Enhancing Filmmaking Through Sound Editing

Exclusive interview with Supervising Sound Editor Mandell Winter

Posted on Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Enhancing Filmmaking Through Sound Editing

Supervising Sound Editor Mandell Winter has supervised sound editing and mixing teams for Apple's Defending Jacob, HBO's Outsider, & Quibi's #FreeRayshawn. Mandell received two Emmy nominations last year for his work on HBO's Deadwood: The Movie and Season 3 of HBO's True Detective. Additionally, in 2019 he received two MPSE Golden Reel Award nominations for True Detective, a third for Deadwood, and a fourth for What's My Name: Muhammad Ali.

He talked exclusively to ProductionHUB about how COVID has altered his day-to-day, breaking into the industry (accidentally!) and what film made him tear up. 

PH: Hi Mandell! What does your day-to-day look like right now through this pandemic? 

Mandell Winter: I’m currently on hiatus from a feature film and helping my wife homeschool our 7-year-old. We are hopeful that we will be back to work in August. In the meantime, I’m also discussing best practices moving forward with colleagues to figure out how we are going to get back to work.

PH: How did you get into the industry? 

Mandell Winter: I came up through the vault and moved into the sound department at a facility specializing in foreign versioning. I wasn’t at the right facility for what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know that at the time. Eventually, I met a few people and started sitting in with them at Soundelux. I'd spend my mornings there, and then go work my second shift over at my regular job. After some time, the folks I shadowed gave me reels to conform, Foley to edit. Everything progressed from there.

PH: Can you describe some of your first projects and how you've grown as a sound editor throughout your career? 

Mandell Winter: I started working on movies of the week and small indie films. I was learning on the job, figuring out what worked and what didn’t, and making mistakes and growing from them. It wasn’t until the film Olympus has Fallen, directed by Antoine Fuqua, that my career really opened up. My co-supervisor David Esparza and I worked tirelessly to make sure we got it right. After that experience, we moved to Sony, where we worked on the first Equalizer film with Antoine. From there, we continued to focus on a high level of output regardless of the budget or size of the screen. 

PH: Who are some of your influences?

Mandell Winter: As I have worked in this field, I have also become a student of it. I learn something new every day from my co-supervisor David Esparza. His cinematic sensibilities are on point. I also look at everyone working around me; they’re all doing such great work. It is also impossible not to recognize those who established the path coming from mag to Pro Tools and seeing what they were able to accomplish.  

PH: Can you talk about your current projects and some of your favorite moments to edit? 

Mandell Winter: Unfortunately, I can’t talk about my current project. However, this last year I finished up The Outsider, Defending Jacob, and #FreeRayShawn.

PH: What have been some of your favorite projects to work on? 

Mandell Winter: The Outsider, Defending Jacob, and #FreeRayShawn are all shows that I truly value my experience on. These shows from a sonic perspective are surprisingly complex. It may not appear that way from the outside looking in. In working with the dialogue, we had very quiet, subtle performances that we needed to boost above the noise floor. We cut the boom and lav together, double cut if you will, to provide more richness of voice. There is also a tendency when cutting flashbacks to make them big, so they really pop. Morten (Director Morten Tyldum) didn’t want that in Defending Jacob. He was looking more for subtlety in them, and less heavy-handed. Something where you would cut off all the attack from the sound and only have the decay. It reminded me of some of sound design we did in Killing Them Softly.   

In The Outsider, Jason (Executive Producer Jason Bateman) was looking for us to lean into the suspense of the unknown while avoiding the typical horror tropes associated with the genre in The Outsider. As El Cuco speaks to his victims in a whispered tone, we maintained elements of the host’s voice while also introducing animalistic sounds in the later episodes. Sound and music elevated everything here to really embrace the insidious darkness.

In contrast, working with Antoine Fuqua on #FreeRayShawn for Quibi brought our cinematic sound style to an even smaller screen. Having worked on several projects with Antoine, we knew it had to have bold sound effects, rich backgrounds, and that crowds would become a character in their own right. It had to feel authentic for the audience to truly experience this tragic story, and the sound needed to cater to that. It is saddening that this story hits so close to home right now. And I feel ill-prepared to speak about it right now.  

PH: What are some of the challenges you've faced as a sound editor? 

Mandell Winter: Time is always a challenge. There is never enough time. It's hard hustling for projects and working long hours, but it's truly rewarding to see what we can do with sound as we contribute to telling these stories.

PH: What film(s) have inspired you the most? Why?

Mandell Winter: I took a general filmmaking class in high school by accident. I was trying to get into a graphic arts class, but it was full. In the first few days of class, we watched three films that opened me up to the possibilities of film. Raging Bull, Do the Right Thing, and Barton Fink. I know that they are not the typical films that sound professionals talk about. It’s not Star Wars or Apocalypse Now. But I saw the possibility.  

There was something about that soundtrack in Barton Fink that just hooked me. The wallpaper slowly peeled off the wall, the fly buzzing around the room that drove Barton mad, and that quintennial sound of the bell at the front desk of the hotel. It taught me that simplicity can be beautiful.  

I also have a tendency to look at films that have something new to say. I loved Ford vs. Ferrari. I teared up when the credits rolled. I texted one of the guys on the sound crew from the theater to say that I thought it was one of the best sound jobs I had ever heard. They took a racing movie to a whole new level.  

PH: How do you think the future of the industry will change?

Mandell Winter: I’m optimistic because I think sound will play an even bigger role. Currently, we are seeing more and more filmmakers moving to the smaller screen.  They want to explore long story arcs that require 8 to 10 hours to tell the story, but they still want that same approach as a film. We continue to see Atmos in the home theater delivery for television. So, we will strive and continue to deliver at a high-level regardless of budget or time restraints.