“Kicking The Competition!” – Q&A with Patrick Hogan

Patrick Hogan is a Film Director at JohnHog Danger Productions and Sound Supervisor at Technicolor Sound Services. Along with working as a writer/director, Patrick is a highly accomplished sound editor and supervising sound editor with more than 100 television shows and movies to his credit including the current hit series, Cobra Kai. He’s earned seven Emmy nominations and three Golden Reel Awards for his work on shows such as HBO’s Six Feet Under and Fox’s Family Guy. Currently, his award-winning sci-fi/romance short film, “Virtually” is available to rent on Amazon Prime and his new short film, the sci-fi/horror “Killing Time” will premiere in 2021. In 2021 you will be able to hear his work as a supervising sound editor on seasons 3 and 4 of “Cobra Kai” on Netflix, season 3 of the CW hit, “Roswell, New Mexico” and the new Netflix original series “Maid”.

How did you get into a career in Sound Editing? Can you describe your earliest influences?

I moved to LA to be a filmmaker. As a kid I loved writing: short stories, little skits and plays. And then as a teenager I got into acting a little bit in local theater. And I’m also a tech junkie. And so as I neared graduation from high school those three interests sort of merged into filmmaking, and I’ve been making films ever since. But when I moved to LA to attend USC film school, I realized that everyone wants to do that. So I also saw my time at USC as a chance to learn technical skills that could support me (and later my family) while I made my films.

I had worked in radio as a DJ during high school so already had some sound-editing experience going into film school and one of the thesis films had assembled a really top-notch crew and needed a sound person, so I signed up to crew it. And as luck would have it, the sound instructor/mentor for that semester was Rodger Pardee, who is an amazing sound editor and human being (and now in charge of the sound department at Loyola Marymount University) and I learned so much from him doing the sound on that film and before long I was a TA in the sound department at USC and being offered paid sound gigs on films outside of school. And I guess I impressed Rodger as well because when I graduated and was looking for work, he made some calls on my behalf and within a year of graduation I was working as a union sound editor and 4 years after that I started supervising.

I suppose one thing that sets me apart from a lot of sound supervisors in this town, for better or worse, is that I come from a filmmaking/writing background and not a music or engineering background like a lot of my peers. One thing I’ve become very adept at is turning off my opinionated-filmmaker brain and focusing on my job at hand and how to support the creative team of the show and not try to bend the show to my personal creative aesthetics. But on the flip side, I think sometimes I can make a suggestion for the creative use of sound as a storytelling device or to help reinforce a plot point or character beat because I do see sound as part of the story and I approach it as a storyteller. I’m always telling a story, just sometimes I’m telling my own stories and other times people are hiring me to help the sound tell theirs.

As for influences, I’m a Star Wars kid. So that is my earliest influence as a filmmaker. I saw the original movie in the theater as a kid (multiple times) and had all the toys, etc. – I’m sure I drove my parents crazy with my Star Wars obsession. As a teen I loved the 80s high-octane James Cameron sci-fi thrillers and John Carpenter sci-fi horror films as well. Later, director/writers with more nuanced films like Peter Weir and Cameron Crowe had a major influence on me as well, so I’m just your typical Lucas/Cameron/Weir/Crowe/Carpenter style filmmaker. Oh did I mention Julian Schnabel is also a genius and I’d love to make a film as beautiful and poignant as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly someday? Right after my sci-fi magnum opus.

Youre multi-talented in writing and directing too… how do you spread your time and expertise between the different specialties? Do these roles positively impact on your work overall or can they clash, especially if working alongside other directors or sound editors?

Working in sound post-production is sort of a “hurry up and wait” lifestyle. When the show or movie comes in, there is a very intense period where you have limited time to prep the episodes or movies. Typically, you come into the project very late in the game and time (and often money!) is running out. But it’s also practically impossible to schedule yourself so that right as one show ends, another starts up. So usually you have gaps in your schedule. So when I have a show in as a sound editor or supervising sound editor, I’m mainly spending my days (and often nights) on it. But I’m also using that time to let things percolate in the back of my mind – to work out in my head my own projects and to spend this time with other incredibly talented artists and watch their process and see how they make their stories come to life, which invariably helps me with mine. Then, when I have those gaps, I jump into writing or producing or whatever creative filmmaking enterprise most inspires me and gains the most traction. During the extended down-time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote two TV pilots – an original spec and a sample episode of an existing show – wrote, directed and edited a new sci-fi/horror short film called Killing Time (to be released in 2021) – and had an opportunity to work on and help some friends and acquaintances on some smaller budget indie films and music videos as both a sound editor and as a cinematographer, something I wouldn’t normally be able to do because I’d just be too busy.

