“Ask a Foley Artist” – Interview with Dean Minnerly

HNG and Dean on the Foley Stage at Universal

As I mentioned on the HNG facebook page, I did an interview with Dean Minnerly, Foley Artist for Universal Studios. I also mentioned that he is my stepdad. Now, I should probably offer a quick explanation because I talk about my parents a lot and it can get a bit confusing because I have 6 of them. I know, right about now you’re thinking wtf? What is HNG smoking? I have been extremely fortunate to have a loving and supportive immediate and extended family that is chock full of some of the most fascinating people you will ever meet. We’re pretty much the definition of a Modern Family.

There’s my mom (Mama Jedi who’s on here a lot and is the reason I moved to San Diego) and my dad (retired Navy, I talk about him a lot too, most recently in my review of Battleship). They are my rocks and the greatest parents on earth. No one could ever replace them. They divorced when I was in middle school.

I was pretty young when I started acquiring step-parents (and with them, 9 step-siblings). My dad married a wonderful woman, my stepmom Jeanne, who I adore. My mom was in a decade-long relationship with my stepdad Don (airbrush artist and direct descendant of Davy Crockett) who is amazing and insanely knowledgable about Scottish history. She later married my stepdad Randall who was one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever known. He passed away in October 2010 and was featured in my In Memoriam post that year. Then there’s Dean aka Popi. He’s been an incredibly close friend of the family since I was 6 years old. When my dad was gone on WestPacs he would step in as our father figure when we needed one. He has been to every play, graduation and major event in my life since I was very young so years ago I dubbed him “Popi.”

These 6 wonderful people make up what I call my “parental units.” It’s more love and support than any one person deserves and I know exactly how lucky I am to have been brought up by this intelligent, funny, and eclectic group. I would not be who I am today were it not for them.

Apparently it really does take a village

Now that the explanation is out of the way, here’s a little background on Dean:

Dean P. Minnerly of Sleepy Hollow, NY (yup, that one, from the stories and movies) descended from the first Dutch families that settled what was to become New York.  Let’s skip a few hundred years.  He enlisted in the United States Army in late 1969.  He excelled in training… went Airborne… recruited out of Airborne for Special Forces Qualification Course.  Served in Viet Nam with 5th Special Forces (Airborne), with 5th Mike Force, II Corps and Recon Team Louisiana (details classified).  He came home and started teaching Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan with the Norris brothers (as in Chuck).  He was educated at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA in engineering and music.  He then returned to active duty with 7th Special Forces in El Salvador/Honduras/Nicaragua and was posted in Panama at the “Banana Boat School” also know as the Jungle Expert Course among other things.  Look up “Green Monster” and you’ll understand.  He separated from the service and moved to California to continue teaching for Chuck Norris in ’83.  His Studio City, CA school had many well known students and their families including the son and grandson of then president, Ronald Reagan.  One of his many students in the film industry introduced him to Foley and that’s how this facet of his life began.  Another of his students was a senior story editor for Star Trek: The Next Generation and got him involved with contributing story, writing and martial arts skills to the show.  He has been at Universal Studios for 18 years and loves it there.

Originally we were just supposed to get together for dinner and I was going to head back next week to conduct this interview but one thing lead to another and we ended up at Universal driving around the backlot in a golf cart and crashing people’s private tours (they were on Dean’s stage afterall). The next thing I know I’m conducting an interview that I totally wasn’t prepared for. Note to self: write down some good questions and keep them in your wallet. Needless to say, this was very good practice and I’m über glad that my first interview was with someone who won’t hold it against me.

Here is the bulk of our interview:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxFyyQVGEpg]

Since I wasn’t prepared, I only had my camera on me and had limited memory card space so I emailed him some additional questions a few days later:

HNG: What is it about Foley that keeps you coming back for more?

DM: Few jobs allow such creativity and allow a person to share with such a wide and diverse audience.

HNG: How did you meet the Foley family and become involved with the program at Paramount Ranch? 

DM: Cathi Foley Clark grew up at Universal with her uncle, Jack Foley, and has been his chronicler and biographer her whole life.  She visited me on the stage and we began a friendship.  I had been doing demos at Paramount Ranch for the National Park Service and she brought the whole family out to meet me.

One of Dean’s many Foley demonstrations at Paramount Ranch

HNG: You also worked for Larson Studios, how long did you work there and why did you move to Universal? 

DM: I was with Rick Larson for about 6 years.  I started taking night work on the original Law & Order at Universal and eventually was offered more and more steady work.

HNG: What is your favorite TV show and movie to have worked on? 

DM: Presently, my favorite TV show is Grimm.  I did the pilot and all the episodes since.  It’s quite a challenge but great fun!  The most recent movie I completed was Ted for Seth MacFarlane starring Seth as the voice of Ted and Mark Wahlberg as Ted’s real life-buddy with Mila Kunis as Mark’s girlfriend.

