When Gary French’s mother told him to “shut up and listen” as a child, he had no idea that the advice would eventually carry him into his career as a professional sound mixer.
In fact, French was apparently so grateful for the advice that he cited it in his acceptance speech when he won an Emmy earlier this year for “Outstanding Achievement in Live Direct-to-Tape Sound Mixing.”
“I don’t remember what I said, and I haven’t seen the tape. People have told me though,” he laughs.
After five consecutive nominations for the children’s show Barney, and five wrinkled tuxedos, French and his colleagues, Roy Ballantine and neighborhood resident David Boothe, finally beat out perennial nominees such as Oprah and Rosie to win the winged gold lady last year.
He was no doubt happy about the award, but says that other kudos for the show are past due.
“A lot of people kind of pooh-pooh Barney, but once you have a kid in that age group, Barney is wonderful,” French says. “I grew to like Barney. You see their eyes and how it makes them; they are just mesmerized.”
He explains his own contribution to the show this way: “I was the re-recording mixer, which means I put the music, sound effects, dialogue and then the foley, which is all the human noises, together into the final mix. It’s creating an image, a feeling and an energy out of the soundtracks.”
Success wasn’t always a foregone conclusion for French. While attending college at SMU, his energy was directed toward sound transfer for film, but a professor told him that even though his projects were great, “your theory isn’t worth a damn.”
“So he said why don’t you try broadcast journalism, and sure enough, it was a natural for me.”
In what is typically considered a town with little entertainment leverage, the Dallas children’s entertainment market is among the nation’s best-known, and French has been involved with its major players.
“I worked on Wishbone (the cartoon detective dog) before this,” he says.
French, Ballantine and Boothe broke up last year because of “major re-structuring” within HIT Entertainment, the London-based production company who in February 2001 acquired U.S.-based Lyrick Studios, the owners of Barney and French’s former boss. So the trio had to submit their own nomination for the Emmy, a procedure customarily carried out by the studio.
These days, French is the only one left. After he was laid-off, he was later re-hired as a freelance contractor to head up the sound mixing department for the next three years.
Although unexpected, the move frees him up for other work, such as doing the sound mixing for the Nickelodeon spinoff of the successful feature film, Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius.
And he says that even though the only other option in Dallas besides working in children’s entertainment is commercials, he would like to keep calling Dallas his home.
“As long as I can do what I want creatively, I’d rather live here than L.A.,” he says, leaving only a little wiggle room for the chance that he and his wife, a teacher at St. John’s, might have to relocate.
“I make people happy with the work I’ve done, so yeah, it’s been frustrating that I can’t move to the next level sometimes, but I can sleep well.”