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ENTREPRENEUR PROFILES
MAY 24, 2000


The Sound of Money

Dane Davis parlayed a fascination with noise into a multimillion-dollar business--and an Oscar

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Dane A. Davis always loved noises. Growing up in the dusty suburbs east of San Diego in the late 1960s, he dragged around a clunky reel-to-reel recorder, conducting experiments in distortion and feedback. "I was very obnoxious," Davis says. "I was always viewed like, 'That crazy Dane.'"

Davis, now 43, didn't seem so crazy last March, when he collected an Academy Award for best sound-effects editing for his work on the science-fiction thriller The Matrix. The win caps a career that spans 19 years and 68 movies, including Boogie Nights and Drugstore Cowboy. It also positions Danetracks Inc., his 22-person West Los Angeles sound-editing house, as one of Hollywood's leading sound shops. "Now he'll be one of the big boys," says Zach Staenberg, a veteran film editor who won his own Oscar for The Matrix.

Davis still seems like a sound-obsessed teen--albeit with much cooler toys. He has poured about $2.5 million into Danetracks, including a supercharged, state-of-the-art computer system, theater-quality sound, and a custom built sound stage. The Matrix put all that stuff to good use. Set in a future where machines rule humans, the film is packed with shape-shifting villains and surreal, slow-motion gunfights. Some scenes required mixing as many as 1,500 different sounds. "It was like somebody said, 'Here's a blank canvas. Go for it,'" Davis says.

That's a far cry from his early days in Hollywood. After graduating from California Institute of the Arts, Davis made his living earthquake-proofing buildings and editing in his spare time. He opened Danetracks in 1986, working on low-budget films for as little as $6,000. The slog paid off. He now earns between $500,000 and $1 million a per film, and Danetracks had sales of $3 million in 1999.

Still, Hollywood remains cutthroat--even for Oscar winners. Despite Davis' growing reputation, it is not uncommon for a studio to commit to a movie only to delay production, or move the editing to Canada, leaving Davis scrambling. He hopes to solve that problem by taking on more TV commercials and video-game projects. "It's a scary business," he says. Davis may be a connoisseur of sound, but the only noise he absolutely needs to hear is the ringing of the telephone.


By Christopher Woodard


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