "l'd like to see us getting a wireless video stream directly from Avid or directly from production, which would be awesome. Because we could load up that material here, and have access to all of it, from one chair. That's our goal."
Stambler said he envisions a future where films are networked around digitally, and SoundStorm can load elements - visual and audio -- into a central digital server that can be accessed by digital workstations, by the mixing room, and transmitted through the lntemet or wireless facilities. Chavez said: "Say you have an actor on location in another state or country, all you'lI have to do is get them to a facility capable of receiving, and you'Il be able to project up on a screen there and have them looping to sync. Then that stage will transmit it back to us. lt's really on the fly, without losing quality, because everything stays digital. lt's the ultimate in flexibility."
For the past year and a half, the company has been interacting with clients via the Intemet, doing video feeds with the picture department it then sound edits. 'With our video game clients, many times that's how we end up delivering the final sound effects mix." The only thing left to do is add the music."Credits are important," Stambler said. "They'll get your foot in the door, and that'sa start. But you want to stay technologically hip, too, and we are." SoundStorrn traces its roots back 20 years to Wallaworks. When the founders of that firm split up, half the team went on to found Soundelux, the other half to launch Gordon Ecker Productions. Roughly four years ago the company changed its name from GEP1 to SoundStorm and moved from Hollywood to Burbank. The six current owners were on the board of directors. Last year they bought out Ecker - now retired - who was one of the first sound pros to exit the studio system and set up his own sound house. Prior to that pioneering generation, all sound was done by the studios on studio lots. There were no independents.
In the past three years, things have changed a lot since those glory days. "I would guess that budgets for feature sound editorial have gone down by two-thirds in the last three years," Leveque said, who noted that the budget for his TNT telefilm days. "We, as a company, used to be able to survive on one or two films a year. Now we need four or five. The profit margins are slim. Even budgets on the 'Batman'-type event films are now about half what they were three years ago." As a result "There's much more packaging going on. Where we used to just bid on our sound editorial, we're now having to package that with foley, ADR and dubbing," Leveque said.
Beyond that, the key to making a smaller budget go far lies in the people. Leveque said. "The director and the picture editor are the key to low-budget. On 'Freedom's Song' we worked with a feature director and a feature editor. Both of them could have maintained their big-feature attitudes about what to expect, with a non-feature budget. When they're in sync with the budget with what they're making and what the restrictions are, it helps us make the most of what we have."