At five years old, Matthew Wood saw Star Wars. Less than two decades later, he was working for its creator.
Star Wars fans know him as the supervising sound editor at Skywalker Sound and the man who gave General Grievous that hacking cough in Revenge of the Sith, and he continues to work on both sound and voices for The Clone Wars cartoon series. Some may even know he played Bib Fortuna in The Phantom Menace and earned two sound editing Academy Award nominations for There Will Be Blood and Wall-E.
His has been a geek’s journey, to be sure. At Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando, Matthew talked with GeekDad about growing up from a childhood fan into high school technology nut and eventually finding a place to fit in at Skywalker Ranch.
GeekDad: Even though you obviously get to do a lot of geek stuff at work, do you still then go home and think, “There’s stuff here I want to mess around with?”
Matthew Wood: Oh, yeah. We have the Maker Faire out in the San Francisco Bay area that comes every year, and I go to that. I love that. I’m a tinkerer. I love to put things together. I definitely like to keep motivated on how things work, and put things together and take them apart and use them in different ways, and repurposing old stuff.
GD: I’m curious to hear a little bit about your career path.
MW: I’ve loved Star Wars ever since I was five. My parents took me to go see it, and I think it was even at a drive-in movie theater, back in ’77, and I remember being just completely transported away to this amazing location and feeling like this universe existed. And then the fact that they had so many toys to back it up was so great, to be able to play with all that stuff.
The first image I had of a filmmaker was George Lucas. There was an oversized comic book that Marvel made of Star Wars … and the very last page was a picture of George Lucas sitting next to Alec Guinness on the set in Tunisia and I remember thinking, “I know who Alec Guinness is, that’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. Well, who’s that other guy, the guy with the beard and the coat? I didn’t see him in the movie, why’s he in this picture?” I asked my mom, “Who’s George Lucas? What’s this?” and she said, “Well, he made the movie, he directed it. He came up with all of it.” Then it clicked for me that movies are made by somebody.
And then I remember that before The Empire Strikes Back came out they had this offer to send away for a Boba Fett action figure. Because I grew up in the Northern California area, and my uncle had told me that Lucasfilm had a location out there, I remember thinking when I was sending this aciton figure request out that it was going to go to George Lucas directly and that he was going to put it in a box and send it away.
I always had this idea that I really wanted to work for that company, or do something like that. And I was a geek in high school, and my parents got computers really early on. We had all the different kinds of computers you could get, and all the video game systems like the Atari and all that. My dad even had the Pong system before that. I had a little (Timex) Sinclair computer you could attach to your television set. And I learned BASIC programming as a kid, and as soon as we could get a modem I got one and I started connecting up to BBS systems and chat rooms and trading stuff and games.
When I was probably 16, a friend of mine was running a BBS system in Northern California, and he said, “Oh, hey: A friend of mine wanted me to post this job.” It was, “Video game tester needed in Nicasio, California.” And I was like, hmm: My uncle, I think he told me that Nicasio was where Skywalker Ranch was. So my dad had a fax machine – this was back in 1989 … he was having to do a lot of communication with Japan, and it was just more cost effective. I called the number on the job posting and they gave me the fax number, and my dad helped me make a résumé with MacPaint. I sent it, and it went to the top of the pile over there, because nobody had ever faxed them a résumé before.
The whole process took about eight months – they kept calling me back and calling me back, and then finally they said, “Okay, we have a job for you.” And I went out and I had my interview at Skywalker Ranch, and I started working on (The Secret of) Monkey Island. It was a complete dream for me.
I ended up being the lead tester on that game, and somewhere after that, a position opened up at Skywalker Sound to work on the development team for SoundDroid, George’s non-linear sound editor for film. I had a lot of digital sound experience from the MacIntosh, really playing around and manipulating sound, and I was into filmmaking, and some of the way I employed bug testing on video games they wanted me to do on the program they’d made. I worked on that for a couple years, then we took that technology and used it on the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television show.
My first big supervising job was when I had a field promotion to do Phantom Menace. I worked on that, and ever since then, I’ve worked supervising out there (at Skywalker Sound). It’s just been a dream: My goal in that company was to work on the next Star Wars film … and I remember just being blown away the day I was handed the tapes to watch it.
GD: Since Episode III, you’ve got the performance side of it as well. Which do you enjoy more – being the performer, or being the guy back at the computer?
MW: They both work two different parts of my brain, and it (performing) is something I’ve always done. I really enjoy performing, but with my job at Lucasfilm, it’s hard for me to go out and audition with my body because I’d have to leave work. But with sound, I have the same equipment that I use to do my sound work to do my auditions with. So in the morning, I’ll get a bunch of auditions with my agency, and I’ll record them all there and send them out as mp3s. It’s fun to be able to perform something, and then go do the tech after that, which I really enjoy. Lucasfilm has always been great for exploring and trying new ways of doing tech.