Michael Gaughn Tag

What’s So Great About Color?

A few days ago, we ran Dennis Burger’s interview with Ray Harryhausen, where the justly revered special-effects genius talked about how happy he was with the colorized version of his 20 Million Miles to Earth. I know this is a touchy subject I can’t possibly begin to do justice to in the space allotted here, but colorization is bad—it has always been bad, and always will be. The fact that we’ve gotten better at it—like getting better at covering your tracks after a robbery—only compounds the crime.

 

There are so many ways to approach this, but let’s start with this: Why do we need everything to be in color? Why did the idea take root that black & white is somehow inferior? Are Dürer’s or Doré’s engravings or Ernst’s collages in any way inferior to their work in color—or any other artist’s work in color? How about Stieglitz’ or Walker Evans’ or Weegee’s photos? Does the

fact that Chaplin’s and Keaton’s films were shot in black & white—let alone Murnau’s, Eisenstein’s, and Griffith’s—make them inherently inferior to later, color films?

 

Then there’s the notion that color films look more realistic. Really? When was the last time you saw a movie where the color palette even came within spitting distance of reality? Movies are so heavily manipulated in post now that they look like the colorist let his six-year-old daughter loose on the file with a set of neon Sharpies. Yes, 4K HDR is capable of more accurately reproducing reality but the sad truth is that our addiction to retreating into superficial fantasy means practically no one takes advantage of what the tools can actually do.

Another argument is that colorization is a way to get jaded people raised on color media (in other words, Millennials) to check out older material. Not only is that cynical pandering, it assumes that it’s the black & white that makes these older movies and shows somehow irrelevant.

 

The only self-consistent explanation is that the need to colorize is part of the current mania to obliterate the past and to desensitize ourselves into an oblivious stupor. Eradicating black & white via color is akin to filling every movie with more and more gunplay, grosser and grosser gags, bigger, louder, deeper explosions, and greater and greater levels of intolerance.

 

Black & white, on the other hand, has traditionally been associated with things like sophistication (say, Lubitsch comedies or Astaire/Rogers musicals) and noir (take your pick), mainly because grayscale evokes both subtlety and ambiguity in ways color tends to obscure. So it’s not surprising we would want to annihilate anything that elegant and restrained, because allowing its vital progeny to run around loose would be an annoying reminder that the present is rarely a significant improvement on the past.

 

A colorization booster would say, “Why do you care what they do to some ‘50s monster flick—or some Shirley Temple movie, or some ‘50s sitcom?” But where do you draw the line—especially given how voracious and indiscriminate the people with their hands on the cultural levers have become?

 

The “Why do you care?” argument is inherently elitist—especially at a time when we like to pretend that all creative expression has been flattened to the level of pop culture (kind of like the apparatchiks using bureaucracy to enforce mediocrity during the Soviet era). I Love Lucy and the first season of Bewitched have been colorized, and that’s somehow OK because they’re “just” sitcoms (ignoring for the moment that Lucy was shot by Metropolis cinematographer Karl Freund).

 

What about something like The Dick Van Dyke Show? That’s just some old black & white sitcom, right? Except that it was beautifully captured by veteran Studio Era DP Robert De Grasse, and that its black & white ethos is redolent with the best still photography of the time, of the most sophisticated films, of magazine layouts for Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. In other words, it’s the very essence and epitome of that too brief era of American Enlightenment. Dick Van Dyke in color is no longer Dick Van Dyke—which is one reason why Carl Reiner decided not to switch over to color halfway through the series’ run.

 

Colorizing it now would go directly against the creators’ intent—that last an always dubious notion that has become inherently hypocritical and virtually meaningless now—and couldn’t result in anything but a curiosity, at best, and a travesty at worst.*

 

The notion that the addiction to color could creep from the world of monster films and I Love Lucy to, say, classic noir or early Godard should scare the crap out of anyone. It’s a path we should have never begun to venture down and needs to be nipped in the bud. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

 

What would be the colorization equivalent of nuclear deterrence?

Michael Gaughn

What's So Great About Color?

(* While doing my due diligence before publication, I discovered that some war criminal has actually committed that atrocity. Hopefully there’s a circle in Hell—preferably right below Satan’s crotch—reserved just for colorists.)

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

The King of Staten Island

The King of Staten Island

I know people like the characters in The King of Staten Island exist but I don’t like paying to be reminded of that fact, especially over a grueling two hours and 17 minutes. I felt the same revulsion watching American Factory, another grisly reminder of the underclass spawned by successive generations of callous, punitive economics and an increasingly toxic pop culture. Yes, this is who we’ve become, but it’s nothing to be proud of.

 

I can’t imagine what kept Judd Apatow motivated through the protracted process of developing, writing, shooting, and doing post on something like this. When he sat down every morning, what did he see in this dung heap that gave him the energy to carry on?

 

The answer may lie with the Apatow house brand—which is something distinctly different from his style as a filmmaker, which I’ll get to it a minute. Imagine Freaks & Greeks grafted onto Buñuel’s Los olvidados, and you’ll have some idea of where he was trying to go with Staten Island. And that could have potentially been fertile ground. Problem is he couldn’t resist the

impulse to apply his patented warm and fuzzy formula in an effort to redeem his irredeemable characters, so what starts out like Trainspotting ends up a lot like It’s a Wonderful Life. The former rings true, but something nobody really needs to be exposed to; the latter is just nauseating.

 

His distinctive style has been apparent from his earliest directorial efforts. (Even a casual observer can see the clear through-line from the freeze-pop scene in Freaks & Geeks to Staten Island.) And his work has the potential of being tremendously expressive—if he can ever find the right material. The problem is, Freaks remains his strongest effort to date, aside from some occasional moments in 40 Year Old Virgin and This is 40. Whenever he’s tried to bring some discipline to his work and act more like a “filmmaker”—like with Knocked Up, the egregious Funny People, and here—he always goes seriously awry. But he’s definitely onto something, and might actually somehow someday get far enough out of his own way to latch onto a more promising subject.

STATEN ISLAND AT A GLANCE

Judd Apatow’s latest is two-plus hours of unpleasantness, a kind of Trainspotting-meets-It’s a Wonderful Life mashup yanked from theaters right before its release date and dumped onto the video market. 

 

PICTURE     

Faux documentary visuals done in the patented “independent film” style, neither helped nor hindered by the 4K HDR treatment.

 

SOUND

The clean-enough audio can’t really be held responsible for the pervasive, unpleasant Staten Island accents and fights a losing battle against the mumbled line delivery.

Staten Island was supposed to have had a limited theatrical run, mainly at drive-ins, but Universal at the last minute decided to send it straight to video. My guess is they couldn’t figure out who the audience was supposed to be and were afraid it would flop hard even at a time when people are starved for entertainment.

 

But premium video on demand wasn’t such a great alternative. I had to fork over two hard-earned sawbucks to watch this on Amazon—that’s a hefty amount to wager on a film that doesn’t give you much of a clue of what you’re in for. The bigger problem is that you can be halfway through the seemingly interminable slog of watching it and still not have a clue.

 

I know it’s heresy to bring this up at a time when every film sprawls and nobody has the creative discipline, or a strong enough sense of mercy, to cut anything to the length it actually deserves, but Staten Island could have easily been a nice, tight 90 minutes and still have been, for better or worse, the same film. At least I would have gotten 45 minutes of my life back.

 

I don’t have much to say about the acting except that, if you’ve ever seen an Apatow film, you’re seen all of these performances before. And there’s the recurring problem of nepotism. What has to happen to keep Apatow from casting his own family members? His daughter Maude is OK as Pete Davidson’s responsible, grounded, empathetic (insert morally laudable trait here: _____) sister, but is in no way exceptional and is a kind of poster child for the daughters of privilege swelling the acting ranks in New York and LA, people with only modest abilities but terrific connections.

 

There’s nothing exceptional happening on the technical side either. Staten Island is shot in the standard-issue faux documentary, “independent film” style that’s been dragging down serious films for at least a decade now. (Did I mention that this isn’t really a comedy?) Everything is well enough shot and assembled, but this could have been presented as a radio play with pretty much the same impact. Part of the almost $20 price of admission can be attributed to Staten Island being a 4K HDR release, but I couldn’t see where that really helped or hindered anything.

 

The audio is perfectly serviceable, and can’t be held accountable for the unpleasant accents and some of the actors’ inability to articulate their lines. There are the obligatory pop-music cues meant to create a false sense of energy, and some firearms are discharged during a robbery scene. I guess the gunshots sounded realistic. I’m kind of glad to say I have no way of knowing for sure.

