When Supervising Sound Editor Ethan Beigel entered the world of sound, he didn’t dip his feet—he dove. On day one of his first professional sound gig, Ethan was cutting sound FX on a rom-com. His career trajectory has been on the up and up since, with involvement on hit projects such as Transformers, Riverdale, and You.
Most recently, Ethan worked on Minx, the HBO Max comedy starring Ophelia Lovibond and Jake Johnson (New Girl.) Set in the 1970s in Los Angeles, Minx follows a feminist young woman on her mission to create the first erotic magazine for women. The series was just renewed for its second season.
We spoke with Ethan about his serendipitous start in the industry, his personal style and approach to sound, and his experiences working on some of the most beloved films and shows in entertainment.
What did your career journey look like that has brought you to where you are today? How has your background informed your success as Supervising Sound Editor in this era of high-quality television?
I grew up with a movie-obsessed father. So our primary activity together was watching movies. And if we weren’t watching movies we were talking about movies. Even now, we don’t have a conversation where he doesn’t ask “Seen any good movies lately?” When I was in middle school, I thought I would parlay that obsession into a career as a movie critic. But around my freshman year of high school, he sent me to a summer program at Boston University where we learned about film, television, and radio production. Suddenly, MAKING movies was very real. So I spent the rest of high school doing everything I could to make sure I got into film school.
I went to NYU for undergrad, really to be a director but as things evolved, I gravitated more towards producing. By my senior year, I had a problem. As a producer, I didn’t know anything about sound. I didn’t know how to budget for it. I didn’t know how to schedule for it. And I really didn’t know what you could accomplish creatively with sound. So I took the two classes NYU offered and I was hooked. I spent the rest of college and even the year after begging anybody I knew who had made a student film to let me do their sound work. This was actually easier than you’d think. As it turned out there was a significant gap in the market for sound people. There was quite literally only one person in the NYU community who was doing post-production sound. So I saw this as a great career path.
After college, I was interning wherever I could. I had a great internship at C5, one of the top sound facilities in New York. At the time they were doing O Brother Where Art Thou and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I got to sit in on foley sessions, premixes, and I was tasked with helping organize the sound effects library as they were converting everything from DAT tapes to computer databases. The moment that sealed my fate was watching Skip Lievsay do a foley premix and I was fascinated by the attention to detail that was being put into sounds I never consciously noticed were in the movie. Someone later told me, “If you can watch a foley premix and come out thinking THAT was exciting, you might have a future as a sound person.”
Not long after, I was almost out of money and took the first real paying gig I could get. It was for a short film distribution company called AtomFilms, kind of a precursor to YouTube. It wasn’t a sound job though, so I continued to pursue any sound opportunity I could get. I saved some money and bought my own Pro Tools rig. Two weeks later, the company was bought and I was laid off. So I had a Pro Tools rig and no day job.
One day, I was standing on a subway platform and there was a saxophonist playing. I was a saxophonist so I went to drop a dollar in his case and it turned out, the saxophonist was my sound design teacher from NYU. We started talking and as luck would have it, a job had just opened up at the studio where he worked. Three days later, I was hired for my first job as a professional sound person.
That job turned out to be perfect. It was a very small company called Sound Dimensions. There were only three of us who worked there but we had a steady stream of micro-budget indie features that came in. Because we were so short-staffed, I had to learn how to do everything. So my first day on the job, I thought I’d be taking out the trash but instead, I was cutting sound FX on a rom-com. Eventually, my boss convinced the director I should mix the movie as well. And it just snowballed from there. I was recording foley and ADR and I was mixing everything that came in. I did that for almost five years but the business was starting to dry up. At the time, DV was taking off and movies that had $1M budgets now had $100k budgets. I felt like I hit the ceiling. So I moved to LA.
I got a job at a company out here called Novastar which had primarily been doing audio restoration work but had a very nice mix stage they would rent out. They had just started doing major network TV and because of my experience in New York, I was able to dive in as a do-it-all employee. So I would be in the machine room for these TV shows one day, the next day I’d be mixing a trailer or a short film, and another day I’d be recording ADR. The great part about that place was the people who came through. I was a mix tech for Jeffrey Perkins who won an Oscar for mixing Dances With Wolves. I worked on a movie that was supervised by Stephen Hunter Flick. Later, I worked with Larry Benjamin and Kevin Valentine who currently mix Better Call Saul and Ozark, among others. So there was this parade of people who came through that I got to talk to and study their work from under the hood. Eventually, Larry became my unofficial agent and started recommending me to Smart Post, the company he was working for, and they gave me my first job as a union mixer, and my career has been going up ever since.
How do you see your role as Supervising Sound Editor — do you see it as more artistic, technical, or as a mix of both? And do you find that there is room for your personal touch on a project?
It’s definitely both artistic and technical. I get hired because I have expertise in how to utilize the technology available to deliver something tangible that’s only lived in the producer’s or director’s head. So there’s a lot of room for me and my team of editors to be creative. If I had an analogy, I would think of myself as a sound chef. You, as the director, might say you’re in the mood for aural spaghetti and meatballs. But you don’t know how to make it so you hire me and my team of cooks to do it. There are a thousand ways to make that dish and I’m going to serve you something I think is going to satisfy your mood but also something that is uniquely mine.
You most recently worked on HBO Max’s new series, Minx. Can you describe this project? Were there any specific challenges and enjoyable moments?
Minx has been a delight from start to finish. It’s a workplace comedy about a feminist in the early 70s who starts the first nude male magazine. So there’s a wonderful dynamic of getting to watch this woman become immersed in a world she would normally think was beneath her. There’s a great cast of characters that all bring their point of view and help shape the world of the show.
