2020 Sundance Film Festival: Q and A With ‘Crip Camp’ Sound Supervisor, Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach
PARK CITY, UT — In a festival that was considered by many to be one of the best ever in recent years and notable A-list celebrities such as Taylor Swift and former First Lady, Hillary Clinton invading this picturesque mountain resort town tucked deep in the Wasatch Mountains, the film that was on the lips of all at Sundance Film Festival 2020 was the Barack and Michelle Obama-executive-produced documentary, Crip Camp.
Crip Camp, a story about Camp Jened, a summer camp for teens with disabilities, would help spark the current-day disability rights movement and the eventual signing of what is now called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. With greater emphasis on mental health, wellness and having to deal with the social stigma of being handicapped, ‘Crip Camp’ struck a deep nerve with all who packed Eccles Theater that cool January evening.
To paraphrase superagent, Ari Gold from HBO’s Entourage, you don’t come to Sundance for the snow, you come for the heat!
And thanks to the rave reviews it garnered en route to winning the festival’s prestigious Audience Award and universally critical acclaim, ‘Crip Camp’ truly stood out over all the films playing at Sundance.
In watching the film, one thing you couldn’t help but hear was it’s 70’s style music, which was composed by Bear McCreary. They say that a film’s music defines it’s purpose and theme. And the booming tunes that that were supervised by San Francisco native, Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach really helped in adding a groovy and happening vibe.
Berkeley-born and New York-bred, the 38-year-old Bloomfield-Misrach brought his extensive musical knowledge and background to Crip Camp in merging his company, IMRSV Sound, with co-producer and director, Jim Lebrecht and his company, Berkeley Sound Artists to help re-produce some of Jim’s archival footage from Camp Jened to the modern-day Neflix generation.
A true accomplishment in sound engineering and quality, Bloomfield-Misrach not only delivered, but helped take many from Generation Z to a time when being different wasn’t as accepting as it is today.
Below is my Q and A with Jacob as we talk Crip Camp, that magical opening night in Eccles, sound mixing, COVID-19 and the ongoing fight for those with disabilities.
Name: Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach
Birthplace: San Francisco, CA
Notable projects/media: Crip Camp, Decade of Fire, Bathtubs Over Broadway
Greetings and thank you for taking the time to respond, how are you holding up during this COVID-19 pandemic? It’s been both very challenging and very rewarding. I never thought I would have this much quality time with my family, which has been amazing. But it’s also proven to be difficult to score a film while my two year old is playing drums in the same room.
I think a lot of parents are going through similar challenges while working from home. The rest of my team has risen to the occasion beautifully. All of my staff at IMRSV Sound has set up their home studios, so we are continuing to edit, design, score and mix lots of projects remotely.
How have you been handling the Stay Home order? Very seriously! I’m so thankful to California Governor Gavin Newsome for initiating the shelter in place for the Bay Area as quickly as he did. We are very lucky to have low numbers. And we all want to keep it that way. We are staying completely isolated, with lots of Zoom calls.
I’m sorry that I missed you at the “Crip Camp” premiere as I was there at Eccles Theater opening night, how was your experience at Sundance? That was such a special night. Most of us who were able to attend felt a special energy in the air. The unveiling of Crip Camp was a shining moment. Extended standing ovations in two theaters simultaneously. I was so fortunate to attend. And Sundance in general was so much fun. I had also scored the film Majnuni which premiered at Slamdance that week, so the week in general kept my heart very full.
What films did you check out and screen? The most ironic thing that people quickly realize about Sundance is that you barely get to see any films! I’m a Sundance member, and even with early access, all the films on my list sold out instantly. So I was only able to see Crip Camp and Majnuni. But I did attend a whole slew of gatherings, panel discussions, and after parties.