Like I just mentioned, I think my various roles have had a very positive impact on my work as a filmmaker and doesn’t clash, because I make sure I stay within the boundaries of my specific role on a project and because I also use my time on any project as a learning experience for me as a filmmaker – maybe sometimes I get jealous of the budgets of the shows I work on as a sound editor and dream about what I could do on my own projects with that amount of money behind them, but I also get to see firsthand how really talented filmmakers deal with the same basic issues of story and character and finding creative solutions to telling their stories in the most effective way, regardless of the size of the budget. So I’m basically a sponge and try to take all that in while I do my job on the sound.

How did you get involved on Cobra Kai? How has this compared to other projects?

First off, I love Cobra Kai and the team behind it. I’m both a fan of the show and work on the show, so I’m very lucky. And I’d say the same of the creators of the show (Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald) and everyone who works on it from the top down. And that’s what makes the show so wonderful and authentic. It’s more than just a paycheck for everyone involved, there is real love and care put into it.

As for how I got involved, it’s a great example that when one door closes, sometimes an even better door opens. I was working on a show with great people and I really liked them, but we were having issues and the show left our company and went to another sound post house. It was probably for the best for all involved, but it left me suddenly unemployed and looking for work and a little despondent. And my boss at Technicolor Sound Services reached out because he had this little YouTube Originals show coming in and hadn’t found a supervisor yet. The creators of the show were new to television and he was looking for a supervisor who could roll with the punches and offer as much or as little guidance as needed to make a new client feel comfortable and well taken care of, and coming from a filmmaker background myself, that’s something I’m really good at. And he said he didn’t know anything about it other than it was called, “Cobra Kai”.  And I immediately said, “like Karate Kid?” because I was a huge fan of the original movie. And he wasn’t sure so I hopped on the internet and looked it up and read up about it and was super-stoked to find out I was going to work on a continuation of the Karate Kid saga.  But I hadn’t read a script yet or seen the first episode and I remember being really nervous and, as a fan, thinking, “please don’t let them screw this up, please let it be good” and then I saw the first episode ahead of our first spotting session and I LOVED it! I knew right away that these guys got it and understood what the movie and the characters were about. I didn’t know if it was going to be a big commercial success or not, but I knew I was going to be a part of a wonderful show that I would be very proud of.

But I’m happy to confess that my experience on Cobra Kai hasn’t been that different from most of the shows I’ve worked on. Maybe I’m just very lucky, but contrary to what a lot of people think, the majority of the people in this town working in film and television are just really good, decent, hard-working artists and crafts-people. There are three production companies I’ve worked with a lot over the years on multiple shows and I love working with all three because everyone involved, from the top down, are just really wonderful people to work with and they make the occasional long hours and stressful days a lot easier to manage.

But I guess Cobra Kai is special because it allows me to revisit a part of my childhood, and also Billy Zabka (Jonny Lawrence) and Ralph Macchio (Daniel LaRusso) are such sweethearts and just the cutest dudes ever!

The music and action sound sequences are a huge part of Cobra Kai (the finale battle in Season 2, for example)– what goes into the process? What can we expect in Season 3?

So one thing we consciously do in the series is that we try to stay true to the original movie and its aesthetics, while also making this series our own and a show that plays to a modern audience, while nodding to the nostalgia of 1984 and that world. We spent some time at the very beginning studying the sound design of the original movie and how they constructed the sounds for the karate fights and kept it within that wheel-house although we built it up a little bit bigger and updated the sound effects (SFX), so it didn’t sound too dated and stuck in the 80s. But the original movies used foley a lot for the fight scenes, and we decided to follow that and so our foley team gets a real work-out most episodes, as we have them do a special cloth pass in fight scenes to make that really crisp movement that you often hear in martial arts films – the movement of the arms and legs is just as important and full in the mix as the “impact” of the punch or kick that is normally the most prominent part of a fight sound design.

