Jeff Wexler has been working in the film industry since he was an intern on Harold and Maude back in 1971. His career spans more than four decades with such varied films as Foul Play, Being There, The Natural, Spaceballs, Independence Day, Fight Club and Mission Impossible III. We spoke on location working on his sixth film with Cameron, Aloha.
Looking back on your 40 year career in the film industry, I read that you had no plans to follow in your dad’s footsteps (preeminent cinematographer Haskell Wexler). Tell us how working a summer job on Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude changed your life?
I had been on sets with my father probably since about the age of two. I was very familiar with what goes on when making a movie but when I started to think about what I would do “when I grow up” it never crossed my mind that I would work on movies. I spent 5 years in college preparing to teach sociology at the college level. One summer I think my father felt that I had been in school long enough and needed a summer job. Of course he got me a job on a movie, working as a production assistant in the Art Department on Harold and Maude. I had known Hal Ashby from times spent going to dailies with my father, visiting the editing room (Hal was an Academy Award winning editor on several movies my father had shot), so I was quite comfortable on the set again, with people I knew. What I was not prepared for was how I felt, for the first time, being on a movie, not as a visitor but as a participant. I fell in love with the movies. When the movie wrapped I made the decision: teaching was out — I would pursue a career working on movies.
Describe to our readers the duties of a Sound Mixer?
I am a Production Sound Mixer and it is the responsibility, with my crew, for all the sound that is recorded during production. This is primarily dialog recording, but we also record sound effects, ambiences, music (sometimes live performances depending on the movie). Many others will work on the soundtrack for a movie in post production (i.e. sound designer, sound editorial, foley, music composer, re-recording mixer, etc.) but the production sound recordings are the primary and fundamental basis for the movie.