Interview with U.S. Production Sound Mixer Michael Wynne for Aaton-Digital, July-August 2021

Mel Noonan, StylusMC, interviews Michael Wynne for Aaton-Digital

Mixing at the console at APC Studios in Atlanta, GA in 2004

Photo#1 Mixing at the console at APC Studios in Atlanta, GA in 2004.

1: Do you think there was anything in your early years that could have led you towards your present career? Were you impressed by movies or music and the sound side of things? Did you become involved in music or recording in any way?
I grew up in Atlantic Beach, a small coastal town east of Jacksonville, Florida, USA, commonly referred to as Florida’s first coast on the Eastern side. None of my family were in the music or film industry so growing up in the 80’s I didn’t have much knowledge or awareness of the music or film world beyond what I watched in the theaters or heard on the radio.  I remember my first stereo I had in my childhood room had a dual cassette player with two 3.5mm mic inputs that I could record to the left and right channels, and it included two small handheld mics. My parents owned a couple nylon string guitars so I started to teach myself music from a Mel Bay book on one of them around the age of ten.  I started mowing yards in my neighborhood to earn enough money to buy my first knock off fender Stratocaster and amp, and was big into guitar playing all through high school.

2: What about later education or training?
After graduating high school and a couple of auditions I was accepted into the Jazz Studies program at the University of North Florida and ended up leaving college early to pursue a career in music in Atlanta with my local rock band which seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time!  That was my first real dip into music recording since I was the one responsible for recording the rehearsals.  After evolving my gear tastes a bit I ended up purchasing my first 4 track recorder for the band and was enthralled with the process of multi tracking and overdubbing and its limitless possibilities.  Eventually the band fell apart and I began to pursue the recording business more seriously working with other bands and musicians.

Taking a photo op while working on set on a short film in 2012

Photo#2 Taking a photo op while working on set on a short film in 2012

3: What were the first times that you were paid money for recording sound?
The first time I was paid for recording sound was in the late 90’s recording local songwriters out my home studio.  My first recording rig consisted of a Tascam DA88 that recorded to TC striped Hi8 digital tapes and a TMD1000 mixer.  I remember it was a really good sounding system.  You had eight mic/line inputs and recording channels and eight returns on the mixer with busses and effect sends/returns.   It was this recording rig that introduced me to begin to understand signal flow and gain staging on a recorder and mixer.

4: What about the experience of starting to work professionally as a sound mixer? Can you talk about the first few jobs?  What about the equipment -analog or digital, and what was good or bad about it?
Initially because of my music background my first career goal in film was that I wanted to score films so I landed a job as a composer for a ninety five minute feature film shot on Super 16 called Sandtown directed by Roberto Monticello in 2006.  After completing the score I met the re-recording mixer for the film, Curt Bush, at this studio here in Atlanta called White Dog Studios.  He was in the process of expanding and building out a new multi room studio and offered me the opportunity to come work alongside his team as an in house composer in the C room. It was here at this studio that I learned more about the process of working with sound and picture and got my first mix opportunities on small documentaries and indie films in both production and post.

5: What about the experience of your first movie?
The first feature length film I mixed as a first unit production sound mixer was in 2014 on a movie called Sick People directed by Ken Farrington that starred C Thomas Howell and Lynn Shea.  At the time I had somewhat limited onset workflow knowledge besides my previous experience on short films and corporate work, so it was a big learning experience for me.  One of the greatest challenges was learning to navigate the various roles on a set and how to work effectively with the other departments to obtain good tracks. Fortunately I knew my gear and learned enough about the process to achieve a successful result.

Mixing on Set for Feature Film “Sick People” Directed by Ken Farrington in 2014

Photo#3: Mixing on Set for Feature Film “Sick People” Directed by Ken Farrington in 2014.

6: In all the years leading up to your becoming a pro sound mixer, were there any movies (or whatever) in particular that inspired you?
Most of my inspiration and love for sound came from my love of story telling and how music and sound could move someone emotionally.  Some of the films that were influential for me growing up were ET, The Goonies, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even Conan the Barbarian!  Even today working as a production sound mixer when I watch a film or series I typically try to experience it passively.  This is something I learned when I was mixing music, the ability to be able to switch from active to passive listening which can help you maintain perspective and artistry in a mix.  When I watch a film, I can forget everything I know about the technicalities of sound and get lost in all the elements.  Then I can switch to active listening and really pick out all the details when I want or need to.

