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Exclusive Interview with Mike James Gallagher and Anthony Vanchure The Emmy Nominated Sound Duo Who Collaborated on “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

Mike James Gallagher is an Emmy-nominated sound designer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Most recently he was the sound designer of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.

Mike is currently sound designing on multiple features including a film for The Sundance Institute as well as commercials for Kristen Bell’s creative studio, Dunshire Productions, for which he also is a re-recording mixer.

Mike is also the creator of INDEPTH Sound Design, a popular audio education platform which uses notable film and television to demonstrate the craft of sound design. His videos have been used in institutions of higher learning as well as featured in many mainstream and global publications.

Mike began his professional sound design career on the short film, Verbatim, which was an official selection at Sundance Film Festival. He went on to work on Netflix’s 1922, an adaptation of a Stephen King novella, Netflix’s Song Exploder, a series based on the popular podcast, HBO’s Phoenix Rising, Hulu/FX’s Hysterical, and Amazon’s Lucy and Desi, for which he was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Sound Editing. He is also extremely passionate about sound design education, having produced and directed masterclasses for Oscar-nominated sound designers Richard King and Mark Mangini.

Mike James Gallagher grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, starting out as a recording engineer and playing synthesizers in many local music acts. It was at this time he developed a love for film sound. He moved to Brooklyn, NY, then soon after to Los Angeles, CA to work at 20th Century Fox to become a post-production generalist. He inevitably pursued his true passion, sound design. 

Anthony Vanchure is an Emmy-nominated Supervising Sound Editor based in Los Angeles, CA. His most recent work includes “Honk for Jesus” and the upcoming “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”.

Anthony recently worked with Tom Delonge, from Blink 182, on his upcoming feature “Monsters of Califorina”. He is currently working on indie horror-comedy “Onyx The Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls”, as well as an upcoming feature film for the Sundance Institute.

Anthony began his sound editing career on the independent horror feature, “Fever Night”. He went on to edit on “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, for which he was nominated for  a Golden-Reel Award. He moved up to supervising sound editor for Netflix’s “1922”, an adaptation of a Stephen King novella, “Song Exploder”, a series based on the popular podcast, and Amazon’s Lucy and Desi, for which he was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Sound Editing. 

As a child of a military family, Anthony Vanchure grew up all over The United States. He connected with music and movies early on and developed a love for audio. Moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in audio post, he got his start at POP Sound. Working his way up from vault clerk to assistant editor, he eventually landed his dream job of supervising sound editor. 

Can you tell us about the job of a sound editor? What does the day-to-day look like, and how will viewers be able to tell when a piece of media has a solid sound editor attached?

Mike James Gallagher: When filming a movie, TV show, or project, the main goal on set is to record the dialogue. This means that when I receive a project as a sound designer, I work as if the dialogue is the only thing we’re going to keep. That leaves everything else, aside from the music, to be created from scratch. Without a proper soundscape, a film can feel dreadfully uncinematic. George Lucas famously said that “sound is 50% of the moviegoing experience.” David Lynch went even further to say “in some scenes, the sound is almost 100%.” So it’s the sound designer’s job to collaborate with the director and supervising sound editor to contribute to a fully fleshed-out soundtrack for the project.

This recent week has been a good example of what a sound designer does from day to day. I’ve been working on a short animated project and just yesterday I was setting the scene of a nightmarish hellscape using sounds from my library including fire and squealing pigs. I also altered a recording of an audience in a comedy club to create the sound of laughing demons. Today, on the same project, I was creating the lush sound of footsteps on grass, and recording some delicate creaking and clinking of a leather belt. Every day can be wildly different, but my main goal is always the same: to support the story and the visuals by using sound in any way I can.

People often say that great sound design should go unnoticed. The argument is that it should only leave you feeling immersed and that only distracting sound design will make itself known. Certain genres like horror and sci-fi, though, seem to always have people mentioning “sound design” because it’s usually abstract or world-building in interesting ways. If I’m judging sound design myself I’m judging to hear if it’s emotionally appropriate, evolving, and vividly textural. I never want it to sound dull, static, or lifeless, unless that’s what the story is dictating at that moment. The visuals of a great movie are deep and rich, as should be the soundtrack.

Anthony Vanchure: The role of a sound editor is extremely important during the post-production of a film. Our task is to edit and combine all the audio components, such as dialogue, sound effects, foley, music, and additional sounds, to create the final soundtrack. We collaborate closely with the director to ensure that the soundtrack aligns with their creative vision. Our daily tasks vary depending on the film project. For instance, some days we might be cutting the dialogue of a dramatic scene while other days we may be editing intense action scenes with lots of explosions. Or sometimes, we spend an entire day just trying to find one specific sound. Hah. The job is exciting because each project presents unique challenges.

You both worked as joint Supervising Sound Editors on the Sundance selection film Onyx the Fortuitous and The Talisman of Souls. What was this experience like, and how did the two of you work to enhance the overall sound of the film?

