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MATTHEW WOOD

The voice of GENERAL GRIEVOUS

Interview by Mark Walters

 

MARK: Hey Matt.  Thanks for talking with us today.  Let's begin by talking about how you got started.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like you got involved in sound design around 1992.  Tell us about how you came to work with Lucasfilm.

MATT: Well I started for Lucasfilm in 1990 testing video games.  I was fresh out of high school, and saw a job posting on a local BBS for a Games Tester in Nicasio, CA.  I knew through my fan-boy ways that Nicasio was where Skywalker Ranch was... so I faxed a resume over to them (my dad had one of the first fax machines)... and started the interview process.  It took about 6 months, but I was in!  The first game I worked on was my favorite, The Secret of Monkey Island.

MARK: Was it kind of a proving process, working your way up in the ranks?

MATT: Absolutely.  Every job I have had out at Lucasfilm is a project based job, meaning they all end.  If you aren't getting re-hired on projects, well... that may be a sign.

MARK: Many people don't seem to realize that sound editing and design is a very intricate art form.  How do you describe what it is you do to the uninformed?

MATT: As George likes to say, Sound is 50% of the film experience.  On the big shows, almost 80% of what you are hearing was not recorded on the set at the time of filming.  We have to create and balance out an audio world for the film-goer.  This involves all the aspects of sound: The dialogue recorded on the set, the ADR or Automated Dialogue Replacement that is recorded in a studio after filming, the Sound Effects, the Foley which are sound effects too specific to be found in a library, i.e. Footsteps and clothing movement.  Then all of this needs to be balanced with the musical score to create your audio experience.  It is a massive technical and artistic task.

MARK: Since you've been doing this you've worked on a few Jerry Bruckheimer films as well.  Describe the differences between working on films like those and Lucasfilm projects.

MATT: Well the division of Lucasfilm I work for is Skywalker Sound, and we do sound for many directors and studios.  Most of the work that I have done at Skywalker involves a smaller crew working for a longer period of time, instead of a huge 40 man team working for a few weeks.  Also with George's shows we answer to one authority on all the sound work... George.  This usually is not the case on most Hollywood studio projects.

MARK: Not including what happened with Episode III, what was the best moment and your worst moment in your career? 

Darth Maul Premium Format Figure MATT: Best moment by far was sitting down and watching the opening crawl of Episode I in 1997.  It was my first day on the film and I had wanted to work on the Star Wars prequels since I started in the company.  I called my mom to celebrate.  Worst moment... hmmm... when I was working on the first Mission Impossible movie and I had to send about 40 hard drives down to L.A. for a mix, and they all ended up on the conveyor belts and all over the floor of the LAX airport terminal during a rush hour.  Knowing that the mix of the film was hanging on me finding all the drives and making sure they worked was some of the most stress I had in my early career.

MARK: Can we talk about you in Hudson Hawk?  That's a big guilty pleasure film for me.  Tell me all about that experience.

MATT: I love Hudson Hawk!  Well lets see...ILM posted a message that they needed a torso and hand match to some shots in the film of Leonardo da Vinci.  I went down there and they said I was a perfect match.  So we shot all the close-ups of Leonardo opening and looking at the alchemist crystals in the film with my body.  That was a trip.  It was also great to meet Michael Lehmann, who directed one of my favorite films, Heathers.  I met Michael again years later when he was posting a film at Skywalker and asked him if he recognized my hands.  I think he thought I was crazy until I explained it to him.

MARK: Tell us about the non-sound work you did on Episode I.  You're actually featured as a few characters, like Bib Fortuna in the Jabba scene.  How were you called upon to do that?

MATT: Well I knew George and the casting director pretty well, so when they were looking for someone to play alongside Jabba in the Pod-race I was in the right place at the right time.  I had a few Polaroids taken of me and then was approved by ILM and the makeup man as a good match for the prosthetics that were already made, I went out to ILM and shot the thing in 5 hours including make-up time.  It was there that I first me John Knoll, an amazing artist at ILM.  I returned the favor of a cameo to him by recording him as a dying, screaming pilot in the end of Episode I.

MARK: Don't you also have some voice work in Episode II?

MATT: I've done a few voices for that film.  The Dug Taxi driver and the guy he almost hits, "What The?!?!?"  I also play the voice of a Gungan... there are a couple more peppered throughout the prequels and the classic trilogy DVD's, but some are secret!

MARK: So now with Episode III, you're the voice of General Grievous.  I remember reading that at one point Gary Oldman and John Rhys-Davies were supposed to do that character?  What happened there?