 

Maybe this thing panders just enough to have an audience beyond self-pitying brats. God only knows Staten Island embodies the corrosive masochism that lies at the black heart of the culture. I just know that trying make our dance with Thanatos (no, not that Thanatos) more palatable by turning it into something that veers awful close to becoming a musical isn’t healthy for anybody. If you really feel like you need to piss away $20 online, go play some poker instead.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Space Force

Space Force

It’s not hard to figure out how this all began. Netflix had an unexpected boon when Millennials didn’t discover The Office until after it had migrated over to the subscription service but then seized on and devoured it as if they’ve just summoned up manna. As all that was playing out, NBC announced it would be bringing The Office back under its wing as part of its new Peacock streaming service, eventually depriving Netflix of what is probably its steadiest flow of viewers.

 

While they would never publicly admit it, Netflix found itself desperate for a new series that looked, walked, and smelled enough like The Office to retain a sizable portion of that show’s audience.

 

Enter Office creator Greg Daniels and star Steve Carell with an itch to do a service comedy—an idea as old as the hills (or at least as old as Aristophanes)—and as fresh as today’s headlines. Or at least that’s how they would have presented it at the 

pitch meeting—assuming they even had to do a pitch before Netflix handed them a blank check.

 

To cut right to the chase, Space Force is nothing but a mess, way overinflated in every possible way, the most hackneyed of sitcom premises puffed up with a stupidly large budget and a random mob of a cast. If this had been made for a fraction of the money and with a little less latitude, the constraints might have brought some badly needed discipline to the exercise, yielding something tighter, funnier, and more watchable. Maybe.

 

What we have instead is the Netflix equivalent of It’s a Mad, 

Mad, Mad, Mad World—a too-big-to-fail comedy that puts a gun to your head and tells you to laugh because it’s desperate to justify its existence. There are some laughs, occasionally (I have to admit to falling for the space chimp bit), but far too rarely. Space Force is the sitcom equivalent of spending an evening watching a room full of monkeys perched at typewriters and waiting for one of them to randomly tap out a joke.

 

To go with another animal analogy, it’s a great, big slobbering Labrador of a show, utterly superficial, with no ideas or convictions of its own, desperately trying to please everybody and willing to do anything to get a little attention. If you’ve heard that it’s a spoof or satire, you heard wrong. Space Force doesn’t bite—it licks your face instead. It doesn’t have the creative courage to skewer a damn thing.

 

But enough of the generalities; let’s talk specifics. You get the sense Carell loves The Great Santini and decided, for some reason, to bring it up to date. But it would be hard to name another actor more different from Carell, with his extremely limited acting range, than Robert Duvall. That cognitive dissonance might help explain why he can’t get a bead on his character but constantly shifts between playing a pint-sized general, Michael Scott, and an ambiguous third being who might actually be Carell himself.

 

The cast is big and, almost without exception, unexceptional, the most offensive member being Ben Schwartz as Carell’s media manager. His every moment on screen is the comedy equivalent of waterboarding. Carell’s character fires him in the first episode, which seemed logical and felt definitive, and led to the hope we were rid of him forever. But this is a cliché-laden sitcom after all, so he keeps arbitrarily popping back up throughout the series, like a horror-movie villain or a rodent, even though his shtick is predictable, his actions implausible, and he fails to generate any laughs.

 

The biggest offense—although you can’t really blame the completely bland, inoffensive actress saddled with playing her—is the pilot who starts out as Carell’s whirlybird chauffeur and somehow ends up commanding a lunar mission. She’s not a character or the product of a legitimate creative act but a fashionable amalgam, born of checking off a bunch of boxes meant to suck up to contemporary sensibilities. As far as you can get from three-dimensional, she’s a direct descendant of the personified virtues in a medieval morality play.

 

More specifically, she’s only there to be the token tough-but-caring black girl who rises to a level of great responsibility because she has a massive father complex.

 

If there’s any glimmer of light in this black hole of a series, it’s John Malkovich as the lead scientist. He’s ultimately nothing but a stereotypically affected straw man, Alice to Carell’s Ralph, Felix to his Oscar. It’s only Malkovich’s ability to make something out of nothing that causes his screen time to add up to anything resembling creative redemption.

 

Pardon a little inside baseball, but I watched Space Force straight through when it debuted and planned to publish this review then. But my reaction was so strong, I felt the need to buy some distance before going public with my thoughts. Unfortunately, the weeks that have since elapsed have only reinforced my original impressions.

 

If you’re big on Anointed vs. Underclass fictions that come down firmly for the Anointed, this show is for you. If you find succor in a day-care center view of the world, you’ll probably actually enjoy the image of a military mission jubilantly jumping around the lunar surface like a bunch of infants. I didn’t. Space Force shows how far we’ve devolved since Metropolis, and suggests the Fredersens of the world have irrevocably won.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

photos by Randall Michelson

Legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis and acoustician Steve Haas have collaborated on a number of cost-no-object home theaters, but probably none of those efforts has been as ambitious, versatile, or well-realized as the Paradiso. Seventeen years in the making, this Southern California gem is actually an entire home-entertainment complex built around an Italianate piazza. The reference-quality 15-seat home theater doubles as a fully-fledged concert hall. The nightclub features a hydraulic stage and can handle anything from a rock band to a jazz group. Next door to the club resides an arcade, containing the homeowner’s extensive collection of pinball machines and video games. There’s even a g-force flight simulator.

 

At a time when people are developing a new appreciation for what home entertainment has to offer, the Paradiso provides the ultimate example of what can be done when you venture outside the home theater box. I recently talked to Steve and Theo about the project’s genesis, execution, and legacy.

—Michael Gaughn

THEO KALOMIRAKIS: The client had been dreaming about doing a theater with me and asked me to do the basement of his house, which is next to where the Paradiso is now. It had a seven-and-a-half-foot ceiling, so it was only a modest room. I did it because I liked the guy very much. He was passionate about doing something, but there was not much I could do with the space. So he sensed I was kind of compromising.

 

One day, he called me and said, “Theo, I have good news and bad news for you.” I said, “What is the bad news?” He said, “I have to pull the plug on the theater downstairs because I cannot see myself working with you in such a compromised space.” 

“So, what’s the good news?” “I bought two lots next to my house, and I want to set you free to design whatever the hell you want. Let your mind soar. I trust you.” It was the best thing I was ever offered to do.

 

Since the house is located in an Italianate enclave, he said, “We need to do something that would be very much in keeping with 

the neighborhood.” Which is fine, but I realized the size I had in mind for the theater exceeded the one-story height that would be allowed there. That started our endless process of digging down to create a subterranean environment.

 

Originally, there were going to be two more floors below the piazza level, and he kept pushing. “Let’s dig some more. Let’s put the bowling alley there. Let’s have a restaurant for 30 people.” I said to him, “If we dig anymore, we’re going to reach China before we do the theater. So let’s put a stop on it.”

 

And then 2008 came. When the bubble burst, he called me and said, “There is no budget to excavate, so we have to scrap the basement. Can we limit the scope to make it into just the piazza level?” And of course, we redesigned the whole thing.

Inside the Ultimate Luxury Home Entertainment Space

click on the image to enlarge

The idea of adding multiple environments is an extension of what I have described in my book, Great Escapes, as my need to break away from the constraints of a very limited room where you only watch TV. I was dreaming of spaces where before you go into the theater, you have to go under marquees and through lobbies and other areas. And now, here I had the room to do it.

 

We ended up creating a city environment based on his desire to bring in Italian architectural influences. He sent me to Italy and I spent 10 days in Siena. I took about 2,000 photographs in nearby villages for reference. I came back and showed him some incredible charcuterie stores that sold cheeses, and pizzerias, and this and that, and he said, “Let’s do it.” The only things that were dictated by him were the arcade, because he had a very nice collection of pinball machines and video games, and the nightclub because he wanted to have gigs for jazz.

 

He basically gave me permission to go crazy. He didn’t ask me to do this village or do this or do that. I presented the ideas that he gradually grasped and accepted. It’s usually a collaborative effort. The client lets his imagination go to think about the things that mean something to him, and I put them into context.

 

Steve, you were obviously heavily involved in the theater space, but I would imagine you worked on the nightclub as well.

