The good life in sound


“Collaboration is key and it starts here,” says Oscar-winning soundman Mark Ulano. “Film schools are vital for students to build the networks they need."

"Look at it as a tool, with access to experienced people within the industry – both at Greenwich and other schools – and a fundamental step up. Ninety per cent of people studying film will want to be writers, directors or whatever but there is such a great life in sound.

"The emotional content of sound is often undiscussed – it's invisible after all – but it's a major part of the orchestra that makes up the film.

"It's so powerful for examining character. You want to bring the audience inside, so they move away from the mechanics of watching a film."

New Yorker Mark's work on Titanic won the Academy Award for best sound mixing, but he is probably best known for his collaborations with Quentin Tarantino.

Their latest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, opens this summer. "A wonderful continuation of a 25-year collaboration," is how Mark describes it. "There is always music on Quentin's sets and quite often I'll be the DJ. It will usually be music of the era we're shooting. He has trust in the people around him so it creates a safe zone for actors because he's right there supporting them."

Mark's has been president of the Cinema Audio Society for four years, having been on the board for 30. His time has seen strong relationships built with key industry media, such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.

"The Cinema Audio Society honours a film maker each year and this year Steven Spielberg accepted our award," Mark adds. "Bradley Cooper presented and Steven was there with his decades-long inner circle of sound artists; Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ron Judkins. Steven includes sound as part of his creative palette and this makes a huge difference – barriers dropped."  

Mark was in London with wife and collaborator Patrushkha Mierzwa to put University of Greenwich film students through their paces during two days of talks and practical sessions.

Courses such as those offered at Greenwich offer a way into the film industry that was previously a closed shop.   

"The one universal in student films is they sound terrible, but that's where Andrew Hill from this university comes in. He's an artist and a profoundly constructive, nurturing presence to those moving into the sound world. He's helping those who think "wow, this is me."

In terms of teaching, Mark encourages risk taking while always remaining a student. "A brutally frank but gentle arm around the shoulder is part of the mentoring and nurturing process," he says. "Be curious, creative and bold. The idea is to aggressively prepare for the journey. Get good, get ready, contribute but don't compete.

"We're moving away from the idea of 'I've got mine, you figure it out'. I'm not hiring myself, I didn't steal a job or lose a job to someone else. I'm just who they want at that time.

"Helping others and mentoring is so important – some of my closest friends are former students – and I'm blessed to be very close to my mentor, Chris Newman. He's a renowned engineer who has won three Oscars, for The English Patient, The Exorcist and Amadeus."

Pictured left to right: Ron Judkins and Andy Nelson of the Cinema Audio Society, Steven Spielberg, Bradley Cooper, Mark Ulano, Gary Rydstrom (CAS)