Sound Imagination – Q&A with Luke Gibleon

Luke is a Sound Supervisor/Designer and Editor at The Formosa Group and Warner Bros., two of Hollywood’s most prestigious post-production houses.

He graduated from Berklee College of Music with a dual major in Film Scoring, Music Production and Engineering.

His work has featured in many Hollywood productions including the first three John Wick movies, The Revenant, Straight Outta Compton, and he was nominated for two Emmy Awards in “Outstanding Sound Editing” for El Camino – A Breaking Bad Movie, and Twin Peaks (2017). He’s won three MPSE Golden Reel awards and has been nominated for another three.

Luke was also the Sound FX Editor for the upcoming movie, Nobody, starring Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul fame. 

Can you share your earliest influences that led to you pursuing a career in Sound?

Ever since I was a child, I loved making noise. I played with toy instruments until I was old enough to play real instruments, where my emphasis was percussion. I played in the concert band and symphony orchestra in school and was in a Rock band with friends as well. I also loved fireworks. I would take them apart, make new fireworks, and put on a show at my grandparents’ neighbourhood on the 4th of July. I feel bad for the torture I must’ve put my parents through! I went to college to study making music for film and television and discovered sound design there. It’s been my passion ever since.

What are the main differences between Sound Editing/Supervision and Re-Recording or Mixing?

Sound Editing and Design is a process of finding, recording, designing, and layering sounds in such a way that each element may serve the story you’re trying to tell, even if it’s a half a second of a time. When you edit, you’re trying to match the action and/or emotion of the moment or scene. An action sequence could be made up of a car chase, weapons, explosions, fighting, etc. Often the layers are made up of sounds that have different frequencies or tonal qualities. This gives the re-recording mixer the option to choose which layers they’d like to emphasize or attenuate. 

Dialogue editorial is another in-depth process of organising, smoothing out, and cleaning up all the recorded dialogue on set, as well as new dialog from ADR and Group, so it plays naturally and clean. The re-recording mixer will take all of these sound fx and dialog built by the editors and designers, and incorporate them with the music. Then it becomes a balancing act of how all these elements play together, supporting each other and the story. They make sure it fits perfectly in the theatre, television, or whichever medium they’re mixing for. The re-recording mixer will also do some amazing designing of their own at request of the filmmaker or of their own intuition. They play a big role focusing the director’s vision, and keeping the mix stage a comfortable place for the filmmakers, as it’s the last major step in the film-making process. This is their last chance to see their vision through.

A supervisor will oversee the whole post-sound process. They will budget, plan out a schedule, assemble a team, and be at the helm, addressing the many changes and challenges that arise over the course of a project. They will interface early on with the filmmakers and plan a strategy designed to support the story the filmmakers want to tell. They will often design, edit, and record many of the sounds themselves. They are very much the facilitator of the filmmaker’s vision when it comes to sound.

Please describe a typical day or project at work.

It’s all over the place. It just depends on what I’m working on. I could be editing, designing, mixing, cueing/spotting, conforming, meeting with filmmakers, etc.  Two thirds of the year I’m probably in a room by myself or with a client or supervisor. The other third I’m on a mixing stage as a stage editor.

Tell us more about the mixing studios you work at.

I have a 5.1 home design suite with KRKs for my L,R,Ls,Rs speakers, and a M-Audio BX8 for my centre. I’ve worked with them so long I’m familiar with their strengths and weaknesses, and how they translate to different listening environments.

My favourite design rooms to work in are at The Formosa Group. They have 7.1.4 rooms with JBL 6332 LCR speakers, and 4326s for the surrounds. It translates so well to a theatrical stage. The mixing stages I’m on usually have studio horns, and almost all are now fitted with some kind of Atmos layout.

I’m familiar with M&Ks, they’re amazing monitors, but I haven’t used them myself for work.

You’ve worked on such a variety of projects and genres – which have been your favourite and which have been the most challenging and why?

Oh man I don’t know. That’s something I’m really grateful for. It keeps work so refreshing when going from one thing to something totally different. I love good fight/combat scenes. I grew up watching a ton of martial arts films, and its precision work that can be so gratifying. The last couple of projects I’ve been on have been very challenging, Chaos Walking, and Underground Railroad they both really pushed the boundaries of storytelling with sound. There’s been quite a few, but that’s what makes it fun and rewarding. 

Congratulations on your award nominations for El Camino, Twin Peaks and Greyhound. What would you say are some of the ingredients that create award-winning Sound Design and Editing?