STEVE HAAS: We were involved in all the spaces, really, because acoustics and audio mattered in the pizzeria, the arcade, and even the lobby. For all of these, we provided general noise control, sound containment, and acoustic treatment, as well as audio system design and calibration. But the premier spaces were the cinema, the nightclub, and the pizzeria. This wonderful client was just so open in sharing his goals and desires. In addition to his love for arcade games, he also loved live music. His daughters were both learning to play string instruments, so he wanted the ability to have everything from a more formal concert environment to a loose hangout-type of club where you can have rock bands or jazz groups come and play. He can have a chamber trio performing in the theater and a rock band in the club with no sound bleed between them.

 

Somebody coming into the theater cold would think it’s just for watching movies, but it’s actually a fully-fledged performance space as well.

TK: I want to remind you, Mike, that the theaters that have inspired me over the years were never just for watching movies. The movie palaces were mixed-use spaces where you could have an orchestra and also acrobats or a comedy act or whatever, which is exactly what the Paradiso can do. So it’s not like we suddenly came up with the novel idea of using a

theater this way. This project brought us back, completed the circle to what the movie theaters were supposed to be.

 

Does the desire to be able to do live performances in a home theater come up very often with clients?

TK: Yes, but usually at a much more elementary level.

 

SH: It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. And, yes, that’s a biased perspective, but I think a lot of people just don’t realize what can be done. 

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

And even if you don’t go to the nth degree like we did with the Paradiso, there are many ways to upgrade a theater space, and it starts with the layout. You have to have the space to be able to have one to four people be able to play and perform, and have a system that can support it—not just audio, but lighting, because that’s different from what you need for a home theater system.

 

TK: Because live performances require specific lighting, we brought in a very well-known lighting designer with a background in theater. This is probably the only project I’ve done in the US that incorporated so many different disciplines. It’s not just the clients who don’t realize all the possibilities. Even the designers cannot wrap their heads around how many wonderful things you can do in a space like that.

 

Steve, the theater had to have a traditional surround sound system for watching movies, but you also have your Concertino system in there for live performances. Are they two discrete systems or is there some overlap?

SH: I think we did share a couple of components. Maybe some of the subwoofers were relay switched back and forth, but inherently quite independent.

 

There was a lot of control programming. If you could see all the bells and whistles switching behind the scenes, it would be amazing. Almost a dozen processes switched in a sequenced manner to go just from theater mode to live concert and back, 

but the user interface was as simple as pressing a button for the initial selection and then there were custom presets within each mode.

 

What did the Concertino system bring to this project in particular, given what the client wanted to do?

SH: The Concertino, which is in the nightclub and pizzeria as well, expanded the ability to have various kinds of live music in an acoustically dry room. As Theo knows, we don’t design “dead” home theaters. However, even a mildly dry diffused home theater appropriate for cinema presentation doesn’t provide the right acoustic for many types of live music.

 

This acoustic-enhancement technology allows the performance space to become a true-sounding

concert hall, cathedral, or any other space you can imagine. So if they want to have a choir, string orchestra, or even a jazz group with a bit livelier sound, you can do that and then blend it with more traditional amplified sound as needed.

 

I’ve heard that people have been in that space and didn’t even know there was processing going on because it sounded so authentic, or is that an exaggeration?

SH: That’s exactly right. This is a world of difference from the Concert Hall and Cathedral modes you get in your car stereo or home receivers. This is recreating in the digital virtual electronic world exactly what a real hall of a different size, different shape, a different acoustic will do to enhance sound—the early reflections, reverberations in the proper timing and frequency manner. The technology can be described for days, but in the end it’s all about what happens when somebody presses a button and sits down and that string quartet, that cellist comes out, and just like, “Wow.” It’s just a great experience for performers and audience alike.

 

Theo, you weren’t here when Mike and I discussed how things are changing with music performances over livestream during the pandemic, but having spaces like this, whether it’s to this degree or even one or two degrees lower—I think a lot of affluent homowners are going to say, “You know what, I don’t want to be in a theater with 1,000 or 2,000 other people for quite some time. So why not create great-sounding spaces that will allow me to bring that type of experience home, literally, for not just movies, but for live music and other types of live entertainment?”

 

TK: I am hearing from people, “I don’t want to go to the movie theaters and catch a disease. I want to make my house be more like a theater.” This is an incredible new opportunity. And it’s up to us to capture it and relay the message that you can have this kind of theater space in your home.

 

SH: Am I hearing Theo saying he’s getting back into custom theaters again?

 

TK: I do want to do custom theaters but very, very selectively. If there is something of the caliber of the Paradiso, I will do it.

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury
theater designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs.
Theo is the Executive Director of Rayva.

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA
areas. He has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for more
than 25 years in high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music
rooms to major museums and performance venues.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Why We Love “Galaxy Quest”

Why We Love Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest was only a modest hit, partly because it was stupidly marketed as a kids film. But it has earned a steadily growing following from an incredibly diverse group of people in the 21 years since its release. That usualy doesn’t happen with something like a sci-fi comedy. But it happened here.

 

The point of this little opus is to give you a different perspective on the film, if you’re already a fan, or encourage you to check it out if you’ve never seen it before. Given that, anyone looking for a comfortable and considered take on GQ should make a beeline for Dennis Burger’s below-the-fold appraisal, while those willing to first take a swim through an acid bath are encouraged to begin with Michael Gaughn’s more prickly appreciation.

—ed.

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
Michael Gaughn: The Journey Continues . . .

I’m not a Trekkie. I’m not a Tim Allen fan, I’m not a Sigourney Weaver fan, I’m not really an Alan Rickman fan—although he is the only good thing about Die Hard. I am a Tony Shalhoub fan, but who isn’t? Had Galaxy Quest been a Harold Ramis film with Alec Baldwin in the lead, as originally conceived, I never would have gone within a million miles of a stinkburger that big.

 

My love for this movie began with one of those “I’ll give this thing five minutes and’ll probably just turn it off” decisions that sometimes yields gems. It turned out to have enough going for it, well beyond its sci-fi trappings, to keep me engaged for the duration. But I didn’t really begin to appreciate how great it is until it had some time to insinuate itself into my being.

 

Galaxy Quest is the Casablanca of sci-fi comedies—a movie much greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, it’s got an incredible cast—but how many incredible casts have gone down with their respective ships? The script—like much of the film, 

apparently—started out pretty goofy and was actively reinvented on the fly. Director Dean Parisot wasn’t exactly a name at the time—and hasn’t been much of one since, which is a bit of a mystery.

 

It’s not a particularly well made film—which is to say it’s as well made as any mainstream Hollywood movie, which isn’t saying much. There are some 

awkward edits and some equally awkward pauses in the performances, which were mostly smoothed over by cranking up the volume on David Newman’s accomplished but often overly insistent score. Which is another way of saying that what the film gets right—often thanks to that Casablanca type of zeitgeist-driven blind luck—helps divert your attention from its manifest flaws.

Galaxy Quest is one of those too rare phenomena where something exceptional gets made despite the system, the circumstances, and even the nuts and bolts of the film itself.

 

It’s definitely a comedy, but it’s not a relentless joke machine like the lamentable and indigestible Spaceballs. Its beauty is that it’s equal parts comedy, drama, and action. Everything is held in balance (somehow), and it all stems from character. The film rarely cheats.

 

Everything good about GQ is based in emotion—deep emotion. That puts it at the opposite end of the spectrum from such cold-blooded exercises as the clinical Airplane! and the smug, nasty Hot Fuzz (and A Million Ways to Die in the West and just about every recent comedy I can think of).

 

That emotion is probably the thing that’s caused GQ to stick with people and ultimately brought them to appreciate it. And it’s never cheap sentiment—the film earns every one of its affects. Which is why even though some films have aped its form, none of its descendants have come close to touching it in the intervening 21 years. (A case could be made for The Office, but The Office always sucked at real emotion. It always lacked the courage to go all the way there.)

 

Every comedian, good and bad, has a go-to Gilligan’s Island joke. It’s pretty much the working definition of a cheap laugh. But GQ’s Gilligan’s Island bit always gets a huge laugh despite its obviousness because it’s simultaneously really funny and deeply ironic and deeply wrenching. You can tell that the empathetic aliens truly feel the 

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
SO, WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH DEAN PARISOT?

Given its production pedigree, the caliber of its cast, and it’s ever-growing reputation, you’d expect to find out Galaxy Quest was helmed by a master of comedy with a solid string of hits to his name.

 

Nope. It was made by Dean Parisot, a director with a journeyman’s resume, but who’s shown enough command of his craft and demonstrated enough brilliance in his work that his oeuvre really should contain some gems besides GQ.

 

But it doesn’t, really. And it’s hard to fathom why.

 

Parisot directed “Arthur, Interrupted,” the second-best episode of the first attempt at a live-action Tick series. (For those keeping score at home, the best episode is “The Funeral.”)