What prompted you to work with — and merge your own company, IMRSV Sound — with “Crip Camp” co-director and producer Jim Lebrecht? I was raised in Berkeley, and then lived in NYC for 18 years. I was ready to move back to the Bay Area but didn’t think there would be enough post work for me. A quick Google search for Berkeley Sound Design led me to Jim, and the next morning we were having coffee. He needed to spend less time running his company, Berkeley Sound Artists, and more time developing Crip Camp. So we discussed partnering for a while to see how it went. It went really, really well.
He is one of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I’ve ever known. That made it easy for me to trust in him and in what we might build together. So we took the leap together and that led to our partnership and to our work together with co-director/co-producer, Nicole Newnham and co-producer Sara Boulder on Crip Camp Crip Camp. It was a privilege working with all of them. They made an incredible team.
What was it like bringing 70’s era footage and sound to the modern-day big screen and Netflix? What challenges audio-wise and visually did you face in doing so? Archival audio is always a great challenge to work with. And I say “great” as enjoyable. It is a complex and multilayered beast, and it needs unique attention for each scene.
Certain frequencies are too harsh, others are under-pronounced, sometimes audio is missing, and other times specific noises should be left in because they hold all the character. I look at archival audio as a slab of clay. It can be molded in many different ways, and it’s important to discuss with the filmmaker how they want us to handle it.
With this being 2020, what was it like to delve into different sound and audio technologies to ensure that the sound was perfect and helped capture the essence of 1970? Izotope is a program that we use extensively for forensic audio repair. It’s an essential tool to ensure an ideal mix and design. It is most helpful for cleaning up older audio to make it sound more intelligible. The flip side is also true. Sometimes we create sound design that sounds too new. We need to distress it. Rough it up a bit, so that it sounds older.
Izotope can be useful for that, but we also use Soundtoys and Waves programs for that. And occasionally we dust off our 1970’s tape machine and run audio through there. We recently did the score for Decade of Fire, and the entire thing was printed through a 2-track tape machine. Sometimes you just need “that” sound.
As a big audiophile, I’m a big fan of composed music and soundtracks, who were some of your favorite composers you listen to? John Adams and Henryk Gorecki are two of my all time favorites. William Fritch is a Bay Area composer we work with a lot who is fantastic. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross certainly float my boat. Oh, and I always bow my head to Johann Johannson. He was probably my favorite film composer. It was a heavy loss with that one.
Who is your inspiration in music composing? All of the above composers I mentioned play a huge role when I’m writing music. I was also deeply influenced by Radiohead growing up. They changed my world. “Ok Computer” showed me a potential for music that I didn’t know existed. I think that Jonny Greenwood and Thom York are always whispering things in my ear when I’m writing music. It’s very much a devil/angel scenario with them sitting on my shoulders.
Favorite instrument you use in your music? Clarinet, hands down. I was a classical clarinet major in college, and invested a lot of myself into it. But I didn’t touch the instrument for about 10 years after that, being in bands and being focused on rock music. But once I started scoring films I pulled the old licorice stick out of the closet, just from curiosity, and now I find somewhere to put in in every film. A trio of harmonized clarinets, with some bass clarinet for the low end might be my favorite sound on the planet.
Any big projects coming up on the horizon? Yes! I’m scoring a TV show at the moment. An incredible, international travel show. I’m having a blast with my scoring partner William Sammons, blending acoustic instruments with modular synths. We also designed mixed You Cannot Kill David Arquette, which was supposed to premiere at SXSW. So I’m excited for that to arrive online somewhere.
Any final thoughts on “Crip Camp,” it’s impact on today’s culture, rights for people with disabilities, etc. My primary thought about Crip Camp is that everyone needs to watch it. And there are no excuses! We are all stuck at home and almost everybody has Netflix, so go and enjoy it. As a film lover it hits every mark. Not only is it an incredibly important social document, but it’s also endearing and heartfelt, full of lovely, relatable people. The score by Bear McCreary is fabulous, and I have to say, it’s a darn good sounding film all around.
Special thanks to Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach and Kelly Wilson of Defiant Public Relations for their time and assistance during this interview.