Jim Petrak is an ADR recording engineer and 5.1 surround sound mixer specializing in Dolby digital for film, and a recent AMAA(african oscar) winner. Jim kicked off his career in audio post production after graduating with a Cape Audio College Diploma in Sound Engineering. Jim started his first full time job in audio at Chris Fellows Sound Studio’s in Johannesburg, where he progressed from foley recording to ADR recording and sound design. This progression allowed him to gain intimate knowledge of the audio design process, ultimately leading him on to becoming the head re-recording mixer at Kwazi Mojo in 2006.
Mentored by the late Jeremy Saacks , Jim has mixed many full length features, short films, documentaries, television features and mini series. He has worked on many local and international projects with directors such as Bronwyn Hughes on Stander, Darrel Roodt(‘Cry, the Beloved Country’ and ‘Sarafina!’) on Lullaby and Yesterday, Terry George on Hotel Rwanda, Phillip Noyce on Catch a Fire, Tom Hooper on Red Dust, Leon Schuster on Mama Jack and Gavin Hood on the Oscar-winning film Tsotsi, among many others. In 2007, Jim mixed Drum alongside Peter Maxwell, the international sound re-recording mixer on 12 Monkeys and Attack force. In 2010, he mixed State of Violence in Paris, France, alongside Xavier Thieulin.
In 2009 Jim started Sound Surfers Audio Post Production. His passion, dedication, experience and comprehension of cinema sound mixing set him up to spearhead cinema sound mixing in Africa. Jim is a 2 X SAFTA Nominee (South African Film and Television Awards) for best sound design, and he has also recently brought home an AMAA for best achievement in sound (African Movie Academy Award).
How did it all begin, what caught your interest in audio?
It all started while attending my mates band practice in the mid 90′s. I was not apart of the band nor played an instrument. I sat in on a few sessions, listened, gave my input, tweaked some EQ here and there and the band told me that I should become a sound engineer. At the time I didn’t even know that something like sound engineering even existed.
So we know you been doing some great work since you graduated from Cape Audio College, but what was your first paid job in sound, and how did you get it?
There are 2 parts to this story. – I needed to work while I was studying as my parents only paid for my tuition fee’s. I decided that my best solution would be to work in the sound field while studying sound so I phoned all the AV guys in C.T and put my name out there for freelance work. It was not long before I found myself working for companies at the time like Sight and Sound and Loud and Clear in C.T and then AV Unlimited from JHB started using me every time they were in C.T. They even flew me to George and Durban for gigs and offered me a full time job. I had to decline as I was studying and the job was based in JHB. I always knew that I wanted to be in the studio field so I completed the course at Cape Audio before heading out and looking for work in a studio. It was painful. It took me almost 2 years before I got a job in a studio after completing my diploma. To answer how I got my first job (in a studio). I moved up to JHB and started seeking work everywhere. While waiting for replies I asked the head engineer(Jeremy Saacks) at Chris Fellows Sound Studio’s to sit in with him and learn while I waited for replies on my CV. I went in everyday for almost 2 months, learned and did some work here and there at no charge before they offered me a full time position. The pay was really crap but I was happy to be in studio. I knew all I needed to do was push time and prove myself. It was a hard first 3 years but well worth it. My pay cheque doubled 3 times in 5 years. My career in film audio post all started there.
What exactly do you do now in an average day?
My average day consists of heading up my team, discovering different challenges on each new project and pushing the boundaries within them. I’m always pushing the guys to think out the box. Especially in the sound design and mixing sectors. I’m hard on my guys as well as myself but always find time to have fun in between all the hard work. I strive to be the best and expect all our work to compete on an international platform. We work hard and then we play hard. It’s all very rewarding.
Tell me about the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?
Starting and running Sound Surfers has by far been the most challenging. I’m not just coming to work everyday now to design sound or to mix but also having to manage my team, deal with clients on different levels, deal with business matters, admin, marketing etc…. Other than that, some of the biggest challenges have been living up to international standards while working on big movies with huge directors like Phillip Noyce. They want the best and expect your standard of work to live up to that of Hollywood. You have to be so well prepared and on your toes at all times. Working on Tsotsi also had some hair raising issues to deal with when it came to the selection of music tracks. Even though some issues faced with are not necessarily your fault or caused by your doing you still faced with many different kinds of challenges that you may have to deal with as a spin off of that. What doest kill you makes you stronger, as they say. Also prepping all the work in SA for 6weeks on “State of Violence” and then flying over to Paris to mix it in a foreign studio with foreign speaking crew was rather challenging.
What has been your most rewarding job so far?
Most jobs have been rewarding. To name but a few – How to steal 2 million (Due for release in August 2011), Shirley Adams, Tsotsi, Stander and Hotel Rwanda
What has been the most enjoyable part of running a studio, and when did you decide to start looking into starting your own?
By far…….Having the option to choose which movies I take on and who makes up the sound design team has been my highlight of running my own studio.
I always wanted to start my own studio but knew that I needed a client base and the experience first. After getting all that almost a decade later I saved up enough cash to buy a digidesign pro tools set up and in 2009 started Sound Surfers Audio Post Production.
Check out our website and our facebook page.
How has the Cape Audio College helped you in your en-devours?
CAC set me up with the right education and attitude. I have encountered many post grad students with all kinds of “Sound Engineering Diploma’s” and I can say one thing for sure. Cape Audio College sets you up to be a REAL Sound Engineer.
What suggestions can you give to any up and coming sound engineer?
As Ray always said to us – We can teach you everything you need to know but its up to you to make it work. It’s extremely tough out there and no one is going to bend over backwards for you. It’s pretty much the other way round. Even though you have a diploma in sound engineering – you still know nothing. Your diploma is just your first building block. Go out there with what you learned and with the right attitude and work yer ass off. The rest will fall into place. Aweh Rae. Shot for the great advise.
My advise – Listen to Rae!