Steve Lee’s “Halloween Haunts”
By Ric Viers
It’s no secret that I celebrate Halloween in the same way that most folks celebrate Christmas. Of all the seasonal holidays, Halloween is the leading holiday to use sound effects as part of the fanfare. But, why? Halloween is already a visual overload of decorations; spooky, sexy and sometimes cheeky costumes; and even special effects like smoke, fog and candles. But as sound designers know, the eyes don’t tell the entire story. The ears have a large say in how we perceive our world. Sure, there are niche music collections to put celebrators in the mood for a good ghost story, but the magical effect that sound effects play on the human mind begs for their incorporation in the holiday.
As the Chop Shop wraps up production on the “Zombie Apocalypse Sound Effects Library”, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time online researching ideas for the different sounds. That’s when I noticed that veteran sound effects wrangler Steve Lee is releasing a very special Halloween collection called “Halloween Haunts”. This collection is a throw-back to the classic Halloween sound effects collections that we all grew up with. So, I contacted Steve to find out what he and the collection was all about.
RV: How did you get started in the business?
SL: I have always been fascinated with sound effects. My Dad was a writer and consultant for science fiction films, so I was always going with him to studio meetings where there were a lot of model space ships and monsters around… and I grew up watching all of those classic films like "Forbidden Planet," "War of the Worlds," and "The Day the Earth Stood Still." All of them had great sound effects, all kinds of styles, and all insanely creative. Back in those days, we didn't have DVDs or even VCRs to save movies. You saw them in a theater, or waited for them to come on the local weekend movie shows. So I would record them on audio tape, either cassette or reel-to-reel, to enjoy them again and again. I have listened to way more movies than I've ever seen on a screen. And I think that's where my real appreciation of the craft began.
As I got older, I tried to find whatever literature I could find on sound effects to learn how things were done. There wasn't very much until a little movie called "Star Wars" came out - which blew me away visually, of course - but the work Ben Burtt did, creating all those sounds from scratch, and finding a few classic sounds to sneak in as well… At that point I had a good idea of what I wanted to do for a career. I started building my own sound library on tape, and I collected sound effects records. So when I actually found myself in a job in a sound effects library, I felt right at home already!
RV: Who was your mentor?
SL: I started corresponding with Ben Burtt in the late '70s, and he was so generous with his knowledge and wisdom from the beginning. Later I was lucky enough to be hired by his college friend, Richard Anderson. The two of them supervised the sound effects for "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which of course was another hugely influential film for me. I started working for Richard and his two partners at the time, Mark Mangini and Stephen Flick, in the late '80s… and I stayed with them for twenty years, organizing their library, making and editing sounds. So all those guys were big mentors of mine. While I was with them I had the chance to contribute sound effects to a bunch of films they supervised… "Beauty and the Beast," "Apollo 13," "Aladdin," "RoboCop," "Gremlins," "The Lion King," "Nightmare Before Christmas," "The Fifth Element," and many others.
RV: What is your Halloween Haunts?
SL: "Halloween Haunts" is a project I actually started when I was with Weddington Productions. We did a little promotional release for Halloween one year in the late 90s, where we gave CDs to our clients at the time. I have to admit I borrowed some of those elements, and created a lot of new material.
I set out to create a collection of stories told with sound, and have a few sound effects backgrounds that one can use to create a spooky atmosphere for Halloween.
RV: What inspired you to make this collection?
SL: One of the sound effects records I loved as a kid was a Disney release called "The Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House." There were two versions of it - one of them came out in the late 60s, another was released in the late 70s. Both of them had scenes told with sound effects on one side, and the other side had the raw sound effects elements that you could use to create your own stories. It was basically made from elements in the Disney sound effects library, most of them made by one of my heroes, Jimmy Macdonald. Even as a kid I recognized some sounds in that first album from the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, the Banshee from "Darby O'Gill," and death scream from the wicked Queen in "Snow White." I played these albums over and over when I was a kid, and I was really influenced by them. My Halloween collection "Halloween Haunts" is kind of a tribute to those albums.
RV: How were some of the effects created?
SL: Like the Disney albums, my collection is mostly created from elements in my library, and a few other sources. There's a lot of great stuff that came from Weddington, made by guys like the genius sound designer John Pospisil. There's a little bit of material recorded specifically for it. The late great sound supervisor George Simpson provided the voice of the creature in the cue "The Mad Scientist's Laboratory." I'm the voice of the victim that's "Trapped in the Alien Spaceship." My parent's cat Tilly is in the first part of "Inside the Haunted House." She was one unhappy kitty! "The Thunderstorm" has a lot of storm elements I recorded in various places, including some wind and thunder I recorded in San Antonio back in the early 90s.
There are a few classic sound effects tributes throughout the album that I snuck in. I'm sure some people will recognize a few classic science fiction sound effect elements in the "Alien Spaceship," especially if you're a fan of "Forbidden Planet" or the George Pal "War of the Worlds." And of course I couldn't produce an album of sound effects without sneaking in the Wilhelm Scream somewhere! I don't think I'll tell you where it is, but it is on one of the cues - I'm sure you'll be able to spot it!
RV: Where can readers find out more about you?
SL: I'm all over the web! My languishing Hollywood History website is still kicking at HollywoodLostAndFound.net… and I hope to get back there to do some much needed updates in the very near future. One of the more infamous stories I reported there about that notorious scream we all know and love can be visited directly by visiting the official link at WilhelmScream.com. Most of my credits are on my IMDb page. And I just started a brand new Facebook page for my work in Hollywood. If people want to look at my credits and ask about a particular film, I'd be happy to answer any questions I can!
RV: Where can the readers find your collection?
SL: "Halloween Haunts" is available right now on Amazon and iTunes. Just search for "Hollywood Lost and Found" in the Music category.
There are also going to be CDs available at two exclusive spots in Los Angeles… check my Facebook page for updates!
This article is Copyright 2012 Ric Viers and may not be copied or republished without permission.