Spotlight: Michael Pann

LSP Member Spotlight - 2015.12.21

1. How did you find out about Living Storm Productions? What made you want to become part of the group? 

I was actually looking at ads on Craigslist in the Madison area regarding opportunities for working on audio/video projects.  There was an ad listed there for Living Storm Productions, and I made an inquiry.  Alex Contreras contacted me, and we met in Middleton at a coffee shop.  I had an opportunity to exhibit some of my work for him.  From what I could tell, he seemed impressed.  Sound design has always been an area of film that interests me the most, and I was able to demonstrate what this type of work entails by opening one of my previous projects for him on my computer.

2. What first interested you in film?

I know this might be a bit cliché, but the first time I saw Star Wars in a theatre I was almost hypnotized by the sound effects whizzing around my head.  They were so believable and realistic that a viewer almost doesn't realize that they're artificial.  That's the whole idea behind sound design though, selling the illusion if you will.  The first time I put a metal slinky up to my ear and let it fall to the ground, I heard what sounded like the lasers fired in Star Wars and realized that this is how that sound was probably made.  That experience alone inspired me to learn more about how sound effects are created for film.

3. For you, what’s the most exciting part about making a film?

In all honesty, the most exciting part about making a film for me is when it's near its completion.  The initial process of receiving a blank session with no foley (sound effects) and dialogue is merely an opportunity for me to assess how much work I will be doing.  At times, it can be a bit overwhelming as an audio engineer.  I am viewing the film through the eyes and ears of an engineer, and I am keeping track of every audio cue that will have to be created, as well as every edit that is required.  It's basically looking up at a mountain that you will be climbing once again.  The excitement comes when I am near the apex.

4. What is your experience in filmmaking?

My experience in filmmaking has been almost exclusively audio related aside from a bit of acting.  My first actual gig was for a student film called "Shell Shock."  I was offering my services as a freelance sound designer on a website for freelancers when I received an email about a project.  A woman who was a student at the 'New York Film Academy' contacted me about doing some work for one of her projects.  The film depicted a soldier returning home from a long deployment in Iraq, and was dealing with the perils of combat and reintegrating back into a civilian society etc...  As many student films go, the acting was not stellar by any means, but it was what I had to work with.  

Being a veteran myself, I could identify with the main character depicted in the film on certain levels, and wanted to illustrate his internal turmoil by use of sound.  In one particular scene, the young man is seen sitting on his kitchen floor with a loaded gun beneath his chin.  The scene as it was wasn't as believable as I would have liked, and I had to be very creative in order to "sell it."  I decided to duplicate the audio track of him laughing maniacally, and shifted them just a bit to create a bit of phasing and tension.  Additionally, I incorporated sounds of bombs, gunfire, screams, and aircraft and took these sounds a bit farther by changing their pitch, reversing some of them, and even stretching them a bit for a very eerie, surreal experience.  It worked to perfection quite honestly, and really helped what otherwise might have been almost "cheesy acting" for lack of a better term.  I am always amazed what eerie sound effects, music, and tension can add to a film.

5. What are some of your filmmaking ambitions?

For now, my ambitions are strictly audio related.  I love experimenting with different sound effects, layering sound effects, playing audio in reverse, pitch shifting, panning, and basically being a mad scientist in the way of sound.  Sound is such an important component in film that is often overlooked and not fully appreciated in my opinion.  A competent audio engineer can either bring a film to life, or send it careening down in flames.  I have actually wondered at times if I might have an eye for directing.  There have been numerous instances where I have watched a film and thought to myself "the delivery here was off a bit, if only the director would have called "cut" and tried it again it could have worked here."  Even times when I have acted, I noticed that my initial delivery was off, and then I settled into my part.  I wish I would have called "cut" quite honestly (laughs) any rate, audio is what I enjoy doing for now.  Until someone asks me to do otherwise, it is what I plan on doing now and into the future.

- with Michael Pann

Living Storm