MATT: I was involved with the processing of Grievous, and Rick McCallum, our producer had sent out many casting packages all over L.A., Sydney and London.  Every time we had got a new batch of auditions in, I would process and name them and send them up to George for evaluation.  By about the 30th audition I thought I would take a crack at it.  I put mine in with a batch of 10, under an anonymous name... and he picked it!  I remember being scared when Rick called me asking for the complete name of the "A.S." audition that George picked.  I had submitted all the auditions from all the actors just with initials.  I told him I would get back to him on that tomorrow.  I slept on it and wondered if I should try to get out of this situation somehow, maybe thinking I had crossed the line.  The actor part of me was excited... I had been taking acting classes since high school and had recently completed an acting intensive program at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.  I think that is what gave me the confidence to submit an audition in the first place.  The next day I called Rick and told him the news... he was surprised that it was me and asked me if I wanted to tell George.  I said "Yes!"  George didn't even blink an eye and came down and recorded with me the next day to get the whole performance.

MARK: Was it the kind of thing where they told you to do whatever you want, or did they have a specific sound in mind for Grievous?

MATT: Because I was on the sound crew I could watch George's thought process evolve with the character.  I had inside information I suppose.  There was also the matter of deciding on a process for the character... should it be pitched low?  Should it sound metallic?  My cohort Chris Scarabosio, who was our Dialogue Editor/Mixer for the film and I both hammered out a process which fit very well to the visuals that ILM had provided.  Chris was the one who recorded me clandestinely for my audition.

MARK: Had you seen all the animatics, or just concept art when you voiced it?

MATT: I had seen animatics and concept art, it all helped me with my audition.

MARK: Looking at the finished product, how do you feel the Grievous character came out?

MATT: Evil... evil!  ILM completely blew me away with the incredible visuals.  The bone on the head, the beating "heart" the separating arms... are all fantastic.  I had some tough shoes to fill with the voice.

MARK: Do you see a future with more voice-over work?  Not that you haven't already done quite a bit, but I mean more exclusively.

MATT: I am currently looking for representation in that field.  I love using my voice.  I would love to be able to blend the disciplines of sound work and voice acting... they seem to go hand in hand!

MARK: You recently did your first public autograph signing, and I think it's safe to say the fans went nuts for ya.  How did that feel?

MATT: What a fantastic way to end the Star Wars prequels!  Meeting the fans was amazing.  I forget about the impact of these films... I guess I should leave Skywalker Ranch and get out more sometimes.

MARK: It begs the question, do you like the attention this gig has gotten you, or is it too overwhelming?

MATT: I love it!  It is not overwhelming, I am a voice talent... my face is hidden!  But maybe not for long!

MARK: We had talked about how you were working on the Episode III DVD deleted scenes right now.  What can we expect to see there?  I think you mentioned there were a couple of Grievous scenes to be included.

MATT: Yes I am finishing that up as we speak.  I'm going to have to plead the 5th on this answer though.  We aren't done yet!

MARK: Tell me about the extensive work you did on the original trilogy.  That first film needed a lot of attention for the DVD release.  Describe some of your efforts there.

MATT: That was a dream come true.  Working with elements from the original trilogy was wonderful.  Updating the mix to work with modern DVD dynamics was a challenge.  Because of the way the first film was originally mixed, we could not use the original mix elements.  Everything was tied together, so moving things spatially or adding frequencies or new elements would be impossible.  The track had to be created from scratch.  I think this is the only movie I could have done this on so perfectly.  Star Wars was etched into my subconscious, so anything that sounded out of place from the original would stand out to me right away.  Our challenge was to use the original unmixed elements and re-mix them for a new more dynamic mix.  The theater systems of today are very unforgiving when it comes to playing back old material.  I wanted the low frequencies to really boom and the soundstage to take full use of the Dolby EX environment, while keeping the original feel.  Empire and Jedi both had separated "stem" mixes so we could add and change without affecting all the elements like New Hope, so those two movies (aside from the new scenes) were less of a challenge.

MARK: Would you call it a labor of love?

MATT: Without a doubt.  I had Ben Burtt and Terry Eckton, two of the original sound crew members working with me to re-create the wonder of these amazing tracks.  My co-workers Dave Acord and Tom Myers and I, all seasoned prequel sound crew members came together to bring these mixes into today's sound environment.

MARK: You also provided some voice-over work on those, correct?

MATT: Yes, there were some added scenes that required more voices, as well as some elements that needed to be replaced in the original mixes.  They are very very small additions... but a trained ear will hear them.

MARK: After the Episode III DVD is done, what's next on your plate? 

MATT: Acting work I hope!  Also Ben Burtt and I are in talks to work on Steven Spielberg's next film.  And one more thing... a vacation!

MARK: If you could separate yourself from the work for a second, how do you personally feel about the finished film?

MATT: Episode III ends so well.  I think it tacks right on to the original trilogy so nicely.  The fans, including myself are going to feel good about it.

MARK: Thanks so much for chatting with us.  We look forward to seeing you kick a little Jedi butt on the big screen.

MATT: Thank you!  I look forward to adding this interview to my collection... it will all make sense May 19th!
 

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This interview was conducted with permission from Lucasfilm Ltd. 2005


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