7: Have you moved around a lot to follow your career? Where are you located now?
I’ve worked in Atlanta for my whole sound career.  Around 2012 I opened my first commercial post studio in Fourth Ward here in Atlanta and the business was slow so I closed the studio in 2016 to focus on full time production sound mixing. I was fortunate enough to get connected to our local film union and growing production sound community with open arms at a time when opportunities were plenty.  I feel very fortunate as the film industry has exploded in Georgia since I first got involved working with sound and picture back in 2006 on short films and as the film business has grown in Atlanta so has my career along with it!

8: Do you manage to have a family life?
I have a wife and five year old son who come first in my life.  When I was younger and early on in my career I spent years giving most of all my time and energy to my work.  Eventually I started a family I learned quickly that I needed to make adjustments to achieve a healthy work life balance.   When the 2020 Covid shutdowns came it gave me some time to really slow down and reflect.  Today I continue to make adjustments and am committed to doing what’s necessary to achieve that goal while continuing to work in the film industry.

Mixing additional photography days on feature film “Woodlawn” in 2015

Photo#4: Mixing additional photography days on feature film “Woodlawn” in 2015

9: From where you are now in your career, what we’re say the one or two jobs that stand out for you and why?
Today I work full time as a production sound mixer in scripted TV and film.   We all had the people in our lives that helped create opportunities for us.  A production mixing job that stands out most to me was the opportunity to mix Seasons 1 & 2 of FX’s Atlanta in 2016.  The line producer for the show really believed in my work and he gave me a chance to work on Atlanta when I didn’t have a long resume in production and the series ended up being a huge success which ultimately was a launching point for my career creating more mixing opportunities on other films and TV shows.

10: What about the kit youve had and used along the way? Can you give us a rundown from the early days to now.
My first resemblance of a film and TV sound package was a Sound Devices 633, a couple Lectrosonics 411 wireless and a SRB on a Rock n Roller cart.  I did a few indie features from 2014-216 with this rig and as long as I didn’t have more than four talents talking in a scene I was golden!  Fast forward today a lot has changed and I’m continually evolving and dialing in my sound package.  Today, my primary cart hosts a Cantar X3 & Cantaress combo and my more portable cart has the Cantar mini.  For me a sound package is all about streamlining workflow, modular flexibility and redundancy.  In this business you need to be fast, flexible and have a back-up plan. Tech issues can and will happen on a film set at exactly the wrong moment and what happens next is what counts and the producers will remember!

11: What about Aaton recorders? When did they come on to your radar, and what led up to your purchase of an X-3?
A local sound mixer here in town, Whit Norris, who was influential in helping me get my start in the production business was one of the first mixers here in Atlanta to move over to the Cantar X3.  At first glance I didn’t really get the machine. It was very unique and I was used to all the other manufacturer’s box style recorders - it just seemed strange to me.  A few years down the road more X3’s started showing up here in our market so I decided I would take a demo home from Trew Audio and try it out.  After some initial recording on my Schoeps CMIT 5U and MKH50 mic, I loaded up the files in my Pro Tools Ultimate rig for playback in my home studio and was immediately taken back!  The X3 had the clarity, dimension and sonic character that I was after for production dialogue that I hadn’t heard before in my other production recorders.  It was then I decided to move over to the Cantar X3, which was in Summer of 2019.

Hard at work mixing on a cold day inside a Pulse tent on FX’s Atlanta Season 1 in 2016.

Photo#5: Hard at work mixing on a cold day inside a Pulse tent on FX’s Atlanta Season 1 in 2016.

12: Can you tell us what was the experience of using your X-3 after you bought it. Did you find it a difficult learning curve? Did you jump in and use it to learn as you went along?
The ergonomics and workflow of the X3 took a moment for me to get used to and initially I found it quite intimidating.  It wasn’t that it was difficult to use as much as I needed to retrain my thinking on how to use a production field mixer/recorder that I now realize was designed in the most intuitive way.   As I continued work with the X3 and got more comfortable with the workflow l began to have these “aha” type moments when I would discover a new way to use the machine to help facilitate a special recording scenario or routing idea.  For example the ability to quickly navigate multiple input and headphone routing workflows for various recording set ups.  Everything is so much faster and easier on the X3 for production work than my previous recorders. The large displays, crown navigation mechanism and intuitive interface don’t require a lot of menu diving.  Everything is right there on your finger tips, I couldn’t be happier with the system.

