Leslie Shatz interview: ‘The Velvet Underground’ sound designer
While many might assume that Leslie Shatz got access to incredible master tapes while working as the sound designer for the documentary “The Velvet Underground” that would actually be a big misconception. “We wanted to preserve a feeling and the recordings are distorted and you don’t want to change that either. So the idea is what should I do to make it better without making it better,” he tells us during our recent webchat (watch the video interview above). Part of what helped the sound design come together for the documentary was how he took the music and put it everywhere in the film. “Because it wasn’t stereo, we couldn’t go left or right, but we took the source of the sound and made it come from many speakers at the same time so, in fact, your room becomes the venue.”
“The Velvet Underground,” which is currently streaming on Apple TV+, chronicles the band that was comprised of Reed, Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker. After forming in 1965, Andy Warhol would become the band’s manager in 1966. The group performed throughout the rest of the ’60s and eventually disbanded in the early 1970s. The film is the first documentary to be directed by Oscar nominee Todd Haynes. Shatz is also a previous Oscar nominee, earning a Best Sound nomination in 1999 for “The Mummy,” and a three-time Emmy nominee for his work mixing “Mildred Pierce” (2011), “Game Change” (2012) and “Making a Murderer” (2016).
Shatz has worked as a sound mixer for Haynes for almost 20 years, starting with “Far From Heaven” back in 2002. Their pairing actually came from the help of another veteran indie filmmaker, Gus Van Sant. “I had already been working with Gus a lot and they both lived in Portland at the time. I think [Haynes] just called Gus and said, ‘Who do you like,’ and he mentioned my name, I talked to Todd and then we got started.” Shatz attributes the continued relationship with Haynes to several common things they share as well as how Haynes can be a perfectionist. “He loves sound and he’s really meticulous with his sound work with every aspect of itself and that’s something I really respond to because it makes you bring your A-game.”
Among some of the sounds that Shatz inserted into the documentary, there was one that he really enjoyed putting in during the a sequence set to “I’ve Got a Secret.” “They have little flash cuts and I wanted to put in a sound that represented the flash cuts.” Shatz specifically wanted to put in a sound effect of the noise that old film cameras would make every time the camera was turned off and the machine would speed up. “I looked through a lot of different YouTube videos and, finally, I found some demonstration of an old 16mm sound on film camera, it was perfect, I put it in and Todd loved it.”