TBD Post's Emmy®-winning Sound Supervisor Brad Engleking finds that trust among collaborators is key to success in the film industry, and vital to his work in the sound department, enabling him to enhance the story through the art of sound. With credits like James Cameron’s Alita: Battle Angel to Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, Engleking has worked with top-of-the-line collaborators in a variety of projects, allowing him to approach sound from many different vantage points. In his Apple TV+ documentary project Fathom, from director Drew Xanthopoulos, Engleking uses sound to submerge viewers into the secret world of humpback whales, as scientists work to decode the communication between them. 

We spoke with Brad Engleking about his many collaborators, the documentary Fathom, for which he won an Emmy®, and his advice for creatives in sound. 

What do you find to be the most fulfilling or enjoyable part about your job?
I really enjoy collaborating with artists. It’s a lot of fun on the back-end, working with other sound editors creating a world for the project. I’ve been very fortunate in my career to learn from and work with very talented people, and having folks you trust to bounce concepts and ideas off of leads to better work. On the mixing side, collaborating with the director and producer(s) is what I love. It’s so fulfilling to be there at the end of the process when the project comes alive and feels big and cinematic for the first time. My favorite moment of every mix is when I get to play my work back for the directors and producers for the first time. It’s really fun to see folks experience their work for the first time with a full soundtrack. 

From James Cameron’s Alita: Battle Angel to Terrence Malick's A Hidden Lifeto Fathom, you have worked on numerous genres. Do you have a favorite?
Oddly enough, I was on hiatus from A Hidden Life to mix Alita: Battle Angel. It was actually kind of amazing to bounce from Malick-land, which is a very loose but cerebral college class atmosphere, to an action studio film with James Cameron/Robert Rodriguez, and then back to Terry’s world. They work totally different muscles and when one set gets a little tired, it’s fabulous to be able to switch over to the other. The year I was working on those films was one of the most exciting of my career. I’ve learned so much about storytelling from the directors I’ve collaborated with, and that’s what I aspire to do in my work–advance the story. The variety is really what makes going to work everyday exciting; the personalities, the artistic challenges, the story, and yeah even the politics keep you on your toes and make everyday a new experience. 

Congratulations are in order, as you recently won a News and Doc Emmy® for your work on Apple TV+’s Fathom! How did you feel walking up on that stage, receiving this recognition?
Wow! Thank you so much! It’s been a very humbling experience. My very first reaction was to say “Holy Shit!” When you’ve worked in a dark, loud room with no windows for 20 years, it’s a little weird to have the light shined on your work. It took a few weeks for me to process how I felt about it all. In the end, seeing the excitement of friends I hadn’t spoken to in decades and seeing how excited folks are when they see the statue is what has brought me the most joy. I’m really proud of the work on Fathom. I’ll never forget how emotional that project was for Drew Xanthopolis (Director), Megan Gilbride (Producer) and me. During the mix, we were in the height of lockdown, watching January 6th on TV, and knowing that we were doing something really special that (at that time) only we had seen. Those experiences with filmmakers create bonds and memories that I treasure as much as the feeling of walking up the stage at the Emmys.

Making a film is a huge collaborative process between numerous creatives. What do you think is the key to having a successful team on a project?
I think that trust is always the key. At a certain level in the business everyone has talent, but not everyone has scruples. Working with people whose work you know and who you can trust to do what’s asked of them is absolutely vital. I also think that trust opens up the lines of artistic communication. If an editor wants to try something, I trust that they have talent and taste, and I want to see what ideas they have. When they know they have my trust, they are more likely to think about what’s best for the project rather than blindly cutting based on the notes I’ve given. I would say that nearly all the time the things that are presented are better than if I had micromanaged. Trust also allows us to be honest with each other. On the mix with directors and producers, I work very hard to create an environment in the room based on trust, that allows them to feel like they can experiment and try things. When you have that, collaboration works and that’s the essence of filmmaking and also the most fun part. It’s amazing to discover the mix together and ring out that last iota of emotion with sound. 

You work at TBD Post, a studio which is located in Austin. How does working from Texas impact your creative process and inspiration?
 Working at a smaller boutique shop in Austin removes a lot of the pressure to “just do what works,” and experiment a bit more. We have a very close-knit team of picture editors, colorists, online editors, producers and soundys. It’s a cool atmosphere that allows the filmmaker to walk across the hall and check the color or online while I’m doing notes, or to see/hear something in a different suite that can be addressed immediately on site. Those abilities, and the fact that we have a family of folks that genuinely care about each other and the project, creates an environment where I feel supported and free to explore new ideas and techniques.

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What piece of advice do you have for creatives looking to break into the sound department in film/TV?
My advice is to take chances. Once in a lifetime opportunities are well, once in a lifetime. If you think you see one, jump all the way in, don’t wait to take off your shoes or save your phone. The next thing is to be reliable and communicate with the people who are overseeing your work. There’s no greater sin in my opinion in this business than a coverup. The sooner you say something, the sooner it can be fixed, and often the more likely people are to respect your integrity. Your reputation is your career, but also you have to understand that what we do is really, really hard, and mistakes are going to happen. It’s how you react and how you keep your cool in tough situations that will burnish your reputation and build the trust that people have in your work. Lastly, identify people that can mentor you. I’ve found that people tend to become the folks that train them, choose wisely!

Any recent projects you are excited about?
I am so excited about a bunch of projects that we’re finishing up this year but I can’t talk about them yet!