By Mollee Harper, Senior Editor
Georgia Film News caught up with Production Sound Mixer Aaron “Cujo” Cooley of Atlanta Sound Guy, LLC. Is he busy? Cujo is shooting two movies back to back for Tyler Perry Studios. During a break, Cujo shares his passion in sound and journey to become the Atlanta Sound Guy. He provides insights into the nuances of his trade in producing and mixing sounds for film, television and commercials, the value of his sound crew, and the union, and offers advice for others who want to find an entry into Georgia’s booming film industry.
Cujo offered, “I was born and raised in Ithaca NY by way of Etna. From the time I was under 10 years old, my stepfather had a rock-n-roll band that enjoyed a fair level of success in the upstate NY region. I was exposed to live music at an early age and grew up in that arena, doing sound work as a pro-hobby for nearly 20 years. For a living, I had always been self-employed surrounding the construction trades. When the economy went in the tanks, someone mentioned I should get into the growing movie industry. My first job was on Fast and Furious 5. Not long after that I had an accident that put me out of work for a year. During that time, the union was putting on different classes for the industry. One was on sound. I went and met a few people and figured out you can make a really good living mixing sound, and started doing sound work. Through the boom of the film world here in Atlanta from 2010 to today, I’ve climbed through the ranks and have been mixing sound full time now for several years and have found where I always wanted to be.”
Cujo explained, “As a Production Sound Mixer, my job is to accurately capture every word of dialogue that happens on the set and deliver that cleanly to the editors in post production so they can mix it all in with the picture.”
“My saying is this – Without good sound, it’s just surveillance. Nobody notices good sound until you have bad sound, and then everyone notices.”
He offered, “If the picture is bad you can attribute that to many things, you may even call it art, and you might stay and push through it. If the sound is bad, most people check out after about 7 seconds (according to statistics).”
“The challenge in my job is to capture sound necessary for production but in a way so that people don’t notice. We want the sounds to happen seamlessly.”
“A lot of times, we manage the environment more than anything else. We have to be aware of all of the outside noises including planes, trains, and even people walking by and talking. That is as much of our job as holding a mic in front of an actors face.”
Cujo explained, “The unique thing about most Sound Departments is that there are typically only three people. Because the Sound Department is so small it’s important to assemble a crew that works seamlessly together. When you find a sound crew like that, you do everything you can to keep that crew together.”
“I have one of those crews. Pam Cooley is my wife. She serves as my A2 and Sound Utility. We’ve been together since 1987. We work together on every big job. Steve Young is my Boom Operator and we’ve worked together for two years. My youngest son, Keith also works in the business and joins my crew when we have additional days.”
Cujo continued, “With a sound crew, believe it or not, everyone has their own style about what they do. There is a bit of art to a lot that in capturing and mixing sounds. Different people have different things they hear and hone in on. I really mesh with my Boom Operator. Our ears are in sync.”
“As far as the sound utility goes, Pam equips the talent and all of the actors on set with microphones. She interfaces with the entire cast, and develops an instant rapport with them which is important. She is placing microphones inside their clothes within minutes of meeting them. Once you find someone who can establish trust and is highly professional like that, you do everything you can to hang on to them.”
“For some projects, like Tyler Perry work, there are large casts and it requires a lot of work to catch all of the sounds. On projects like these I may bring in a crew up to 10. That can fluctuate up or down depending on what you are shooting,” he said.
Cujo offered, “The tax incentive program is absolutely huge. It is the single biggest reason why Georgia enjoys being number two in the film production world. We’ve surpassed NY now. The main reason that has happened is the tax incentive program and the fact the Governor and our state government at large is committed to make sure we don’t lose that tax incentive. As a result of this, thousands of local crew are working in the business. The financial impact to the state is measured in billions of dollars. “
“When I joined the filmmakers union here, we had a few hundred members. Now we have over 4,000 members. The growth we are experiencing is based 100% on those tax credits getting them here. We also have Hartsfield to fly actors, filmmakers and directors here in no time. If you travel our state, you can find almost any look in environment you need in Georgia. We have doubled for Miami Beach, New York, vintage rural America, and so many other looks that filmmakers need for their films.”
Cujo added, “One of the things about being the second largest film production center in the US is that we now have an enormous group of people fighting for coveted jobs. It sometimes becomes hard for new professionals to get in the business. I do train a lot of people under me.”
“The advice I would share is this. Start at the bottom and have a long term plan for success. You aren’t going to make it in one year. You need to have a 5-year plan. You need to hone your craft, and network, network, network. Success comes with people who seek it out and network to find it. That really is the key to success in the sound world in Atlanta. Get to know as many people as you can, hone your skills and be patient.”
Cujo concluded, “I was fortunate that I got in the business as the bubble was building and it helped carry me to the top of my trade. I really got in at a magical moment. Once I got in, what helped me stay working is the fact that I do very good work, I have an amazing crew that makes us look really good, and I work very hard at building personal relationships with producers and creatives that do the hiring and creating of new projects.”
“Once you get in the door, you kill yourself to show that customer that you deliver more than what they are paying. I do that everything single time.”
Atlanta Sound Guy, LLC was founded by Aaron “Cujo” Cooley in 2010 and is based out of Atlanta, Georgia. Cooley works on location as a Production Sound Mixer on films, television and commercial productions throughout the Metro Atlanta area with experience in reality, scripted drama, sit-com, feature films, corporate sound, commercials, and documentary sounds. He is a member of IATSE Local 479 and a C.A.S. Associate Member.
A few highlights of Cujo’s work as a Production Sound Mixer include:
Saints and Sinners (Season 1 and 2) on Bounce TV, Steel Country by Bedlam Productions (Produced by Oscar Winner, Gareth Ellis-Unwin), The Accountant by Warner Bros., Southern Uncovered with the Lee Brothers and Ovation, Dancin’ The Dream on UPtv, Devious Maids (Season 2) on ABC, The Originals (Season 2), Term Life with Vince Vaughn, The Trip to Bountiful on Lifetime, The Happenings on BBC London NATGEO, Multiple seasons of The Walking Dead and Vampire Diaries, and Tyler Perry Studios/Oprah Winfrey Network’s Have and Have Nots, Love Thy Neighbor, and For Better or Worse.
Cooley shared, “Close to 30 years ago, I was working in the building trade for a small company. There were three of us named Aaron including the CEO. One day the lady that answered the phones decided there had to be an easier way to identify the three of us. So because I am incredibly loyal, a go getter, and I don’t easily take no for an answer – the CEO nicknamed me Cujo. It stuck and I’ve been called Cujo ever since.”
For more information on Aaron “Cujo” Cooley and Atlanta Sound Guy, LLC visit: http://atlantasoundguy.com/.