There’s an enthusiasm that comes naturally from Gary Rizzo when he’s speaking about filmmaking. It doesn’t matter if he’s telling a story about running around his neighborhood as a kid pretending to be a Jedi, or his career working alongside award-winning filmmakers at George Lucas’s Skywalker Sound. It’s all comes from the same place, his love of film as a vehicle for imaginative storytelling.
Gary joined Skywalker Sound shortly after graduating from Full Sail’s Recording Arts program, and has spent his career helping to create stories for new generations of movie fans as a re-recording mixer. There’s a palpable sense of inspiration seeing him at work behind a console at the famed postproduction studio, which is reflected in the evocative mixes he’s made for such films as TRON: Legacy, The Incredibles, How to Train Your Dragon, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, and The Dark Knight.
“It’s always nice to see your name in the credits, but for me it’s about working on interesting projects because I just love the medium,” he says. “There’s never a project that comes across as ‘just another project.’ Every project offers its own uniqueness, not just in its challenges but in the material itself. Everything is going to be a little bit different each time and that keeps it refreshing.”
As a re-recording mixer Gary works to give each film its own distinct personality by combining the dialog, sound effects, and music into a cohesive soundtrack. He has been continually challenged in this role, working on everything from epic summer action movies to low key political documentaries, and it’s in finding the individual voice for different projects where his artistry really shines.
“What we do is try to help the directors tell their story utilizing sound as best we can,” he says. “The fun part for me is at the end of the first playback – when you hit stop, swivel in your chair, and say ‘How’s that?” And the director is just beaming because he hasn’t heard the picture like that yet. That’s the big payoff.”
That attention to detail is especially apparent in Gary’s collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, with whom he’s worked with on films like The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Batman Begins, and Inception. These projects showcase his finesse for balancing the emotional and explosive beats in an audio mix, and would eventually lead to him winning the Oscar for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing for Inception.
“Working for Christopher Nolan is an absolute treat,” he says. “He will push you to excel because he wants the best out of you, and those are my favorite kinds of filmmakers to work with. Chris is interested in powerful, effective emotions – he really wants to make a big impact with both picture and sound, and he relies on his crew to follow through and deliver. That’s exciting to be a part of, and the fact that I can contribute to part of his projects is hugely flattering.”
Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to do at a very early age, well before they have any idea how they’re going to actually achieve it. Looking back on his career in film audio, Gary is quick to credit that innate love of film for influencing both a career and life that continues to reward him in new ways.
“I think that most of the people attending Full Sail come in with that,” he says. “They believe that what they’re pursuing is important, and if you have a passion for something you’re going to make sure that things go the way that you want them to go. I was no different from anyone else in my class – I went through the same curriculum. What made me different was a self-motivating factor that I did not get into this to go halfway. It’s a matter of knowing what you want and going after it.”