Q & A with Re-recording Mixer Dean Humphreys


Happy New Year everyone! 

We kick off 2015 with an interview with Re-recording Mixer and Sound Supervisor Dean Humphreys.

Dean is well-known within the film industry. He's Roman Polanski's go-to, and his dad, Gerry Humphreys, was a Sound legend in his own right. Now Head of Editing, Sound and Music at the National Film and Television School, Dean's career has been a long and fruitful one. We took the opportunity to grill someone with an IMDb list as long as their arm, packed with blockbusters as well as the odd sprinkling of cinematic gems we'd all love to have worked on...


So, what I and a lot of other people would like to know is what's the secret to a successful career in a hugely competitive industry?

Dean is well-know within the film industry. He's Roman Polanski's go to, and his dad, Gerry Humphreys, was a Sound legend in his own right. Now head of Editing, Sound and Music at the National Film and Television School, Dean's career has been a long and fruitful one. We took the opportunity to grill someone with an IMDb list as long as their arm, packed with blockbusters as well as the odd sprinkling of cinematic gems we'd all love to have worked on... 

Firstly, I see the technical part of our job as a bit of an 'aside'. People politics is an enormous factor, which isn't often considered before going into post production, or the film industry as a whole. It can get bad, get really ugly. You need to be the type of person who can grit their teeth and find a way round it. The industry requires tenacity, a certain guile- even if you're thinking the most terrible things about people. 

When you're dealing with things like huge egos, budget pressures, big expectations for the movie- by the time you get to post production things are often fraught. There can be a painful awakening at that late stage, that what they have created isn't what they were aiming for. I have literally seen a Director punch a Producer in the face; all because of the stress of having been given a 13 million dollar budget and facing the slow realisation that what you've created is a total turkey.

The people in post production can end up copping all the frustrations, and your ability to cope with that is as paramount as your creative input, or technical expertise.

Do you think it's always been that way? Do you think your dad would have been dealing with as many fragile, creative egos, or do you think he had a totally different set of hurdles?

In some ways you could argue the biggest change, in terms of people, their attitudes, and how we work now is the distance factor. I think the technology allows people to be reclusive. Now, something can be done in a dark room in New Zealand and then sent to London- you may not even see or meet the people you're working with, it's very odd. When I first started working in the industry, we were literally having to meet to hand over big chunks of film reel to each other- that doesn't exist now. 

That's so true, many of us work independently now, and the social aspect has all but gone for the people in Post. Do you prefer the set up now, or how it used to be?

There are great things that have been lost, that people don't get now. Simply going for a cigarette break together, or heading down the pub after work is something that few Foley or Dialogue Editors experience these days. It's often only the Supervising Sound Editor that is in the room with the Director, and that can be a shame. But then, in other ways it allows for a lot more people to be part of a growing industry. So I guess, there's pros and cons.

Ok, any career highlights you want to share with us?

Funnily enough, a few times I've enjoyed working on films that have in the end turned out to be a total flop! I was working with Michael Winner once- it was the closest thing you can get to warfare without the use of a gun. He was infamous, legendary I'd even say, for being irascible, rude, and just generally awful. But that experience for me was a bit of a landmark, that was where I really learnt how to deal with a bomb that could go off in any moment- sound wise I can't remember anything about it!

Then there's the Pianist, which I think is a wonderful movie. I've worked with Polanski on eight different movies now, and some have been enormous, others have been less so- but the act of actually working with him is something I will always jump at. He is a fantastically engaging and demanding human being; it doesn't matter what you're working on, just being around him is fulfilling.

Have you ever been surprised by the outcome of a production? Have you ever felt something was amazing and it turned out to be a total flop, or the other way around?

Yes- when I was about 19, I was working as a trainee in the mixing studio on American Werewolf in London, and all the UK people working on it thought it was the biggest pile of rubbish we had ever seen in our entire lives. The director on the other hand was massively proud, and kept telling us how well screenings had gone in the US. But everyone else was convinced it was a load of crap. I eventually went to see it at the Odeon with my then-girlfriend, and came out thinking "this is absolutely brilliant!" it was a huge surprise.

There have been times when it's been the other way round too. Even now, I find it hard to call it. You can get so close to a movie, so tied up in the details that it's a real skill to be able to step back far enough to see it for what it really is.

Ok, finally, how do you approach a mix in general? Can you give us any technical tips or good recipes for success for tackling that final stage of a film?

Absolutely. The first thing I do is watch the whole reel without stopping it once. I don't want to get bogged down with the detail at that stage. I want to see the shape in it's entirety. I run the music, and I never listen to the foley in the first pass. First I go with the dialogue & the ADR, the music, the sound effects and the atmospheres. You need to step back, maybe listen to the production foley initially, and see it in all it's glory- lumps and bumps and all. I then go back and smooth out the details obviously, but that first pass where you get the gut feeling for what's working and what's not would be my biggest piece of advice.


Gerry Humphreys (Dean's old man) at the controls.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy weekend to have a chat with us Dean! Always good to get tips from people with so much experience; here's to hoping for a credit list that long one day. Anyone else do things similar to Dean? Or do you have a totally different opinion on the industry? Would love to hear from any other soundies on this...

In the meantime, hope it's a great weekend for everyone, and here're a few cool links to check out-