 

“Arthur, Interrupted” stays true to The Tick’s core silliness but is the only time in the series’ unfairly truncated run Arthur even begins to feel three-dimensional. The gags are all motivated, instead of just pasted onto the action. And the performances are solid across the board—especially David Foley as the “licensed graduate student”-cum-superhero fetishist.

 

That episode would have been the perfect audition piece for Galaxy Quest—except Parisot directed “Arthur, Interrupted” three years after he made GQ. How do you go from creating one of the greatest movie comedies ever to doing a one-off episode of an unknown network sitcom?

 

Movie directors slum all the time, but they usually do it between big projects. For Parisot, there really haven’t been any other biggies.

 

I don’t have a neat way to wrap up this little sidebar because I couldn’t even venture a guess as to why his career played out the way it did. But I can’t help thinking of Terry Lennox’s lament in The Long Goodbye: “A guy like me has one big moment in his life, one perfect swing on the high trapeze.”

M.G.

castaways’ distress and have made their plight a centerpiece of their cobbled together culture. That one joke shows exactly how trusting, naive, and vulnerable the Thermians are—and how far they’re in over their heads.


A lot of people rightly point to the scene where Sarris tortures Thermian leader Mathesar as the movie’s pivot. But that moment goes well beyond setting up the final act to being the most extraordinary thing about GQ and the main reason it’s on 

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
NEVER SURRENDER

Galaxy Quest has long deserved a documentary that explains how a seemingly trite space comedy came to earn a reputation as one of the most substantial films of its era. Never Surrender (2019) isn’t that documentary.

 

It’s hard to tell whether the filmmakers just don’t get what makes the movie great or, in an age when everything has to pander to an agenda, couldn’t find a way to both suck up to GQ’s base and actually talk about the film.

 

The interviews with the primary creative forces are all pleasant enough. But they’re mostly gushing and superficial and tainted by the rank air of nostalgia. The absence of any discussion of the villain, Sarris, suggests the filmmakers were too focused on the light and fluffy to dig very deep into the film itself.

 

The greatest crime, though, is all the time wasted on the cosplay contingent. That phenomena is sad enough on its own, but by making it the documentary’s frame, the makers embraced exactly the wrong explanation for why GQ has endured.

 

Galaxy Quest isn’t a great sci-fi or fantasy film. It’s just a great film. Period.   

M.G.

its way to becoming a true exemplar of that much-abused word “classic.”

 

It’s played absolutely straight, and sublimely well. If Enrico Colantoni hadn’t been able to bring convincing depth to the squishy caricature Mathesar, Sarris didn’t come across as a legitimately menacing villain, Tim Allen hadn’t been able to reach way down beyond anything he’d done previously (or has done since), and Parisot hadn’t had the insight and fortitude to stage the scene as unalloyed drama, and hadn’t been subtly and carefully ratcheting up the emotional resonances throughout the film to reach that point, it would have been a disaster.

 

It’s not just dramatic, it’s emotional. And it’s not just emotional—it’s emotionally nuanced and complex. And it underscores the secret at GQ’s core—the reason why it works on its own terms, why it hasn’t just survived but thrived, and why its strengths have practically nothing to do with Trekkies, geeks, nerds, or any of the other arrested-development types who’ve inherited the earth.

 

Everybody in Galaxy Quest is vulnerable—in some cases, to the point of debilitation. And that vulnerability runs the gamut from an actor’s inevitable petty insecurities to the potential extinction of a race. The

film, thankfully, has no superheroes. Everyone in it is just doing the best they can. And the ones who are most armored, most heavily weaponized, most willing to revel in raw power turn out to be the most vulnerable of all. And nobody plays the victim card.

 

Which is why it could never be made today. Which is why GQ is emotionally rich, while virtually every recent film feels stunted.

 

Galaxy Quest deserves to be celebrated because, like its characters, it’s managed to endure despite the odds. But we should also consider what it means that it could very well be the last of its kind.

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
Dennis Burger: The Relevant Conundrum

If you’d locked me in a prison cell and offered me the key if only I could figure out the one movie for which Mike and I share an unbridled enthusiasm, I would have immediately pounded on the door and begged for clemency. I knew where our disparate musical tastes overlap (Bach, Randy Newman, Cake, and that’s about it). I could tell you where our politics intersect (way outside the mainstream, and I’ll say no more than that). I could even tell you in what ways our moral and ethical philosophies are simpatico (surprisingly, given that they’re both wholly our own). But when it comes to cinema, we’re Oscar and Felix. Statler and Waldorf. Martha and Snoop.

So it’s a little shocking (although perhaps it shouldn’t be) that one of the few films we both unapologetically adore is the 1999 sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest. Like Mike, I don’t come to this film as a fan of the genre it parodies. I’ve only seen a couple of Star Trek films and accidentally caught a handful of episodes of the TV shows over the years. I’ve always been more of a fantasy geek than a sci-fi nerd, much preferring Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings and the like to The Next Generation and The Wrath of Khan and their ilk.

 

But that’s one of the great things about Galaxy Quest: It doesn’t lean too hard on shibboleths or obscure references. Instead, it takes the piss out of tropes so common they’ve permeated the pop culture consciousness. What’s more, it plays with those tropes lovingly, never veering into the cynical, mocking, or mean-spirited territory that would have been so easy to fall into.

 

That alone wouldn’t be enough to make Galaxy Quest a good film, though. We’ve seen other amiable spoofs about fandom—namely 2009’s Fanboys, which takes a shot at my own favorite franchise—fall flat for any number of reasons. What writer Robert Gordon and director Dean Parisot seem to understand that so few others in their position get is that even if your intentions are to have a bit of fun, you still need to make a good movie. And that’s perhaps the most

Where to See GQ

Galaxy Quest is available on all of the major non-subscription streaming services and for download from Kaleidescape. The best you can do, though, is 1080p with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. That makes this classic well overdue for a 4K HDR/Atmos upgrade. 

 

Amazon PrimeGoogle Play / iTunes
Kaleidescape /
 Vudu YouTube

Why We Love Galaxy Quest

surprising thing about Galaxy Quest—it takes itself seriously. The filmmakers and actors seem to grasp that levity is meaningless without gravity. As such, the film doesn’t strive for laugh-a-minute antics. In fact, it’s at its best when it gets really serious. More than anything else, though, what I love about GQ is that it’s actually about something. It strives to mean 

something. And that’s far more than I can say for the aforementioned Fanboys.

 

In his excellent but uneven collection of essays Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business, playwright/screenwriter/author/director David Mamet included Galaxy Quest on his very short list of four perfect films. And far be it from me to argue with Mamet, but I have to protest, if only mildly. Galaxy Quest does grasp that golden ring in only one pivotal moment. It’s a scene late in the film, in which Tim Allen’s character, Jason Nesmith, in a moment of heartbreaking vulnerability, must explain (to an alien who doesn’t comprehend the concept of dishonesty) why humans lie to one another in the process of crafting fiction. Nesmith fails to come up with a satisfying answer. And I can understand why this didn’t bother Mamet, because his fiction is full of characters who fail to recognize fundamental truths about themselves.

 

The thing is, though, Nesmith had already learned this lesson, and should have had a better answer. Because the entire point of Galaxy Quest—at least for me—is that we create such fictions to inspire one another. To motivate one

another. To give hope when there seems to be none. To get straight to the heart of truths about ourselves that non-fiction simply can’t uncover, at least not without seeming contrived.

 

Only one other tale—The Lord of the Rings—so effectively cuts to the heart of why we need fiction, why we tell stories to one another, why effective inspiration so often comes from seemingly the most trivial larks. And to be fair, that’s not even what The Lord of the Rings is about. But it’s a message that’s central to everything that makes Galaxy Quest work.

 

And aside from that one minor quibble, it’s why I think it actually is, very nearly, a perfect film.

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Musician Eliot Lewis on Doing Livestreams Right

Musician Eliot Lewis on Doing Livestreams Right

As a Hall & Oates and Live from Daryl’s House band member and a multi-instrumentalist who frequently takes his solo act on tour, Eliot Lewis suddenly found himself with nowhere to perform when the world came to a hard stop in March. Like many musicians, he soon embraced livestreaming as a virtual alternative. But, unlike many musicians, he decided to offer his fans a more satisfying experience by bringing his streams as close to the level of studio recording as possible—a laudable effort that deserved a closer look.

—Michael Gaughn

How many Facebook livestreams have you done over the past couple of months?

