Interview with Dane Cody, Australian Production Sound Mixer
- Interview by Mel Noonan, StylusMC
The Mule - A great Aussie feature film starring Angus Sampson and Hugo Weaving.
Work memories like this make me realise a sound cart is never really finished. Technology moves fast. Footscray, Melbourne. 2013.
Where do you live now, and have you moved around a lot in your career?
My family and I reside in South East Queensland, Australia.After I finished my tertiary studies in Technical Music Production (Sound Engineering) I moved from Australia to Chicago in the U.S for 6 months and interned at a music recording studio. When I got back to Australia I moved to Melbourne, Victoria. I spent well over a decade there, with a few stints back in Queensland on films and series and also overseas on various films and TV shows. Up until Covid hit and locked Australia down, travelling overseas or interstate for work happened multiple times per year. Timor Leste, Cambodia, Finland, China, U.S.A, Japan, Singapore and all around Australia - I’ve been very fortunate to visit many amazing places through my job.
Re your growing up years, where were you? Were there any influences that may have led you to your later sound career?
From birth to 8 years I grew up on the Gold Coast, Queensland. From 8 to 13 we lived a rather itinerant lifestyle, living all across Australia. I think perhaps that’s contributed to my desire for travel and adventure. Now that I’ve been married for almost 6 years and we have a toddler, I’ve settled down quite a bit with the travel and only travel if I love the idea of the job, and if my wife lets me and I can convince her. Surprisingly, I managed to convince her to travel to India with our infant in 2019 for the filming of 3 episodes of Shantaram. It was one of the best filming adventures of my career - some incredible locations in Mumbai, Bhopal and Indore.
I think the thing that’s influenced me the most and led to my working in sound for film and TV is how much films featured in our household when I was growing up. My mother was a huge a film buff and that certainly rubbed off on me. My father also owned a video store for a while. I remember taking Rambo: First Blood home to watch without Mum knowing. And both my parents loved music, which was always playing in the home. I guess I’ve always been hearing-centric. The things I remember most about films are lines of dialogue and the musical scores.
At what stage did you realise that sound recording was what you wanted to do for a career?
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a musician. Unfortunately my attention span for music theory and practice wasn’t stellar. I was however fascinated by the layering and production of sounds on albums and songs and that led me down the sound engineering rabbit hole. When my dad died when I was 15 I dropped out of school and kicked around for a few years, barely staying out of juvenile detention if I’m honest. I then tried to get my act together and got my year 12 equivalent certificate at TAFE (community college) then did a Diploma in Music Industry (technical production), and a Bachelors degree in the same field a few years later. Around that time, Napster and illegal downloads and the proliferation of cheaper home studio recording equipment and such led to the collapse of the music recording industry with big recording studios as we knew it. Fortunately for me, I studied with people doing Film Studies and they kept bugging me to do Sound Design and Recording for their short films and then eventually some low budget feature films. It stoked the same fires for me creatively and technically so was somewhat of an easy transition.
Numinbah Valley, Queensland. 2021 / A Perfect Pairing - Netflix
Working off the back of a 4x4 Ute (inset) seemed like a good choice for remote locations on the sides of steep hills and in hidden valleys, in sometimes muddy and wet conditions. Having put myself, my team and my Cantar X3 rig through the rigours of The Wilds -Season 2, this film was largely a walk in the park technically…a moment of respite before kicking back into ensemble scenes with playback and several cameras etc on the next TV Series Young Rock -Season 2.
What were your first paid jobs, if any, for recording in those early years?
My first proper paid feature film was a low budget indie horror film called Badmouth. I recorded and boomed that film. After that I resolved to never work on another feature film unless I had a Boom Operator and proper team. I lost about 6 or 7 feature films with interesting scripts by not accepting to do sound on my own. No regrets. I strived and still strive for excellence in all my work
What gear were you using back then?
The first gear I bought for my business was a Sound Devices 302, Sound Devices 744T, Schoeps CMIT5U and some Sennheiser G2 Series wireless systems with Sanken Cos11 lavalieres. Prior to that I’d been using mostly hired or borrowed equipment.
