Randy Thom – it’s the broad brushstrokes that count

Walter Murch Sound Designer on Apocalypse Now was the man who gave Randy Thom his first big break. Randy recounted the story during his talk at Alison House at the University of Edinburgh ahead of getting an honorary degree from the University.


Randy had heard Murch was a decent sort of guy so he called him up and said he would love to do film sound. With experience of sound effects in radio behind him he was invited along to watch Murch remix American Graffiti from mono to stereo. At the end of the day Randy was given a task – write an essay about the day. The essay he chose to write covered the interactions between the various people remixing the sound – it was enough to secure the job he wanted and enough to convince Randy that it’s the social skills that matter more than the engineering skills.


The 18 months that he spent on Apocalypse Now with Murch proved to be his Film School (sounds better than spending 3 years at Alison House to me … only kidding Martin) – he spent 9 months recording helicopters and machine guns and 9 months mixing. In total 7 complete mixes were done until they were happy. The experience drove his philosophy on sound design – it’s the broad brush strokes that matter – there are only a few big decisions to be made “the other 10,000 decisions could be decided by the toss of a coin”. 

That made it sound too simple for me….. and then he showed how the battle scene sound for Forrest Gump was put together. Easily 10,000 decisions in 3 minutes or so – and as far as I could hear every single decision calculated by at least one expert or a very very lucky coin.


But that’s the thing about doing something if your good – it comes easy. Decisions come easy when you know the overall thing you are trying to achieve – thats as valid in sofware design as it is in sound design.


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