13: Have you adapted to it fully now? What do you like about it particularly. What features do you value most in your work?
As of today I’ve completed the stunt units on a feature and one full episodic TV show on the X3 and I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with it every day.  I’m still learning and discovering new possibilities with it.  One of the features I’ve valued most on the X3 while working on set is the ability to create and easily recall track routing presets in the Ingrid menu along with custom headphone routing configs.   I also appreciate the use of subgroups for creating mix minus workflows into my headphone mix while being able to send the full production mix to the public IFB’s and mix tracks for dailies such as scenes with music playback.  There are so many other great features in the X3 such as editing metadata simultaneously for multiple takes and the flexibility to deliver sound reports efficiently directly from my iPhone. All of these streamlined and custom workflows allow me to focus more on what’s happening acoustically on set and ultimately deliver better tracks and mixes.

14:  What can you say about Jacques and his team at Aaton-Digital and your user experience of the company?
I had the pleasure of first meeting Jacques and Pierre in person in Atlanta when he and Pierre Michoud hosted a Cantar X3 training here at our Local IATSE union hall back in 2019.   I was really blown away that they traveled all the way from Grenoble, France to come sit with a group of us to offer us this training.  It’s a real pleasure to use the Cantar X3, Cantar Mini and Cantaress because I love the sound and workflow of these machines.   Also when I need technical support, Pierre, Pascal and his team of engineers are very prompt, responsive and helpful.

On set working on a cold exterior on Netflix’s Raising Dion Season 2 in 2021

Photo#6: On set working on a cold exterior on Netflix’s Raising Dion Season 2 in 2021

15: Jacques mentioned that you have made some videos about using the X3. Can you tell us about that and maybe where they can be seen online?
In an effort to continue to learn and share Cantar X3 workflow knowledge with other users in the community I created a training video series on my YouTube channel called “Cantar X3 Quicktips” which you can find on the Aaton Digital website here under the FAQ here Currently it features seven short videos that cover topics such as time code work flows, recording raw M/S, and multiple outmap configurations.  The idea is a quick reference point for varying workflow features on the Cantar for both beginner and experienced users.   I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from Aaton Digital and other Cantar X3 users in the community.  I have plans to continue to expand on that series with more videos coming in the future!

16: You seem to have made a very good path to where you are now in your career. Do you have any further ambitions for the period ahead?
I am very fortunate to have all the opportunities I’ve had along my path.   Like every human striving to be better I’m always learning, evolving and sometimes stumbling!   One thing that’s important to the way I work today is to approach my craft as a sound mixer as a film maker first and then balance those priorities with the technical aspects of sound mixing.   I really love the gear and tech side of things but I think our job as mixers is ultimately finding a balance of being a good film maker and also a good sound technician.  I tend to gravitate to directors, producers and projects that value this mindset.  We’ll see what comes next.  But I hope to continue to work in sound mixing and film making for many years to come.

17: Perhaps a closing statement on your career, your enjoyment of it, your thanks to anyone who helped you along the way, a word of encouragement to young sound recordists starting out?

Thank you for asking me to do this interview as it was a great opportunity to reflect and look back at my career path and appreciate all the mentors and colleagues, and all the unique opportunities I was given.  We are all a sum of our own experiences and I am grateful to the the producers, directors, engineers and colleagues who believed in me and my work.   If I had to give out a piece of advice to someone at the beginning of their sound career is stay humble and don’t try and rush the process. Focus on being present, and do your best work right now. Strive to be a better listener and always be learning more about your craft.  Your career will evolve over time naturally and organically and everything will fall into place the way it’s supposed to be in good time!

Mixing while standing with the Cantar Mini on a Super Zuca cart on NBC TV series Ordinary Joe 202.

Photo#7: Mixing while standing with the Cantar Mini on a Super Zuca cart on NBC TV series Ordinary Joe 202.

Inside the sound tent doing poor man’s process trailer work on NBC TV series Ordinary Joe 2021.

Photo#8: Inside the sound tent doing poor man’s process trailer work on NBC TV series Ordinary Joe 2021.