What about the experience of your training in sound? What were the high points you remember?
There’s nothing like learning on the job, so while I really enjoyed tertiary education and working with my friends on their films and projects, getting out into the real world and learning how to communicate with clients and get sound under pressure was the best training. High points were always getting a call back to do their next short film or documentary and then eventually a couple of first feature films for directors I’d also worked for on their short form projects. When the key creatives trust you enough to ask you back and work on more and more technically and creatively demanding projects - that’s empowering and you lift your game to a new level because you want to do a great job and not let anyone down.
Melbourne, Victoria. 2020 / Clickbait, Netflix
My first show with the X3, Cantaress and Souriquette. I had an 8 channel backup Sound Devices 788Tbag-rig that never got used as the Aaton system didn’t miss a beat and was always the right tool for the job.
What were your first jobs as a production sound mixer? How was the experience?
I think the first job where I considered myself a production sound mixer (after being there for a couple of years) was Neighbours (Australia’s longest running serial TV drama which is about to finish its 3 plus decade long run). I’d been asked to replace a very experienced production sound mixer who was off to do a film or series and he suggested me, which I’m to this day very thankful for. I’d been there about a week or two and I’d dropped into the post production studio where the sound supervisor at the time - Robin Gray (may he rest in peace) and I had a good chat about my recording and mixing I’d been delivering. I’d been so nervous working on such an established show with a great group of people on set and in post including some of Australia’s most experienced Boom Operators that I wasn’t getting much sleep. One of the scenes I’d frankly not mixed that well. Of course there were ISO tracks but on a show like that there’s very little turnaround time between capturing the performances on set and it going to air - no real room to turn in a bad mix as they’ll use almost all the original mixes and only dip into ISO’s when the mix isn’t up to scratch. That really made me want to hone my mixing skills more than ever before. Eventually I needed a new challenge and I was being asked to work on feature films, so I left that show and went freelance again in 2013.
Neighbours was formative for me in drama, though. Everything I learned there I still apply and have finessed to this day.
When did you first become aware of Aaton recorders?
I first became aware of Aaton recorders very early on, but they seemed unattainable and very complex (I’d looked at the X-2 manual). I simply wasn’t ready at that stage to own such an expensive and technically advanced ecosystem.
North Stradbroke Island, Queensland. 2021 / The Wilds, Season 2 - Amazon
Beach-mode felt like the default on this TV Series. Next to the wild surf, mixing 8-9 boys talking for many long days, weeks or months on end. My team were incredible, my Aaton setup was rock solid as it handled the whisper to scream dynamics with aplomb. Excellent engineering/choice of components, ergonomics and robust - that’s the Cantar way.
What led you to the decision to buy your Aaton CantarX3?
In 2015 I was using an 8 track recorder from another manufacturer and was finding that track count was inadequate (these days 8-9 radio mics, 1-2 booms and a plant mic or two isn’t unusual). So I’d been looking for something to accommodate the increasing scale and track counts of the productions I was beginning to work on. I still had Aaton in the back of my head and looked online and found they’d released the X-3. It looked daunting, beautifully engineered and more suited to sound for feature film and TV series than anything previously released by any manufacture (in my humble opinion). I put a deposit on the first one in Australia, but got cold feet as wasn’t confident I would get the ROI (return on my investment) to make it a viable business decision. Foolish was I... A work friend of mine (Greg Burgmann) bought that X-3, still owns it and for the next few years I complained on and off to him about my choice of what I considered to be a lesser system that I’d purchased instead. While that system enabled me the track count I required and I turned in good recordings, the experience with that machine was not that enjoyable from a creative or technical point of view. He finally convinced me in 2019 to buy an Aaton CantarX-3 (I also bought a Cantaress and Souriquette). The experience of using my Aaton kit has been such a revelation that in mid 2021 I also bought a CantarMini and plan at some stage to purchase another CantarX3.
The Wilds, Season 2, Amazon 2021
Sometimes inaccessible locations and schedule expectations render the big cart the wrong weapon of choice. Enter The Cantar Mini - same great machine, just small and light.
