Interview: Greg Crawford talks about working on Georgia film and television projects

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by Ali Coad, Senior Staff Editor

Greg Crawford is am audio engineer living and working (nearly non-stop) in Georgia. He’s worked on movies like “Lincoln” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and television shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Stranger Things.” His IMDB page certainly speaks to his talent. I had the great pleasure of working with Greg years ago at a post-production/media management company called Crawford Media Services, and in addition to his talent, Greg is also one of the kindest people in the business.

First things first: what exactly is it that you do? By this, I think most folks don’t know the ins-and-outs of what ADR mixer or original dialogue mixer or audio supervisor means?

I am primarily an audio engineer working in a recording studio. From day to day and over the course of my career I’ve had the opportunity to record music, mix concert DVD’s, sound design and mix for film and TV, plus I’ve mixed literally thousands of radio and TV commercials.

Thanks to the tax incentives in Georgia and the fantastic facility that Jess Crawford (no relation) and Crawford Media Services provide to me, I have been recording a considerable amount of ADR for the last several years.

Automated Dialog Replacement or Additional Dialog Recording is the process of replacing dialog that might be noisy, off-mic, or unintelligible for a variety of reasons. The Sound Supervisor identifies the dialog that needs to be replaced and sends me a list or “cue sheet” for each actor. Most of the final mixing for features and TV happens in Los Angeles or New York, but because the filming is done in Georgia, the actors are here. I program the cues, the actor arrives at our studio and we then connect to a studio (which can be anywhere in the world) for the director, sound supervisor or producer to watch and listen in in real time. The actor can see and hear their original performance and then match the lines we are replacing.

Original Dialog Mixer refers to pre-recording dialog for animated films or series. Generally, the audio is recorded before animation begins. We often use a motion capture camera for the actor’s face and two additional cameras to capture physicality.

A Sound Supervisor is like the foreman on a construction project. I’ll interface with the producers and director and then work with a team of editors and mixers to finalize the soundtrack.

What do you like most about your job? What’s the most challenging part?

I enjoy the opportunity to work with the best directors, sound teams, producers, actors and post production studios like Warner Brothers, Disney, Sony, Technicolor and Universal.  It’s an incredible honor to work with people who are at the top of their game and whom I’ve admired for years.

Scheduling is the most challenging part of the job. It is in constant flux. We have to coordinate my schedule with that of a remote studio, actors and production. It’s always a moving target.

How did you get into your line of work?

I started playing in bands when I was 14, so a degree in music seemed like the path of least resistance. When I wasn’t accepted into The University of Cincinnati’s CCM, plan B was a degree in Communications at Xavier University. They had a fantastic full-powered student run radio station and I had a working knowledge of public speaking, microphones and consoles from band gigs. Day one at school I saw another student editing audio tape with a razor blade. She showed me how to edit and mix between the two tape machines in the Production Studio. I was hooked. I would sneak into the studio after playing the local bars and record my own projects until the morning show kicked me out.

Fast forward a few months and I realized that I couldn’t afford Xavier by playing bass and mowing lawns. I went to a professor for advice and he sent me the AudioCraft Recording Company. My ability to edit got me my first job as a “dubber”.  We used to make physical copies of commercials and programs on tape back then.  I also edited hundreds of hours of “Century 21 Typewriting, Second Edition” educational cassettes before I did my first real session around 1979. My willingness to work nights and weekends put me on a fast track to fulltime engineer. Bucky Herzog, the owner of AudioCraft Recording recorded Hank Williams’ “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Lovesick Blues” as well as Flatt and Scruggs “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. I learned from him and some other incredible engineers who previously worked at King Records with James Brown and with the Buckinghams in Louisville.  It was an unbelievably great break for me.

How has your career evolved? Was this always what you wanted to do or was the evolution surprising?

It’s funny that all these years later, it’s still mostly “record”,”cut” and “paste”. The only difference is that I am not physically cutting recording tape and splicing it back together. My editorial system is more like word processor.  The basic recording principles haven’t really changed.

I was lucky to start my career at the very beginning of electronic post production, and around the time “Star Wars” was released. I became more obsessed with sound for moving pictures than with making music.

I’ve enjoyed the evolution of technology that has made my job much easier. When I started, there wasn’t an internet or even a FedEx Overnight Letter. It would take days to move tapes or scripts around to other studios. Today, I download or send films or television shows around the world in minutes.

