Sound Design: Jon Title finds inspiration
Issue: October 1, 2012

Sound Design: Jon Title finds inspiration

HOLLYWOOD — One thing that Jon Title has learned in his 15-plus years as a sound designer and sound editor at Soundelux: inspiration can appear in the unlikeliest of places. 

Title recalls working on the HBO series Game of Thrones and having a tough time finding the right sound for a particular supernatural creature. “It needed a certain kind of scream,” he recalls. He spent hours at his Pro Tools console and cycled through dozens of effects from the Soundelux library “but nothing was working.” The answer finally came to him when he was at home completing some household chores. “I had to roll up a garden hose and the roller made the most horrible screeching noise. It was really loud,” he says. “I was worried the neighbors were going to call the police. But then, I thought, ‘That’s it!’ It sounded like an animal crying out in torment.” Title ran into the house to fetch his field recorder and his beast had its voice.

Title has created sounds for creatures, cars, crickets, doors, airplane, guns and a myriad of other objects, animate and inanimate, real and imaginary, for more than 100 films. Among them are such classics as Black Hawk Down, The Bourne Ultimatum, Hannibal and The Perfect Storm. He is a 3-time Golden Reel Award winner and was part of the sound team that earned an Emmy nomination for the 2002 television movie Live from Baghdad. 

His eureka moment with the garden hose notwithstanding, Title observes that his job typically involves “a lot of time sitting in a room trying to find the perfect sound for a picture and trying to translate what’s in my head into a track.” Some directors, he observes, are obsessive about details and have specific ideas for every facet of their films’ soundtracks. Others rely on the imagination of the sound team to make their pictures come alive with sound.

In either case, Title strives to create sounds that not only represent what’s happening in the picture, but to do so in a manner that is interesting and memorable. “I like to attack it in a creative way, to sneak things in that you don’t expect,” he says. “It might be treating the crickets in a new way or giving the car-bys an unexpected sound because the real world is like that. In real life, a bus driving by can create a really freaky sound. I like to think in those terms when I work on films because a bus isn’t always a bus.”

Title, whose recent credits include the comedy We the Peeples and the supernatural thriller R.I.P.D., notes that the process of crafting sound effects for movies is subject to a variety of unpredictable twists and turns. A sequence that he’s worked on for weeks could be eliminated in the mix if the choice is made to use music instead. Or a scene added through a last minute change to the picture editorial, could require him to quickly come up with a sound to match a particular motorcycle or gunfire.

“Sometimes the job is hard,” Title says, “and sometimes it’s harder. It’s always a challenge but that’s why it feels so good when something works. I love to go into a theater and witness the reactions of an audience to something I worked really hard on for months. That’s very rewarding.”