John Roesch: Foley Artist Honored for a Lifetime of ‘Breaking the Rules’

Apr 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Matt Hurwitz

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Photo: Matt Hurwitz

John Roesch is a very noisy man. And he has been for more than 30 years.

A Foley artist on more than 400 motion pictures, Roesch recently received the MPSE’s Career Achievement Award at the 2013 Golden Reel Awards, the first Foley artist so honored. “I guess they felt I had the right stuff,” he says with his usual deadpan, from his home base in Bldg. 68 on the Warner Bros. lot.

“The term ‘Foley’ is a bit of a misnomer,” he starts off. “It doesn’t succinctly say what it is we do. Foley is custom sound effects. We are creating sound exactly as it is seen on the screen. It’s whatever the audience will believe as correct, that matches what we see. If it’s not onscreen, we don’t do it.”

Though he had originally planned on being an actor, Roesch received a degree in filmmaking from New York University in the mid-1970s, followed by a year as a Directing Fellow at AFI in Hollywood. In 1976, as a favor to a friend, now-supervising sound editor Dessie Markovsky, he took on Foley duties for a film. “Of course I helped her, but I thought, ‘Boy, what a stupid job,’” Roesch says. [Laughs.]

On his way to what he thought would be his second—and last—Foley job, he ran into his apartment manager and told her where he was going. Coincidentally, “she” turned out to be award-winning Foley artist Joan Rowe, and she told Roesch they had an opening at Gomillion Sound, where she worked for the late Ted Gomillion. Later, she would become Roesch’s first Foley partner.

At the time, Roesch says, the most a Foley artist was expected to do was provide the basics. “You did some footsteps, to fill the void, and you did some props here and there, and that was really the end of it. But at Gomillion, we were asked to do a lot more just to ‘help out.’”

By 1978, Roesch had gone freelance, working out of the Samuel Goldwyn Studios (soon to become Warner Hollywood), where veteran sound effects editor Doug Grindstaff introduced him to supervising sound editor Gordon Ecker, Jr. “Gordy wanted to do Foley outside ‘the system,’” Roesch recalls. “Not only outside the system, but outside the studio. He would ask us to do things that Foley artists didn’t usually do, which would be breaking the rules at a major studio. I didn’t know that there were any unwritten rules. And even if I knew there were, I don’t know that I would have cared that much, because Foley itself is just so much fun to do.”

Ecker and Roesch, along with mixer Tim Sadler, soon opened Warren Sound West, renting a small dub stage owned by mixer Peter Smolian and developing a new approach to Foley. Sadler would, for instance, suggest microphones not normally used in Foley, such as a Sony ECM-50 lav mic, in order to get closer to the source, making the sounds larger than life. “Gordy taught me that there are no rules in Foley,” Roesch says. “That’s the only rule.”

In the ’80s, Roesch began working with Joan Rowe, his first of several partners (Ellen Heuer, 1991-94; Hilda Hodges, 1995-99; Alyson Moore, present). They were soon called by Oscar-winning supervising sound editor Chuck Campbell. “He was the other great teacher for me,” Roesch says. “Gordy showed me there were no limits, and Chuck really sculpted my sonic ear. Something which I would think was good, he would point out to me what I might try to make it better. And that really has served me well.”






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