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Sound Mixer Cindy Takehara on highlights of her career and ‘SusaneLand’

One of the most critical aspects of any movie-watching experience is the sound. An epic battle wouldn’t be complete without the dynamic clanging of swords; a terrifying storm wouldn’t be the same without the crash of waves; a soft morning wouldn’t be as comforting without the birds chirping. Sound is half of the entertainment in any film or television show, and Cindy Takehara knows this well.

Takehara is a renowned sound designer, overseeing the creative aspects of how a film will feel sonically and designing what the aesthetic of sound will be for each project she takes on. She works closely with the director and others in the sound department to create the sonic world of the story they want to tell. This involves creating or sometimes recording in the field to capture sound effects, sonic textures and cinematic ambiences that will construct real world or abstract worlds of the story. As a sound mixer, she is also in charge of communicating with directors and other department heads during the pre-productions, setting the technical standards for production, defining the needs for gears and equipment for the sound department to use and prepares for the principal photography.

“Sometimes even among filmmakers there’s a neglect about sound during the pre-production and production, and my intent as sound designer/mixer is to educate and spread consciousness about sound in their projects. Sound for film is not only the dialogue, or the sound effects happening in the scene, and sound design is not only about creating creature, magical or sci-fi sounds. Sound for film is much more than that and it requires serious planning during the pre-production, principal photography and early-editing stages. This planning is critical, because most filmmakers might think that sound is something that is taken care of only during the post-production stage, and don’t realize that it’s too late if you postpone and try to ‘fix’ something in the mix stage,” says Takehara.

Takehara is recognized around the world for her contributions to her craft. Earlier this year, she received a nomination for MPSE (Motion Picture Sound Editors) Golden Reel Awards in Feature Documentary Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing for her work on the documentary Shirkers. The film was one of many projects that got into Sundance Film Festival, where this year a documentary she worked on called American Factory directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, also premiered at Sundance, and it received great press attention and was acquired by Netflix and Higher Ground Productions, a production company founded by the former president Barack Obama and former first lady, Michelle Obama. At the festival last year, her film Bisbee’17 was an Official Selection in 2018. At the festival last year, an episodic project that she worked as a sound designer on also premiered at Sundance, titled SusaneLand, a highlight of Takehara’s impressive career.

SusaneLand is a dark, comedic web series featuring vignettes from a young woman's bizarre life. Takehara loves the project, as each episode always makes her laugh. The stories are loosely based on writer and creator Susane Lee’s life, who stars in the show, and the story unfolds into a series of unfortunate events, but in a realistic way, which makes it relatable to the audience. “It sometimes ends in an optimistic way, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s sincere and gives us a pat on the back, almost telling us that sometimes, it’s okay to laugh about misfortunes that happen in your life or have a good laugh at yourself. The project is important to me because it was very inclusive, it has representation of women, people of color, the cast covers all ages, and includes people with disabilities. There should be more projects like this,” says Takehara.

Working as a sound designer for the project, it was Takehara’s job to craft the world of SusaneLand sonically and help the punch lines of the comedy using sonic rhythm and metaphors. Even though it is a comedic story, the sound is in no way comical or cartoonish. Instead, it is subtle, minimalistic and realistic.

“I was definitely excited to be a part of this series. The project was fun to work on, there were some challenges of course, but Susane and Andrew were a delight to work with, we exchanged so many ideas during the mixing session, and they were very involved in the process which I really appreciate,” says Takehara.

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018, SusaneLand went on to win Best Short-Form Comedy at the New York TV Fest and took Best Short Comedy at ITVFest. The project has also received press attention by the Hollywood Reporter and IndieWIRE, which are one of the leading digital magazine/media companies that focus on Hollywood film, television and entertainment industries in the United States. SusaneLand continued on the festival circuit, officially selected at Bentonville Film Festival (2018), Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (2018), CAAMFest (2018), SeoulWebFest (2019) in South Korea, and Cinema Jove -Valencia International Film Festival (2019) in Spain, where Lee received an award for Best Actress in Web Series Special Jury Mention. Takehara is proud to have done her part to make the series such a success.

“I’m humbled and very proud that I was part of this project. It had a great festival run and I’m very glad that the audience liked it,” she concludes.

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