I was given the rare gift of getting to read the script before I interviewed for the pilot and I loved it. I was also a history major in college and here was a piece of historical fiction that I thought did what any good piece of historical writing should do. It held a mirror up to the present. So I was thrilled to get the job and dig in.
As far as challenges, the trickiest part of the soundscape of the show has to be the crowds and activity. Our hero, Joyce, comes from a very stuffy, country club existence and is thrust into a world that is significantly less uptight. Every episode features contrasting groups of people and capturing the differences in those crowds requires a lot of customization. For example, in the first episode alone, we go from a construction site catcalling Joyce, to a magazine pitch convention where there are hundreds of people frenetically pitching ideas, to the offices of a teen girl’s magazine that features a telephone pool of bubbly saleswomen, and eventually to our main location at Bottom Dollar Publishing which is a porn publishing empire. The people in each of these environments are all so different from one another. To do this, we use what’s called a Loop Group, which is where we bring in a bunch of voice actors and they’ll act out the various background crowds. Covid made this especially hard because we can’t have the voice actors all in the same room anymore. It was extremely hard on them especially because they can’t interact with each other as easily from the recording booth they’ve set up in their closet as they can on a real recording stage. But they pulled it off and as the show goes on, you’ll really see an escalation in the variety of crowd work that we had to do.
You have also worked on a handful of high-profile projects like Transformers, You, and Riverdale. What has been one of the most notable moments you’ve had working on so many incredible projects?
On Transformers, specifically, the most notable aspect was really getting to work with a crew that I think is made up of some of the best in the business. Ethan van der Ryn had done the Lord of the Rings trilogy which came out just as I was starting my professional career and was really the hallmark of what I’d hoped to achieve. Erik Aadahl has the perfect, childlike energy that’s contagious and you can tell that every sound he gives you, part of him thinks it’s the most fun thing he’s ever created. They also have a style in their cutting that I really loved and I hadn’t ever seen before. Their work is so clean and precise and I started incorporating as much of that into my own editing afterward. Of course, I also spent twenty hours a day pouring over the mix stems coming from Gary Summers and Greg Russell’s stage. They’re both legends and I learned so much from getting to isolate individual pieces of their mix and dive into what sounds they feature, and how they move them around each other. There really isn’t a better learning experience than having the raw elements and seeing how they put it all together.
On Riverdale and You, I was sort of overwhelmed by the popular response. Both shows had been out for a while when I was hired, so I knew what they were but I didn’t know what they had become. Riverdale Twitter is one of my favorite places to visit after an episode airs. And when I first posted that I was working on You, I got such a huge response from my friends and colleagues that all watch the show. That was a pretty great feeling.
When you are assigned a new project, what is the first step in your process?
Assuming I have some lead time, I’ll do as much research as I can into the project and the subject matter. I started Riverdale and You in seasons 4 and 3, respectively, so my first order of business was to watch the show and take notes on what had already been established creatively. I even went and read the books You is based on because I was curious about the tone and voice of the show and where that came from. If there isn’t already existing material, I’ll research the filmmakers or the subject. So with Minx, I watched Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s movie Unpregnant and I brushed up on some classic Paul Feig material.
Once the project starts and I get the episode, my first step is to watch the show and take notes about the kinds of things we should hear. I’ll have a sit down with the filmmakers to discuss their priorities and we’ll have a back and forth about their ideas and my ideas and get on the same page as to what the episode should sound like. After that, it’s on to the nitty-gritty of the job. Evaluating the dialogue and deciding what needs to be re-recorded. Cuing things like loop group and foley. Evaluating my crew’s work and preparing it all for the mix.
Who is your dream director or creative to work with?
The obvious answer is anything Star Wars. The one constant through every phase of my life is that a Star Wars something arrives and I can’t help but feel like a kid again. As a child of the 80s and 90s, the most influential filmmakers to me were people like Spielberg and Scorcese (of course). Joe Dante is a huge influence. As is Kathryn Bigelow. Rob Reiner and the Coen Brothers had extended runs of movies that I think are pretty close to perfect. I got to work with John Landis once and I jumped at every opportunity to have him tell stories about the making of the Blues Brothers.
More recent influences, I’d have to say Alfonso Cuaron has made three of my favorite movies of the last twenty years. Sound-wise, I’d love to work with Erik Aadahl and Ethan van der Ryn again. As well as Skip Lievsay who doesn’t know it, but it’s kind of his fault I’m here. I feel like I owe them all one.
But really, my dream is actually a little more personal. I love working with my friends from film school. Before we had careers of our own, I was doing sound for Ryan Fleck’s (Captain Marvel, Mrs. America) short films and I always loved that collaboration. We haven’t worked together since he started doing features but I always get a little tinge of pride and nostalgia whenever I watch one of his movies. And of course, Joe Miale, who has brought me along on his journey for the past twenty years. I got to do his first feature, Revolt, a few years ago and that experience had a little extra. We spent our college years dreaming this might happen and whenever I get to do a project with him, I’m always a little shocked that the dream is real. I am eagerly anticipating whatever he’s going to do next.
What advice would you give to aspiring sound professionals?
Don’t fall victim to what I’d call the Myth of Genius. What I learned from all these years working with and, as importantly, talking to all of these top-notch creatives is that it isn’t some magical gift that the gods bestowed on them that makes them great. It’s that they practice. All. Day. Long. Any of the names I mentioned above and dozens of others, they’re great at what they do because they are constantly doing it. And if they’re not doing it, they’re thinking about doing it. None of these achievements are out of reach. You just have to constantly work at your craft. If you’re an aspiring sound professional, get yourself access to some gear, and go out and grab any and every project you possibly can. It doesn’t matter if it’s the worst piece of garbage movie ever made, if you can get it, work it and make it better. Do that enough and eventually, something will break your way. A door will open and you’ll be able to run through it.