AppleTV+’s new documentary, Beastie Boys Story, directed by Spike Jonez (Being John Malkovich), follows the musical trio’s journey over four decades of making hit music, and Emmy-nominated sound designer Martyn Zub (John Wick 3, Velvet Buzzsaw) came on board to make some noise.
For those not in the know or maybe coming out of a long stint in an underground chamber, I’ll fill you in. The Beastie Boys are Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, the late Adam “MCA” Yauch. Two of the three members formed a short-lived punk band in 1978, which evolved into the Beastie Boys when the final piece of the puzzle, MCA, joined the lineup. In 1986, now with Rick Rubin and Def Jam onboard, the Beastie Boys released Licensed to Ill, the first rap record to top the Billboard charts. There’s a lot more to their history, and Beastie Boys Story takes viewers on an emotional journey with the
PopAxiom spoke with Martyn about becoming a sound designer, growing up listening to Beastie Boys, and working on a documentary about the beloved hip-hop group.
Dream Come True
Martyn started creating music somewhere in the teen years. “I started playing in punk bands in bars and what not as a teenager in Australia. I started mixing friends’ bands in front of the house, and I loved it. My parents showed me a sound engineering course.”
There’s been no looking back. Martyn completed the course then, “… got a job in a couple of small studios doing post-production for TV commercials. One thing lead to another, I eventually got into documentaries and feature films.”
Martyn’s professional life was going great. “My wife and I packed our bags and moved to LA. We didn’t think it would last. We thought we’d be here for one year, but it’s been ten years. We love it, and there’s no turning back now.”
Martyn’s influences growing up included, “Beastie Boys … also California punk, East Coast and West Coast hip-hop.”
Now, Martyn is an Emmy-nominated sounder designer for a documentary about the Beastie Boys who were a “… bit of the soundtrack of my life.” Martyn says, “It’s cool it’s gone full-circle from growing up listening to these guys, to actually sitting in a room and collaborating. It’s a dream come true.”
About Beastie Boys Story
Working on Beastie Boys Story came with an itty-bitty hint of fear. “I never liked the idea of meeting your heroes or idols because you never know what kind of people they are. It turns out,” Martyn says, “… the Beastie Boys are down to earth guys and such great people to work with.”
How did Martyn become part of the Beastie Boys Story? “I have a sound studio in Santa Monica. One of the Beastie Boys producers talked to a studio producer about how much they loved the sound design of John Wick. The studio producer said, ‘Oh, you should talk to Martyn, he worked on that.'”
Martyn met Spike Jonez, and before he knew it, “… they booked me on Beastie Boys Story.”
Before the process officially started, Spike sent “… some scenes to see how I could clean it up and what vibe I could get out of it.” And as the process got underway in earnest, “We started working on one of the more intimate scenes. It’s a part of the movie where they’re reflecting on the passing of MCA.”
Capturing the intimacy and emotionality of the infamously and playfully obnoxious was of vital importance. “Everyone knows the Beastie Boys as this loud, outlandish bunch. So, we were trying to find the juxtaposition between the energies; the highs and lows. Finding those dynamics. It took work, but it pays off, you can hear it in the end product.”
However, with all that said about emotions, Martyn says, “After a while, you become so insular and a little desensitized. You watch it over and over. But it’s so rewarding sitting in a room and watching with an audience. We had a screening in IMAX before everything went into lockdown, and you see people’s body language and hear sniffles. It’s a great feeling.”
Martyn hears movies and TV shows, unlike most of us. “It’s a positive and negative. Often, I can’t listen to a soundtrack or watch a movie without dissecting what’s happening.”
What’s it like to mix the sound for something that could play on dozens of different devices with different sound systems? “You’ve got to think of that mindset once you’re doing the actual delivery. When we mix it, we do it in the highest format possible, in this instance, Theatrical Dolby Atmos, so we have speakers all over the place. Then we mix it for IMAX, which has another set of speakers all over the place.”
The mixes continue down from there for various systems. Martyn continues, “For Beastie Boys Story, we knew this was going to AppleTV+, which meant people would be watching on their laptops or phones. You try to get it, so it sounds its best on small devices. It’s the world we’re in now.”
Martyn’s work on Beastie Boys Story earned him and his team not one, but two Emmy nominations. How’d he find out? “It was just like any other day. I went to work mixing on a film that I just finished last week. A friend texts me ‘Congratulations’ I saw the phone out of the corner of my eye. I try not to get distracted by the phone, but I thought ‘Did that say congratulations?'”
Martyn responded to the text with, “What are you congratulating me for, what’s up? ‘You’ve just been nominated for an Emmy.'”
“It was super-humbling when I heard,” Martyn says, “I’m proud of our team and what we achieved on this film.”
But he still wasn’t entirely clear on what was happening. “I told my wife, hey Nicole, check it out I’ve been nominated for an Emmy. She replied, ‘Not one Emmy, two.'”
Martyn’s response was a high-pitched, “Whaaat!”
Martyn can’t help but repeat that the experience is “Totally humbling. I was incredibly surprised. It’s an absolute win no matter what happens the day they hand them out.”
Martyn works for Formosa Group, an independent organization doing sound work for dozens of movies and TV series worldwide. “I can see some of the best guys doing this work by going down a hall and knocking on their door. We started as a company with like seven, I think, and we’re now well over 150 people.”
What sort of dream films would Martyn love to work on? “ET would be so cool to work on. BMX Bandits would be cool to remake; it was like a teenage Goonies type of film on BMX bikes.”
Beastie Boys Story is out on AppleTV+. So, what’s next for Martyn. “I’ve been working on a Zack Snyder film called Army of the Dead, which will be on Netflix. I’ve started work on a Disney film called Cruella. Not sure how much I can say about that. It’s going to be really good fun.”
Is Beastie Boys Story on your watch list?
Thanks to Martyn Zub and October Coast for making this interview possible.
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