When and how did movies and television become a central part of your life?

I moved to Atlanta and started with Crawford Post Production in 1986 and that’s when I really started to ramp up the amount of film and TV projects I worked on. Crawford was always on the cutting edge of technology. I was one of the first engineers in Atlanta to use a digital system called a Synclavier to do sound design,

Are there movies from your childhood that had a particularly strong impact on you?

“The Wizard of Oz”, “Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, “The Werewolf”, “The Invisible Man”, The Marx Brothers films, “Thin Man”…all of the broadcast staples were favorites of mine. We didn’t have VHS or BluRay back then, so I relied on TV—especially Saturday morning TV for my film viewing.

Atlanta is a burgeoning home for moviemakers of all types, and Greg, you’ve worked with many of them. Why do you think this is? I know the tax breaks are a strong incentive, but what do you think Atlanta has that the more traditional (NYC, LA) movie-making cities don’t have?

Without question, the tax incentives are the driving force of the film and TV business here. That being said, the crews, facilities, lifestyle and cost of living in Atlanta are also very attractive to moviemakers. There’s a vibrant food and arts scene here. We have sports and entertainment opportunities and one of the finest airports in the world.  The one phrase I hear most from visitors is, “everyone here is so nice!”

In your time working within the industry, what has surprised you most? What has surprised you least?

I have to say that I am surprised by the sheer amount of work that has landed in Georgia and the amount of product that is produced. I never expected the demand for content to be so great.

I am least surprised about how much out of towners like Atlanta. When I came here, I expected to stay for two years. I’m in my 31st year here. The town really grew on me.

You have quite a resume, working on projects like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Mockingjay,” “Stranger Things,” and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Are you able to choose which projects with which you’d like to be involved? What do you look for in a project when deciding whether or not to be involved?

Most of the titles mentioned were ADR sessions and those bookings come from my relationships with the major studios and networks. As I said earlier, our ADR room is the only space in town designed for ADR. It’s big and we have the proper software to make it a bit easier on the actors. I joke that there are three things people hate to do: Go to the dentist. Go to the DMV. Do ADR. You have to understand that once an actor gives a great performance, the last thing they want to do is to recreate it. My job is to make the actor comfortable, help them match their performance and always be a step ahead of everyone to keep the process running smoothly. Every actor is different and every remote studio has their own technical specifications. After all these years, nothing much surprises me.

I rarely turn down projects. If I know that I can’t help fix something or if a project budget as it relates to the amount of time I have to finish it interferes with other projects, I’ll decline.

Which project are you most proud of? 

It’s hard to say. Each project has its own rewards. I got to mix concert DVD’s for a young Norah Jones and an aging “Spinal Tap”.  I’ve worked on blockbuster movies, recorded hundreds of projects for “The Muppets”, mixed important documentaries and have sound designed and mixed some very clever commercials. I can say that I enjoy most projects because I’m surrounded by really smart and creative people. The creative aspect is what drew me into this line of work.

Do you watch the shows or movies on which you work?

As often as possible. It’s part of the process to listen in a theater or on TV to make sure that what I do sounds good in the intended playback environment.

What do you hope for out of your career for the future?

My career has been such incredible fun that I can’t really ask or expect anything more. If it ended tomorrow I don’t think there’s anything I’d regret not doing. I used to think I was going to move to Hollywood, but now Hollywood came to me.

What do you wish people knew about the work you do?

I’ve always liked the notion that people don’t know what I do. My job is to be invisible. I don’t want the audience to be distracted by ADR, a bad mix or obvious sound effects. My job is done well if nobody notices it.

What kind of advice would you offer to anyone looking to grow a career in film, particularly in the sound department?

Network. Go to film festivals and meet the people making the films you like. Get a job as a PA to see what really happens on set.  Make films with your friends. Thelma Schoonmaker still edits for a friend she made independent films with when she was young. His name is Martin Scorsese.

Anything you’d like to plug? Where can we follow you and your career?

Well, there are a bunch of films, a show in season eight and one in season two that have been particular fun for me, but nothing I can talk about. If you are curious about seeing what I’ve been working on, look up Greg Crawford (I) on IMDB. Maybe I can get to 500 before I retire.

 

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