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Nahant’s Midge Costin shows acclaimed documentary about sound in Lynn

Midge Costin stands next to a promotional sign for her documentary about the importance of cinematic sound. (Courtesy photo)

LYNN — Midge Costin is making waves with her film that teaches viewers the importance of sound.

Since the 1980s, she has cut and edited sound effects for major motion pictures, but the 63-year-old Lynn native, and former Nahant resident, made her directorial debut this year with her film “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound.” The documentary-style picture has premiered at film festivals all over the world, including the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and the Festival de Cannes in France. 

Costin, who is the daughter of former Lynn Mayor Tom Costin Jr., will show the movie at the Lynn Auditorium Sunday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m., with all ticket proceeds going to student film and television programs at Raw Art Works and Lynn English High School.

“I always wanted to make this film because I want to tell the world how I discovered the power of sound,” Costin said. “Fifty percent of any movie you watch is sound, but people don’t know this because visuals process in our brain in a way where everyone thinks vision is everything. We don’t process sound the same away. We don’t have an awareness on how powerful and emotional sound is.” 

She came up with the film concept in 2010, began shooting in 2013, completing 90 interviews and getting 200 hours of footage, and finished it at the beginning of this year, she said. She interviewed sound crews that worked on motion pictures such as “Star Wars” and “Saving Private Ryan,” and even had one-on-ones with big-time directors Barbara Streisand, Robert Redford, Ryan Coogler, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, all of whom she has worked with before.

Her film was completed just in time for its world premiere at the Tribeca festival in the spring.

“It’s pretty crazy because it’s kind of the little film that could,” Costin said. “As sound people, we aren’t used to being in the limelight but it was amazing seeing people of all ages love it. They come up to me and are so excited about it, and we even got reviews from writers that said they’ll never watch films the same way again.”

Costin has always had a passion for film, but the love for cinematic sound came later and happened accidentally, she said. 

As an undergraduate, she studied art history at Smith College in Northampton and ended up falling in love with a French/Italian film class she took her senior year, she said. When she graduated, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she attended the Berkeley Digital Film Institute.

There, Costin said she learned how to work with 16 mm film, which is a smaller picture width compared with the normal 35 mm. After graduating, she went on to graduate school at the University of Southern California, as a student in the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

“When I was in film school, sound, to me, seemed too technical and a process you did at the end of the movie,” said Costin. “I always panicked when I did sound because I just didn’t get it or understand its significance.”

Her senior year at USC, Costin was finishing up classes while working on her thesis and was looking for a way to make some cash when she got a call from an old college friend of hers, she said. He told her that he got a job as a sound editor and none of his coworkers knew how to work on 16 mm films like she did.

“I lowered myself to take a sound job because I needed the money,” she said. “But when I got the job, I realized I was now responsible for thinking about how to set the mood and tone for films and how to reflect the character or tell the story using only sound. I immediately became interested.”

When she got her start, there weren’t many women cutting sound effects on major action films, she said. Her first union editor’s guild picture she worked on was “Days of Thunder,” which, according to her, is the film where stars Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise fell in love. She was in charge of all sound effects for the race car driven by Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker), who was the nemesis of Cole Trickle (Cruise).

She then went on to become sound editor for the 1995 thriller “Crimson Tide” and the 1998 action movie “Armageddon,” all while teaching part-time at her alma mater, USC School of Cinematic Arts. In 2000, Costin said she became a tenured professor there, teaching sound editing and sound design to students such as Ryan Coogler, the American director who is responsible for films including “Creed,” “Black Panther” and “Fruitvale Station.”

“(Coogler) took my sound classes before he became the director he is today, and he didn’t understand it at first either,” said Costin. “He and his sound partner ended up writing the screenplay for “Creed” in my classroom.”

Aside from working sound on a handful of movies that have won Academy Awards, Costin said she received the first endowment from directors Lucas and Spielberg for the Kay Rose Chair in the Art of Sound and Dialogue Editing in 2005. 

While all the accolades are an honor, she said her biggest accomplishment has been spending decades teaching people to listen. 

After the film’s Lynn premiere on Sunday, Costin said the next screening will be at the Academy Awards on Oct. 27. As excited as she is for that, she said she is even more excited to come home to Lynn and show everyone what she’s been working on. It brings her to tears just thinking about it.

“I am beyond excited,” Costin said. “This here is my whole passion. I wanted to expand beyond my classroom. That’s why I made the movie.”

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