Did you just jump in and start using it, or did you spend some time first getting to know it?
I’d just finished mixing 3 episodes of a TV series in India called Shantaram and wanted to make the jump to the X-3 between filming blocks, so I’d been setting my cart up, getting it ready for action and then that show was put on indefinite hiatus. Then Covid hit and my gear sat idle for 10+months. I didn’t get a chance to use the system until end of 2020 when I mixed the last 2 episodes of Clickbait (a Netflix series). Greg was instrumental in tutoring me and getting me up to speed with the workflow. It was daunting at first coming from a much simpler system but there’s no looking back now - it’s simply a joy to mix scenes on the X-3. I thought that shine would wear off eventually but it hasn’t after well over 200 days of mixing with my Aaton kit.
What are the features of the X-3 that you now really appreciate in your work?
So many things. Where do I start. The sound. The refined level of engineering, product design, innovation and the experience with the GUI come to mind. The Cantaress and the X-3 with its smooth magnetic faders - mixing a scene is fun, and you don’t have to worry about dirt ingress. Being hermetically sealed, it’s resistant to dust and water.
The transparency of the limiters - truly the most transparent I’ve ever heard on location recording gear. I’ve recorded some very dynamic scenes (whisper to scream and back again) and the X-3 hasn’t let me down.
The methodology and mind set you’re in with the crown (the main rotary selector) and how that interacts with the GUI. It’s complex but logical, you can dive as deep as you need to and as complex as production’s needs require. I can move the crown around without looking at the screen most of the time and know where I’ll land.
One little thing that’s stood out for me is since moving across from a system where there were dedicated stop and record buttons whereas the X-3 illuminates the large screen and Cantaress red in record mode - I’ve never missed recording a dialogue take on the X-3.
Usage of the machine is engaging and when you drop into record you and your team and video village can have their feeds configured to have an audible beep. Boom Operators love this as they hear the beep and have the few seconds of time they need to get their body and pole where it needs to be - they’re not racing because the production sound mixer has yelled “SPEED!” across the set or down comms.There’s even things I’ve yet to use in the heat of battle such as re-recording the mix for a scene. The last few shows have been large ensemble and so fast-paced I’ve not had the time, but I can see how this would come in very handy on certain productions with more time for finessing.
The Aaton technical support is top notch. The machines are largely field serviceable and their approach to their customers is that of a bespoke operation - hands on, friendly, knowledgeable. It’s refreshing as not many companies are like that anymore.
I’ve not met owner Jacques Delacoux face to face yet but what I do know is that he’s very hands on with his user base in that he’s more than willing to chat and help via email, as are his team. It’s nice to work with machines of incredible engineering but also to be dealing with a human that understands the machines we use daily, and the fact that they always respond quickly.
Snapper Rocks, Gold Coast, Queensland. 2021 / The Wilds -Season 2 - Amazon.
After a long day in the sun filming music and dialogue, it was nice to cap it off with a great sunset captured by our C Camera Operator, Damien King.
Looking back over your career so far, which are the highlights that stand out, and why?
The highlights of my career are so varied and so many - I’ve been lucky. Travelling to and working in exotic locations. Working on Shantaram all throughout India in 2019 - that was incredible as we visited many interesting locations and I enjoyed the script and working with the crew very much - I had a world-class Indian sound team. Got along great with the Cinematrographer Anthony Dod Mantle who was pivotal in my being asked to go to India. The director Justin Kurzel is one of my favourite Australian directors and it was a pleasure to get to chat and work with him and our lead actor Charlie Hannum.
Working on Westworld Season 3 in Singapore was another - spent time over there mixing some pivotal scenes for the final season of one of the biggest TV series in the world at the time - it was exciting to work with Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy who really do things on another level in terms of production values and execution for TV Series. That was also the second time I got to work with Vincent Cassel (mixed an Australian film called Partisan in 2015 which he starred in).
Buoyancy in Cambodia in 2018, a film about the plight of modern-day slaves in the fishing industry in the Gulf of Thailand - that was a wild adventure with some harrowing and incredibly interesting subject matter.
