Employees at Sound One in New York are scrambling to find new investors after the historic East Coast sound-mixing facility, a fixture for decades among filmmakers from Woody Allen to Ang Lee, was all but shut down last week by its new owners.
An institution among the city’s filmmaking elite located in the historic midtown Brill Building, the facility was sold last month by Discovery Communications to the Miami-based Empire Investment Holdings under its CSS Studios division.
CSS Studios, the holding company that owns Sound One and Soundelux in Los Angeles, laid off most workers and all but shut the facility last week.
“In response to the current market conditions in New York, the company is investigating strategic alternatives for its New York operations,” CSS Studios said in a statement sent to TheWrap on Saturday.
That decision has thrown a number of projects into turmoil, including the sound mixing for M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth," which was forced to move to the Sony lot in Los Angeles to complete the work that would have been done at Sound One.
Allen was due to mix his new movie at the facility later this year.
“The impact that this is going to have on New York is devastating,” said Tom Fleischman, an Oscar-winning sound mixer and former employee of Sound One, where he worked for 18 years on dozens of films including those of Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. “For a film community as small as New York, it is a huge loss. It is like losing General Motors.”
Sound One is home to five re-recording studios, two ADR studios, a Foley studio, and nearly a hundred editing suites.
Empire has extended the amount of time left to employees to find new investors, and a new business plan from the employees is in the works to allow local management to take over the business, a person familiar with the situation told TheWrap.
“Allowing the facility to continue to operate in some form is clearly the most desirable outcome for the parties involved, as well as the New York City filmmaking community,” the person said.
The matter is complicated by unrelated developments within the Brill Building itself. There are reported development plans to convert one of the floors occupied by Sound One into retail space, not to mention the cost of leasing facilities in a prime location like the Brill Building, in the rough-and-tumble world of sound production.
Some of the sound work on "Black Swan" (above) was done at the studio, and last year, Soundelux's Lon Bender and Victor Ennis received Academy Award sound editing nominations for some of the work they did at the facility for the film "Drive" (below).
Only a handful of people are left completing films in the Brill Building where the 40-year-old facility is located. The building itself is famous for housing music industry offices and studios where some of the most popular American music tunes were written.
The situation came about after Sound One changed ownership last month. “As a first step, the company implemented a short-term temporary layoff program, while the management team considers a variety of strategic options,” CSS and Empire Investment further said in its statement.
It added: “This development pertains solely to Sound One, LLC in New York and does not impact CSS Studios’ operations in Los Angeles."
A person familiar with the situation told TheWrap that the new owners have decided to focus on their West Coast facility instead of New York, and announced within a week of purchasing the facility that Sound One in New York would close.
Sound One did not comment to TheWrap on this. However, a person familiar with the situation said that had the facility been operating at a full capacity, the closure would not have happened.
The Brill Building, 11 stories with about 175,000 square feet of rentable area, has a history as an epicenter of American popular music. During the 1950s and 1960s, artists including Burt Bacharach, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond and Carole King recorded there and created what became known as the "Brill Building sound."
Word of the Sound One situation spread at the New York Film Festival.
“I told Ang Lee when I saw him there and he couldn’t believe it. I think I ruined his dinner,” said filmmaker Aviva Kempner (“The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”).
Kempner described the situation as a “tragedy” for filmmakers on the East Coast, and a huge loss for independent filmmakers.
“It is an institution among filmmakers and the cats meow sound studio,” Kempner told TheWrap. “It is A-listed. You name New York filmmakers, from Mike Nichols to the late Nora Ephron. They all worked there. You never know who you will find walking down the hallway.”
The facility has changed hands a number of times over the years.
The closure comes just as New York has extended its tax credits, creating a void that needs to be filled. Its impact could ricochet further afield than New York.
“You would also see the impact at Sundance, because the facility has always been favorable to independent filmmakers,” Kempner said.
“It is at a bad time because New York tax credits have been extended and a lot of film business is coming into the city, so now people will have to find a place to go to,” said Fleischman, the son of famed film editor Dede Allen.
“Sound One is easily the best-known and most revered post production house on the East Coast. Many classic films have been mixed there and some of their employees are legends on the field. If it closes up for good, it would be a big blow to the New York film business,” said Ira Deutchman, the chairman of the Film Program for the School of the Arts, Columbia University, and a managing partner in Emerging Pictures, an all-digital specialty film and alternative content theater network.
“It is the end of an era,” said Fleischman.