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Exclusive Profile: Cujo Cooley of Atlanta Sound Guy


By Senior Editor Richard Breen

Georgia Entertainment News recently had the chance to talk with Aaron “Cujo” Cooley. His Atlanta Sound Guy team has worked for a number of TV and film productions. Like many folks in the Georgia entertainment scene, Cujo brings a diverse background to the industry.

Georgia Entertainment News: How long has Atlanta Sound Guy been in business?

Cujo Cooley: I created Atlanta Sound Guy several years ago in order to bring a certain level of branding to my work and to help producers find me more easily in the vast pool of available talent in the regional market.

GEN: But you were doing it on the side prior to that, right?

CC: I grew up with a rock band in our house, and spent my youth doing all the jobs that came along with having a parent on stage. After starting a family of my own, I spent about 15 years doing live sound. It was always a part of my life, but never a part of any viable income stream. I called it a professional hobby.

GEN: What was your main job?

CC: I have always worked in the trades and sales. From a carpenter, to business owner, I have worn many titles, but always worked with my hands and my mind.

GEN: How’d you end up getting into the entertainment industry?

CC: In 2010, I joined IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) as a propmaker – a carpenter – and began my film career. Not long after, I suffered a table saw accident and lost some fingers. I was out of work for almost a year. During that time, our local had some classes going on and sound for TV/film was one of them. I took the classes, started networking, and soon the transition to the sound department was in full swing.

GEN: Not to diminish what happened, but in some ways, did your bad luck turn into good luck?

CC: It was a terrible accident, and I’d wish it on no one. But it was rather serendipitous for me. I am working full time in a craft that I thoroughly enjoy.

GEN: What services do you offer?

CC: I am a production sound mixer. My team and I capture and record all the dialogue for the project. We also collect other sound as needed, but our main job is clean, clear, perfect dialogue.

GEN: Tell us about your work on major productions?

CC: Yes, I’ve been involved with several well-known studio and independent projects. I have done the last four Tyler Perry films, an independent film for Oscar winner Gareth Unwin, a few episodic TV shows, and we also lend a hand on additional unit days for well-known shows like “The Walking Dead,” “Black Lightning,” “Lovecraft Country,” and others.

GEN: What are the hardest settings for capturing good sound?

CC: The hardest thing for location sound mixers is the locations. We have, for the most part, the ability to control aberrant sounds on stage and capture clean dialogue. When we are on location, this ability is greatly reduced and capture can become very difficult. Having top-quality gear and a very experienced team are the two things critical to success. I am fortunate to have such a team, and I have invested nearly $300,000 in the gear to make that success attainable.

GEN: Back in the 1980s, John Travolta made a movie about a sound technician called “Blow Out.” How much has the industry changed since then?

CC: Well, the job is still critical listening. As a mixer, I not only have to listen for clean dialogue, and listen to make sure I hear what I am supposed to hear, but more specifically, I have to listen for what’s NOT supposed to be there.

GEN: You don’t need to be hearing an airplane or an interstate in the distance during a scene in which two medieval knights are talking to each other.

CC: That’s the part that most people don’t understand. I’m less concerned with the actual words, I’m more concerned that I “hear” every word.

GEN: Having $300,000 in gear – that’s got to be a big change.

CC: In years past, it was a two-track recorder going to tape, and a boom mic. Not necessarily as simple as it sounds, but definitely less gear intense. Now we have 24, 32, and even 64-track digital recorders, a dozen or more wireless microphones, and carts full of support gear just to make a day. All of these changes have combined to make the job more technically and physically demanding. Adding to that is a continually shrinking and congested radio frequency environment which forces the job to levels of engineering and skills that far exceed that of just punching a record button and sliding faders.

GEN: Do you mainly work in Georgia?

CC: I work primarily in Georgia, but have worked in many places. Earning membership in IATSE Hollywood Local 695, as well as IATSE Local 479 (Georgia and Alabama) and the Cinema Audio Society has solidified my professional standing and allows me the privilege of being available to work almost anywhere in the world that the producers would like to take me.

GEN: How big has the entertainment industry gotten in this state while you’ve been involved?

CC: When I joined the industry, Georgia film was solid and growing. There were roughly 400 or 500 people in IATSE 479. Today it is massive and that number is 10 times that amount. The financial impact to the state has been, and remains, at astronomical levels in the billions of dollars. It’s been one helluva ride, and despite the ramblings of those who wish ill will on our state and its growth, the entertainment industry continues to flourish. As long as the politicians can leave it alone, it will continue to do so.

GEN: And one last thing – I’ve got to ask you how you got your nickname.

CC: (Laughing) I guess “killing a man in prison” isn’t going to cut it here. OK, about 25 years ago, I was working in sales for a small aerial lift company here in town. We had about 10 employees and as it happened, three of us were named Aaron. One was the CFO, one was a mechanic, and then me. Our dispatcher grew weary of asking “which Aaron” when she answered the phone. So one day the boss came in and told me I was getting a nickname.

GEN: This is starting to sound like a “Seinfeld” episode.

CC: Aaron the mechanic didn’t need one, Aaron the CFO certainly wasn’t taking one, so that left me as the chosen victim, as it were. I was given a few stereotypical options, bad ones at that, but the boss came back with Cujo because he said he liked my loyalty, dogged determination, my no-nonsense attitude, and my willingness to stay in the fight. I said, “sure, if that’s what you need, I’ll play along.” He promptly ordered 1,000 business cards with nothing but Cujo for a name, and it was done. I don’t think either of us realized how well it would work out.

GEN: A legend was born.

CC: There are people I’ve known for all that time who still don’t know my real name, and having a memorable nickname has served me pretty well. Even the bank takes checks with Cujo Cooley on them (laughs).

GEN: That’s important.

CC: So, I’m known as Aaron “Cujo” Cooley – Atlanta Sound Guy and Doer of Things.

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