72nd Emmy Nominee Michael Rayle
In late July the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced its list of nominations for the 72nd Emmy Awards. Local 479 Sound Mixer Mike Rayle was among those honored with a nomination for the category Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour) for his work on Season 3 of the Netflix hit “Stranger Things”.
This is Mike’s first Emmy nomination and his second award nomination for his work on Stranger Things, for which he was previously nominated for a Cinema Audio Society Award, earlier this year.
Mike entered the business in the late 1990s after moving from New York back to his home state of North Carolina. The sound department was a good fit for his background in music and his on-set experience as an animal handler. He spent his first several years in the business as a sound utility, learning the craft from experienced mixers and is grateful for the opportunity to have studied under their tutelage.
Moving to the New Golden Age
A large part of Mike’s resume is episodic, featuring shows like One Tree Hill, The Resident, and Outer Banks. He has enjoyed working on several projects with husband/wife team of director Ben Falcone and actress Melissa McCarthy – the most recent being the Netflix superhero comedy Thunder Force (release date pending).
He considers himself lucky to be working during the advent of streaming services, with long-form storytelling enjoying a renaissance.
“I’m thankful to be working in episodic right now, to be a part of this New Golden Age of Television.”
Of course getting to this New Golden Age required some sacrifice on Mike’s part. In the early 2010s he was a member of Local 491, traveling to Atlanta as a distant hire on the Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva. Being away from home was difficult, but he did make new film friends along the way – people like future Local 479 President Ray Brown.
In 2015 North Carolina ended its film tax credit program and the FOX network show Mike had been working on, Sleepy Hollow, made the decision to relocate from Wilmington to Atlanta. He followed suit and requested a transfer of membership to Local 479. While it was difficult leaving behind the community of filmmakers he had known and loved, it was the best decision for his career since Georgia was becoming the film center of the industry. And fortunately, he was moving to a place where he had made many friends in the business.
The Stranger Call
Mike was faced with another difficult decision when he received the call to do Stranger Things, as he already had a feature lined up (with people he enjoyed working with). Anyone who has worked in film is familiar with the factors that figure into weighing which jobs to take: the rate, the benefits, the duration of the project, the stress level, the people involved, how much available work time will be left in the year when the job is finished and how the job will look on your resume.
As Mike tells it, his 12 year old daughter, Ava, interrupted his calculations, laying the solution out for him in simple terms: “Dad, you want to work on something you would want to watch.”
“Now here I am with an Emmy nomination for Stranger Things!” he laughs, happily acknowledging his daughter’s wisdom.
He is quick to mention his own crew, Dan Giannattasio (boom operator) and Jenny Elsinger (sound utility), saying “I honestly just can’t emphasize how much I appreciate them both. I couldn’t do what I do without them.”
On Set with the Duffer Brothers
Mike was already a fan of Stranger Things when he received the call to join the crew. He was delighted to learn that the creative team of Matt and Ross Duffer were true filmmakers, and happy to find them seeking his input in their creative process.
“They’re completely open to my ideas. I have a lot of sound effects that I get from post. The brothers encourage me to provide some playback during appropriate shots for the actors motivation, (often creature sounds or something similar) that really helps all of us get into the proper headspace. I suppose a lot of sound mixers wouldn’t want to do that, but it allows me to assist with the creative process – and makes it much easier for me when I need the Directors help with a Sound hurdle that I need help with.
The way that sound is captured can lend drama to the on-screen action, and on a show that has as many thrills as Stranger Things, a production mixer wants to send the best stuff possible to the Post team.
“One of the coolest things about Stranger Things is that they like to shoot with one camera. It allows me many more options in the recording process. They’ll use two from time to time, but it’s nothing like most shows where you might have 3 or more cameras shooting coverage and a master shot simultaneously while camera bodies are stuffed into every nook and cranny of the set. “
Shooting with one camera allowed Mike’s boom operator Dan Giannattasio to get in close to the actors with a more dynamic mic to capture the drama and ambience of the sets in a way that radio mics cannot.
This led Mike to a realization:
“One day I mentioned to the Duffers: Because you’re shooting with one camera it allows us to boom everything – this is the way that films were primarily recorded in 1985!” (The year that Stranger Things season 3 was set). Stranger Things also modifies its video recording to resemble film from 1985 and it turns out that they also capture the audio in the style of 1985 sound as well… I like to think that these details work their way into the subconscious of viewers, adding to that nostalgic feel.”
As a kid of the 1980s, Mike was impressed with the accuracy of the set for Starcourt Mall, location of the third season’s epic finale. Built in the old Gwinnett Place Mall, the set generated endless buzz on the internet and at least one petition to preserve the set for fans to explore.
“What an amazing job our art dept. did in recreating the mall. It was fully functioning. Not sure how many stores they built, but they were all practical and fully dressed – we could go into any of them and shoot. There was a candle store, a Sam Goodies, The Gap, an Orange Julius… the fountains actually worked! That set was totally pimped out – it was an awesome step back in time.”
Somewhat of a mallrat in his youth, Mike settled back into that habit during the period when the show was locked into the Starcourt location: “We shot inside and outside the mall for several weeks – there were a lot of walkaways. There was a good sushi place in the mall. It was packed with our crew daily!”
The Sound Department
Members who work in the sound department have a great resource in the Cinema Audio Society, which has promoted the art and craft of sound recording since 1964.
The resources provided by CAS assist mixers in their high pressure jobs, which have only grown more challenging since the turn of the century.
“A switch was flipped when our industry changed over from film to video. Without costly film processing, productions started crowding the sets with multiple cameras and with that, additional crew and added noise. We also began to shoot much more footage all the time, which really cranks up the intensity. Our challenges have grown tremendously but also so have our tools for recording in production and post production. It’s an amazing time to be a filmmaker.”