Sound recordist, Tom Curley, started out as a production assistant on the 2002 movie, The Time Machine, and 13 years later, landed himself an Oscar for Best Sound Mixing for the 2015 hit movie, Whiplash. We ask him about his musical story, those magic moments, and go-to kit.
“I remember having loved movies as far back as my memory takes me; I never thought it was something anyone could be involved in until I found a filmmaking club in my high school,” Curley recalls. “After having a blast
in this club, I decided to go to film school, graduating from the University of Buffalo, where I learned film history, theory, screenwriting, production, made my own films, and also worked as a set PA on a few professional films.”
After graduating, he continued to look for a career in filmmaking, something that he could passionately dedicate decades of his life to - and in 2001, he got his first big break.
“I was working on Dreamworks’ The Time Machine, where I met sound mixer, David MacMillan, and boom operator, Duke Marsh. They mentored me on that set, and I felt like I had found a craft that fitted all of my skills and goals,” Curley reveals. “I then began learning more about production sound mixing, and saving to move to LA. One year later, I would be mixing my first feature, Roger Corman’s Demon Slayer.”
In a nutshell, Curley records dialogue and other sounds on the sets of motion pictures and TV shows; he’ll bringing portable, top quality audio kit to film sets, and manage a small crew of technicians to get the best sound he can out of each shoot. At the end of the day, these get handed in, and the editors and post-production techs fine-tune everything into a finished product.
“At the moment, I am recovering from four months of filming season two of the Paramount Network series, Yellowstone,” Curley smiles. “It has been a very impressive and demanding job for all involved, but it has proven to be a hit, and deservedly so. The scope and size of the show makes for great entertainment, but the crew are working in the rugged outdoors of Utah and Montana, day and night, often in rain, snow, and wind, which can get exhausting. Since the end of the year is usually quiet for production work, I have taken December off, and will begin pursuing new projects in January.
“As a freelance operator, the saying goes: feast or famine. You never quite know which one is headed your way! Sometimes I get multiple calls a day, sometimes I can’t buy a job. The great thing about the Los Angeles sound mixer community, however, is that we all tend to help each other out. When I have too many jobs coming my way, I have trusted colleagues I can refer to the client. When I am looking for work, I can call on some of them who are flush at that moment.”
I ask Curley what his go-to audio kit is when on location.
“While there is plenty of debate in the sound community about wireless use, we all use it, and often have no choice but to rely on it to get the sound we need,” he says. “I understood this coming up, and knew that you get what you pay for. I have had experiences with poor quality wireless, and it can turn an otherwise straightforward job into a nightmare, quickly. Even the best wireless gear isn’t infallible, so it’s worth it to get the best you can afford. It is here that Lectrosonics comes into view.”