Written by Daniel King. Posted by Natalie Hulla.
For many years, students studying filmmaking at Ohio University had little choice but to make the drive to Cleveland in search of professional level sound recording and mixing facilities, that is until the mid-1980s.
Tom Peterson’s Cleveland-based Motion Picture Sound, Inc., was for many years a major hub for filmmaking, sound recording, and editing in the Ohio region. When it came time for him to close its doors, Peterson took notice of some long-time customers, those eager students from Athens who could benefit from improved facilities. What they really needed was a recording studio for professional-grade film, video, and music production, in Athens.
Peterson made a significant donation to OHIO University in 1984, consisting of equipment, soundproofing materials, and furniture, leading to what became known as the Peterson Sound Studio, an invaluable resource for teaching the art and science of film sound production.
Longtime soundman, and manager of the studio, John Butler recalls joining Ohio University in 1987, “Peterson reached out to me, with a request that I consider relocating to Athens to manage this new recording facility. Tom and I worked together years earlier when I was sound mixing for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and various projects with National Geographic, out of New York City.”
“When I accepted the position to help manage the Peterson Sound Studio, I had just returned to the states after working with a fledgling tv station in Nigeria,” recalled Butler.
Butler established a teaching environment and a culture of hands-on learning for graduate students. All along, he maintained his friendship with Peterson who has remained interested in student accomplishments. Over the years, Peterson has continued his generous support of the facilities through equipment donations and financial contributions.
The voice-over sound booth, donated by Peterson, supports both student filmmaking, and student actors. “Voice-over actors can build a resume and portfolio by using the sound studio.” said Butler. “Famous voices have recorded in this booth, including Sammy Davis Jr., Barbara Streisand, and Charlton Heston among others.”
The Peterson Sound Studio boasts an impressive production history, it was used to mix dialogue for the wedding scene in Michael Cimino’s Oscar-winning classic, The Deer Hunter, and the sound booth has been used to mix sound for National Geographic and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Lowell Jacobs, the head of the sound design and production program and the master electrician in the Theater Division, was once an eager undergraduate student working directly with John Butler in the Peterson Sound Studio, in the early 1990s. “Butler was majorly responsible for me having the confidence to up and move to Phoenix to work in the film, television, and entertainment industry. He is known by people all over the planet for his knowledge and generosity,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs recalled, as a student, meeting Tom Peterson, “he showed up in the Peterson Sound Studio with an ultrasonic cane he was working on to aid the blind in navigation. He is a fascinating man.”
According to Jacobs, the Peterson Sound Studio and John Butler greatly impacted his learning, and now serve as a big influence in his students lives as well.
Steven Ross, the artistic director of the Film Division described the most recent major facelift the studio received when the Film Division was moved from Lindley Hall to 31 S. Court Street in Fall 2013.
“Working in conjunction with Ohio University architects, we were able to design a state-of-the-art sound post-production space.” said Ross, “and in 2014, John Butler, with the assistance of his colleagues Tom Hayes and Ruth Bradley, proposed and received an 1804 grant.” Known as the Peterson Sound Studio Digital Infrastructure Upgrade Initiative, they were able to upgrade the mixing console and ProTools capabilities.
Butler pointed out that these upgrades help extend student learning and research, and support the king of professional training necessary for recent graduates to find work in their field.
“Our recent move toward deeper collaboration between film and theater allows for a true sound stage experience, the chance to teach true foley sound recording practices,” said Butler.
The Athens International Film Festival has honored Butler’s long time career and support of Ohio University through a named award. Beginning in 2008, the “Black Bear” award has highlighted the best examples of sound engineering in filmmaking, made possible through an endowment thanks to a gift by Peterson.