Myrtle Beach native William Files’ interest in sound effects as a young teen developed into a passion that today has him finalizing post-production sound on the greatly anticipated and soon to be released “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Working at a job he says is truly a dream come true, Files lives and works in Los Angeles where most post-production is performed on major movies. As a professional sound designer and mixer, his job entails creating iconic sounds for “things that don’t exist.”
“Someone has to come up with conceptual sounds such as the talking robot or the sword made out of energy. It needs to sound believable but also unique and special,” Files said during a phone interview from California where has lived since graduating from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2002.
Files mixed sound for the recently released trio of movie trailers for the epic Star Wars film, and is assisting with final sound production for the movie scheduled for release Dec. 18.
Files said providing sound design for the Star Wars trailers has been fun, mainly because he enjoys seeing people’s reaction to them. He shared a text recently with a friend saying, “These latest two are probably my favorites though…if the two lead actors in the film are this stoked about it, I think we might have done our job!”
Each trailer has revealed a little more about Episode VII in the Star Wars series--including the revelation that Hon Solo (Harrison Ford) of the original Star Wars trilogy is back--while being careful not to give away too much of the story, Files said. His role was to create big sound for the trailers, as you would get in the movie theater but while viewed on a laptop. In both the trailers and the movie, the sound had to blend, “like weaving a tapestry,” with the visual effects to make them seem real, he said.
Developing a career in sound
Files followed a stepping-stone path to a lucrative career that allows him to work with some of the biggest names in movie production--most recently with Star Trek and Star Wars director J.J. Abrams.
Getting a foot in the door at WKZQ-FM radio at age 14 where his dad, Bill Files, was an engineer, the younger Files grew intrigued by the sound library and professional audio equipment. Will Files said working at the radio station allowed him an opportunity to “play around” with the audio equipment whenever the staff was not making commercials.
“It was my first experience with a library of pre-recorded sound effects,” he said. There he learned you could create a pallet of sounds using sound effects. His interest gained momentum while a student at Horry County’s Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology program.
“At that point, I realized being a sound mixer for movies was a real job and to be part of the finalizing process, this was something in my wheelhouse. Up until that time, I had gravitated toward the film side and then back to my roots of sound and music and realizing that was where my passion was,” Files said.
When he realized he could apply his passion and knowledge for sound and music to be a close collaborator with film directors, he became dedicated to following that career path. He made his first major leap into the industry by packing up and heading west after college graduation to start an internship with Skywalker Sound, the post-production facility of famous director George Lucas.
Living in the San Francisco Bay area was a place he had dreamed of living, he said, and he wanted to be a part of the excitement associated with the film industry.
“It was a little crazy but to work in the film business my only option was to head west,” he said. “Skywalker Sound was my dream job. I was lucky to fall into the internship with Randy Thom.”
The internship got his foot in the door and quickly transitioned into an entry-level job. “It was an amazing internship and I spent five years as Thom’s assistant,” he said.
Files said he chose the right field to be in in the movie industry. “Our jobs are a little more stable here in post-production. That is one reason I gravitated to post-production,” he said.
While he admits it is exciting to be working on a Star Wars movie, at the end of the day it is just another job.
“As glamorous as the movie business seems from the outside, from the inside it is a lot of hard work and long hours. It is not unheard of to work through the night. And certainly when you get close to the end of a project, it can be seven days a week of 18-hour days. It can be pretty fatiguing and feels like you’ve just run a marathon,” he said. “It’s classic that as the movie work ends; everyone gets sick because you finally let your guard down.”
Files said passionate people who want to do their best work surround him. “You want to make sure your contribution is as good as it can be,” he said.
The most satisfying thing about his business, he said, is seeing other people experience the film or trailer. “If they react the way you wanted to get them to, it is very satisfying to see it is working,” he said.
Files has a long list of movies he has mixed sound for, some like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” receiving nominations from the Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards earlier this year.
While completion of the Star Wars movie nears, Files is already geared up to work on the next Marvel movie production, “Deadpool: The Merc with a Mouth.” The Marvel series is based on Marvel Comics characters. Deadpool is due for release in 2016. He has also lined up work on the next Planet of the Apes film, “War of the Planet of the Apes.”
When not creating an iconic voice for a fictional 300-foot tall Godzilla-like monster, or sound effects to make talking robots or strange looking aliens from a galaxy far, far away come alive on the big screen, Files enjoys cooking for his girlfriend and friends.
“That’s my biggest passion these days. I bought a smoker and I am learning to create pulled pork. Most people in LA have never had true East Carolina pulled pork in a vinegar sauce.”
That is a small part of his southern roots he enjoys sharing in the big city.
Angela Nicholas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.