Licence to Thrill – Q&A with Mark DeSimone

Mark DeSimone is an Emmy Award winning ADR Mixer/Re-Recording Mixer and a native New Yorker from Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. He graduated from Fordham University. He started mixing and producing music at age 17 and by 19 he moved into post-production as a re-recording and original scoring mixer at Filmus Sound for the next nine years. He then spent 17 years at Magno Sound & Video as a re-recording mixer. While at Magno, Mark started to mix ADR, he also continued mixing commercials, and music projects.

Since 2006, Mark has been a mixer at Soundtrack, New York, predominantly mixing ADR, as well as feature documentaries.

His work has featured in many movies including iRobot, Alien vs. Predator, Wonder Woman 1984, Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Netflix’ The Irishman, The White Tiger, and News of The World.

Mark is also an accomplished former ice hockey player and coach. He coached his daughter from the age of 7 – 13 and also went on to coach a Women’s professional team called the NY Riveters, in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) in the first ever paid league for Women in the North East.

Please tell us the about your earliest influences in music and your pursuit in further education.

I started as an Ice hockey player, and then at age 14, after school, I worked a night job on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre in NYC with the concession company. Beatlemaina was the show at the time. Once I was introduced to the Beatles’ songs, I was so taken by them that I wanted to play guitar and play all of the songs. I became friends with the cast, and Joe Pecorino, who was portraying John in the show, was extremely kind and my inspiration. So that took me from jock to musician. After learning 30 Beatles songs on my own, I moved on with a new love of music. I decided not to play college hockey, and instead to pursue music.

At 17, I produced a singer, at a well known music studio in NYC. I played guitar, piano, and arranged the songs. The mixer was not too happy having a kid as the producer. He told me a lot of things I wanted to do could not be done, so I figured I needed to learn what he knew so I could not be talked out of being creative. Again, self-taught I went, and became a mixer over the next two years. I was playing, producing, and mixing numerous sessions and artists. Moving ahead, my wife, Lisa, who is an amazing singer, and I connected with producer Keith Diamond and he wanted to produce Lisa with me. We were also working with Bruce Lundvall who was in the process of signing Lisa to a deal. This was a time when the music business was going through a huge change, and I ended up moving to post mixing.

You’ve recently done ADR work on No Time To Die, what inspired you to enter the post-production and re-recording fields and in particular, ADR?

The inspiration mainly came out of necessity. The music business was in a big down period, and I was asked by Filmus Recording to mix some TV, and commercials etc. so I did and I found that Filmus was actually writing, producing, and mixing music in the post production world, as well as mixing the actual show. So I jumped on and combined both skills. The studio eventually closed down and I went to a true post facility with Magno Sound & Video, where I mainly mixed TV and film. I figured I was on to something as some of my friends, who were big time music mixers, asked me to teach them about video and the post world. I still did music, but it was a crossover as Magno’s clients were true post clients. ADR came a good time later.

The TV show Northern Exposure needed to do ADR, and the mixer we had was out sick. I reluctantly said yes and figured out a system on my own to make it work. The studio asked me, over the next months if I could add some ADR to my mix schedule. I was not excited to do this, but as a team player I said yes. I ended up designing my room to switch over quickly to go from re-recording to ADR. I was mixing on an SSL 9K J series that was a little overkill for ADR, but mixing is mixing in my head. I approach it all with the same mentality. In time, I was about 50/50 between the two, and when Magno closed I moved on to Soundtrack, NY where there was a bigger need for ADR, so again we designed the room to do both. As time went on, I was doing a lot of ADR, and I went, and stayed with the work.

Could you please describe a typical day at work or about a project from start to finish.

I can say there is rarely a typical day, haha! I could have five different sessions in a day, or several days spent on one session. I feel it is a lot about being flexible, and changing lanes very quickly. This is partly due to the technology and partly due to the expectations of faster, faster. I enjoy seeing a project through from start to finish. I guess that is my sports DNA and a teamwork-always-approach. Being part of Boardwalk Empire from start to finish was amazing. I became close with many cast members, and I am friends with a good amount still. That was a tremendous sound team to work with. I have also been on the animated show, Bob’s Burgers from the start eleven seasons ago, and still running. I am very close with the extremely talented cast, writers, and producers. Loren Bouchard who created the show is amazing, and I am proud to call Loren my close friend. I also have many positive experiences with shows I mix for a day or less, and connect with the team. I feel that people make it a good session, so it doesn’t have to be the biggest film, or highest rated TV show, to be a good day to me. Good people, good session. Great people, great session.

You have over 1,400 credits to your work in the Film & TV industry, what an achievement! Can you share some of your highlights and favourite projects to date? 

I think if you hang around long enough you build a resume! There have been so many positive projects, that I feel I may leave out some, but I did, and do love Boardwalk Empire, and Bob’s Burgers. I can say that I have favourite people, ahead of a favourite project, but when they are both in play that is the very best! I just worked on a project called Girls5Eva, and the team is amazing. It has a comedy side, and a musical side. It is a show where the leaders let you be you, and do what you do. I recorded vocals, ADR, and group ADR, and it was a joy to be a small part of. I loved working on Homeland for the whole run and The Handmaid’s Tale. Again, there have been a good amount that have been great to be a part of. I try to find a positive in any session I do, and if not, I try to make a connection with at least one person. But sometimes you put your head down, and just do the work in front of you.

How often do you get to meet directors or actors during your work? Can you share any particularly memorable encounters?