Me personally, I’m very passionate about my work. When I’m not at work, I’m often thinking about work, ha-ha! I think it’s also important to learn how to do everything related to post-production audio. Work as an assistant, edit dialog, fx, foley. Mix whatever you can get your hands on. Record foley, ADR, ambiences, field recording, etc. Observe the experts when you can, and learn how to troubleshoot independently. Everything works together to create the end result, and having a solid understanding of each helps me better prepare and anticipate the needs of the project, or the team I’m working with, whatever position I’m in.

I’ve also had a great mentor in Mark Stoeckinger. He’s one of the best in the business, not just as a supervisor, but as a person, who genuinely brings positivity to every situation, and cares about giving people opportunities. I think mentorship is important, and not so many people are willing to do make that extra effort to help others. I’ve been lucky to work with a bunch of amazing and talented people. It’s a team effort.

How was your work for Twin Peaks (2017) influenced by or sensitive to the original 90’s show?

It was totally influenced and sensitive to the original show. It helped that we worked at David Lynch’s personal studio. He was always around. Dean Hurley and Ron Eng supervised and mixed the show and they’ve worked for David on so many projects. That kind of relationship is very helpful when you’re trying to re-create the feeling of an original, whilst expanding on it. I knew then where I could focus my time and energy. 

You worked as a Foley artist for Straight Outta Compton, quite different from your other roles – can you share your experiences about this.

I was the foley supervisor, which I’ve done on another of other projects I’ve been a part of, even if it wasn’t credited. Dan O’Connell was the foley artist, and he’s amazing! That being said, as a foley supervisor I try to record as much as I can personally. I’ll pull whatever props I can find, and try and go to any location I can, especially if I know I can get the sound I’m looking for. The foley artist often has a lot of elements to record in a limited time, and if I can cover a number of elements myself, then they can spend more time on each one, or at least the really important ones.

Please describe your role Sound Editing Assistant to Randy Thom and Lon Bender for The Revenant.

I was mainly assisting the dialogue team at Lantana studios where the picture team and Alejandro were based at. There was so much dialogue, and four different languages in the film if I recall. Changes were coming from the picture department daily and Alejandro loves to experiment, swap takes, etc, so it was a big juggling act to make sure the whole dialogue and ADR team were supported. Lon was there as well, and he’s amazing. Cutting edge, he loves to try new things, and push the envelope both sonically and technically.

The John Wick movies are modern cult classics and are so popular for their insane gun battles and fight sequences. Please tell us more about the sound design that fans love so much.

I absolutely love working on these movies. There’s a core group of us who’ve worked on all of them, and it’s a blast. It all starts with the director Chad Stahelski. The action sequences he directs are amazing! He wants the audience to feel it. Powerful, precise, and lethal as that’s who John Wick is. Alan Rankin designed most of the guns that are so aggressive, tight, and powerful. We try to incorporate the environment and even the essence of the Wick world into the action sequences. For instance, I worked extensively on the museum fight sequence in John Wick 3. It played with no music for a large part of it. So, in addition to all of the fighting, I cut (Punching/Kicks/Blocks/Grabs/Impacts/Etc.), and knives I recorded, I also made sure the shelves would resonate and knives in the shelves would rattle as a body would hit the floor. As Wick is a blend of old and new technology, a part of the ambience of this museum is steady breathing I made from a rotary phone, dialling zero over and over, verbed and tucked into space. It’s not just about what we see, but what we’re supposed to feel.

The trailer for Nobody is very exciting, almost a blend of Saul and Wick. Can you share your approach to sound design and editing for this movie?

A large part of it was done by an excellent sound team in Canada, with a supervisor up there, and a supervisor here in LA, Mark Stoeckinger overseeing it. I came in towards the end to help give it that “Wick” edge, and be on stage to address notes from the filmmakers. I did some work in the bus scene to add some of that sharp pain and wincing resonance of the space. I did some work on the guns and hero car to add aggression, and I did a ton of bullet work, as of course with new vfx coming in there’s a bunch more impacts, bys, and ricochets. They can really help amp up the action.

What are your tips for how the audience at home can best enjoy your work?

Buy the best home theatre package and installation you can afford, and try to lower the noise floor of background sounds as best as possible. Sound can really affect you on a subconscious level so the closer you can get to how the filmmakers intended it to be played, the better experience you will have.

Finally – please share some of your favourite music tracks, TV shows and movie titles.

My favourite band is Sigur Ros, but I’m all over the place with music.

Some of my favourite shows are: Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, Key & Peele, The Office, and Schitt’s Creak.

Some of my favourite movies are: The NeverEnding Story, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Terminator 2, Apollo 13, Bladerunner, The Truman Show, The Matrix, House of Flying Daggers, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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