June 14, 2021
FIRST LOOK SPOTLIGHT: Noah Donner-Klein
Noah Donner-Klein, from Los Angeles, CA, is a 2021 Graduate in Theater. They are the recipient of the First Look Faculty Award for Sound.
What’s your First Look project about and what drew you to the subject?
You Missed A Spot is a film about a mime trying to find his voice and his identity in a world populated with clowns. I was drawn to the project because I felt that I could play with and enjoy the challenge of giving a unique voice to the protagonist – specifically one who doesn’t speak. This opportunity was something I could only dream of in creating in cinematic sound – and I was put to the test far sooner than I would have chosen if I were able to feel comfortable.
What was challenging about making it and what was most enjoyable?
I think the most challenging aspect of the film was figuring out exactly how to give Ike, the mime protagonist, his unique “voice” in the world of the film. Cat and I worked closely with the director and producers to titrate Ike’s voice to the result seen in the final film. As sound designers, this was a fantastically fun project to work on – we were able to incorporate many different genres of sound and film as we wished. Most importantly, we were able to bridge traditionally comical sounds (balloons, etc.) with horror/thriller underscoring and create a world that is uniquely novel. Additionally, I was inspired by Jason and the Argonauts and other hero (sword fighting) epics of the 1950’s and 1960’s in several the key elements of the sounds of the climactic fight between Ike and the Clown Killer. One additional challenge from being able to pull from so many sources of inspiration and references is that they can often be too subtle or overcrowd the audience’s perception. Of course, it should be mentioned that we were able to complete production and had just entered beginning stages of post-production when campus shut down. Fortunately, we were mostly unaffected except for the inability to mix in a 5.1 surround setting. Cat and I are hoping to come back to campus soon to dive back into the mix!
Collaboration is extremely important in filmmaking. Who were your key collaborators on this project and what did you learn from your work together?
My partner in sound for the film was Cat Gensler. She’s fantastic – great sense of humor, incredibly passionate about her work in all aspects, and a keen intuition of what feels “right” when creating, editing, and mixing. I felt that I was able to embrace her style of learning and thinking as well as getting a good sense of how she likes to work. I’m more of a wacky ideas person and she is more the realist, especially regarding keeping on schedule for our many deadlines. Ultimately, the best creative sound decisions in the film were ones that we talked through and worked on together through multiple iterations and late nights.
Why did you choose the School of Cinematic Arts and your division and/or track?
I was very much interested in cinema well before I considered attending USC as a student. I had been working in theatrical sound design at the School of Dramatic Arts but wanted to become better knowledgeable and immerse myself in sound at the School of Cinematic Arts. I wanted to be able to tell stories in a manner that was elegant yet invisible in addition to being a revisited experience. I enjoy the process of creating worlds, playing with giving just enough information to depict the scene, locale, and emotional stakes and yet leaving the audience just enough room to let their imagination run with their own ideas.
What have you learned about yourself as a creator from being at the School, and how has that prepared you so far for the career you want?
I feel that the entire experience of working on You Missed A Spot and the other sound classes that I was able to take as a result prepared me very well for pursuing a career in post-production sound. I think some of the most important skills I’ve learned have been networking and working with a horde of people who I have never met previously. Ultimately, learning to receive help and relishing the critique process are the two changes that have prepared me the most, aided by my professors treating me as a fellow artist.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking to apply to SCA?
Do not be discouraged when faced with an obstacle, it is never as tall as you imagine. Be passionate and curious, about anything and everything, and embrace your creativity as a sense of playfulness. Never forget that storytelling is the single most important aspect of our art and every decision we make is in service to the betterment of it. I can only recommend beginning to study the classics – Greek, Shakespearean, and Indigenous myths and tales among many other cultures of the world. Also, as you grow, the meanings of those classics change with you, coloring the meaning and intent. There’s a reason why these myriad narratives continue to resonate with us hundreds and thousands of years later. It’s up to you to figure out why. There’s more truth to Picasso’s “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist” than we may ever realize in our careers. Good luck and I hope to work with you soon.