As for music, one thing that is often disappointing when working in tv is the speed at which we work means we are prepping our tracks while the composers are still working hard to record their tracks – so we don’t usually get to hear it all come together until we are on the dub stage and creating the final mix. So this is where experience and a good temp track comes into play. We always know where there is going to be music and where there isn’t – and we plan accordingly. 

Music and SFX always play a delicate dance in a mix as you usually can’t play all of it at top volume – you have to pick and choose. So we always do our initial mix with the temp music, understanding that things might have to change when we get the final tracks. But Zack and Leo are incredible composers and also do a great job of staying true to the style and substance of the original movie’s score while breaking it out into a more modern score at the same time. And then the mixers on this show are the Emmy-winning team of Joe DeAngeles and Chris Carpenter and so they make my job really easy as they have an innate sense of this dance between SFX and music and dialogue and interweave them all so well. And then having a Post-Producer like Mallory Yund who fights to get us the time we need to put it all together helps tremendously. 

For the final battle-royale in Season 2, we started the prep for that several weeks earlier than we would in a normal episode, because it was just massive. And Mallory got us an extra day on the dubbing stage to give Joe and Chris the time they needed to put it all together, and to give Zach and Leo one extra day to tweak that massive score and give the music editor, Andres Locksey one more night to prep it for the stage. And it was really fun to have that first playback and watch Jon, Hayden and Josh finally experience it in its full sonic fury. It was a 12-minute sequence that really lived up to the Cobra Kai mantra and showed “No Mercy!”

And season 3 continues with more of the same. I’m not allowed to share any specifics, but be prepared for more action, more drama and maybe even more blasts from the past as the story of Johnny and Daniel continues to evolve into new, unexpected directions. We had a lot of fun on the sound for season 3 and we are just super excited that we have found this new global audience for the show and can’t wait for January 1st, 2021 when we unleash it upon the world!

Which speakers do you mix with? 

So we use JBL speakers and amplification on the stages. They are all Dolby Atmos stages. I think JBL 5742s are the main speakers.  But I’m not a gear head and can’t speak to the specifics.  I use a pair of JBL 305s for near-field monitoring at my home studio or more often headphones – but they are both run through an App called Sonarworks that apply an EQ curve that analyzes the room (for the speakers) or the headphones and applies a curve to make them reference flat so I’m not getting any colourization when I do my work.

I am familiar with M&K but have not used them personally so can’t speak with authority on them. But they have a great reputation.

But our stages are all JBL Pro set-ups. An audio engineer comes in every morning with an SPL meter and runs pink noise and calibrates the stage to make sure everything is accurate.

Although all the stages are configured for Atmos – Cobra Kai just mixes in standard 5.1 with an LoRo fold-down.  I monitor the first playback on the main stage with the 5.1 playback, then for the second playback I go to a smaller room and monitor it in 2.1 to see how the stereo sounds since so many people stream nowadays to iPads, etc.

Please share some of your favourite music tracks, top TV dramas and movie titles of all time.

There is so much good tv being made now that it’s sort of ridiculous and I’ve been blessed to work on a lot of them.  But one I didn’t work on but love, love, love was Lost. One of my favorites when looking at it as a writer, a filmmaker and a sound supervisor. As for TV scores, obviously I’m biased towards the incredibly-talented composers I work with on my shows, but one show I’m not involved with whose score I really admire and that I use as temp music a lot in my personal projects is the music to the German show Dark by Ben Frost.  Great stuff.

And since you asked, my 11 favorite movies of all time (since I couldn’t whittle it down to 10), in no particular order: Star Wars, Dead Poets Society, Breaking Away, Shawshank Redemption, Aliens, Big Trouble in Little China, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Highlander, The General, Almost Famous and A Fish Called Wanda.

And thats a wrap on Season 3 of Cobra Kai. Cant wait for everyone to get to see (and hear) it! This year we show no mercy!! “ (Twitter, 21/2/2020)

Cobra Kai, Season 3 on Netflix – kicking off 1st January 2021.