I’ve been doing them once a week on Wednesday. so it would probably be around eight so far. A lot of people are doing them almost every day—three or four a week. I wanted to make them a little more special than that. Quality over quantity.

 

What are you doing to mix it up a little?

The cool thing about doing a livestream, and one of the reasons so many of us musicians have turned to them, is that it gives us something to focus on. Like with any live show, I work up new arrangements for songs, I’ll take requests. I write my own music. Some weeks I’ll do full backing tracks where it can have all the instrumentation around me, and then other weeks I’ll break it down to an acoustic show.

 

Also, because I’m a multi-instrumentalist, I do something where I’m playing guitar and singing, and I’m also playing drums with my feet. It’s an electronic drum kit I’ve come up with and programmed so everything can be live and spontaneous. I can 

change from one thing to the other on the drop of a dime.

 

On one of your streams, someone asked about the drums and I thought you were joking when you responded that you were playing them with your feet.

There are a few blues guys who will play steel, string, and acoustic guitar, and also play these snare 

Musician Eliot Lewis on Doing Livestreams Right

drums or a kick drum, and it’s very, very basic. I expanded that idea into my musical universe and came up with a way of doing it with drum samples and trigger pads. They’re electronic trigger pads but with real heads on them and real kick pedals so it feels like I’m playing a real bass drum. I’ve programmed it where I can have a kick and a snare I can change per song. If I want to do a ballad, I can have a softer sound. I’ve programmed a crash cymbal where I’m hitting the kick drum at a higher velocity.

 

If I’m not mistaken, you perform most or all of the parts on your solo albums.

Yeah, everything is done by me. The only thing I’ll add is some extra background vocals from people.

 

So you’d already had a lot of practice before you jumped into streaming.

Well, yeah, since I was 10 years old. So that’s a few years.

 

Given how many people are relying on performance online now, it seems like it’s on a lot of musicians’ shoulders to move beyond iPhones in portrait mode. Have you seen other people trying to up the quality of their performances or 

trying to innovate a little with how they’re presenting?

When people started to focus on livestreams back in March, most of them were just using an iPhone, which there’s nothing wrong with that. But a lot of them were just using the built-in microphone and, depending on the internet connection or their data streaming, the sound could be really not good. And a lot were using the selfie side of the camera, which would flip the image and make a right-handed player look like they were playing lefty. And often the lighting wasn’t great.

 

So I just thought, “If I’m going to do this, I want to do it properly.” I literally started with my iPhone as well—iPhone 10, which has got a really decent camera on it. But instead of using the selfie one, I realized it would be much better to use the back-facing camera, which has higher resolution.

 

And I didn’t want to rely on the audio from the phone. I have a Yamaha mixer that’s iOS compatible, so I run everything directly and try to make it a really quality experience. I’m upgrading everything as we speak. I’ve got a GoPro Hero 8.

I also have a pretty good quality Panasonic Lumix DSLR camera with a nice Zeiss lens, which I’m incorporating for some of the stuff.

 

There’s a bit of a learning curve in going from a basic livestream to actually shooting video with proper studio lighting and that. But I had a little bit of an edge because I do a lot of photography to start with.

 

Acoustically, it looks like you’re miking pretty closely so the room isn’t having a lot of influence.

You’re absolutely right. I’m in an apartment, so I don’t have a ton of space. I’ve got full carpeting and I have some sound treatment I have up just for recording purposes, so it’s pretty dry. But I can control that with a little reverb or compression in my mixer as I’m doing it. It definitely is more studio-like than some of the stuff on livestreams where you hear a ton of the room, which can be distracting, obviously.

 

Were you doing professional recording in that space before all this happened?

Yeah. I’m such a self-sufficient musician—I write and record everything myself—so wherever I live, I end up setting up a home studio. I’ve been doing it all of my life since way back with multitrack cassette players. I don’t need a ton of room. I’m sort of a minimalist in that way. Everything I do in my apartment is record-studio quality, so that just transfers right over to the stuff I’ve been doing in the livestreams.

Was Live from Daryl’s House another form of preparation for all this?

Absolutely. I’ve been very, very fortunate because I’m the only musician, aside from Daryl, who’s been on every episode, all 90 of them. So that undoubtedly helped me with my own little livestreams and video performances, although the level is 

completely different. We started Live from Daryl’s House with a very small, very meager production and then it grew very quickly.

 

Are there any specific streams or videos you’ve seen lately you could point to as particularly good or interesting examples?

There are. Obviously, some of the artists have their pick of good production. I’ve seen stuff Keith Urban is doing, and Grace Potter, and, oh God, Allen Stone. Allen did Live from Daryl’s House and he was deep into video to begin with. So when he needed to do livestreaming, it was really properly done. I think he’s probably using OBS and multiple high-def cameras. So he’s really got it going on.

 

A good friend of mine, a great guitar player named Johnny A, is doing a morning livestream on Facebook five days a week. He’s not so much concerned with the video quality. But one of the positive things is that he’s getting a lot more people to interact with him. So sometimes it’s not all about the quality; it’s really about the content and how you present yourself and what you’re saying and who you get involved.

 

You have a new video out inspired by the current situation. Is there anything about its genesis you’d like to talk about?

I happened to be separated from somebody I love during the start of 

Musician Eliot Lewis on Doing Livestreams Right

this. The last physical show I did was at Madison Square Garden with Hall and Oates, and that was late February. I was out in the audience with her and friends and it was only two or three weeks later that New York just blew up. So long story short, she went back into the healthcare system so I haven’t seen her in a couple of months. That’s really where that song came about. I thought it’s something a lot of people can relate to because a lot of them have been separated from their children or from their parents in nursing homes.

Do you see all of this permanently changing how musicians are going to be thinking about performance?

I do. One of the positive aspects is that because these streams are live, musicians are going to become more conscious of upping their performance game. Since you can have tens of thousands of people getting onto your livestreams, you’ve got to make sure you’re prepared and your performance is right, because you can’t go back and fix stuff. That takes us back to more of the golden era of record-making and music-making where it was all performance. People didn’t have Pro Tools and digital workstations to cut and paste and fix and auto tune things.

 

And I think that when we do get back to a more normal situation where we can play live again, a lot of us are going to incorporate what we’ve been doing now. I know I will, because I really enjoy this part of it. It’s forced me to dive even further into livestreaming and video, and I’m learning a lot through the process.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Who’s Doing Livestreams Right?

Ben Folds takes requests—and gives piano lessons to kids—while stuck in Australia.

The audience for livestreams has exploded in recent weeks as people have exhausted their options for more traditional mainstream entertainment and musicians and other performers have embraced online performance as the best near-term solution for engaging their fans. I talked to acoustic designer Steve Haas about who’s doing a good job of broadcasting from the internet and what musicians can do to up the sonic quality of their streams.

—Michael Gaughn

Thanks to the boom in livestreams, a lot of people are being exposed for the first time to the idea of famous musicians doing intimate performances, but you’ve been aware of and helping to arrange home performances for a while now, right?

Yes. I’ve been very passionate about promoting house concerts, and have been creating private concert venues in people’s homes for a long time. Before the pandemic, hosts of house concerts were putting on monthly shows with some really great 

artists. It was just amazing, the quality and caliber of musicians you got to see several feet from you in someone’s living room. They would clear out the furniture, put 50 people in there on some loose chairs, and have a suggested donation of 15 to 20 dollars per person.

 

But of course now that can’t exist for a while in any environment, commercial or private—hopefully not as long as everybody’s predicting. Certainly when Mozart did his house concerts in the palace, he didn’t have to deal with a pandemic, and certainly didn’t have the internet to be able to convey his music to the masses. But people do now, and it’s amazing how many performers have jumped on this. They understand that the only way they can keep their music and their talents alive in the minds of their fans and the general public is through online presentations.

 

Whether it’s prerecorded videos or live streaming, some bands will go to great lengths to individually record their parts and overdub the video. And then somebody will put it together through video editing software and create a pretty amazing production.

 


In general, what is the level of quality you’ve been coming across over the past couple of months, from an acoustics perspective?

Most people are just finding a room in their home or their apartment—sometimes the bathroom, which everybody thinks has great acoustics. But that’s a little iffy—sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. It can also be their kitchen, their living room, wherever they can set up an iPhone or a simple microphone. That’s the bare bones.

Performers are realizing they need to use this vehicle to get their music out there. And some are realizing they have to rise above the tide and separate themselves from the masses.

 

I get dozens of livestreams every day on my Facebook and other feeds, but I just don’t have time to listen to all of them. And that doesn’t even include the highly produced streams, like the Together at Home concert with Lady Gaga, Elton John, and others. So there has to be a way for artists—not just musicians, but actors and dancers, too—to convey their craft. But they have to step up the production. And the thing is, the ones I’ve seen do that haven’t had to spend thousands of dollars.