I would say that every session I am with an actor, as well as editors, producers, and most often the director if it is a film. I have a good amount of memories, so again it is hard to narrow it down. Working with Sidney Poitier on Mandela, I felt like we needed more effort in the prison cell when he was doing push ups. So as I asked Sidney if he would not mind putting a little more breath, vocals, and effort in, he asked if I would like him to get on the ground and do the actual push ups, and I said I think just a little more effort and breaths will work. By the time I could finish the sentence he was on the floor. So I mic’d him on the floor, and it was great, as was he! I keep a set of small weights in the studio so if anyone needs to use them for effort, climbing, or grunts etc. they seem to help. They were used a good amount in the movie Everest. Michael Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal had a large number of sessions and used the weights, as well as a mask we made out of a colander, and cloth napkins, and clips.

My good friend, the late Peter Gleaves, and I tag teamed on numerous projects, and this was one. We needed to find a way to create the sound of the oxygen mask that was taken on and off up the mountain. It ended up working out well. Will Smith was amazing on I, Robot as we looped a large amount of the movie due to all of the effects. I think Will was filming Hitch during the day, and then came to the studio for night looping. He was amazing, and when we had a perfect take, he asked if he could do another, and he made it even better. Wes Craven was a tremendous human being. He was so giving to everyone, and let us do our jobs.

I loved recording horror screams for his movies, because he was such a calm and low key person. It was a great contrast. Peter Howitt was making Sliding Doors and came to NYC back when people had to travel haha! I did not know anything about the film, as it was early days. After the session Peter asked me if I had time to watch the movie with him. I was so happy I did not have another session after and we watched the whole movie in my control room. He was great! In the movie Orphan, we needed to record the last few minutes, which was a chase through woods, and going in and out of water with fights, and struggles etc. after our regular ADR with Vera Farmiga. We asked her to spend a couple of hours putting her head in and out of a large pool of water. We put a lav mic underneath the water in a rubber glove, and also had two booms outside the pool, and it sounded extremely realistic going in and out of the water. Vera was amazing and never complained. I have had so many good experiences, it would take a book to put them all in. I am very appreciative to have creative people, who want to work as a Team to get the best we can.

Please tell us about your mixing studio and speaker configurations.

I have a custom pair of Asperger’s with two 16” woofers, and a custom horn made of wood. They sound great. I use an array of smaller speakers from my old Yamaha NS-10’s, JBL, and Genelec. All depending on what I am mixing. I did use the small speaker from my old Studer ½” that sounded great for a TV or commercial mix. But that was my last tape machine, and it was used as a shelf for years except for the speaker. I have not listened to any Miller & Kreisel speakers, but I have heard good things from those who have pretty amazing home theatre systems.

Some of the most recent movies you’ve worked on were released on streaming platforms, such as Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO and The Irishman on Netflix. Do you think that this has influenced the work in sound post-production or is it still completed in the same way as for movie theatres?

I don’t feel there is much consideration for doing a project different because of the platform. It is a film, and gets the same treatment for the best possible outcome. Today it can stream, and then go into a theatre, but the sound will always be at the highest level possible. There are some cases when the project will get mixed on a smaller platform, such as a documentary series, but that is the call of the director. Playing back on different speakers is always an option when TV is involved, but mixing in a theatrical environment is still a standard, in my opinion.

Many people will stream these movies to their phones or watch on TV with a soundbar. What would be your best recommendation to enjoy this content at home?

Well I am definitely from the place that better is better. So phones and computers would not be my choice, but a good soundbar with a subwoofer, would be great. For apartment living with neighbours close by, a 2.1 bar with a separate sub woofer, or built in sub woofer sounds great to me. I know some have home systems that are in 5.1 and beyond in their house, but a good sound bar system would be my recommendation for a bedroom or an apartment.

Are there any upcoming projects that you can share with us?

Yes, as I mentioned before, Girls5Eva, is a comedy about a one-hit-wonder girl group from the 1990s who gets sampled by a young rapper, its members reunite to give their pop star dreams one more shot. It is great because we have a lot of songs, as well as ADR to record. Episodic TV from Tina Fey, Jeff Richmond, and creator Meredeth Scardino. A tremendous cast with Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Paula Pell etc. Dr. Death is about Dr. Christopher Duntsch, based on a true story about a neuro spinal surgeon. Patients came in for routine surgeries, and left permanently maimed or dead. Very well acted, and scary to think of. Bob’s Burgers has an animated feature that we are finishing up. So creative, and intelligently funny. I am also continuing to work on the rest of season one and season two for the animated series The Great North. Wendy and Lizzie Molyneux are awesome! They have created this work of art that is quickly getting a huge following. I am proud to be on their team. Anne Boleyn, is a mini series, about the final months of Boleyn’s life, and her struggle with Tudor England’s patriarchal society. These are just a handful of wonderful projects that I am blessed to work on.

Finally, please list some of your favourite music tracks, TV shows and movies.

I listen to a wide variety of music spanning many decades. Not in any order…Kenny Loggins, Dan Fogelberg, Queen, The Beatles, Boston, Journey, Tom Petty, Adele, I can even take an exit ramp and listen to some Air Supply, REO Speedwagon, and Bread, then John Mayer, Chaka Khan, Whitney, Chicago, James Taylor, Keith Urban, and the list goes on. Depending on how I feel. TV shows have the same range. I love older shows like Kojak, Columbo, and The Rockford Files, or old comedies like The Bob Newhart Show. I find the older shows are very relaxing because they were not all action-based, and it was a low tech time, so the pace was relaxing. But I am a huge fan of English TV, and series. I enjoy so many dramas and comedies on BBC, PBS, Acorn, and Britbox streaming. It is a huge list of work that lets the writing and acting breath. In the States it is not common to have 40 seconds of silence to think, but with Brit shows it is commonplace. I feel it is very refreshing.

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