My second last TV show I mixed - The Wilds - Season 2 which we wrapped last year - that was very challenging but the feedback from post was very positive, thankful for that as it was a tough few months on the beach in the elements on that show with a large ensemble cast and very dynamic performances to capture.
Gold Coast Convention Centre, Queensland, 2021, Young Rock -Season 2 - NBC Universal.
Wrestling days were always great fun and a good challenge to keep us on our toes and always striving to get the best sound with 4-7 cameras on the go.
Considering all your experiences along the way getting to where you are now, what advice would you offer to those starting out or in the early part of their sound careers?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. You’ve got to hustle and network. Let people know you’re engaged, interested and want to work on things. Opportunities don’t come to you. What you’ll find is that the snowball effect is real. You keep grinding, you do the best that you can and try to be enjoyable to work with - things will start happening. Invest in your ongoing training/education and the best kit you can afford, and know it inside out.Backups for backups. Be prepared.
Do you want to thank anyone for the help that was extended to you in your career along the way?
Far too many to mention but all of the Boom Operators I’ve ever worked with is a good start. If a line of dialogue is not on mic then you’re up the creek. Boom Operators are one of the unsung heroes of the film set. They need to know the intricacies of several other key roles on set and their own and to juggle the dynamics of multiple strong personalities and vested interests and still do their best to get us as production sound mixers the best tracks. I’m very thankful and indebted to all the brilliant teams I’ve had the pleasure of assembling and working with.
Where do you go from here? Is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
A war film. A sci-fi film. A musical. If I’m lucky and things go as planned, I’ll get at least one of those wishes this year.
Dane Cody, CAS, AMPS
8MMM Aboriginal Radio for the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).
Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Throwback to my first ensemble cast TV Series in 2014. A career highlight for its locations, cast and crew. Indigenous productions are always such an honour and pleasure for me as we get a chance to spend time with the traditional owners of Australia in some spectacular locations that many people never get to experience, and most importantly - telling their stories, in their words.
The Wilds -Season 2, Amazon. Curtis Falls, Mount Tamborine, Gold Coast, Queensland, 2021.
Hike 45 minutes pre dawn, setup for an emotional two hander in front of a waterfall. Sure thing. Simple scene and simple work for the Cantar Mini.
View from our hero boat on set of Buoyancy, a feature film in Cambodia. We’re somewhere in the Gulf of Thailand off Sihanoukville.
Another career highlight apart from the smell of rotting fish for 17 days of filming!
The Cantar I should have bought at Lemac Sales in Melbourne, Victoria.
Testing the first X3 in Australia in 2015 that I put a 10k deposit on. Foolishly I didn’t make the purchase and Greg Burgmann did. Fast forward to end of 2019 and I finally came to my senses.
Nunawading, Victoria, 2011 / Neighbours - Channel 10.
My formative drama years with Neighbours surrounded and supported by some of the most experienced film and tv technicians in Australia still informs my approach today. Do my best to keep the ADR low, get as much as we can on booms and not just rely on radio mics, and try to have some fun along the way.
Capturing the sounds of aerial skiers and coaching staff at The Birds Nest in Beijing, China for the documentary The Will To Fly in 2016.
An incredible doco witnessing supreme athletes perform and talk about their sport in some chilly filming locations on the sides of ski slopes.
Cold, hungry, but having a great time recording ob-doc content and master interviews for The Will To Fly, Beidahu, Jilin, China. 2016
On a recce for Shantaram, Season 1, Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, late 2019 in India.
Taking a moment to soak in the world -. India was one of the most incredible places I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. It also has some of the most experienced and exceptional filmmaking technicians and creatives the world over that I’ve been lucky to work with
Bawaka, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia.
Oftentimes my job takes me to incredible places with amazing people from all walks of life. Swinging a boom here with Nick Emond, a fellow Production Sound Mixer on First Contact -Series 2 for SBS Australia. 2016.
Recording Atmospheres of the ocean in Sihanoukville, Cambodia in 2018 for the feature film Buoyancy. Photo by our friendly Stills Photographer Rafael Weiner.