 

It’s really about thinking, “OK, what can I do to create an environment that will give me something better than what sounds like a typical living room? How can I get a little better balance? How can I get some good audio equipment? What do I need to do 

to make sure my video and audio are in sync?” I’ve seen some videos that were out of sync, which is very annoying.

 

They also need to think about lighting. How many people are doing livestreams with a window behind them? I’m not a lighting designer, but Lighting 101 tells us don’t have a window behind you.

 

 

I realize it’s difficult to advise people on acoustics from a distance, but is there any general advice you could give? For instance, they should probably take a moment to listen to the room they’re thinking of using and get a sense of its sonic characteristics.

Most normal rooms—living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms—don’t have a neutral sound, but tend to sound very colored. Bathrooms usually have an excessively bright sound because you’re dealing with porcelain and plaster and other hard surfaces with nothing to absorb it. Kitchens can sound like that too because they don’t have any soft furnishings, so they tend to emphasize the higher frequencies.

 

Living rooms, family rooms, and dens can have a very midrange boomy sound because you typically have all of the low-end sound sucked out—that is, absorbed—by the windows and the thin sheetrock and plaster. The high end can also be muffled by some of the furnishings, especially if you have carpet or area rugs.

 

And that’s really indicative of what I’m hearing on a lot on livestreams—that midrange honkiness that’s left once the highs and the lows are sucked out. It’s better to simply try to soak up or absorb some of that sound. I joke about it, but bringing every pillow and blanket in your house or apartment into the room while you’re recording will actually make a difference. But it depends. If you have a huge living room, just having three or four pillows is not going to do it.

 

If you want to take it to the next level, you can buy or make 

A BRIEF SAMPLING OF STREAMS
Steve Haas on High-Quality Livestreams

Brad Paisley and special guests perform
in real time on Facebook 

The Doobie Brothers perform a video
sync-up of “Black Water”

Steve Haas on High-Quality Livestreams

Singer Maysa Leak (of Incognito fame)

your own acoustical panels. It’s pretty easy, getting some insulation boards, which are typically about one or two inches thick, and wrapping fabric around them. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it certainly can be very effective.

 

As a practitioner and somebody who designs spaces to sound fantastic, I don’t typically advocate the DIY approach to acoustical treatment. But, my goodness, in this situation we’re in, why not get something that will improve your recordings, improve your livestreaming, and set yourself apart a bit for a modest cost?

 

 

I know there are a lot of variables, but in general, should they be using smaller spaces?

It really does depend on what a space is giving you sonically. It’s all about the balance. Does it sound neutral? You can get a large space that has enough furnishings and other things to create that neutral sound, and have the added benefit of giving 

you a really nice visual backdrop, too.

 

There’s this thing going around the internet, a father and daughter out of Utah—Shaw, I think is their last name. They’ve gotten millions of hits for the songs they sing together. They sound wonderful and they’re in a very nice, voluminous living room. And yet you don’t hear excessive reverberation or other imbalanced sound because they seem to have paid attention to their room’s acoustics.

One option is to create the performance in two parts. I’ve heard people say they’ve recorded their audio literally in a closet to get the best sound possible and then dubbed it on the video. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re trying to get high-quality sound and visuals. They may not always go hand in hand.

 

 

I don’t want to go too far into the weeds, but how much impact does microphone selection or placement have on all this?

If they’re recording the audio and video at the same time and their space isn’t perfect, it makes a huge difference. There are professional artists where you can see they’re using closely held wireless or wired mics. And if you don’t have a balanced room, that allows the sound to be picked up much better without getting too much of the room. You want to make sure you have the best-quality microphone you can find with what you have to work with. You also want to make sure the mic’s control pattern is fairly narrow so it’s not picking up too much of the area around you.

 

 

I realize no one can know the future for sure, but where would like to see all of this go from here?

It’s great that during these difficult times people are still keeping that sensation of live music. We’ve been witnessing what I call the one-to-many type of presentations, whether it’s a single artist or band delivering a song or a performance or the big 

production concerts such as Together at Home. The Metropolitan Opera just did one. And I heard of a hip-hop artist who actually did one on Fortnite, a gaming platform. So everybody’s finding unique ways to deliver that one-to-many experience.

 

I do think the next step, as this continues, is that homeowners who can afford it will say, “You 

know what? I want a private concert.” Even if they have to do it on the big screen in their home theater and have Elton John or another type of artist use two-way communication where the performer can hear them applaud and they can interact in conversation between songs, ask questions, or whatever. That way they can react to the performance in a one-to-one or one-to-a-family or small-group situation.

 

I look forward to that happening because it really is amazing when you can have that experience with an artist. If they can’t physically be in the same room with you, then get the next best thing and have them be on Zoom or another stable platform. Have that same type of experience and same type of two-way communications instead of one-way. Feel the intimacy of the performance.

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA
areas. He has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for more
than 25 years in high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music
rooms to major museums and performance venues.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Cineluxe Showcase: A Tribeca Trendsetter

photo by John Frattasi

Steve Haas is the person you call when want to make sure your home theater will sound better than any movie theater. His extensive body of work for various commercial venues and high-end private viewing and listening spaces has established him as one of the world’s leading acoustical engineers. And his collaborations with legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis have made him synonymous with the highest-quality dedicated home theaters.

 

But media rooms (also known as entertainment rooms, multi-use spaces, or communal spaces) are increasingly becoming the movie-watching venue of choice in the luxury market—even though they’re in many ways the antithesis of what you would want for a reference-quality home theater. They tend to be part of an open floorplan, need to serve other forms of entertainment beyond movies, are frequently flooded with ambient light, and feature serious acoustical challenges like hardwood floors, huge plate-glass windows, and large stone and concrete surfaces.

 

None of that changes the fact that the high-end market really likes these kinds of rooms. Fortunately, things like larger, brighter video displays, innovative projection-screen materials, digital room correction, and way more sophisticated lighting and shading control are helping to tame what would have until just a few years ago been impossible spaces for watching movies at any real level of quality.

 

But advanced tech can’t do everything it takes to make a room exceptional, or even acceptable. Which is why we wanted to talk to Haas about what he does to bring these often resistant spaces into line.

—Michael Gaughn

Media rooms can vary dramatically but clients are looking for great performance regardless or they wouldn’t be engaging you. How do you typically handle something like that?

One of the first steps we always employ is understanding from the homeowners how they and, if applicable, their family use their homes—or how they intend to use it, if it’s a new home. Will they all gather in the media room at the same time to watch a movie? In that case, it’s more about dealing with the quality and not so much worrying about whether the sound spreads to the kids’ bedrooms.

 

 

To ensure the acoustical quality of a media room, I would think it would be crucial for you to be brought in early in the planning for a new home or a renovation. Otherwise, you could be dealing with a badly compromised space. Are you usually advising from the beginning or do you find yourself having to make do?

That’s a great question because it really is all over the map. More often than not, the architectural design and interior design are already well underway or nearly completed; or worse, it could be that the construction has already started. And as 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

This multi-use media room in Connecticut contains a home theater . . .

sheetrock starts going in, the homeowner gets a sense of just how much this house is going to sound really “bouncy”— reflective and reverberant—and maybe they should get somebody to deal with these spaces.

 

That happened to us with a project in Westchester County recently. It was a gut renovation well underway; and that’s when the homeowner just realized, “Wow, we really need somebody.” We had to come in and do a lot of massaging to the interior design and the architectural design to 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

. . . billiards lounge . . .

get what we wanted.

 

That project had two different rooms—a two-channel listening room and a media room that were both very open to the surrounding spaces, pretty much flanking the kitchen and breakfast-nook area. The entire right wall of the two-channel room was stone, surrounding a fireplace—which, of course, there’s nothing we can do about that—and the media room itself had a lot of glass, very much glass. So we’re always dealing with compromises in situations like that.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

. . . and recording studio. Unique acoustic treatments and acoustically transparent finishes—including metal mesh, micro-perforated clear shades, and both exposed and concealed wood diffusion panels—were employed to achieve the desired aesthetic and acoustic performance. (photos courtesy of Audio Command Systems)

A lot of luxury homes, especially out west, favor very open floorplans and almost exclusively hard surfaces like wood floors, stone walls and fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows. And often the client wants their great room to double as a media room, which is usually the least conducive space in the home. That has to be a worst-case scenario for you.

