Meet the Crew – Sound Mixer & Editor Chris Henry

Chris Henry hails from the same frozen north city that director Matt came from.  Their conversations usually revolve around Vernors, and how it never gets cold in Los Angeles. The following interview is slightly more interesting.

Why did you get into sound mixing and editing? What drew you to that area of filmmaking?

I was a playwright once upon a time, and although I maintain that habit on a reasonably frequent basis, I’ve learned that my taste for production requires something a little more…immediate in order to feed the hunger often enough to stave off insanity. Enter: my other creative affliction.

Since I was fifteen, I’ve recorded and mixed music. That area of interest became an area of concentrated study a couple years after graduating with my English/Playwriting/Philosophy degree, when I came upon the realization that selling restaurant equipment for a living wasn’t really, y’know, doin’ it for me. It was around this time, too, that I acknowledged the pangs of envy I felt over my friends in film school might’ve indicated some sort of desire to make movies—go figure—and since I had, at that point, just enough knowledge to be dangerous as an audio engineer, I figured film sound might be something worth pursuing. So I managed to weasel my way into a couple of projects a few years ago, and I’ve since avoided catastrophic failure often enough to be asked back. It’s become, like, a thing I do. And I like it.

Did you go to art school, or is it all self-taught?

I studied as a playwright, but it wasn’t until a couple years after college that I took more than a cursory glance at the theory and physics behind audio engineering. I’ve had a couple of teachers here and there, but I’m still largely self taught. My career so far has been an exercise in extreme awareness of my own limitations, filtered through knowledge of general best-practices for getting good sound through a microphone, and an extremely useful ability to be gracefully incorrect. It’s not a path I would necessarily recommend to anyone else, but it’s kept me working, so I suppose I’ll stick with it for now.

What’s the first project you worked on?

Chris with his best friend, a tribble.

The first project ever was a series of promo bumpers for the Waterfront Film Fest in Saugatuck, MI. My roommate at the time, a grip/electrician, dropped my name to some of his colleagues when they were looking for someone willing to work for free, and I got the gig. I figured I’d be assisting the standard sound guy, but when I showed up they just showed me to the gear closet and said “take what you need.” So I collected all the gear I thought might be useful (I still had no idea what we were even shooting) and carpooled out to the beach with the rest of the crew. Had a blast. Was terrified the whole time. Got asked to work with that company again a few months later. So…success!

What other projects are you really proud of?

Honestly, I’m still getting used to the idea of people liking what I do. Still getting my bearings as a sound guy. But there’s this short called Rose Window that I worked on not too long ago, which was the first time I ever saw my name in the credits; first time I worked more than a day on something. And it was a fantastic experience. So I’m pretty proud of that.

After that, there’s this other film I worked on, Party Foul, by some of the folks I know from back in Grand Rapids, MI, that…I mean, I feel good about the work I did, for sure, but more than that, it was the first time I got a taste of what it’s like to work as a member of a team from start to finish. It’s a sense of family I haven’t felt since my theater days. I’m still coming down from that high, and we wrapped over a month ago. Really good time.

How did you get involved in Other Halves? What drew you to the project?

Some people in leather jackets and jean shorts showed up at my door late one night, threw a hood over my head, and dragged me to a production meeting. I had no choice in the matter. Someone please help me.

You’ll be recording the audio on set and editing the sound in post. You’ll pretty much be controlling the sound throughout the entire project. What sort of advantages and creative opportunities does that create for you?

Is crippling fear considered a creative opportunity? No?

Actually, it’s the fact that I’m mixing in post that makes this easier for me than anything else I’ve done. Coming into this through music, I’m used to thinking of both ends of the gig. I’m always capturing sound in the context of what I intend to do with it later.

Getting into film, though, the job is a little bit different. You have to grab sound that, in some ways, anyone can work with. At least for me, one of the things that never leaves my head is the idea that—since I’m still new to the gig—I have no idea what a sound mixer expects to hear. I only know what I would want. So far, I’ve done a good job of pleasing the guys in post, which is great! But there’s a lot of uncertainty there, for me, that is obliterated by the knowledge that the only one I have to please is myself. (And the director. And the editor. And the investors. And the audience. So anyway I’ll be hiding under my bed if you need me for anything.)

What are the unique challenges you face as a sound mixer and sound editor on Other Halves?

Chris Henry is confident

Chris Henry is confident

One of the greatest challenges of lower-budget stuff that I’ve noticed is that you tend to have less control over the shooting environment. Maybe there’s an HVAC system you can’t turn off, or there’s a picnic happening a hundred yards away, or people are flying model airplanes over your location. All sorts of things can affect the local soundscape, and it can be extremely tough to grab good sound in that kind of environment. Since, with Other Halves, we’re shooting mostly in an office building that we don’t own, these kinds of environmental hazards are going to be my biggest challenge. After that, our multi-cam approach is going to require some ninja-like movement to stay out of everyone’s shot and still get the best audio possible.

Tell us about some of the other projects you’re working on.

Right now, the thing I’m most excited about is this fiction podcast project I’m working on with a friend of mine. We’re two episode-drafts away from production, which is when things get super exciting because I’ll finally get to combine my writing and audio work into a single project. It’s a ‘found-footage’ style story called A Canticle for Father Darkness, and it follows this group of friends whose cross-country road trip gets interrupted by a sort of psychological apocalypse. There are giant spiders, and underground mazes, and religious cults, and an overwhelming uncertainty about what is real and what is hallucination.

It should be a pretty good time.

Anything else that I forgot to ask about?