Kristina Morss is the sound designer for the original audio drama The Adventures of Zolan Dart, presented by The Dorky Diva Show. She answered a few questions via email for this interview.
What is your first memory of Star Wars?
My first memory of Star Wars was watching my dad watch the original trilogy and being too young to understand it. But, I was obsessed with the lightsaber sounds and mimicking them while running with wrapping paper tubes. I probably hit too many things (and broke things) around the house while pretending to make those sounds. They really were nothing like I’ve ever heard before. I really just remember the sounds and music more than the images. Images came when I finally saw it in a theater at age five for a special screening! Complete with David Prowse!
Who are some of your favorite Star Wars characters and have those favorites changed over time?
On my first viewings, R2-D2 was my absolute favorite. He spoke in just beeps and electronic whines and the attitude was infectious! He’s hilarious and useful. What CAN’T he do besides go up and down stairs without a jump-cut? I’ve always had a thing for robots and droids in every medium. I hope to one day make my own since I’ve always wanted one as a friend as a kid. Who doesn’t like a friend who can hack, calculate things immediately, and helps humanize others? Later, K-2SO became an all-time favorite for me for his personality being similar to R2-D2 but we can understand him.
Overtime, Obi-Wan Kenobi was great too! A great mentor and has a sense of humor (noticing a bit of a trend here). The snarky jokes of his (both in the prequel and show) were always a hoot. He never sways to the dark side, he doesn’t seem to hate others and is against killing others even his enemies. One of the true guardians of the Force and his qualities were so admirable. I’d love to have the snark of K-2SO and the heart and righteousness of Obi-Wan. Essentially, I try to emulate characters that are great sidekicks who are resourceful which is also the type of characters I play in Table Top Games.
How did you become involved with this project and what was your involvement with The Adventures of Zolan Dart?
I had been a fan of The Prequel Defence Force, The Dorky Diva Show, and The Interesting Show prior! We all got to meet at my first ever Star Wars Celebration in Chicago and really, you can’t beat those two as Star Wars fans and friends in the fandom. They’re the best of the best! Truly the kindest people I’ve ever met. I often tweet about sound design and/or Star Wars and they saw that I had a passion for both and wanting to work at Skywalker Sound. They reached out to me to possibly be a part of their audio series. I LOVE audio dramas so I had to jump on, and of course to get the chance to work with people I’m a fan of! It’s been a huge learning process and I love every minute of it. Especially the story, cast, crew, really everyone! Really, once I read the script, I was hooked. They really created something special.
Can you talk about your background in sound design and some of the other projects you have worked on?
I have a bit of a strange background in sound. I used to make sounds, record them, and put on my own radio shows with live Foley for my parents. They surprisingly supported this! I also listened to radio shows as a kid and tried to mimic the sounds with my mouth or whatever was around the house. My dad told me about how they would do the sound work live back in the day and that fascinated me. But, I never thought it would be a career to pursue.
I went to school for Microbiology/Physics and a short stint in Animation/VFX before landing on film. I switched to film when I had a talk with my parents and they noticed I really loved watching movies and behind the scenes material. So, why not filmmaking? I technically have a degree in Digital Media (pretty much I know the Adobe Suite) and in film classes, I went in wanting to do Cinematography then ended with wanting to be an Editor. I loved how you can create a mood, a feeling, and shape a viewer’s experience through editing.
In school, I always ended up also running sound on set and became the ‘sound mixer’ on sets after graduation and grew to love sound but more on the post side. Outside of what I did at home or what I saw in behind the scenes footage, I had a sound class with Steve Buss at Sacramento State. He taught us how powerful sound design is. Sound design being the sounds you hear in the film that is not dialogue, music, or something like footsteps (Foley). But, the beauty is that they can all intermix with one another and in some of the best films I can’t tell sound design from music! In my class, he gave us the assignment to recreate all the sounds in a Highlander episode using CDs we had to upload track by track into Pro Tools. I learned so much from spending hours and hours in the school’s lab trying to figure out what I could do.
When I graduated, I continued being a sound mixer on indie sets and editing which meant I did all the post work and learned so much from these experiences. I’ve worked on local documentaries, newscasts, award winning short films, and even had a stint in corporate video. Now, I work on audio dramas, sound design on local commercials and political ads, sometimes short films, and now my own filmmaking podcast. Through that, I’m learning how to be a better dialogue editor with editing my episodes and now client episodes. Sound designer’s job is to help tell the director’s story audibly without hindering it or getting in the way of the story. Every day is a new learning opportunity and trying to do both editing and sound design has been a challenge in the film world. What’s great is the community in both fields online have been so welcoming and seem to never tire of my endless questions. It’s all about trial and error and you’ll never be perfect right when you start. No one is perfect and that’s okay. I’m glad to be a part of the film community alongside the fantastic Star Wars fandom.
Have you listened to many Star Wars audiobooks or audio dramas? If so, can you share your favorites or if any of them inspired you with Zolan Dart in any way?
