Studio City, California – On February 27th,
Supervising Sound Editor and Sound Designer Richard King will receive the
Motion Picture Sound Editors’ 2016 Career Achievement Award. A three-time
Academy Award winner (Inception, The Dark Knight and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), King will join
such previous sound professionals as Skip Lievsay, Randy Thom, Larry Singer,
Walter Murch and George Watters II as a recipient of the MPSE’s highest honor.
King began his career in the early ‘80s when editing sound
meant working with Moviolas and mag. An early adopter of digital technology, he
embraced tools that not only allowed him to better manipulate sound, but also
to discover and experience sound in new ways. On the other hand, his artistic
values and the way he goes about his work have remained consistent, varying
little over a career spanning three decades and more than 80 films. He is
currently working on SUICIDE SQUAD for
director David Ayer.

“The way I work hasn’t changed very much,” King says. “On my
first film, I didn’t have access to a sound library, so I started recording the
sounds that I needed. I still like to do lots of recording. The editing tools
themselves have become very powerful, and great time-savers, but the imagining
process takes what it takes. The digital tools allow the time for a lot more
experimentation than was possible on film.”
Richard King

For King, creating sound for a film usually begins with
research. In preparation for the space epic Interstellar,
King combed through audio archives maintained by NASA. “They have fantastic
audio and video libraries, all available online for free,” he observes. “It’s
not usable as motion picture sound, but it’s very inspiring material for ideas.
When you listen to a shuttle launch, when you hear what the astronauts heard
inside the cabin (or would hear if they had their helmets off), you really start
to appreciate what a powerful event a launch is. There’s lots of random bangs.
It’s very loud, but as the atmosphere gets thinner, it gets progressively quieter
– literally within a few minutes.  Really
shows the extreme physical sensations of space travel.”
King’s Interstellar sound
also drew inspiration from amateur recordings of a large meteor that crashed in
central Russia in 2013. “It was captured by dashboard cams and people filming
out their windows,” he recalls. “One in particular included multiple sonic
booms generated as the meteor broke apart high in the atmosphere. It sounded
like a huge sky dragster backfiring for many seconds.  Very impressive.  It was clearly a very large sound happening a
long way away. Hearing something like that is good inspiration when you’re
trying to make sounds for some very powerful event.”

King says he received his film education from working with
amazing directors. Robert Altman, Nicolas Roeg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Peter
Weir, and Christopher Nolan are some of the directors with whom he’s collaborated. “I’m lucky to work with directors who
are very interested in sound,” he says. “They are active participants in the
creation of the track and passionate about the sounds in their movies.”
He has worked with Nolan long enough that they usually
dispense with an initial spotting session to discuss sound. “I start sending
Chris and his editor, Lee Smith, sounds early on for them to use and provide me
with feedback. This gives us a common frame of reference to work from.”
A sound can be difficult to describe in words. King recalls
a memorable scene from War of the Worlds when
towering alien machines burst out of the ground and rise into the air.
“Spielberg wanted something very specific for the alien tripods ‘voice’; he knew
what he wanted it to sound like, and actually performed the sound for me,” King
says. “It turned out to be not so easy to make though. The trick was getting it
to sound like it was coming from those huge threatening machines and was a
sound you could hear for miles. It needed to be scary, aggressive and dirty –
almost lo-fi. It was a bit of a journey to get to there but when I finally made
the sound Steven heard in his head, it was a big relief.”

King often spends 30 or more weeks working on a big, studio
film. Sound work on Master and Commander
spanned a full year. King notes that, as part of his own preparation, Peter
Weir spent weeks on a period sailing ship in the waters off Australia in order
to better understand the experience of 19th century sailors. He urged
King to recreate the aural side of their world. “A wooden ship is a living
thing, it creaks and groans, it speaks,” he says. “Peter knew that sound would
be a big part of making the audience feel that they were on that ship.”
For Weir’s 2010 film The
Way Back
, about escapees from a Soviet gulag who trek 4,000 miles to
freedom, King went to extraordinary lengths to add realism to that most basic
of sound effects: the footstep. “The characters walk from Siberia to India.
They walk through snow, across the Gobi Desert, over mountains. It’s a movie
with a lot of walking,” he observes.

“We normally record footsteps on a Foley stage but for this
film we recorded footsteps in remote exterior locations, the California desert for
sand and Montana to record footsteps in snow. We then cut those footsteps like
sound effects, one by one. We wanted to emphasize the character’s struggle, the
sound of their footsteps became like their pulse. As small a detail as the
right footsteps can make a difference in how you perceive their world.”
In advising young sound editors seeking a career in film
sound, King counsels persistence. “Don’t give up. Keep pushing,” he urges.
“Sound editing is not a ‘normal job’ and there are a lot of passionate people
who want to do it. You have to be patient and you have to network. It’s like
fishing, the more lines you put out, the better your chance of getting a bite.”
For his part, King has lost none of the enthusiasm or drive
that first drew him to the craft of sound. “I love what I do,” he says. “If
you’re engrossed in your work, if it challenges and excites you, if you
continue to learn and expand your mind, what could be better than that? I find
it an enjoyable way to spend my day.”
About MPSE
Founded in 1953, the Motion
Picture Sound Editors is a non-profit organization of professional sound and
music editors who work in the motion pictures and television industry. The
organization’s mission is to provide a wealth of knowledge from award winning
professionals to a diverse group of individuals, youth and career professionals
alike; mentoring and educating the community about the artistic merit and
technical advancements in sound and music editing; providing scholarships for
the continuing advancement of motion picture sound in education; and helping to
enhance the personal and professional lives of the men and women who practice
this unique craft.
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