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Profile: Scott Purdy

by Derek MartinScott Purdy

Scott Purdy's name is one that you'll see if you stay for the credits at the movies, As a re-recording mixer, he's one of the last people to work on a film before it gets printed and handed over to the theatre. He's just received his second Genie nomination, for his work on Lilies (the first was for Johnny Mnemonic). I had called him last winter for some sound advice, and he took a couple of hours out of a recent trip home from Toronto to drop by City Cinema and chat.

After graduating from the Trebas Institute of Recording Arts in Toronto in the early eighties he got a job at Eastern Sound (a recording studio), starting in shipping and becoming a studio assistant. He compares a his time there, which included albums by Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot as well as work with Bob Dylan, to being a nurse at an operation, assisting the engineers technically. He also got hands-on experience, bringing friends in for their own projects after-hours.

Scott felt he was being held back at Eastern, and reluctantly left to go to Film House, a Toronto post-production facility now known as Deluxe Toronto. As his skills developed, so did his understanding of the politics of a business where huge talents mix freely with huge egos and insecurities. Scott describes his work as being twenty-five per cent technical skills and seventy-five per cent people skills.

A turning point for Scott was the day he put his job on the line in a confrontation with Sonny Grosso, the real-life cop from the French Connection, who had become a producer. Scott had mixed the first episode of Top Cops for him, but Sonny's advisors had it redone. Appalled when he saw it on TV, he said so when Sonny, with his entourage of eighteen people, began taking apart the second show. He fully expected to be fired, but won his argument. Sonny worked exclusively with Scott for the next three years, until Scott made the move to feature films.

Since then, Scott has mixed several dozen films, including Camilla, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, and Stargate, for which he received a Golden Reel nomination. Most recently, Maximum Risk was released, and Scott talked about what goes into a big budget sound mix.

For Maximum Risk he started with 48 tracks of atmospheres, 96 tracks of specific effects, 8 tracks of dialogue, 2 tracks of crowd noises, 12 tracks of music, and 32 tracks of foley (studio recorded sounds like footsteps). He first boiled these down to a six-channel premix, with 4 tracks of background, 8 specific effects, 1 of dialogue recorded while shooting (sync sound), 1 of dialogue recorded afterwards (ADR or looped sound), 2 of crowd sounds (1 general and 1 specific), and 2 tracks of foley. The final stage, called stem recording, involved mixing all this down to 6 channels of dialogue, music, and effects, and 4 of foley. These 22 tracks are then mastered onto the 6 tracks needed for digital surround sound - left, right, centre, left and right surrounds, and subwoofer. In the case of Maximum Risk, this was accomplisehed working with director Ringo Lam, a Hong Kong star making his first Hollywood film, who had never worked in anything but mono sound!

I asked Scott if he ever used his own voice when he was stuck, and he said that he's somewhere in every film he's done, filling in something they forgot to record, like Bruce Willis drawing on his cigarettes in In Country. He also commented that his philosophy is that less is more-you can only do so much, and that mixing is about creating space. Scott says his best compliment came from his father, Island artist Henry Purdy, who told him that what he did wasn't too different from what Henry does, but he paints with sound.

Lilies, which he describes as the neatest thing he's ever done, will be playing at City Cinema.

Derek Martin is the owner and operator of City Cinema in Charlottetown.

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