Geof Benson loves editing music. It’s been his job for what seems like forever now. His position in this hybrid of sight and sound is different than for many others. Geof Benson Music, his company, is a joint venture of Swell Pictures and himself (“They own the walls, I own the equipment”), in which the in-house capabilities are dramatically enhanced by his music, and sound designs for spots are cut by others on the 35-member staff.
“Us music guys bought into the technology before the post production houses did,” said Benson. “Before I came here, they had no audio facilities, just video. When you have your own computer and sound equipment, it makes more sense that when you write music for a spot; you can lay in digitals and voiceovers at the same time. And again, you can change whatever you want at any time. As long as you backup your data and avoid hard drive repairs, you’re probably going to have real longevity to your data. It makes sense – I have a data recovery provider, for sure, but he helps when I need him, and that’s it. DETAILS. If you want to change elsewhere, you have to drive all over town. It’s very efficient, especially in time. For the client, it pays, in that it’s done faster and they can move on.”
“I especially like the fact that we have a lot of flexibility in post now,” said Portune. Pegging himself as a “misplaced musician who wandered into editing,” Portune is a trained one-man operation who composes, arranges and performs the music for the images that he cuts on film and tape. His arrangement at Pineyro is a little over a year old and came about “almost by accident.”
“I had edited a commercial, and all of us – the producer, the client – were disappointed, because it looked terrible,” he recalled. “We had a synthesizer in the office, kind of as our own toy. When we finished the spot, we didn’t think we could present it, so I threw together a music-box kind of track very quickly on the synthesizer and put it in the track. It changed the whole style of the spot. People started asking me, `How do you feel about doing your own jingles?’ So bit by bit, primarily by word of mouth, it grew, and we invested in more equipment. It’s ironic that the whole thing was prompted by an editorial decision.”
“My best feedback comes from producers,” noted Chubak, vice president and co-owner (with Steve McCoy) at FilmCore, a two-location Los Angeles facility that for seven years had had a full-time sound engineer on the premises. “Their feeling is that our room is pretty sophisticated for an editorial house. Even music composers are impressed with us. Twelve or 15 years ago we didn’t have quarter-inch abilities, and now we have the capacity for complete sound design. Sound cutting in commercials, to me, is often more important than picture cutting. I don’t understand how anyone can do without it. In the saving of time and travel, it’s cost-efficient. I don’t think there’s that much capital investment involved, and even if it had to be a luxury that didn’t generate revenue, it would save time or money. It really is a must.”
One spot springs to mind for Chubak as a perfect illustration of the benefits of his house’s capability. “It was for Armorall protectant, and it was shot totally silent. We did all of the effects here, and all of the sound design, which we had to research heavily. It was a great use of all facilities, the kind of job where the sound equaled or surpassed the picture quality,” he said.
“Traditionally, at an editing house, you’re expected to be able to do effects,” he continued. “But sound is so sophisticated that if you know you don’t have facilities with any degree of sound, you hire a music man. If we didn’t have this ability, we would lose the sound portion of a job to a sound facility. Our clients don’t have to drop off the film at one place and the sound at another. We’ve taken a very sane attitude.”
“We’ve distinguished ourselves as having a lot of in-house departments,” added Chubak. He reeled off the namebrand capabilities of his sound mini-empire: “We’ve now got a Harmonizer, a digital sampler, a Macintosh with interfacing sound software, a CD player with an extensive collection, a Westrex four-track 35mm recorder reproducer, and a DAT, a digital-audio tape. We’ve supported ourselves with a lot of hardware. It is certainly not cost-prohibitive, and it makes perfect sense.
“Still,” he said, “I have an old Wurlitzer at home and a jukebox in my office. And I still like 78′s.”
“In a back-door way, I’m back to music,” said Portune, who as a composer/arranger/editor/musician can also list himself as a freelance producer as well. “Over the years, I’ve gotten more and more involved in film and post production, and it’s nice to get back into music. If I’m working on a spot that I’ve cut, I really know it inside out now, and that’s an interesting angle.”
At Pineyro, which handles a lot of Hispanic-market spots, Portune still lists himself as a freelancer per se. “We’ve established an association in which I share the profits from the editing and the music. Once Gloria began seeing the advantages for both of us, she bought additional equipment.”
Pros And Cons
Beyond the considerable outlay of funding for facilities, there are disadvantages. “The advantage, of course, is that one guy is able to do everything,” said Benson. “A disadvantage is that people in the business can view me as an engineer.”
“The heart of sound design is still someone’s mind,” added Chubak. “No library or sound facility can make you a soundman.”
A veteran editor at a prominent mid-sized New York house begs to differ, “I can’t see too many clients who would prefer to edit with some Joe Blow in a Mickey Mouse room when they can go to top-notch experts. A soundman at an editing house will not have a reputation, and we only go with the top six or seven guys. Convenience doesn’t sell. People don’t do what’s convenient, they do what’s best. They want the best director, the best DP, the best editor and the best soundman.”
His house features “whatever sound facilities are needed to do a cut, but not on-air quality. If it’s a film job, we can record a scratch announce. If it’s tape, we can roll in any sound they want for a basic scratch mix, for presenting the cut. Many a heart has been broken on opening a shop built on promises. I don’t think one-stop shopping is a selling point.”
For Portune, the disadvantage lies in the fact “that I never seem to get home, because more often I’m wearing two hats. My wife could list a ton of disadvantages.”
But there’s no loss for words when it comes to naming clients and products that have reaped rewards from the two-headed deal. Noted Chubak, “One of our biggest fans is a producer at Della Femina, for the Joe Isuzu spots. He can’t espouse our virtues enough, and neither can those who are used to us.”