In the ever-evolving world of entertainment, there are those individuals who possess a unique talent for crafting auditory experiences that captivate, terrify, and delight. Ethan Beigel, with over two decades of experience under his belt, is undeniably one of these.
As the supervising sound editor on the Disney+ series "Goosebumps," Ethan and his sound team undertook the challenging task of bringing to life the spine-tingling audio for a world filled with eerie creatures, heart-pounding nightmares, and hair-raising situations, all while maintaining a nostalgic nod to the beloved predecessors of the show. But Ethan's expertise extends far beyond Goosebumps; he's also left his mark on popular series like HBO Max's "Minx," featuring Jake Johnson, and a myriad of other hit television shows, including "The Flash," "Riverdale," and "YOU."
In this exclusive interview, we delve into the mind of a sound maestro, exploring the artistry and expertise that have made Ethan Beigel a luminary in the world of sound design.
PH: Hi Ethan! You've had an impressive career in sound editing spanning over 20 years, working on a variety of projects, including Goosebumps, Minx, and more. Can you share some key insights or experiences that have shaped your approach to sound editing in your work on these different projects?
Ethan Beigel: When I first graduated college, I was an intern at C5, a very prestigious sound facility in New York. Skip Lievsay let me observe while he was doing a foley premix for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” He was crafting how the cloth sounded as characters would walk across the screen. It was eye opening. I never knew that kind of detail and care was put into the soundtrack. So at that moment, I realized how much that matters. The audience might not hear that sound specifically, but they can feel it.
A few years later, I was working on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as a temp mixer and I got to see how an Oscar winning crew crafted their tracks. From that experience I saw not just an extraordinary level of detail, but how selective they were about the sounds the audience would hear.. It was a masterclass in using sound to direct the audience’s eye. They would use sound to guide the story.
I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of top talent and I always try to take some piece of their method and philosophy with me into my next project.
PH: Goosebumps is known for its unique blend of nostalgia and contemporary storytelling. Can you describe the creative process behind designing soundscapes for the various scary situations, creatures, and nightmares featured in Goosebumps? How do you balance the need for fright and suspense with accessibility for a wide audience?
Ethan Beigel: In a case like Goosebumps, there’s a lot of experimentation. We’re updating a classic so we wanted to give a wink to the originals, but really we’re trying to do our own thing. We knew going in that we wanted to maintain the fun from the books, but we needed to be scarier. The Goosebumps audience now spans generations so we want to be scary enough for adults and teenagers who grew up with it, but not too scary that we turn off younger audiences. That involves a lot of cutting and recutting trying to find where that line is. You really have to trust your instincts and the instincts of your showrunner, in this case, Rob Letterman. He directed the original Goosebumps movie with Jack Black so he’s been sitting with this property for a long time and has a great sense of how it should evolve. I wish I could say there’s some magical nostalgia button, but it really is just creating a lot of versions. Here’s three different troll voice treatments, for example. Maybe that one’s too scary. This other one is too silly. This third one is cool but when played against the VFX or makeup effects it doesn’t sound like it’s coming from that character. Sound and sound design is very subjective. We’re conjuring something that doesn’t exist. So we just keep recreating these things until we can watch it and say “I believe that is what’s happening on the screen.”
PH: You've worked on both television series and feature films, including notable titles like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. How does your approach to sound editing differ between these two formats, and what unique challenges and opportunities do each present?
Ethan Beigel: The biggest difference between television and feature films is time. That has the single biggest impact on how we work. Even more than money. So in television, we have less time to really focus on some of the details than we might on a feature film. We also get fewer passes at any individual scene or episode. There’s less opportunity to go back and rework something that might not be perfect. And that’s the hardest part about working in TV. You know the work is good, but maybe with another pass, we could make it great. But by the time you get there, the show is airing.
The flip side of that is in features, it’s very easy to get caught in the weeds of revising over and over again. As I mentioned, sound is very subjective and you can play with it forever. It can be hard recognizing the difference between making something better or just making it different.
It’s really a matter of mindset over your specific process. We still do all the steps, whether it’s features or TV, but in TV we are trying to craft our work for what is going to have the biggest immediate impact. In features, we usually have the luxury of finessing things a bit.
PH: In Goosebumps and other projects, you've been nominated for Golden Reel Awards. What do you believe sets your work apart and has contributed to these accolades? Can you share any memorable moments or challenges you faced during the creation of award-nominated soundscapes?
Ethan Beigel: For clarity, I haven’t been nominated for awards on Goosebumps. So much really depends on the quality of the project you’re working on. A well written, well directed movie or TV show is going to sound better. The work I’ve been nominated for, Revolt or The Stoning of Soraya M, are both movies where the filmmakers understood how the movie would sound long before they got to set. On Revolt, for example, I had worked with director Joe Miale on an early “proof of concept’ reel where we got to play around with the alien robot sound design. So we knew going into production that this was going to work. To have that kind of collaboration and trust with the filmmaker is paramount. When you see any award nominated soundtrack, there’s a better than average chance that the filmmakers were able to build a sandbox that the sound team just loved playing around in. I feel like you can always hear how much the sound team is enjoying the work they’re creating and that often starts at the top.