HNG: What is your favorite movie in general? 

DM: I have so many but Saving Private Ryan has to be close to the top.

HNG: Favorite TV show? 

DM: Again, it’s hard to pin down a single show but I’d say shows on History/Discovery/Military/NatGeo channels get the most of my viewing time.

HNG: You are currently keyboardist for The McGrath Project. How did you meet Gary McGrath and how did that lead to becoming a band mate? 

DM: Gary needed someone to track on a new album and I was introduced to him by a mutual friend.  The band included Tim Bogert, virtuoso bassist of Vanilla Fudge/Cactus/Beck,Bogert and Appice and Bryan Head, drummer of Foreigner and others.  Gary is a two time Grammy winner.  They liked my studio work and invited me to play live with them and I joined the band. A year and a half later, Ann-Marita Garsed, a solo singer-songwriter sang with us a few times and joined as well.  Many people have been in the band at one time or another including many Hall of Fame players and Grammy winners.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqmbLCaAQ0E]

HNG: How did you meet Chuck Norris? 

DM: I took Pai Lum Gung Fu (not Kung Fu)  when I was around 13 and stayed with it.  I’d just returned from VN and went to the CNKS in Virginia Beach where I was living.  Chuck and his brother Aaron were there and I started over but with past experience, rose through the ranks quickly.  I became an assistant instructor and after testing for black belt, a full instructor.  Continued teaching for them when I moved to CA in ’83.

HNG: Who is your favorite Director you’ve worked with? 

DM: I have three… Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Tom Hanks.   I haven’t worked with Clint Eastwood but I have great respect for him… F. F. Coppola as well.

HNG: What kinds of awards have you won for Foley? 

DM: Emmys and Golden Reels.

HNG: Who is your favorite superhero? 

DM: I have to go back to my first… Superman.

HNG: Your favorite Star Trek Captain? 

DM: Patrick Stewart for ST:TNG as a single show but William Shatner for Star Trek overall.

HNG: Your favorite band/musician? 

DM: Too many but I always loved The Beatles.

HNG: How many black belts do you have? 

DM: Depends on the style.  5 in Tang Soo Do, 3 in Hapkido, 2 in Hwa Rang Do, and 1 in Judo.

HNG: How many ways can you kill a person using pressure points? 

DM: Pressure points can help healing, can cause great pain, can mediate blood flow but don’t by themselves kill through pressure.  Impacts or impalement at these points may as many are arterial points or central nervous system (nerve bundles) points.

HNG: How many times has your nose been broken due to martial arts? 

DM: Three or four.

HNG: What was your first impression of Gene Roddenberry? Patrick Stewart? The rest of the cast? 

DM: Gene… a true visionary.  Majel… the ultimate in support and a true comedic actress.  Patrick… an unshakeable Shakesperian mind and demeanor with a musical comedy heart.  Jonathan … powerful and funny.  Michael… intense and the only real pilot of the bunch.  LeVar… studied but impatient.  Marina… meticulous.   Gates… careful and mothering.   Brent… a true performance chameleon worthy of Vaudeville.  Wil… headstrong with an attitude but willing to learn.  Colm… eager to excel.  Denise… demure cowgirl.  Whoopi… outrageous!

HNG: Who was the most awesome TNG cast member?  The most awful? 

DM: They were all great but everybody knew who was boss.  Some of the guests could be difficult.

HNG: You’ve taught self-defense courses before, what’s the single most important thing for someone to remember if they are being attacked? 

DM: Keep your head and be aware of everything and everyone around you.   Look for opportunity.  Yeah, I know you said one… oh well.

HNG: You were featured in a Tonight Show sketch with Conan O’Brien. What was he like? 

DM: The tallest Energizer Bunny on the planet with a very edgy side and sense of humor.

* * * * *

I thought it would be fun to let you guys ask him some questions as well since I know from experience that y’all ask some GREAT questions. Hopefully I collected them all, I apologize if I missed any!

Jake R: What’s a Foley Artist? 

DM: A performer of sound.  We recreate live sound EFX to picture and sync them to the event portrayed.  The effect may be what you see, more than what you see or different depending on the needs of the client or project. It is named after creator Jack Foley.

Jack Foley perfecting the art

David F: How do you get to be a Foley Artist? 

DM: Apprenticeship.  You must find another artist(s) who will take you on and begin to train you.  If you don’t have the base skills already in you, you won’t make it.  You need precise hearing, athletic skills and timing, the ability to anticipate movement and a working knowledge of the gear used.  Most of us have a background in music, athletics or dance and audio engineering.

