An aspiring and successful actor, Che is deeply immersed in the Rochester cultural scene. So much so, we’ve named him Che of The Town!
Exclusively for Talker, Che has solicited and is conducting interviews from about 50 Rochestarians working in a diversity of creative fields.
For the full series, see Che of The Town: Interviews
Getting to know Michael McFadden; A Passionate and Hard Working Figure in the World of Film
In this highlight, we turn our attention to Michael McFadden, a talented Production Sound Mixer within our film community.
I was fortunate enough to work alongside Michael McFadden during the Dark Justice Show shoot (Darkjusticeshow.com). Throughout every one of our encounters, I left the conversation feeling motivated and inspired about all the possibilities within the film community. Michael is passionate about what he does and that shows through his professionalism, if your ever in need of a sound mixer for your film project, Michael is your guy!
I asked Micheal a series of questions. Here is what we discussed.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you are from, grew up, what H.S./College you attended etc.
By trade, or at least for what people often pay me to do, I’m a production sound mixer. I’m the person who goes all over the place and makes sure there’s nice clean audio of whatever you want to film wherever you want to film it. I have a small arsenal of gear and though I rarely tackle other jobs on set, I find myself on low budgets helping in every other department using knowledge everyone in the business should have anyway. In my downtime, I give workshops and mentor amateurs through script reading and running film contests.
I’m from a suburb of Rochester, NY though my family is scattered all over the east coast and contains a smattering of important people who shall remain nameless. I mention it because in a round about way, it’s how I ended up working on movies. Growing up, I wanted nothing to do with the business, thus spent years studying music and theatre. In fact, it’s probably my most effective advice for up and comers… study everything else besides film and tv.
What inspired you to get involved with film? Early experiences worth sharing?
I work on a lot of crap. Perhaps the biggest misconception about the film/tv business is that it’s special; it’s not. If you think about the content you like, and then compare that to all the stuff that gets released, and then compare that to all the stuff that gets made (but never distributed or finished); it’s pretty damn small. You hear cinderella stories of first time filmmakers often because it’s the same as hearing about lottery winners. In reality, the chances are so small and in reality even those winners have been playing the game for awhile.
I have a degree in music, but traveled in enough circles where a friend or two would say, “you know audio stuff, hold this microphone while I shoot video.” That was 15 years ago. Over the next 8, I went from playing music to running theatre to working at tv stations, meanwhile spending random off days working for pizza on shorts and building a gear list and knowledge base. You know how writers and actors seek out real experiences for inspiration (sometimes to their personal detriment). It’s no different for filmmaking. It’s hard to design or shoot a crime film if you’ve never been at a crime scene (or in a police station). Drawing inspiration from other songs doesn’t really make you a great composer, the best you can hope for is great DJ/remixer.
Talk about a time where you have faced adversity/conflict and have triumphed.
The most detrimental thing you can do in this business (and perhaps life overall) is oversell yourself. As soon as I got my chops working on shorts, I started writing my own and within a year I made one of my own. I thought I could do it better than anyone else around, which despite how true it might have been at the time, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be good period. I was so gung-ho that I didn’t stop to think if I had the right resources to do it justice. But I was already in too deep, so what resulted was a mostly finished short that I know in hindsight doesn’t work. It was a tough lesson to learn and I regret costing my friends their time and efforts.
The moral here is to have goals but not expectations. If there’s a job you want and know you can do but have never done before, this is definitely the business to say that up front. Sometimes people will take a chance on you, especially if you’re start with low budget work. If you’re honest with them AND yourself, then you’ll likely succeed. If you overstate your skills, you will likely fall short and potentially ruin everyone else’s shoot. Knowing where you fit and how to market yourself is really the only hard part of the job.
What do you believe sets you apart from other cinematographers or other film set worker?
I’m going to take this as “other sound mixers” though I have ran hundreds of hours on studio, field, and cinema cameras. Which (A) still doesn’t make me a cinematographer and (B) is exactly what sets me apart from other sound mixers. This goes back to, “knowing where you fit” in other words, understanding terminology and the overall scale of each job. If you want to be brutally accurate, I’m an indie/tier zero production sound mixer, which means I have the skills and experience to manage a sound department for a production of $2 million or less. Sure, I’d like to do major indie and studio projects but that means starting a the bottom as an assistant or operator. Knowing where you fit it key, which goes hand in hand with knowing as many other aspects of the process as possible. They say “The best actors know everyone else’s lines” and this is genuinely universal. For instance, I know from theatre days how to workshop speech so it sounds natural, helping me work with a director and actor to catch awkward dialogue jumps from page to screen. Also, I know enough of camera and lighting to tell where I can and can’t put mics in a scene and how to mitigate problems; more importantly how to speak their language. It is the communication business after all.
Do you have other interests or hobbies?
I watch smart cartoons. I play latertag and games. I travel all over, and I have a cat… so I’m about as standard of a geek as they get. Most productions are 3-5 weeks, 5-6 days a week, and 12 hours a day; it’s important to have a cushion of R&R routines and media to soften the harsh shoots. Also, understanding family and friends who are ok not seeing you for days or weeks.
Any projects you have out or currently working on?
My next movie is 3 weeks out and it’ll go a little over a month. Beyond that I’m not fully booked — par for the course in the freelance and indie crew world. Most cities aren’t set up for a safety net for freelancers, but part time work with an understanding boss is gold anywhere. I like to say, “when I’m not working, I’m REALLY not working, but I’m always working.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
As I mentioned, I’d like to get to the point where I can work above the indie world but if it never happens then all be happy so long as I can keep making a decent living at it. Have goals, not expectations.
What advice can you give to aspiring cinematographers?
Don’t buy anything unless you’re getting paid to use it. Seriously. Make friends with rental houses. Work there, and clean their gear. If you own gear, take it apart and reassemble it “Full Metal Jacket” style. Remember, most of this job is knowing what you can and can’t do; this includes your equipment.
How can we follow along in your journey? Social media?
Michael McFadden on FB (no public page, just me) which is where a surprising amount of work comes from, especially in the “single-serving friend” world of set work.
shotgunmikey on IG. Shotgun mic, get it? Yes I make that joke on every gig. Makes it real easy to remember my name.
Also there’s IMDb. Apologies to the SAG actor Michael McFadden, I’m happily number (II). I think if I ever ended up working with him we would explode like in Timecop.