I mainly listen to audiobooks more than read physical books. Since I haven’t been driving anywhere as of late, my listening time has dwindled but I try to get in some listening each week. I love the Star Wars audiobooks, especially when they’re read by Marc Thompson. Though, I haven’t really caught up with the new books yet. I absolutely loved the simplicity to the Dooku: Jedi Lost audiobook and tried to emulate that in ours with simplicity and not overdone audio. I don’t think people can listen to too much thrown at them in a scene without taking something away from the dialogue. Some of my personal favorites are the old Sherlock Holmes, Flash Gordon, The Falcon, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, anything Doctor Who related by Big Finish, and the BBC have been putting out great ones all the time too! Always love their takes on Dracula or Jane Austen books. I love how they all can immerse you into a story without it being too flashy.
What was the most challenging part of working on Zolan Dart? What was your proudest moment?
The most challenging parts were working with casts from all over the world and all having different microphone qualities. Trying to make them all sound the same was quite hard. But, I think the performances make you overlook the sound quality. That and tackling each scene. I’ve never made an audio drama like this so this was a treat. Trying to build each scene from the ground up was the trickiest bit at first but, working with Brian, it really became easier and easier with each scene. He’s so fun to collaborate with that it made things that much easier! My job is to translate their words into audio format so, knowing what kind of location they’re in, the time of day, what’s going on around the characters, etc. were important to figure out.
My proudest moment is that we finished it and made something we’re truly proud of! Any obstacle that got in our way, we accomplished together! I quite love the scenes with Pysho, the Sabacc game, and the Kowakian Monkey Lizard salesman was fun to piece together! It’s tricky trying to make you feel like you’re in the scene without images. Such as trying to make a marketplace and the feel of the hustle and bustle there. Or a space battle taking place from the ground POV. I’m proud of what we all made together.
What are some audio dramas or films/TV series that you think did something really special or unique with their sound design? Do you have dream projects you’d like to work on?
I’d love to work on any Star Wars ones of course! Films/TV/audiobooks! The Mandalorian really is unique with their sounds of blending new and old sounds. Plus, their Foley work is beautiful and fits in so well. I’d love to work on a Studio Ghibli, Pixar Cartoon Saloon, or Laika film since I’ve never tackled animation before. Having to make all the sounds in a scene would be so interesting to do! David Fincher, David Lynch, Lynne Ramsay, Jordan Peele, Donald Glover, Alfonso Cuarón, Paul Thomas Anderson, Lulu Wang, Sofia Coppola, Issa Rae, or Stephen Spielberg would be great, too. They really know how much sound can elevate a scene. When to be quiet. When you don’t need music wall to wall in a film to evoke emotions from audiences.
I’d love to tackle something on the ‘quieter’ side. Not action filled. Something you can play around sound wise in such as horror or drama. Normal People really captured the subtleties of life and you can hear the richness of each scene. Denis Villeneuve’s older films fit this bill, too. Prisoners always indicated a scene change with HARSH ambiances and I loved it. I’ve been rewatching a lot of Columbo and Twin Peaks and they’re both so different but their sounds fit their respective shows. Atlanta is another good one, too!
I mean, I’d love to work for Skywalker Sound but there are also so many companies doing amazing work all over the world! I’d love to be a part of any of those groups. Video games are another one to listen to! The amazing work done by studios, as of late, has been so damn amazing. I play them and think, “I never would have thought to do that but wow!” or “I’ll never be this good!” haha!
If you could choose an existing Star Wars character to center a Disney+ show around – who would it be and why?
I love the Doctor Aphra comics and love the stories they’ve been telling within that. Not every character has to be the good person all the time. A morally gray character and a character that’s not a Jedi. I always find the stories where the main character is not a Jedi to be more interesting sometimes. Though, it would be great to have a creature/alien species as a main character too! Ventress too would be great! To see a story told from the dark side of the force would interest me.
What are you looking forward to as far as announced Star Wars projects in the next few years?
Rogue Squadron, Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Bad Batch, and the Cassian Andor show sound so great! Rogue One is one my all time favorite Star Wars films so, to see more of Cassian is great! Plus, with how The Mandalorian has been going, I’d love more shows in that vein! Movie wise, I’m excited for Taika Waititi’s take! Plus, it’s written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns! I’m a huge fan of both of them and I have no doubt they’ll be cooking up something good.
Can you share any projects you have coming up?
I’m currently working on another audio drama, The Green Lama, with Adam Lance Garcia and that’s been a ride! I love old-timey detective shows, so this was also up my alley! Other projects are some local commercials and other things I can’t announce yet. An ongoing project of mine is my podcast, The Closing Credits Podcast. A podcast where I’m trying to interview someone from each job title in the closing credits of film, television, and video games. An educational podcast to help educate filmmakers and film watchers alike! Really, it’s never a dull day being a freelancer!