Mark Lanza is a Sound Designer at Sony Pictures Entertainment and President of the Motion Picture Sound Editors organization. His work can be heard on well-known films like Independence Day and Natural Born Killers, as well as popular television and streaming series like Homeland and Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams. We recently got the chance to ask Lanza about his experience in the industry, how he approaches different types of recording, what tools he uses and what gets him excited for the future of audio.
What does a sound designer do?
A sound designer can be the one who plans the overall sonic theme of a project, or it sometimes refers to someone who makes sounds not found in nature.
For example, I had a scene where a woman from the bomb squad was getting in her suit to go and diffuse a bomb. Before the bomb went off, we had a helicopter circling, we had all the citizens saying, “Oh my God, what's going on? I heard it's a bomb!” We had police sirens and all this confusion going on. Then, when the woman starts to walk towards the bomb, I had the mixer slowly take everything out so all you can hear is the Foley of her walking up toward the bomb and her breathing, which was somebody in group ADR cupping their hands around their mouth so it sounded like it was inside the suit. It gives you this feeling of being in her shoes. Then, when the bomb went off, I had everything come flooding back in—the helicopter, people screaming, dogs barking, car alarms going off. Chaos!
It just helps tell the story with sound. It focuses your attention, just like the cameraperson will rack the focus to highlight certain things. That's what I do with sound.
What Zoom gear do you use?
I have pretty much the full Zoom arsenal. I have the F1, the H3-VR, the H6 and all the attachments, including the stereo shotgun and the shock-mounted X/Y mics. I also have the F6, the F8, the F8n and the F-Control.
I love to throw a lot of mics at a session. With the new recorders like the F8n, I have eight inputs, and I love to use as many as possible because it gives me options and backups. Handheld mics, mics up on stands, mics taped onto cars or guns, contact mics stuck right on things. Having so many channels is great. If there's a surface, I'll put a mic on it.
What’s your go-to recording rig?
It's absolutely the H6. it's the quickest one for me to fire up and start recording when I hear something cool. I don't have time to scramble for the mics and cables and everything. I grab the box, snap the mic on, and I'm up and running. If something were going on outside my house right now and I wanted to record it, I could be recording in 30 seconds. I can't tell you how many times I've done that. I've even got a little handle for it that stops all the jostling noises, and I've got the X/Y attachment with the stabilizer as well.
I can also plug my Schoeps mics into it and they really sound good. It's a quality recorder, yet it fits in your hand. And I can always put it in a backpack or something and still use it for an incognito rig if I need to. I can put it in a fanny pack and people just think I'm from the ‘80s.
What’s your approach to capturing natural ambience and soundscapes?
For ambiances, I love my H3-VR because it's an Ambisonic recorder, which is really cool. And it's small, so I'll go out into the hills on my bike and I'll just throw that in my backpack, set it up and record some of the ambience while I'm out there. I also have a pair of stereo Schoeps, and I love getting really detailed backgrounds with those and my F8n. You can hear everything.
Once you get your foot in the door, get a mentor, and then just work hard—and I mean really hard."
After working in audio for so many years, what still excites and challenges you?
I love switching genres and mediums. I think it keeps me fresh. I love to cut a cartoon or a commercial once in a while; maybe a video game. I also love to work on comedy sometimes. I love just mixing it up. Each genre makes your mind focus in a different direction. I did one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, and that was such a blast. I did Independence Day and my sounds wound up in toys and a pinball machine and all kinds of cool stuff. I even did a cartoon where they came out with these dinosaur figures from the show and my dinosaur noises wound up being in the toys. I never grow up, ask my wife.
What gets you excited about the future of the industry?
I'm looking forward to all the new editors coming into the industry. I see lots of new talent coming, and it's great. They keep me on my toes. They're using new tools and new ways of doing things. I’ll go into the theater and hear something and I'm like, “I wish I had done that. That was really cool.” It inspires me to get back into my own room, figure out how they did it and see if I can do something like that or better and make it my own.