Science Fiction Filme) I feel very honored and proud to conduct a small interview with you in this way. You are a sound engineer, music scoring mixer, and re-recording mixer among other things. Your credits from over 40 years of film and television are unique. Could you please tell us something what you did before you come into film business? Why have you chosen the way of being into sound or scoring?
Dennis Sands) I always loved recording. My father gave me a tape recorder when I was very young. Loved it! Graduated college then got a job in a real recording studio when I was 22 years old. Saw my first film scoring session there and knew that I wanted to do that!
SFF) You have started in the movie business with ROCKY II (1979). How did you come to these engagement?
D.S.) All of my jobs have come from word of mouth …. Composers, editors, musicians hearing projects I recorded and wanting me to record their projects.
SFF.) Are there certain genres, composers or other people you like to collaborate with the most and if so why?
D.S.) Alan Silvestri and Danny Elfman are two of the most well known composers I work with. I’ve done many pictures with both of them. I’ve been working with Alan since 1978. I understand their music and appreciate their brilliance very much. I also work with some other composers (both established and new) who write wonderful music.
SFF.) How do you explain the chemistry between you and Robert Zemeckis, with whom you've worked on and off since 1984?
D.S.) My connection with Bob Zemeckis actually has come completely from Alan Silvestri. Alan and Bob are true collaborators and, because I work with Al, I have been brought onboard to Bob’s projects.
SFF.) Do sound or scoring get enough recognition?
D.S.) Scoring mixers never gets enough recognition. My job has a lot of technology attached to it, but I consider it a very artistic endeavor. I’m much more involved, and interested, in the creative aspects of scoring as opposed to the technical.
SFF.). What is your opinion about education to become an expert in sound? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
D.S.) Learning is a huge part of any endeavor and recording and mixing is no exception. However my education was completely “on the job” training. Plus I have a talent for understanding balance in music (as do all other successful mixers). Schools are good but there is so much nuance that can only be learned by doing it.
SFF.) Without the sound, films would not be what they are today. In the silent film era, films still had to be viewed differently, because they appealed to
completely different senses. Do you think that the invention of sound has changed the way we entertain ourselves in films, and if so how?
D.S.) Definitely. Just try watching some of the big action movies in silence. Watch a montage without the music. Your question will be answered completely!
SFF.) If you decide to participate in a film, what are the criteria for this decision? Is it "only" the script or are there other issues?
D.S.) My decision to work on a movie is almost completely what I think of the composer. Will the job be fulfilling and fun or a grind? Do I like the composer or is it about his/her ego? Do I trust the production company to support our efforts? I don’t base my decision on money.
SFF.) Can you tell us more about a typical day of your work. Let's take the example of when you record a soundtrack. What does the process look like? How exactly are the preparations?
D.S.) I prepare extensively ahead of time. What studio are we in? What is the orchestra and/or band configuration? How much electronic/midi elements do we need to hear while recording the live musicians? Does the editing room need rough mixes right after recording?
Once setup and recording begins I am very involved in the dynamics of the orchestra almost mixing as we record. Controlling the room. Not at all in the technology.
SFF.) Can you explain to the readers what is the difference between a score recordist, a scoring engineer and a music scoring mixer.
D.S.) A score recordist is usually referencing the person responsible for operating the primary record workstation (usually the Protools system that records the orchestra). The scoring engineer and scoring mixer are generally terms for the same job: mine.
SFF.) If you compare the wide range of products for creating sounds or music from the past and today, how do you feel about them? Did people improvise more often in the past than today, because there were fewer possibilities to create certain sounds?
D.S.) In the past, people made more decisions as there was much less capability in terms of media (24-48 tracks instead of several thousand now). Mixes had fewer tracks to deal with but in many ways were more difficult as the tools available now allow for much more intricate detail. For example, no automation at all to now being able to automate every aspect of the signal flow. Some ways easier and some ways harder.
SFF.) Is there a particular preference in terms of tone that you prefer? Orchestral recording, tones, mixing?
D.S.) I love all of it as each element adds something spectacular to the process. Recording a large orchestra is thrilling especially when the sound and composition really work well together.
Mixing is wonderful because of the ability to create an interesting sonic landscape.
SFF.) We live in a complicated geo-political world. This has always been the case. But in the past, there were films like SOYLENT GREEN or SILENT RUNNING that could show society what the current state of affairs is like and what could become if we are not careful. Personally, I miss this kind of films and their statements a little bit. How do you feel about that?
D.S.) The movie business has become focused on large tentpole movies as they generate big profits, which I understand. But there are still some poignant movies that work their way into our society and become noticed. So ultimately, it’s up to the audiences to demand the kind of product they want. If the movie type you referenced is supported by the public and generates profits the studios will make more of them.
It's very understandable because movies are expensive to make and are high risk. So without support financially from the public those kind of movies will go away or at least be substantially diminished.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
D.S.) I just finished a remake of Pinocchio that I hope audiences will enjoy and support. It’s a lovely film from Bob Zemeckis. I would love to work on a musical from beginning to end.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question for everyone to the end: What was the most difficult project you were working on and why?
D.S.) That’s an impossible question to answer because I love what I do and have been blessed to be able to do it for such a long time. Have some projects been challenging for sure. But there isn’t one that I wished I hadn’t been involved in. I learn from every one!
SFF.) Dear Mr. Sands. Thanks for your time doing this interview and I wish you all the best for the future.
D.S.) Thank you. Wishing the same for you.