Gary Bourgeois, one of the film industry’s top re-recording mixers, visited the Sound Design for Visual Media campus last Friday, enthralling students for nearly four hours with his experiences. Gary has been active in the industry since the early 1970′s, working on some of your favourite movies including Pretty in Pink, Pleasantville, Charlie’s Angels, and The Bourne Supremacy.
One thing is clear. Gary absolutely loves the work that he does and he has an incredible passion for sound. A drummer, Gary discovered the world of sound design as a teenager in Ontario. At 24, he toured the world with Bob Dylan as his lead sound designer. He was the sound mixer on The Man Who Skied Down Everest, which won the best documentary feature Oscar in 1975. In the late 70′s, he met director and producer Ivan Reitman, and did the sound and scoring sessions for his cult classic, Meatballs. By 29, he had moved to LA and was a lead mixer in Hollywood, working on feature films, television, and commercials. He’s been working steadily on numerous movies a year ever since, racking up nearly 250 film credits – and he’s still going strong.
Opportunities and Comfort Zones
So what’s the secret to his success? How can our fledgling sound designers here at VFS even begin to emulate such an incredible career that has seen tremendous advances in technology and vast changes in the economy over the last 40 years? You have to be comfortable everywhere and able to adapt to the situation, Gary says. My comfort zone is me, he shared. This means that he can work anywhere, with anyone, and with anything. There will always be people better than you and people worse than you, said Gary, but remember, you are the one doing the job so just do it. It’s as simple as that.
Being a great Sound Designer is all about opportunity, he says. Just ask yourself – what’s my opportunity? What am I trying to say? How do I say it? Gary explained that Sound Designers serve as a means of communication for the filmmaker. As the sound designer on the film, how will you support the director’s vision and how will you make a difference? Bring options with depth and meaning to the table, he told us. Add to the film. Collaborate. Become a co-filmmaker, not just the sound person. How can you make it a better picture? Making a film is a group effort so work as a team.
Gary is a musician at heart and he explained that mixing is a performance. Everything is based on rhythm – music and dialogue. Infuse your rhythm and feeling into the project. You have to put your heart and soul into it to evoke emotions in others. The audience isn’t supposed to know that they are being manipulated by sound but they are. This is very true – your favourite film with just dialogue but no sound would be completely different and simply would not affect you in the same way.
Problem Solvers and Problem Makers
There are two kinds of people in the world he told us – problem solvers and problem makers. You want to be the problem solver, said Gary. Be that person who solves the problems and you become invaluable, he shared. Also, eliminate the word no, he said. Use the word experiment. Believe in what you are doing and support the telling of the story.
After sharing some very helpful technical tips of the trade, Gary offered some inspiring career advice that goes beyond sound design. In fact, it goes beyond career advice. This is life advice and Gary’s life and career prove that he knows what he’s talking about.
Respect others, he said. Stand up for what you believe in, offer suggestions, experiment, and have an opinion. Speak up, be confident, and make change. Be yourself, make statements and make people take notice. Don’t be a yes man. Have some character. Be a positive problem solver, make everyone proud. Make yourself proud. Support others as everyone, including you, will need help at some point. Lean on each other.
A huge thank you to Gary Bourgeois for his generousity of time and spirit and for inspiring our students to be problem solvers and to always seek out the opportunities!