Kevin C: How does one get a job as a Foley Artist (other than being awesome)? Do you just have to be in the know with people in Hollywood? 

DM: It doesn’t hurt to be connected but your skill as an artist and ability to work with demanding clients at a demanding pace is what keeps you working.

Stevey M: What is the most fun noise to make? 

DM: Depends on who’s listening.  If we can make people cringe at the sound, make them laugh or make them sick… we’re happy.

Craig S: Is it true that the sound of love is a boot stuck in mud, only wetter? 

DM: Trade secret but if you are familiar with that sound you may not need the answer.

Paul M: Mick Foley!? 😀 

DM: No… Jack Foley.  I don’t think Jack ever wrestled.

Robert N: Axel Foley? 

DM: Only in Beverly Hills.

Aaron A: For your “ask a foley artist” interview…. if you want to ask him, what’s the most fun he’s had on a project, or movie or whatever. God I wish I knew a Foley Artist. It just seems like such a cool job to have on a movie or whatever. So random and different.  I’m just ever so slightly jealous you know one. 

DM: Know one?  She has BEEN one.  She lived with me after SFSU and apprenticed at Universal.  She has contributed to many projects I worked on.

Andy L: What sound that he has generated was the most different from what the sound was supposed to portray? 

DM: Depends on the client.  If the real sound is insufficient or the client wants an entirely different sound, we build it.  If it’s sci-fi or fantasy and the visual was newly created a sound will need to be created as well.

Larry L: How do you get the best recordings of your sounds? What equipment/techniques? 

DM: Our own skills and abilities and each of us is different.  Different mics and mic-pre’s… absorption and reflective surfaces to create ambience, depth and size.  We’ll use three mics at once… two directional and one elsewhere in the stage to cross-fade and develop the perspective necessary.  Our primary mics are Neumann KMR-81’s with other Neumanns, Sennheisers, AKGs, etc. in the mix.  Our mic-pre’s are GMLs, Focusrites, Avalons, etc.  We record to ProTools and have several sets of near field monitors to choose from with our largest being JBL’s.

Lisa C: What was the most complex sound he ever created and of what was it composed? 

DM: Don’t think I can pick just one.  We do a lot of layering and sweetening.  The effect may only last for a few seconds but we many be out a dozen tracks creating all the different sonic facets that alone may be nothing but together make the event live.

Shannon H: Why do car tires sequel on dirt roads in the movies? 

DM: People have preconceptions of what things SHOULD sound like regardless of reality.  That group of people includes very well known leaders in our industry.  Even if it’s wrong we will do what’s expected but we will also give alternate tracks of what we think would better serve the event.  That way, on the dub (re-recording/final mix) stage the choices are available.

Bruce P: What was the most unusual method you’ve used to create the most common sound? 

DM: A recent one comes to mind..  I did a documentary called The Movement about paraplegics, blind and otherwise disabled people learning or relearning to downhill ski.  One of the effects I created for the clatter of skis on a fast run involved my crushing ice and shaping it into a one by two foot mound… mic’ing it close and overhead and using an empty plastic mustard squeeze bottle to create the clatter, moving toward the mic capsule as the skis closed on the camera and off-angle as the skis moved away.

Lair of the Nerd: In your opinion, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve used to make a noise, and what noise was it. 

DM: There are a few.  Here are two:  In slasher flicks we rip lots of guts out.  Take a large watermelon, cut one end off, violently shove your hand in it and twist as you pull it out.  The suction and texture of the melon flesh combined with all the wet works great… it’s absolutely disgusting.  I mentioned snow.  Snow has many textures and sounds.  Squeaky powder is very distinctive.  Garden supply stores have Perlite, often used in potted plants.  Cornstarch is also used.  Pour it into a pillowcase and start walking on it to grind it down.  The squeaks will be there and you won’t freeze your nerd off in the process.

AK G: Who decides what a fictional sound should be? The director? A writer? The foley artist? 

DM: ‘D’… All of the above.  In spotting sessions, when everybody sits around reviewing the reels, these things are discussed and the creative people hash out what best serves the scene.  When agreed upon, we have our direction and we go make it happen.

Todd F: How much celery do you waste on a daily basis? 

DM: Celery is part of only one food group we abuse regularly.  No fruit, veggie or uncooked critter is safe on a Foley stage.

Salem P: What’s the foley effect you’re most proud of that you thought up? 

DM: Whichever one the client wasn’t expecting that gave him/her more than he could have imagined… and that only lasts until I come up with the next one.

José H: How awesome do you have to be to be HNG’s stepfather? 

DM: I love her… she loves me.  Nothing else matters.

One of my high school senior portraits

Dan G: Do studios have massive Foley libraries that you get to pull from as needed or do they prefer you always start from scratch (keeping it fresh and each movie slightly different)? 

