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April 28, 2020

Crip Camp Strikes a Chord

One of the challenges of making the documentary Crip Camp was making a ‘70s home video sound worthy of a Netflix audience.

Karen Gourlay DeLong
  • Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach

    Courtesy Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach

A breakthrough documentary uses extraordinary original footage to follow a group of disabled teens during their summer camp experience and chronicles the early work of the disabled rights movement.

Crip Camp, a Netflix/Higher Ground Productions collaboration, follows Camp Jened, a summer camp for disabled teenagers that becomes a landmark platform for the disability rights movement.

The film is directed by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht. LeBrecht, who has spina bifida, attended the camp in 1971. The majority of the documentary is archival footage.

The sound, therefore, was rough.

Enter Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach, owner of IMRSV Sound Studios, who, along with his sound team, took a unique and meticulous approach to the multi-faceted project.

As the Sound Supervisor, his job was to make sure the sound supported the story and the expectations of modern viewers while maintaining the genuine and heartfelt feeling presented in the archival footage.

"It's our job to not over-sterilize it so that it sounds fake. We didn't want to bleach the character out of the production sound," he said.

The powerful story has received rave reviews for its raw and real portrayal of teens with disabilities. For those attending Camp Jened, it was the first time many had played sports, smoked or had a make-out session.

Many of them went on to rally for the rights of disabled people, a facet that's also portrayed in the work along with present-day interviews with former campers and counselors.

The footage used in creating Crip Camp spans five decades.

The footage used in creating Crip Camp spans five decades. The primary source for the Camp Jened footage was then 15 year old LeBrecht's recordings using a Sony Portapak.

The rest of the film branches out into all different types of media, from 16mm film to video cassettes, '80s TV broadcast, high definition and modern standards.

Each era of footage had to be handled differently.

Bloomfield-Misrach said, "The '70s has a different feel and sound than the '90s, for example, but you can't make it look like you're messing with it. We have this amazing footage but there's so much noise, wind, background, people grabbing the mike. We used it but had to make it intelligible."

A sound producer's work is, by definition, heard and not seen. The craft is all about creating emotion, enhancing the dialog and the story seamlessly. Bloomfield-Misrach describes his threefold creative process:

  • Dialog editing: The filmmakers have collected hundreds of hours of footage, and then presented us with the most important 90 minutes. It is our job to make those 90 minutes sound as good as humanly possible.
  • Sound design: This includes the sound effects, editing, foley work. We are careful to add sounds to the film without over-adding; we only add those that help the viewers connect emotionally to the characters and story.
  • The mix itself: This involved layering in the dialogue, sound design and score, by Bear McCreary, finding those moments to swell and make the most of his gorgeous work. It's an emotional process because each of those elements has its own importance.

"The spotting session took three days or a bit longer.

"The sound team and I went through everything frame by frame and asked, 'Is this working? Does this add charm and character?'

"Jim, Nicole and Sara were very involved in the process, along with sound designer Bijan Sharifi, dialogue editor Greg Francis, sound effects editor William Sammons, and mixer Dan Olmsted. Jim played a large role in much of the conceptual work, audio sweetening, and mixing," he said.

After all the scrubbing and polishing, it was still necessary to apply distressing to the older footage for authenticity.

After all the scrubbing and polishing, it was still necessary to apply distressing to the older footage for authenticity.

Bloomfield-Misrach's post-production company, formerly based in New York, expanded nationally by partnering with Berkeley Sound Artists, owned by Jim LeBrecht. Their meeting enabled him to expand his company while affording LeBrecht the time to finish his work on Crip Camp.

"I became friends with Jim about three years ago after considering a move from New York back to northern California. I sent a cold call email to him at his Berkeley Sound Artists studio. I was surprised when he returned my message, and we grabbed a cup of coffee.

"We hit it off, became fast friends and spent another year with the logistics in moving my company from Brooklyn to Berkeley," Bloomfield-Misrach said.

The partnership worked because LeBrecht was trying to work on Crip Camp and wasn't finding the time as he managed the demands of his company. Bloomfield-Misrach took over much of that company's work. "Jim remained master mixer and gave the rest of the work to me."

IMRSV Sound works for clients including Marvel, Google, Apple, Facebook and more. Bloomfield-Misrach is also a busy composer and enjoys scoring films for ambitious filmmakers. He recently composed the score for the Slamdance Official Selection "Majnuni."

After getting his start in a music conservatory at the age of 10, Bloomfield-Misrach continued a path of musical study, completing a dual degree in Classical Clarinet and Jazz Guitar Performance at NYU. He then integrated himself into the New York music scene by performing in dozens of ensembles and touring the East Coast.

"I was a lead singer and guitar player from age 18," Bloomfield-Misrach explained. His sound engineering was a self-taught necessity for his bands' recordings. "I couldn't afford to pay someone else to do it, so I mixed the sound myself."

From there, a career was born, one in which he continues to work on documentaries and commercial endeavors with IMRSV Studios while composing scores for other projects. Recent documentaries include Long Shadow and Decade of Fire, both on PBS.

IMRSV does a lot of documentaries, about 100 per year. Still, "Crip Camp will always stand out," says Bloomfield-Misrach. "A lot of documentaries tend to get weighed down by the intensity of the subject matter because many feature themes around injustice and inequality.

"It's an incredibly heavy topic; it could have gone down the rabbit hole of depressing, but it's not. Crip Camp has so much heart; it's uplifting."

The film won the coveted Audience Award at the Sundance Festival, which Bloomfield-Misrach was able to attend and witness the audience reaction first-hand. "It had a powerful response, receiving standing ovations," he recalled.

And that was the sweetest sound of all.

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