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March 10, 2017

Meet Ed Campbell

As an Audio Engineer in the Production Services Department, Ed Campbell mixes sound for WNET’s many productions. “Most of my mixing is done for our national series for PBS: Nature, Great Performances, Secrets of the Dead, and American Masters. I also do some work on local programming,” Ed says. Read on to learn about the art and technique of sound mixing for television and film, Ed’s passion for Nature and other PBS documentaries, and more.

Ed Campbell

Ed Campbell

What is your background, and how did you land at WNET?

Before I moved to New York in 1984, I owned a recording studio in Hallowell, Maine.  My girlfriend at the time, Claudia Schneider, who is now my wife, was (and is) an actress, and moved to New York for work. I decided I could work anywhere and followed her, landing a mixing position at ABC working on the Summer Olympics. I moved from there into recording studio work at National Sound, and in 1992 Julie Leonard (who was a producer for Nature at the time) interviewed me for the mixing position on Nature. I met Fred Kaufman and mixed a reel and some promos for them, and they booked me for the upcoming season. I am now in my 25th season with Nature.

How do you approach a mix when you begin work on a Nature film? What are the things you look for when you screen a film for the first time?

For me, the voice is God. I don’t want to vary the level of the voice very much throughout the film. I think that every word a producer/writer/director puts in a film is meant to be heard by the viewer. That means music and effects need to be subservient in level to the spoken word. So I weave them up and down around the presence of the voice. When no one is speaking, music or effects or both come up to create the environment of the film, to create impact and energy. Also, when you watch a film I mix, you can set your sound level and never reach for your remote – you won’t need to raise or lower the sound level. My feeling is, if a viewer has to use his or her remote to adjust sound while watching a film, they are doing a job that the mixer should have done.

You ask about screening a film. Since I almost always record the narration for films I work on, that will often be my first screening.  I always listen for the quality of the sound edit – is it fully filled or will I need to substantially augment it?  Also, how does the music work in the film?  Sometimes I’ll hear a great score and know that I can pull a lot of energy out of it.  Sometimes it won’t lend itself to that use, so I have to find a different way to create energy in the film.

Most miraculous mixing feat from your work on Nature?

I don’t believe in miracles. But sometimes, with a little luck, amazing things can happen.  In a show called Violent Hawaii, the location sound person recorded some dialogue with a waterfall directly behind the speaker, and the voice was lost in a wash of white noise.  While the end result wasn’t what you would call perfectly audible, I was able to make him understandable. Dialogue from the field varies greatly in quality, and often dealing with it is the biggest challenge in a Nature show, or any documentary for that matter.

Also, Nature is not the only series I work on.  In 2004, Michael Kantor produced a series called Broadway: The American Musical, and Julie Andrews was the host and narrator.  In Show 4, there was a clip of her singing “I Could Have Danced All Night” from a television show back in the 1950s. The audio was awful. I knew they didn’t have the budget for me to work on this clip for too long, so I came in on a Saturday and worked for four hours on my own to try to make that clip as good as possible. Michael and his production team won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Nonfiction Series the following year. I like to think my contribution in the sound mix helped him do that.

For our Media with Impact campaign, we’ve been asking viewers to share stories describing how THIRTEEN has influenced their life. How has THIRTEEN (or the PBS station of your childhood) inspired you?

I discovered documentaries on PBS. I cannot put in words how important that discovery was in my life. While I have a college degree in English, much of my real education came – and continues to come — from the things I learn from documentary television. PBS was really the only network doing this kind of television when I was young, and through the years it has only gotten better. I remember watching Nature in 1983 with George Page as the narrator while I was still in Maine, thinking I would really like to work on a show that good. Life just works out sometimes.

Where do you live, and what are some of your favorite places in your neighborhood?

Claudia and I moved to Jackson Heights in Queens three years ago, after living in Manhattan for 30 years. I remember telling Fred Kaufman: “Fred, I can’t believe I live in Queens!” He replied: “Ed, don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.” But I really like this neighborhood. We live in a grouping of buildings that surrounds a beautiful English garden. And Jackson Heights is a real melting pot of nationalities and ethnicities, with fabulous food and shopping. There is an organic farmer’s market every Sunday year round. And six minutes from my apartment is a subway station with five trains. It is six stops to 50th and 8th on the E train, so access to the city is easy and usually quick. We’re having a lot of fun living there.

What book are you currently reading?

I’m reading The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene.

Do you have a special interest or hobby outside of work? If so, tell us about it!

I play guitar. My father played for us when we were kids, so I learned a love for music at an early age. I get a lot of joy from hearing notes that I play resonating in the air. I’ve been playing since high school. That was a long time ago!


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