DM: There are no Foley libraries.  There are libraries we create for EFX editors for them to draw from but we start fresh every time.  It is the inconsistency and imperfection of human and animal movement that make it real.  No two of anything are every exactly alike as are our performances.  Each time we create a sound it will have some variation.  Think of each or our creations as a snowflake.

Scott D: Universal as in Orlando? 

DM: Nope… Universal Studios Hollywood.  There is a Universal in Orlando but this is home, first opened in 1913.

Jay A: He didn’t know Keillor’s effects guy, did he? 

DM: If you refer to Garrison Keillor’s radio shows, then no.  What they do and what we do is quite different.  They add simple sound components to add color to those programs.  We develop a complete sound package integral to the final product you see and hear in theaters and on TV.

John G: Does he realize he’s standing next to “HNG”? 😉 

DM: I do occasionally notice that.

Marlon B: Can I marry your step-daughter?

DM: I think some would have a problem with that but thanks for asking.

José H: Do movie or TV studios force Foley artists to generate a wet-sucking sound for scenes involving the removal of objects from a body part? It seems like that sound is inserted whenever the hero/coroner removes an object from a dead body part… 

DM: It does come up.  I refer you to my responses to Shannon H. and Lair of the Nerd.

José H: Serious question: What’s the weirdest sound effect you were asked to create that has absolutely no equivalent in the “real” world?

DM: I guess the sound of a maggot crawling on a sweater from 15 feet away.  As you may guess it was a head-scratcher.  Since no sound exists in that instance, there’s no reference point and how do you make it distinct enough to get it played?  There are others but that one was a challenge.

Dee O: What’s the most memorable and or unique sound you were asked to make/record? 

DM: This is what is known as an “imponderable.”  Each had a quality of it’s own.  Memorable would have me recall the event or circumstance and people involved more than the sound(s) itself.

Kyle S: Why was there was no Chuck Norris in the Next Generation. That would have been epic……

DM: Several characters exhibited talents and abilities similar to those of Chuck’s.  At the time, Chuck was so well known he would never be accepted as another character.  Think about it… Chuck has, regardless of the portrayal, always played himself.  His show, Walker, Texas Ranger, also competed with TNG for audience.

Miki K: What do you think is your most creative sound? 

DM: The one I haven’t yet thought of.  You are always creating and each is a new challenge.

* * * * *

Thanks for your questions everyone! Thanks to Mama Jedi for her superb camera and interview assisting skills. And a huge thanks to Dean for taking the time out to let me bumble my way through this interview and for being such a rad Popi.

Previous blogs that were mentioned in the video portion of the interview:

Visiting the set of Serenity

All of the Star Trek: The Next Generation stuff Dean gave me

Comments

  1. freemedic30 says:

    Trac this was awesome. Thanks so much for doing this article. I’m in school to be a web designer but known more for my video work. One of the things I studied in my audio classes was foley sound. It was so much fun, and I have to tell you, I would be like a kid in a candy shop if I ever had the privilege to enter a foley studio. Popi is awesome. Blessed man. You are a blessed lady.

    1. dpminnerly says:

      popi is humbled…

  2. The lowdown on Foley from someone who does it is absolutely wonderful. And I’m even more impressed with you, HNG, learning you’ve apprenticed in Foley.
    This is classic knowledge, passed from a master. I salute you two.
    Oh, and thank Dean for his service, and tell him “Welcome Home”.

    1. dpminnerly says:

      Salute returned with gratitude…

  3. Mama Jedi says:

    great interview! That’s what I’m talking about! Thanks Dean! XOXO

    1. dpminnerly says:

      Many thanks, KS… it was great fun!!! BAS did a fantastic job!!!!!

  4. […] we had to tell them when we were going off on adventures and whatnot). I got insanely lucky in the Parental Unit department. Through marriage, divorce and unusual circumstances I ended up with 6 of them and they are and […]

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  7. Steve Ege says:

    Hi Tracy, thank you for such an amazing interview. I actually just had the privilage of spending the day watching your Stepdad work. It was absolutely mind blowing…such an incredible artist. I’ve been fascinated with Foley Stage since I was a kid and everyone at the Universal Lot was so warm and welcoming. Thanks for the article!

    1. hotnerdgirl says:

      Hi Steve! Excellent! So glad you got a chance to see him in action. I agree, both Dean and the art of Foley are amazing. It was really awesome to grow up around, I’m very fortunate 🙂

  8. dpminnerly says:

    Popi and Puppy are happy…………..

  9. […] but since I don’t currently own a gun, I’d have to pick one up along the way. Luckily, I have a few Dad’s that taught me how to use guns so I’m familiar with them and can pretty much handle any one I […]

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