An Interview with Sound Mixer Eric Rice
We conducted an interview with sound mixer Eric Rice, an incredibly talented mixer here in New Orleans. Eric brings immense skill, positivity, and just the right level of humor to our sets. We are very excited to have him on the inDEPTH blog and hope you learn as much as we did from our great friend and colleague. If you want to learn a bit more about to get started, check out our blog post on the basics of field recording.
1. Please introduce yourself, where you’re from, and what you do currently.
Hello! My name is Eric Rice. I’m a born-and-raised New Orleans local sound mixer with an affinity for both gourmet and gas station hot dogs and clean room tone.
2. How did you end up doing sound? Did you start at an early age? Study it in school? How did you land those first jobs?
I’ve always been fascinated by sound. Much like on set, our brains interpret images with highest sensory priority, but we often do not realize how important sound and our ears are to everyday life. Sound is a visceral experience that affects many aspects of our life whether we realize it or not. Sound can affect our moods, provide warnings or comfort, it allows us to communicate with each other through a man-made system of sounds our brains have been trained to recognize as language, our auditory system keeps us balanced and walking upright. If you were to spend time in some of the best designed anechoic chambers (highly reinforced, specially designed sound absorbing rooms) you can hear your heartbeat and the blood flowing through your head. You can hear your joints move. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?
I appreciate sound for the same reason I can look through a microscope at a droplet of pond water and see hundreds of things going on that we never think about. There are nuances in sound that are beautiful if you stop and listen. That’s why I love doing sound; I can shape someone’s mood with different sounds and techniques, and I’m constantly observing and learning. I get to do that for a living.
My first sound job came completely by accident. I was in school at the University of New Orleans for film and found a Facebook post looking for non-paying PA’s. I went out just to meet people and get my feet wet. I spent my first two nights in the extra’s trailer on a no-budget web series. About 4 hours in, I got a call to send the extras to set… and that was pretty much my whole day. I then helped out breaking down set and cabling stingers for 2 hours at dawn in the swamp (got my feet wet). AND I WAS ECSTATIC FOR THE OPPORTUNITY. Same for day 2. On day 3, I went to the 2nd AD (who was also the sound recordist) and told her, “I’m going to be YOUR PA.” She had a lot on her plate so I knew I could help, but more selfishly, I knew sound was going to be a part of every shot. “If I follow the sound person, I’ll hear every conversation between director and crew,” I thought. The sound person is like the catcher in baseball (which I played growing up) in that the sound person is at least in the know on every shot. I figured that would put me in a perfect position to learn from all departments.
The next day, the sound person and production parted ways. I show up and immediately asked, “What’s your name again? Okay, cool. You’re running sound.” I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. This was a simple shoot for sound. “Boom into a Zoom.” No real mixing, just swingin’ the boom and making sure nothing clips, but to me, that was my big break. I was with them for a few months and got my first sound mixer credit (technically). From there, I got on a couple other free shoots working as a boom operator or just as hands on deck and it just kept snowballing.
I did a lot of “fake it ‘til you make it” in my first year or two. Eventually, after being fascinated with this new area of information I had to learn every day, I stopped having to fake it. That was that. I still research new techniques and gear every day and try to find new ways to convey the beautiful information that sound has to offer.
3. How would you describe the sound scene and general film scene here in New Orleans? What are some of the opportunities and challenges that come with working in video production here in New Orleans? What sort of improvements/changes would you like to see in the industry, whether local or beyond?
New Orleans film scene is f’in awesome! Every day I wake up, I’m thankful for ending up in the career I have with the people I work with. Think about it, we get to wake up and make art every day. Even if the current project isn’t all that artistic like covering a convention or filming a political ad, we’re still utilizing these long-honed skills to put our artistic touch on whatever it is that comes across the desk that day.
From my experience, everyone I know, love and work with in our independent film scene here in New Orleans feels just about the same. The low budget features aren’t great on the checkbook, but you get 20-30 of us together that have all grown up working on similar project together, and beautiful times are had. We really are a tight-knit community that enjoys spending our days together both on and off set.
We New Orleans soundies have a little different experience than most other crew positions/departments, in my experience. Fortunately, there’s just less of us around for the same amount of jobs that everyone else is vying for. This keeps the sound mixer community very tight. I get more than half of my work from other mixers who are booked on other projects, and I enjoy passing work to them as well. We are always in contact about what jobs are out there, who’s looking for what, what productions may not be the most sound friendly, etc.
