A Chat with Kennedy Phillips
When the sound on a show is working well, no one thinks twice about it, and that's how it should be. But that also means the people behind the mix board and foley stages don't get much of the spotlight. We wanted to dig a little deeper into our editors, to demystify what we do and how we think -- to shine a light on the mix stage we call home.
Kennedy Phillips is our Animation and Podcast Supervisor, aka our sound magician. He was one of the first people to join MelodyGun in 2015 after meeting Hamed at Chapman film school. He's written and produced content, including a 5 hour audio drama series, Magus Elgar, which was nominated for Best Original Work at the 2019 Audio Publishers Association. The unique over the top style he brings to sound design found a perfect match when working on the pilot for Hazbin Hotel, an adult humor cartoon, which went viral (+53m views to date) and was subsequently snatched up by A24. A film buff, avid gamer and podcast fanatic... he's one of the most charismatic people here.
How do you build a solid creatively-fulfilling relationship with directors?
One of my favorite directors to work with has been Vivienne Medrano (Hazbin Hotel, Helluva Boss): it's a work relationship where I get a lot of creative freedom, more than with most other directors. Early on, we sat down and really got into our favorite projects, and other work out there, and why we liked the sound design in them. It let us develop a mutual understanding of her tastes and how best to emulate them in the audio. Viv has always put a lot of focus on incorporating music into her work, so it's easy to work with her on high concept sound design. Once I develop the layers, I work with Vivienne to tailor the options to best fit her vision. Not every director is comfortable with you giving them a little too much, and exploring things that are "out there", so it's been a lot of fun.
One thing that's defined my relationship with directors is communication: I'm often sharing sound samples I adore, to see if we can't integrate them into what we're working on. It does mean an inbox full of links to dolphins, or angry frogs, or clips of cracking ice... but, hey, I'm sure directors have looked at stranger stuff to get inspired!
Working on project after project, how do you find inspiration?
I'm a sucker for over-the-top high concept design. I love making things that sound new and land with that perfect impact. Audio is a universe we take for granted, it's not something you learn to pay attention to in school the same way people learn to analyze writing, but you still FEEL it, even if you can't tell why. My life's filled with sounds that I can spend hours trying to replicate. Something I do to keep myself inspired is, when I hear a sound, I try to deconstruct it to understand it better. It's true for films, or real life, I once spent a few hours trying to figure out why the white bellbird sounds louder than a jet engine. I ask myself why my favorite noises sound like they do, and how to bring them to the screen, it's hard to be uninspired with a few of those mysteries to puzzle on.
We see career-long director / sound designer relationships (like Genndy Tartakovsky and Joel Valentine) all the time. How can filmmakers find the right sound designer and vise-versa?
Do you want your design subtle or bombastic? Stylized, or grounded? For sound designers out there, I'd say the first step in landing a project is to have clips ready that show off the styles you can bring to the table, especially the ones you're passionate about. Directors? Don't be afraid to look for sound designers from your favorite projects, online or off, and let them know what you're looking for: you'd be surprised how often they're raring to jump on board. I'd say that's the part that matters most, putting your style out there and matching with filmmakers looking for what you can offer.
From your perspective, what is one thing that filmmakers can do to help you do the best work in post?
Something most filmmakers don't think about during development and shooting is how sound design needs to be considered at a much earlier stage to really be impactful. Sure, you could leave all the sound stuff until post production, but I think the best films and shows develop a fascinating soundscape from script onward, and weave sound into the story as its own character. This is especially true for horror films, where setting up sound can be just as atmospheric as bringing a location to life visually. If you work your story to involve reacting to the sound in play, it makes the world all the more immersive. That's why we started offering location sound mixing here, to get involved with the show sooner.
What is the one thing you wish would change about the way post production is currently handled?
I'd love for sound design to be given more time and opportunity to experiment. Most projects expect the audio to get done in a fraction of the time compared to other departments. We can certainly handle it in that time, but some of the best ideas come into play once you've had a little time with the project to think and deconstruct what it needs.
Follow Kennedy on Twitter and Instagram @magusserling for informative (and funny) posts on sound design, podcasts, cartoons and beyond! He doesn't bite.