Careers: Sound designer James David Redding
Issue: March/April 2021

Careers: Sound designer James David Redding

James David Redding III has worked in audio post production for nearly 20 years. His contributions can be heard in some of the biggest TV and film releases of the past few years, including Hustlers, The Americans and MLK/FBI. In 2021, Redding and his team were nominated for a Golden Reel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing for their work on The Queen’s Gambit. Over the course of his career, Redding has worked as an ADR recordist, Foley recordist, sound effects editor, sound supervisor, re-recording mixer and sound designer. Here, he details his background and career path.

Tell us a bit about your background and training as a sound designer?

“Having always had an interest in audio, being in bands and such during high school, I found myself more interested in capturing and manipulating sounds. I studied audio at Ithaca College’s Park School of Communication and had the opportunity to intern with sound designer Dane Davis at Danetracks during the first Matrix film. After graduation, I interned with Ron Bochar of C5, Inc., who turned me on to a full time job at Sync Sound with Ken Hahn and Bill Marino. There, I was able to hone my craft on multiple projects and with other great talents until I went freelance. I’ve been lucky that I have been able to work with and learn from some of the best throughout my career, including Tony Pipitone, Leslie Shatz, Tom Fleischman, Lee Dicther, Gary Rizzo and so many others. I have been able to work at some of the best facilities in New York (Harbor Picture Post, PostWorks, Goldcrest Post, Parabolic, Great City Post, WB) and have had the opportunity to even mix at Skywalker Sound with Steve Boeddeker.” 

Tell us about some of the recent work you’ve been doing? 

“Currently I am working on Season 2 of Showtime’s City on a Hill, which is a blast. I’ve worked with Tom Fontana and team for most of my career, so it is always fun to ‘get the band back together’. At the time of this writing, many of the episodes have not aired, so I don’t want to give too much away, but I can say I am having fun with Krotos’ Igniter and Weaponizer software. 

“Recently, I also did the sound effects editing for MLK/FBI, which was a rather intense documentary. While editing the traditional realistic sounds to accompany archival footage, I also had to help create tension and danger in recreations and transitions. Throughout the film there were segments that showed documents from the FBI files that had just been released, that had visual effects on them as though they were either on microfiche or being copied. During these moments I was able to heighten awareness of the documents by stylizing their real-world sounds. I made them a little sharper, a little harsher, to emphasize the importance to these revealing reports.”

How did you get involved with these projects? 

“City on a Hill, like I mentioned, I have been lucky to work with most of the team before. Tony Pipitone, the supervising sound editor, and I have worked together, mixing and editing projects for 20 years now, so when this show came along, it was easy to pair back up, though due to scheduling and timing, I am only sound designing and effects editing. Jay Fisher (dialogue editor) and Neil Cedar (Foley editor) have been colleagues of mine since I was at Sync Sound, too. Louis Bertini (ADR editor) and I have known each other for almost as long, though this is the first project we’ve worked together on. It is always great though to get the call from Tom Fontana, Irene Burns and Aaron Seliquini that they are working on something.

“With MLK/FBI, Ken Hahn (supervising sound editor) was the co-owner of Sync Sound and my co-mixer on The Americans. We have worked on countless projects together and have a great chemistry. When he got this documentary, he called me up and asked if I would like to work together with him. He and I know each other enough that I know what he is looking for when it comes to style and sounds, and he knows what to expect when I deliver, as far as how I lay tracks out and pre-mix.”

Can you talk about your process as a sound designer? 

“My first step is usually a conversation about the tone of the project and then getting a chance to screen it. I like to know what the intended perception of the project is. Is it serious, scary, dark, light, funny, neutral? I like to have an idea of what the production is looking for. After I screen it I start looking for sounds in my effects library that I can start with. I look at a project's soundtracks as a painting almost. I like to start with thick, broad strokes and then refine to fill in with detail. Of course this is all depending on the production schedule, if they have a scene they need sound to cut in to make sure it is working, then I start on that scene, though again I take it in broad strokes, moving towards fine. I know my library fairly well and know if I don’t think I have something that I can make work, then I will grab my Zoom recorder and try to find a way to record it. I like to make things flow together, blend and mix. I try to keep my process that way for each project.”

How long does it take for you to design the sound for each project? 

“For MLK/FBI, it took me about a week to design and edit the sounds for the entire film. About half way through, I sent the first half to Ken to make sure everything was working how we thought it would, and then continued on. 

“For City on a Hill, I have seven days to complete an episode. In the beginning, it took a bit to establish sounds that we wanted, locations that would repeat throughout the series, so it was a really tight crunch.” 

Where can we follow you online? 

“On Facebook and Instagram, I can be followed at jdr3productions. On Twitter @jamesdave3.”