We’ve certainly worked on rustic media rooms in Colorado, Utah—all that part of the country. And there are solutions, like monolithic plasters and 

micro-perforated woods, that can be used in an open-plan home to at least tame the sound, to help ensure it’s not just one echo chamber, one reverberant nightmare bleeding into the rest of the home. Also, trying to achieve as much tonal balance in the way the architectural materials are absorbing sound between low, medium, and high frequencies is essential. You have a fair chance of at least being able to enjoy a controlled room, even if it’s not dialed in with the level of finesse we would have in a dedicated room in a different type of architecture. It’s really important to understand that not every architectural style is going to lend itself to a fabric-wrapped room.

 

 

Home theaters are designed to be isolated, but in an open floorplan, the great room is often the physical center of the home. I would imagine you have to worry as much about the sound bleeding into the rest of the house as you do about the quality of sound in the room itself.

Because media rooms are outside that dedicated area, we often design them as part of the whole-house acoustic design. So we’re looking at various spaces throughout the home, not just for a high level of performance, but basically for general acoustic privacy.

 

If somebody wants to play a movie loud or have other types of entertainment, such as watching TV or playing video games, there’s really no way to stop that sound from completely taking over a good portion of an open-plan home. And that’s where we really have to think about the compromises. We have to think about it very holistically in terms of the

usage of the home.

 

Are we able to implement engineered absorptive/diffusive treatments, like we would in a dedicated room? Sometimes, but often not. Your left wall relative to the screen might be completely treatable because it’s just going to be bare sheetrock, but then the right wall is that huge stone fireplace we talked about.

 

 

Is it more important to get sonic symmetry—which is usually one of the key criteria when designing a 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Steve Haas with the Father of Home Theater (and
Cineluxe contributor), Theo Kalomirakis

listening room, media room, or home theater—or do you just place treatments where you can and not worry about the symmetry?

I would argue that symmetry is extremely important because even if the sound is compromised, you don’t want it to change drastically when you go from left to right across the room. As long as we can treat other surfaces (ceilings especially) and achieve overall control, this approach can get decent results.

 

 

A lot of these homes have large, open stairwells that feed directly into the great room area. That has to be a particularly big challenge.

That’s always a very important issue to raise, and there are a lot of times where the designers will say, “You know what? Yeah, we have to close off the stairwell. Otherwise, they will hear everything everywhere in the home.” And you can do that when you’re in early enough in the design process. There are creative ways to design contained stairwells that provide that type of sound control.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Steve calibrating a 38-channel audio system in a large event space for a private residence in Sydney, Australia

Some people would say that digital room correction—not the kind found in mass-market receivers but the higher-end implementations—can compensate for a lot of the problems you’ve been describing with media rooms.

Well, it can fix a lot, certainly—or I shouldn’t say “fix,” because it’s a matter of just taking what is already there and reducing what the physical space has done to compromise it. If you know your speakers are behaving fine out of the box, then you have to understand what makes them not perform optimally at those particular seats. And that has a lot to do with their interaction with elements of the room that aren’t perfectly controlled because of the compromises we’ve been talking about.

 

With today’s processors, whether it’s mid-level or certainly the higher-end processors, there are a lot of tools in place to do this. But it cannot be done fully in an automated fashion even with the best processors. They just don’t work well without somebody with trained ears and skills looking at their results and saying, “OK, that got me a fair distance forward. Now here’s what we need to do to tweak it. Here’s how to optimize it with a manual calibration to get that last 10 to 20%.”

 

It’s easy to understand why the processors some manufacturers claim are perfect and get perfect results really don’t. There are things acoustically that can be overcome with electronics and there are things that just cannot. If you have a room that is

all hard and reflective surfaces, whether it’s glass, sheet-rock, stone, you name it, there’s just nothing a processor can do to overcome the excessive reflections and reverberations.

 

Yet there are those who will claim they can. The end users and AV integrators really need to understand that you can bend the laws of physics, but you can’t break them. If you have speaker interactions with nearby hard surfaces that cause what’s called “comb filtering”—short delayed reflections that combine with the direct sound to cancel a series of frequencies—no  processor eliminate that. That is absolutely a physical correction that needs to be made to the interaction of the speakers with the surrounding room and the surfaces close to the speakers.

 

 

So, when you talk to a client, what do you tell them is the best you can achieve with a media room, compared to a dedicated home theater?

We can say that on a scale of 1 to 10, that it’s not going to be a 10. No media room I’ve ever worked on is a 10—essentially flawless acoustically. Now, do we have solid 9’s? Absolutely, because we’ve worked hard with the entire design team to make intelligent compromises that achieve a well-balanced experience that thrills the end user.

 

If something is going to be well below an 8 or 9, then the client needs to understand that. They need to get to the point where they say, “I’m OK with a 6 or 7 because I’m gaining all these other functions. I have these beautiful vistas of the mountains out this glass window. The stone fireplace is just over the top. Wonderful. All these things.” We have to always remember it’s not just about what we do and what we bring to the table. It’s the overall experience. And people sometimes are OK with balanced compromises.

 

 

Since you often find yourself being brought into a project later than you would prefer, what needs to happen to change that?

First of all, it’s educating homeowners and architects on what happens when you ignore the need for proper acoustics. And fortunately there are a lot of case studies, a lot of horror stories, we can share that say, “OK, here’s what happens when you ignore acoustics in any regard.” Either the quality in some cases or the privacy, the isolation of just general noise, allowing exterior noise or mechanical equipment noise to infiltrate the rest of your house.

 

I really do think the answer lies with the architects and designers because they have to be on board with saying, “You know what, we don’t want our houses just to look good or feel good. We want them to sound good as well.” And that is a stretch for a lot of visual designers. That’s no secret because it’s just not something they’re used to. And they also have a lot of preconceived notions about what it means to implement acoustics.

 

What we’re trying to do is basically quell those misconceptions to say, “There is a way to do this without turning your beautiful house into a science project or burlap panel or whatever.” The biggest challenge and biggest effort one can make is to let the designers understand that we can give homeowners a much better sensory experience and also add to the wellness factor of their home from multiple senses and not compromise in any appreciable way.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Media Rooms Come of Age

Media rooms have a pretty bad reputation. So bad, in fact, that anyone who really cares about quality usually hesitates to go down that path as an alternative to a dedicated home theater. And that hesitation used to be justified because media rooms were inevitably compromised—mainly by small TV screens, unattractive, elaborate speaker systems and their inevitable 

profusion of cables, lousy acoustics, too much ambient light, and primitive room control.

 

But if you haven’t checked out the media-room market in the last five years or so, you might be surprised by how dramatically these systems and spaces have improved, and that it’s now possible to have a media room that can fit in well with the flow of your household with practically no compromises.

 

Note that I said “practically no.” Media rooms can’t yet achieve the level of playback quality a dedicated home theater can, and maybe never will. But for anyone who doesn’t want their primary entertainment space sealed off from the rest of the home, or only wants a modest setup but also wants a better-than-movie theater experience, or just doesn’t have the room for a standalone theater—which is practically everyone living in Manhattan, no matter how well-off—a well-designed and installed media room no longer represents a distant second-best solution.

 

It could even be argued that some of the recent media-room collaborations between architects, designers, and integrators (such as the one shown at the top of the page) represent the real cutting edge of current home entertainment.

 

So what’s changed that media rooms are now poised to finally shed their stigma?

 

♦  Reference-quality playback has become standard-issue in TVs, in smaller speaker setups, and with the movies and series you can readily access via download or streaming.

 

♦  TV screens have gotten a lot better, a lot bigger, a lot lighter, and a lot more stylish.

 

♦  Control systems are now much more sophisticated, flexible, and comprehensive.

 

♦  Lighting and shade control, in particular, have become more common and far more versatile.

 

♦  The best digital room-correction systems can now tame and optimize acoustically compromised spaces.

 

♦  Improvements in downloading and streaming, and in the picture and sound quality of TV series and video games, have created a demand for spaces that maximize the experience of all forms of entertainment and are responsive to the entertainment needs of all members of the household.

 

♦  Some interior designers have stopped holding their noses and decided to devote some of their considerable talent to making these rooms functional, attractive, and seamlessly integrated into the rest of the home.

 

♦  Some high-end integrators have moved beyond the general disdain for media rooms and now see them as the challenge and opportunity they are.

 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics” is the first in a series of articles that will provide you with all the information you need to decide if you want a media room and how to make it best suit your needs. We’ll walk you through a variety of possibilities—from simple, no-compromise setups for a smallish secondary room to far more elaborate reference-quality systems for large, open-plan communal spaces. And we’ll do it without going deep into the tech. The goal is to provide you with enough of the essential concepts, facts, and context so you can convey to your integrator et al. exactly what you want to achieve and get a good sense of whether they’re up to the job.