Mike James Gallagher: I’ve been working as a sound designer with the director, Andrew Bowser, for over a decade. I’ve been talking to him about the Onyx film since before he began the Kickstarter campaign to finance it. Anthony’s extensive experience as a supervising sound editor with Formosa Group proved indispensable in tackling a huge project like this. Onyx is a film with demons, and ghouls, all against the backdrop of a mysterious mansion so it was a blast to work with Andrew to create the world of the film. Andrew particularly loved the sounds I designed of the thunder and huge textured wooden doors. People might be surprised by the amount of work to make sounds like that vibrant and expressive, especially in a genre film like Onyx the Fortuitous.

Anthony Vanchure: Mike and I have had a long working relationship. As joint supervisors, working together was a natural progression for us. We complement each other very well, So working together on “Onyx the Fortuitous” was a very easy-going experience. Also getting to work with the director, Andrew Bowser, and producer/actress, Olivia Taylor Dudley was such a thrill. They were so open to experimenting with new ideas to enhance the film, making the process even more enjoyable. 

Were there any sequences in Onyx that were particularly challenging or rewarding? How so?

Mike James Gallagher: I was the core sound designer and sound effects editor of the film, so the sheer volume of sounds I had to create was challenging. But since I have such a good rapport with the director, we’d turn our sound design meetings into fun meet-ups where we’d have beer, whiskey, and delivery food while listening to all the crazy sounds I made. A couple of the sessions were even live-streamed on his YouTube channel, so that was fun.

Anthony Vanchure: One of the most challenging scenes for me in “Onyx” was the big climax of the movie. It was critical for us to maintain the performances of the actors. Unfortunately, the production audio had a lot of background noise from wind and fog machines on set, making it difficult to hear the actors. This was especially crucial as it was the end of the film. Thankfully, I had some great plug-ins to help clean up the original audio and make it usable without having to replace it with ADR. I know everyone was incredibly happy when they found out that we could keep the original audio takes.

The two of you also worked on the Weird Al biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Is there any particular sequence that you’re most proud of from the film?

Mike James Gallagher: The most fun scene in the movie for me is when Dr. Demento covertly slips Weird Al the LSD-laced guacamole, sparking a wild hallucination sequence. Our re-recording mixer, Tony Solis, commented on how well I had organized the sounds in that sequence, enabling us to quickly work through the intricate mix. That speed was crucial, given our tight mixing schedule. I remember we all felt relieved after that first mixing pass, and both the director, Eric Appel, and Weird Al loved how it turned out.

Anthony Vanchure: There are so many moments that I am proud of in “Weird”. making it difficult to choose just one. However, one scene that stands out is the biker bar scene where the crowd starts singing along to “I Love Rocky Road.” While I was working on the film, I had a birthday BBQ with my friends, and Mike and I decided to record everyone singing the song in my garage. The recording turned out fantastic, and we decided to incorporate it into the movie.  So I am proud to say that it’s me and all my friends singing along with Weird Al in the film. 

You also received an Emmy nomination for your work on Lucy and Desi last year and three MPSE Golden Reel nominations this year. Can you talk about how it felt to receive those nominations?

Mike James Gallagher: Just getting the job to do sound for the Lucy and Desi doc and getting to collaborate with the director, Amy Poehler, was already huge. Working on such a well-crafted documentary and then receiving recognition on that level was truly amazing. Although we didn’t win in our category, we’ll always be able to say, “We lost to The Beatles.”

Anthony Vanchure: Being nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Reel was an incredible moment for me. I remember calling my girlfriend and telling her that she would now have to refer to me as “my Emmy-nominated boyfriend.” Haha. But it was such a thrilling experience to hear the news of our nominations. This job requires a lot of hard work, so being recognized by our peers in the industry was a huge honor.

Mike, in addition to your work as a Sound Editor, you are also the creator of INDEPTH Sound Design, an educational platform, YouTube channel, and a treasure trove of sound design inspiration. What got you into that?

Mike James Gallagher: A massive inspiration behind my career in sound was the DVD special features on releases like Terminator 2 and Lord of the Rings. Even though both of those films are decades old, the filmmaking insights provided on those discs is still inspiring. After the rise of streaming services, special features like that are becoming scarce which motivated me to preserve sound design featurettes on my INDEPTH channel. Going forward I’d love to acquire the resources needed to produce more exclusive content. Anthony and I have an upcoming episode for the Weird movie, and I’ve recently been interviewing other great sound designers like Richard King and Mark Mangini. My Instagram and YouTube pages have a lot of great videos, which even non-filmmakers find fascinating. Go check them out!

What are you guys looking forward to in 2023?

Mike James Gallagher: I can mention a couple of things right now: I’m gearing up for a trip to Denmark to meet with Peter Albrechtsen, the sound designer of the new film Evil Dead Rise, to shoot some INDEPTH Sound Design videos. I also have the opportunity to record and release a sound FX library that I’m super excited about but can’t share any details yet!

Anthony Vanchure: Well, I’m always looking forward to working with Mike on new things. There are some cool projects lined up in 2023 that I can’t discuss at the moment, but I can tell you that they are going to be a lot of fun.

What do you think?

Written by Neill Frazer

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