We also are unique in that there is only one sound rental shop in New Orleans, Professional Sound Services at 8222 Maple St. in the Riverbend. Justin Ditch and Lukas Gonzales run not only a tip top sound shop but also offer a place where mixers can meet, talk shop, shoot the breeze and nerd out on gear. A lot of time, as a sound mixer, I’m the only mixer on set, so meeting other mixers is sometimes rare unless it’s a bigger production with multiple sound bags running. Pro Sound is like my Cheers. I’ll show up when I’m bored just to hang out and meet whoever walks in the door. The New Orleans sound scene would be severely lacking in many different ways without those guys at Pro Sound.
As far as improvements, I’d like to see producers move away from relying on their “low budget” status to justify paying people less. Yes, some productions are what they are by necessity; I’ll work on any of my friend’s projects regardless of pay if I’m not booked. But I’ve seen too many productions come in from out of state for tax credits, fly in their big wigs, blowing money left and right while offering rates 1/3 of what they should because “they knew kids are hungry for work.” I was actually told that with audible words one time. Pardon my Cajun, but get fucked. It’s a shame some productions see an opportunity to take advantage of locals rather than being thankful for the money they’re saving on tax credits and taking care of the people who made their movie. I did about an hour and a half long podcast with Greg about this that probably won’t see the air because I get pretty heated about this. The whiskey we shared probably didn’t help either.
I’d like to see us independent film makers hold productions to task. I want to see us all making money and having profitable careers rather than taking whatever pops up because rents due soon. It’s tough and everyone’s path is different, but ‘take-advantage-of-locals’ rates really hits my limiters.
4. What are some of your favorite types of projects? Any particularly fun/interesting stories?
Okay good, a lighter subject. I enjoy different projects for different reasons, mainly just a change of pace is nice. Narratives are great because I can setup a cart or at least a sound world and have some day to day stability in a given location. Narratives give an opportunity to spend a lot of time on a scene and really find interesting sound effects or mic’ing methods; however it does sometimes get pretty boring sitting around recording a conversation at a coffee table for 12 hours which is why I like reality. Every day is something new to shoot and new people to meet, but the hectic-ness can get tiring pretty quickly. It’s a yin and yang situation.
But in the end, as I said before, we’re on set making cool things with (most of the time ) cool people. “A bad day on set is better than a good day in an office.”
5. What’s your favorite thing to do on set? Whether an individual position, a fun practice or tradition you have, whatever. The one thing you always look forward to no matter the production.
First things first, Taco Tuesday.
Secondly, I try to just have fun. I enjoy my job and most others do as well so anything I can do to keep the positive mood. I particularly like the “how many pieces of lav tape can I stick on ______” game. I enjoy shorts or features where we have interns from the local colleges. Those kids are hungry to learn and just want to be a sponge absorbing all they can.
6. If you had to give one piece of advice to someone just starting out here in the film industry, especially if they’re just starting out here in New Orleans, what would be your main piece of advice?
DON’T BE A JERK. It’s so simple but seriously, just be a cool person and you’ll get work. Be helpful – don’t think it’s beneath you to help setup crafty or anything like that. Yes, we all have our department and our own responsibilities, but at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team. We’re all trying to make a great piece of work. I’ve seen some of the most accredited people replaced because they’re jerks. People on set have to be able to work and live with you for perhaps months at a time. If you disrupt the flow and mentality of the set, you’ll be gone real quick.
Meet people. Meet everyone you can. Go to the parties after screening of festivals and pass out business cards. Starting out, just get on a set, any set. People I’ve met as PAs are now my bosses. They call me because we go way back. Get on set, be positive, be great at what you do and make friends. Everyone has their own projects or get calls for other friend’s projects and you want them to call you. Think of it like a tree, your first set is your first branch and you’re going to meet 10-30 people. Impress them and get on another set, that’s another 10-30 people. And so on and so forth. The growth is exponential. If you make yourself memorable as a positive,hard-working, knowledgeable person, it’ll just be a matter of time before your career starts to grow quickly.
7. What are you working on now?
My pride and joy is a show called Big Easy Motors which comes on the History channel every Tuesday at 9pm central. One of my closest sound friends in the area Raam Brousard got me on that when he had to return home to Israel for his family to meet his beautiful baby daughter. We’re both very proud of the work we’ve done on that show and look forward to a second season.
8. Anything else you’d like to add?
Have fun today. Work can suck; more for some than others, but it doesn’t have to and it doesn’t always. Life’s too short to not do cool things each day. Find a way to make money having fun.
And last but certainly not least, shut up during room tone.
You can reach Eric for sound mixing services at Ericrice20@gmail.com