PH: Sound design plays a crucial role in enhancing storytelling and emotional engagement. How do you collaborate with directors, producers, and other members of the creative team to ensure your sound work aligns with their vision and enhances the overall viewing experience?
Ethan Beigel: My primary mindset is to understand that we’re trying to put ideas on the screen that come from someone else’s head. It’s a very strange concept. My collaboration style is to talk to the key creatives and determine what moves THEM. It’s not about me or my style. It’s about crafting my work to move them. So we talk to each other. A lot. And these conversations are as philosophical as they are practical. It reminds me of sitting around the lunch table in film school debating about why that idea works or doesn’t work. Then I translate those conversations into practical sound terms for my team. In an ideal world, I’ll always try to show the filmmaker what we’re working on so there are no surprises. What I might think is working, is not what the filmmaker has in their head so the more frequently we get the work in front of them, the better.
I also try to frame my opinions to what the filmmaker is trying to achieve. The most common question I get asked by a filmmaker is “Do you think this is working?” Well, ‘working’ is a very vague term. So the response is usually “What are you trying to make me feel?” And from there we can have an honest conversation about how to get that feeling to happen.
PH: In Goosebumps, the series features a wide range of supernatural and paranormal elements. How do you go about researching and designing sound elements for these elements, and what inspires your creative process when working on such fantastical and otherworldly themes?
Ethan Beigel: In my opinion, the scariest and most eerie sounds are those that are rooted in something familiar. So my co-supervisor and sound designer on Goosebumps, Andy Sisul, focused on grounding our supernatural and paranormal sounds in something within the world of the show. Ghosts were once human, for example. We don’t really know what worms sound like but we know what they look like and we translate that into sound. It’s familiar but larger than life. Our inspiration really comes from the image and setting. Port Lawrence is in the Pacific Northwest so we wanted to play more with sounds familiar to that location - boats, buoys, rain, the persistent cool wind, etc…
PH: You've had the opportunity to work on a diverse set of projects. Are there any specific sound editing techniques, tools, or innovations that you've found particularly effective or groundbreaking in your career?
Ethan Beigel: Izotope RX is a gift from the gods on Olympus. I’m convinced of it. It’s been an absolute life saver. We are now able to use such a high percentage of original on set recordings compared to when I first started. I also love the evolution of multi-channel sound. Dolby Atmos is a very cool innovation. That level of immersion is so powerful. I think we’re going to continue to see the technology advance where we’re able to do more with less and that’s really exciting. When I started, it was cumbersome to get what was in my head onto the screen. My brain worked faster than my hands. That’s not the case anymore and it’s delightful.
PH: Can you tell us about a particularly challenging or demanding project you've worked on, and how you overcame the obstacles to deliver a memorable sound experience?
Ethan Beigel: Every show is its own challenge. Goosebumps has multiple fantastical elements that all have to coalesce into a consistent soundscape by the end of the series and that was really challenging from a creative standpoint. I recently worked on a show called Saint X that was more logistically challenging because so much of the show was shot on the beach and there was a hurricane not too far away. The environmental conditions were terrible for sound. We did a ton of ADR (dialogue replacement) on that show and fortunately, all of the actors were amazing at it. That was really hard because we wanted the beach to have a certain sound quality but when you listened to the original recordings, it just sounded like that hurricane was right there, ripping through the set. That show required a lot of time and effort from the whole cast and sound team to tell that story in the most effective way possible.
PH: With your extensive experience, what advice would you give to aspiring sound editors looking to make their mark in the industry and create compelling audio experiences for film and television?
Ethan Beigel: The first thing I always recommend is, if you have the means, get yourself a sound editing system and just start cutting. It doesn’t matter if you’re cutting something for real or if you’re just pulling movies that exist and redesigning them just for fun. Just get in there and do it. The more you cut, the better you’ll be at it.
If you’re an aspiring sound designer, specifically, start recording as much as you can and filter those sounds through various plug-ins, synthesizers, harmonizers, etc… see what you can do. My supervisor on Transformers, Eric Aadahl, used to say he had a rule in his house that nothing would be thrown away if it could be destroyed first. So he takes a hammer to everything and records it all. That’s a great mentality to have.
Also, if you want to be successful in film and TV, understand that story comes first. This sounds like a cliche but I’ve worked with plenty of people who felt their sound design was the most important thing and it always creates conflict. The story is the most important thing. Read books, watch movies, listen to podcasts. Learn to tell a story and then figure out how sound will make that story better.