Daytime Emmy-nominated re-recording mixer James Parnell nominated for his work on Netflix Trinkets. As such, we decided to tell him about the challenges and rewards of working on this series.
Trinkets follows the story of three teenagers who discover an unexpected connection when they all land in the same group of Shoplifters Anonymous. James’ past projects include Oscar winner Moonlight and Hulu’s hit comedy PEN15.
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Ames: Tell us about your work as a re-recording mixer.
James parnell: Well, people go out and record production sounds, dialogue for shows or they’re going to record custom sound effects, then the job of the re-recorder mixer is to receive it all, re-record those sounds and mix them up. . Nowadays you work with teams of people, teams of editors – dialogue editor, sound effects editor, sound effects editor, music editors, background editors – whole teams of people working on TV shows these days. Often times you work in pairs so you will have a partner who mixes dialogue and music or you mixes dialogue and mixing and they will mix sound effects and background and sound effects and together your job is to mix the sounds that were recorded from. show, mix them up and try to get the soundtrack as cohesive as possible so that you tell a story but also elevate the experience of a listener.
What attracted you to this career?
I did a bachelor’s degree in political science at York University in Toronto and hated every minute of it. I mean, I liked it, but it was very clear that I was not meant for a career in politics and just academia in general. I was playing in a band at the time, playing drums and recording my band, and I finished my undergraduate school not knowing what to do and saw ads for audio based schools. in Toronto and one of them had a post-production course – sound mixing for film and television. Until then, I had only thought about audio in terms of music, with careers in audio being music recording studios or a producer for a band. Once I walked into this class it was like a light bulb had turned on, like, of course, that was something you could do. Then it was as if Pandora’s box was open. I finished this program, went to UK and did a masters, moved to London and worked there for two years, then moved to LA and it was a open door after another. It was very cool.
What is your approach when you approach a project?
Usually, it depends on the project. Most of the time the re-recording mixers are done about two weeks before the mix starts, they will have a meeting with the supervisory sound editor, they will probably have a few days to compile the material together, comb through and see what happens. ‘they are missing or point out any problem that may arise during mixing; and then you’re pretty much on your own. If you are lucky you will have a few days of pre-dub or pre-mix, depending on the budget, so you will be seated on stage without the clients in the room and you will have the lay of the land where you can compose and refine. things enough that on the first day of mixing, when the director comes on stage, he’s listening to something that’s already been sculpted so that he doesn’t hear music just exploding, sound effects that are too loud, etc. But it depends on the project.
At Trinkets, the tv show i worked on, i had one day per episode to mix before play day, so what they heard when they got onstage was about as close as possible from my creative vision of the show; and find out what they expected from scouting sessions, trying to find that balance and make it as presentable as possible.
Do you have a particular style that you are trying to build on a little more?
Well on Trinkets I was both the supervisor editor and the re-recording mixer, so I had the benefit of this situation where we would have spotting sessions where we would sit and watch the rough cut of the image, so this would be like a dialogue, a temporary music; and you would have the basic mix builds to see where they went, but obviously the editor in an Avid is limited to twenty-four audio tracks whereas in a mix stage each system can have over seven hundred tracks. audio tracks. So having the role of supervisor of the sound editor, I got to hear and see exactly where we were going, but generally speaking, you are looking for key points of the story. So, for example, the opening scene of Trinkets introduces us to the main character Elodie and she walks through this bar and it’s this wild experience where she runs away from home and she hears crowds but doesn’t really hear the dialogue – you have to look for keys in the editorial: the dialogue, the sound effects or the music you are being given and decide which one you want to play. Then it’s about not throwing out the kitchen sink and making sure things strike a balance and you tell the story the writers and showrunners want to tell, but also being so creative. with sound in order to give listeners things they can sound. hang on while they listen to it.
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Did Trinkets provide the opportunity to try new things from a healthy perspective?
I have worked with AwesomenessTV before. They were the production company and we worked on Light as a feather on Hulu and we have been working on PEN15 together – also on Hulu – and initially I was called upon to do Trinkets because I had a working relationship with them, but specifically talking about creative stuff on Trinkets, each episode was completely different. There was a seasonal arc in the show where the characters were developed, but episode by episode it was a challenge in its own way. For example, in one episode we follow one of the main characters to a robotics competition where she’s on a team and she goes up against other high schools that have their own robots and we had to do a ton of sound design. for robots; and simultaneously with this robot competition, there was this intricate sequence where Elodie snuck into a teacher’s hotel room and she digitally hacks a laptop and steals a test. So we are constantly going from the robotics contest to the hotel room where there is a feeling of impending urgency for her to go out undetected by the teacher and then come back to the robotics contest. This is all – and not just from a sound effects and sound editing perspective – not only is it complex, but also the mixing aspect of rocking back and forth and gradually increasing the tension on this sequence, this stuff is hard to understand. mix but also enjoyable because it presents a number of challenges and you determine what to play and when to give the most impact.
You’ve been nominated for an Emmy for Trinkets. What was it like to receive this nomination and to be recognized by your peers?
Oh, that was a complete honor and something that really surprised me. I was coming back from lunch and got an email from the production company congratulating the show’s members on the Emmy nominations. My first guess was, oh it’ll be the set design or the writing, and I put my phone back in my pocket, but then I did a double take and thought, I should probably read this email. I opened the email and sure enough the second line was mixing and sound editing and I was jumping for joy in the parking lot. It was truly an honor and I’m super proud of the whole sound team who worked on it and really excited to get the nomination.
Is there anything you learned while working on Trinkets that you will now carry over to other shows?
Totally. Therefore, Trinkets was unique because we were able to mix it in Dolby Atmos. Generally, Dolby Atmos is reserved for Blade runner or Terminator Hi – you know those great movies with drones flying overhead. And it was really cool to mix in Dolby Atmos on Trinkets because, you know, from the strangers’ point of view, the show is a walk and a basic conversation – you know, there are scenes where the three main girls come together and talk and there is music in moments – but a lot of Dolby Atmos shines in its use of subtleties, so you can use the overhead speakers for design elements or for musical reverberation. The opening scene, after the opening set with Elodie, we go to a police station and the reverb on the characters’ voices is mixed with Dolby Atmos, so I put the reverb and the treble channels on the ceiling so that That makes them Looks like they are confined in this holding cell where they are grilled by these police officers on the site of their friend. Little niceties like that, you know, putting birds in the overhead channels, or if there’s a design moment that calls for something to fly in the overhead speakers, it all really lends itself to the medium. I’ve mixed on Dolby Atmos before, but not a lot, so getting my feet wet while working on Dolby Atmos was really cool.
I have to ask you about your experience working on Moonlight. What was it like and were you surprised by the critical reaction the film received?
No, that was funnyâ¦ basically, when we got reels for the movie, you knew right away that it was something special. The story is so powerful that you can almost – and I shouldn’t say this – watch it without the fancy sound and it would have been just as powerful. Barry Jenkins was incredibly articulate, from what I heard from the supervising sound editor, about exactly what he wanted. It didn’t go through many image revisions in terms of when it got to the mixing stage. Sometimes what happens is we get the initial turnover and we’ll have five reels of a film and while you mix they say, âOh, we did some reel cutouts in the reel. 3 or 5 âspool, and we muted our sound to accommodate the changes in the image. Sometimes it’s late changes in scenes where they tighten up the edit, but [on Moonlight], very limited image changes were happening on the mixing stage and it was a fully fleshed out story from the jump. It was a pleasure to work on this.