 

But maybe the most important piece of advice we can pass along doesn’t have anything to do with gear, or content, or lights or shades, or any of that. While it’s good to have the strong core knowledge we’ll be providing, your biggest priority should be finding an integrator who “gets it.” For any candidates you’re considering, study their website thoroughly—especially their portfolio; if possible, visit one or more of the media rooms they’ve created. And listen to them carefully to be sure they’re not taking on the assignment grudgingly but are willing to embrace the challenge and create an exceptional multi-use entertainment space for you and your family.

 

So, should you still opt for a dedicated home theater if you have the room and aren’t willing to settle for anything less than the best? Absolutely. Should you be for one second embarrassed or ashamed if you decide to go with a media room instead? Absolutely not.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

AN INNOVATIVE MEDIA ROOM SPACE

The New York City apartment shown at left converts into a DCI-compliant theater at the press of a button; and yet there is no evidence of the system when it’s not in use. Almost every inch of wall space is either a reference-quality speaker or an acoustic treatment, all of it covered in custom-made acoustically transparent fabric.

 

Photos courtesy of Steinway Lyngdorf

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Onward

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2019: The Year in Luxury Home Entertainment

2019: The Year in Luxury Home Entertainment

It might not have felt like it, but home entertainment changed in a big way in 2019. And, as Dennis Burger points out in “Beyond Discs & Cinemas,” that monumental shift wasn’t due to any technological breakthroughs or new formats, standards, or must-have devices. The arrival of 8K, which would have represented a major seachange in an earlier era, caused barely a ripple.

 

What happened instead was that the stars aligned—in other words, a variety of existing technologies reached just the right point of maturity to radically change how we experience entertainment. Downloading and streaming, until now maligned as the feeble stepchildren of the moviewatching experience, emerged decisively and undeniably as the future of movies.

 

Check out John Higgins’ post for a recap of this pivotal year in the streaming world. The focus here is more on what it took to achieve a state-of-the-art viewing experience at home in 2019, and how expanding beyond AV has allowed luxury integrators to become far more responsive to how people actually live.

 

Home Theater or Media Room?

Just as downloading and streaming are no longer dismissed out of hand, the once lowly media room has recently made great strides toward respectability—due in part to forces that have little to do with the technology that serves up the entertainment 

experience. And while many had declared the dedicated home theater room dead—or at least in rapid decline—there are signs of a legitimate resurgence.

 

It might seem counter-intuitive to say that both home theaters and media rooms are on the rise. And supporters within each camp will tell you their favored approach is way in the lead. But, in the luxury market at least, it seems to be a dead heat.

 

One big sign of change is that media rooms are becoming commonly referred to as multi-use spaces. “Media room” was a godawful moniker; “multi-use space” really isn’t an improvement, except that it emphasizes the room’s versatility instead of suggesting that it’s a slave to “media” (whatever that means). 

 

Multi-use spaces are nothing new. People have been setting up entertainment systems in rec rooms, dens, family rooms, bedrooms, and elsewhere since the advent of the Victrola. The arrival of TV didn’t do much to change that—and, to be honest, neither did the arrival of home theater.

 

It took the emergence of non-AV domestic automation like sophisticated and responsive lighting and shade control to make multi-use spaces a viable alternative. And 2019 was the year automated lights and shades became pervasive and flexible enough to help turn non-dedicated spaces into legitimate viewing (and listening) environments.

 

To give the AV world its due, the arrival of more designer-friendly acoustical treatments and, especially, the emergence of ultra-customizable, professionally-deployed digital room correction also had a lot to do with putting high-performance multi-use rooms on the map. So did super-sized flat-panel TVs, which can provide a brighter (and some would say better) image than a traditional front-projection setup.

 

But let’s step back a second. While multi-use spaces might be on the verge of offering the performance of a dedicated home theater, do you really want to be blasting out the Endgame finale at reference volume in the middle of your home at 1 in the morning? And do you really want various family members wandering through the room while you’re absorbed in an episode of The Crown?

 

For as good as multi-use spaces have become, they still can’t provide the uninterrupted focus on the viewing experience that a home theater can. And, even though they’re on the cusp, it’s still going to be a few more years before a multi-use room can compete performance-wise with the best dedicated theaters.

 

Ironically, we can thank the tremendous improvements in streamed audio and video for the home theater’s rebirth. People who know little or nothing of LaserDiscs or DVDs are beginning to realize that downloads and streams are rivaling or surpassing what they can experience at even the best movie theaters, and they want rooms that can take full advantage of what internet delivery has to offer.

 

Also, no matter how cleverly a multi-use space is designed, it still clearly signals that it serves more than one master. To have the ultimate entertainment experience, and to create a space that strikingly and unambiguously expresses the value of that experience, you have to have a dedicated room.

 

The Art Wall Revolution

I don’t expect many—or any—of you to buy into what I’m about to say, but please suspend your disbelief for a moment and allow that video art walls (a description as ungainly as “media rooms” or “multi-use spaces”) will eventually have a bigger impact on luxury home entertainment than multi-use spaces and home theaters combined.

 

Here’s why. Architects and interior designers have traditionally held their noses throughout the process of designing, building, and installing entertainment rooms—and for good reason. As much as AV companies might like to think their products are designer-friendly, the truth is that almost everything they put out has all the visual appeal of a WalMart boombox.

 

And creating entertainment rooms means having to deal with tech—a lot of it. AV enthusiasts would have you believe that gear has gotten more user-friendly—it hasn’t. It’s just found new and more intricate ways to be cumbersome and unpleasant. And interior designers have a longstanding, and not unearned, reputation for being technophobes.

 

Also, every home theater or multi-use space is essentially a unique machine. The greater the demands made on it, the more complicated that machine 

becomes. And unless you’re working with an integrator who’s something of a mechanical genius, you’re likely in for a decent amount of trial and error before your room is finally up on its feet.

 

Lastly, it’s hard to put a unique visual stamp on a home theater and especially on a multi-use space. Feeding generic content into your home in mostly generic ways tends to drain any meaningful personal touch from the environment—one reason why entertainment rooms tend to fall into disuse over time.

Video walls, on the other hand, are an opportunity to showcase unique, curated works of art via installations that can be seamlessly integrated into the decor (and structure) of a home. Interior designers love that idea; so do architects. And homeowners will too once they realize they can use these stunning installations to display something other than the usual mind-numbing mass entertainment.

 

This isn’t the place to provide more than just a glimpse of this emerging phenomenon, but it’s worth keeping an eye on—partly because, unlike entertainment-based tech, it’s a harmonious and complementary instead of disruptive and somewhat arbitrary experience. And no matter how they evolve, art walls will always remain a luxury affair.

 

Today & Tomorrow

With 4K HDR content and displays arriving solidly in the middle market, 2019 was also the year reference-quality playback made its way to the masses. Ironically, it was also the year luxury integration decisively separated itself from the world of trunk slammers, geek squads, and other purveyors of “good enough.”

 

Expect 2020 to be the year when professional-grade digital cinema systems, offering picture and sound exceeding the world’s best movie theaters, make serious inroads in luxury entertainment spaces. Expect to see 8K used not so much to create higher-resolution content as to significantly improve the quality of existing content. And expect to see interior design finally welcomed into entertainment spaces—and designers finally willing to accept the invitation.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

CINELUXE TRENDSETTERS

the most influential people in luxury
home entertainment on 
the trends
that defined 2019

Sam Cavitt, Paradise Theater
on how home theaters are better than movie theaters
and the importance of 
dedicated theater rooms

Ed Gilmore, Gilmore’s Sound Advice
on tunable lighting
, voice control, apps vs. control
systems, 8K, and art walls

Al Patel & Cortney Combs, Enhanced Home
on 
media rooms, outdoor entertainment systems,
designer-friendly tech, 8K, and art walls

Cory Reistad, SAV Digital Environments
on 
media rooms, bulletproof installation, downloading
vs. streaming, and automated lighting

Tim Sinnaeve, Barco Residential
on the emergence of video art walls, and their influence on
artists, integrators, architects, and interior designers

Katherine Spiller, Steinway Lyngdorf
on 
designer-friendly tech, luxury audio systems, room correction, digital cinema, and no-compromise media rooms

Eric Thies, DSI Luxury Technology
on 
the return of home theaters, 8K, art walls, and the
sad lack of integration standards

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