We interviewed Kyrsten Mate from Skywalker Sound, a sound designer with near 100 credits, including “The Great Wall” movie.
Hi Kyrsten, tell us a bit about yourself. How did you start working on audio post production?
I graduated from San Francisco State's Radio and Television department, and had done the sound design for some of the theater productions there. I lucked into an introduction to the post production team at the Saul Zaentz Film Center through a friend from high school. It was where I met Jennifer Ware, one of the first people I know of, who was working digitally instead of on mag. She gave me first an internship and later found me an apprentice position; one of the reasons being that there were very few women in post production sound (and almost none in sound effects).
How do you approach sound design on a movie? What is your usual workflow/process?
It depends on the project and on the director. Some directors either have an aesthetic fully formed regarding the sound or want to talk ideas out. Some would like to hear a wide range of ideas without giving too much input; either because they don't really think about it or they want the creatives on their team to come up with the ideas. Personally, I like to meet with the director and hear what they want to accomplish with sound design; what do they want to convey to the audience about this character or location or event? This works when working with a picture or if I only have a script.
You work at Skywalker Sound, a place with a high number of “audio legends” per square feet. Is there a person that you have as a reference (professionally or personally)? Is it daunting to keep up with the standard, or great to have the chance to learn from their experience?
I am reluctant to say one person! Right now I am honored to be working with Gary Rydstrom, a true sound artist. But truly, all the "audio legends" at Skywalker have been inspiring to work with, I am so fortunate that those people are generous with their knowledge and time. And yes, they have mighty large footsteps to follow behind.
Nowadays, with immersive formats like Dolby Atmos, do you edit or create sounds differently? Did the new formats make any changes to your workflow?
I do think about which sounds will end up in which specific speaker much more than just in a portion of the theater. Also, Tomorrowland taught me to think of sounds in different ways - that the editing of portions of effects into bits and disparate places can change how they are perceived. And in addition to the motion given to the sound through an Atmos mix, I also create the sound of motion within the effect itself. I have loved doing just this using Sound Particles. Creating the audio illusion of movement as well as spacializing many tiny pieces that are easily translatable into an Atmos mix.
You have used Sound Particles on “The Great Wall”. Can you give us one example of application on that movie?
"The Great Wall" had so many scenes tailor made for Sound Particles. I created the swarming hordes of Tao Tei out of just a few Tao Tei cries utilizing Sound Particles' randomization of pitch and special depth. The director Z Myou wanted the swarm to sound like screaming crashing waves, and I was able to create this also in Sound Particles.
What is your favorite feature of Sound Particles?
It truly is a unique tool for creating a dense and varied bed of sounds out of a limited amount of effects, or a very randomized bed for a complex scene. Artful randomization is hard! Sound Particles makes it so much easier. I am also looking forward to using it for synthesis of new sounds; building an effect from individual bits that contribute to its whole.
And what is your personal taste when it comes to movies? Any guilty pleasures?
Is "Mad Max: Fury Road" a guilty pleasure?
Although there are fantastic female professionals like yourself, women continue to be a minority within audio post professionals. Does it have a social/cultural cause? What can we do to change this? What are your thoughts?
When young women choosing their career path look at successful professionals in a field and see very very few women into the top creative positions, it is easy to see why there are not many women choosing to go into that field. I really believe one of the ways to get more highly creative women into post production in the future is to show them there can be a future for them in the profession. Recently, Skywalker (and the successful women in post at Skywalker) have been involved in outreach to young women through women in audio organizations and through sheparding women into editing or tech positions. I believe it is necessary being this is a freelance industry. It is really wonderful that they are supporting this.
This interview will probably be read by several students. What advice would you give to someone that is just starting a career in audio post-production?
As I pointed out, I was very lucky to meet someone who wanted to give me a chance. However, I always advise people trying to break into the business that the most successful people are always up for the opportunity. The moment I started my film career, the industry was switching from mag to digital. I would learn whatever new technology was being floated, I was always at the ready to be on board with it. Also, my most successful times in the business have come about from me listening to what others (a director, a supervisor) needs and helping them accomplish that.