UC Berkeley Professor Mixes Sound for Award-Winning Films

College Of Letters & Science, UC Berkeley/Courtesy

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The Godfather Part II." "Amadeus." "The English Patient." "The Right Stuff." What do these movies have in common? Besides the fact that they're all critically acclaimed best picture Oscar winners, they share another significant trait. UC Berkeley's very own adjunct film professor and professional film sound recording mixer, Mark Berger, had a huge hand in creating, mixing and editing the audio elements of each film.

In a career that has included over 150 feature length films spanning over 30 years in the Bay Area film scene, Professor Berger stands as a testament to Northern California filmmaking during its peak in the '70s.

Usually, film is thought of as a visual art form, which leaves auditory elements underscored in the minds of general movie-watchers. "People are very sophisticated about visual editing," said Berger. "People are very naive about sound. They don't understand that a majority of what you hear has been placed there by somebody after the film has been shot. All the various elements that have been prepared by different editors are combined and balanced in a way that seems completely natural, like somebody plunked down a microphone in front of a camera and that's the way it sounded."

As he would explain it, Berger's work in film began by accident mixed with some luck. Originally attending UC Berkeley in the '60s as a psychology major, he produced radio documentaries about the Vietnam War as a hobby. However, Berger's interest in sound is rooted in his childhood. "I actually have always been very interested in radio," he said. "We didn't have a television until I was 8 years old, so most of my sonically formative years were spent listening to radio programs, and creating images just purely on the basis of sounds without any visual aids."

Berger's career is largely entrenched in the Bay Area, something he said was a result of the burgeoning Northern California film industry during the '70s. He expressed a sense of pride in the Bay Area film community, while illustrating his own breakthrough as a sound mixer.

"In those times there was a history of experimental and documentary filmmaking that was very active and very political, and that was a time also that people were breaking away from Los Angeles," he explained. "George Lucas moved his entire operation up here. Francis Coppola moved his operation up here. It just happened to be a time when it was possible to establish yourself in the film industry up here because it was the birth of Northern California film, and a lot of that centered on sound."

However, according to Berger, much of the momentum found within the Bay Area filmmaking community has greatly diminished since the '70s, as is evident through the closing of Coppola's American Zoetrope Studio as well as Berkeley's Saul Zaentz Film Center due to their own financial woes. "The only one left is Lucas, where I still work occasionally," explained Berger. "But for those years, it was very vibrant, very active, lots of opportunities, and that just doesn't exist anymore. So we're back to where if you want to work in sound, you want to work in film, you go to Los Angeles."

In a career that includes the record for the most Academy Award nominations that all resulted in wins, it's possible that Professor Berger had more than just luck and good fortune on his side. Rather, his career illustrates the value of having the skills necessary to be in the right place at the right time with the right stuff.

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