David Yewdall, a sound editor and teacher whose long career included work on such films as Escape From New York, The Thing, Twilight Zone: The Movie and The Fifth Element, has died. He was 66. His family confirmed to Deadline that Yewdall died Tuesday of pancreatic cancer at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC.
Along with amassing more than 100 credits and being a trailblazer in “organic sound,” Yewdall was an educator and author. He wrote Practical Art of Motion Picture Sound, which was published in 1999 and had a fourth edition out in 2012. Examining sound from the point of view of the key figures in the sound department, the book was described in a review by Mix Online as “a must-read for all students of sound, whether in film school, recording school or already working in the craft.” Yewdall was working on the fifth edition at the time of his death.
Born on October 30, 1950, in Springfield, Mo., Yewdall moved to California with his musical family as a young boy. His first job was as a still photographer for the Coalinga Police Department’s Homicide unit, and he later moved into making documentaries, including one on the Hopi Indians.
Lisa Yewdall, his wife of more than 30 years, told Deadline he went on to do some stunt work in the 1977 Ron Howard cars-ploitation film Grand Theft Auto but rethought that career choice after stunt coordinator Vic Rivers was killed in an accident on set. After that, Yewdall joined the Army, where he was part of the original “coed experiment” in basic training. Having joined up at age 28, he was assigned to the staff and faculty at West Point, where he was put in charge of its motion picture division. There was one problem, his wife said: The unit had been shut down the year before. He was discharged in 1979.
His big break in the movie business came courtesy of Roger Corman, who produced Yewdall’s first films, Deathsport and Piranha (both 1978). Yewdall also was the sound man for the final season of Hawaii Five-O in 1979-80. His work caught the attention of filmmaker John Carpenter, who hired Yewdall for three consecutive films he helmed — Escape From New York (1981), The Thing (1982) and Christine (1981) — along with the 1981 sequel Halloween II, which Carpenter wrote and produced.
“The Thing is arguably his masterpiece,” said Steve Lee, a longtime friend and fellow sound man, told Deadline. “All those frightening creature sounds he created are just fantastic, and just as scary today as they were when the film opened 35 years ago — almost to the week.”
Yewdall — whose wife said he always strove for “the authentic, no matter how weird it was” — went on to work on multiple films every year into the new century, with sound credits on such film as Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Moscow on the Hudson (1983), Evil Dead II (1987), Predator 2 (1990), Jingle All the Way (1996), Dante’s Peak (1997), Starship Troopers (1997), Jackie Brown (1997) and Reindeer Games (2000).
“A handy and effective sound editor for the 30 years following 1978, he also supervised crews and was a gifted designer on some of the best-sounding action and science-fiction movies of the ’80s and ’90s,” his longtime friend David Stone, an Oscar-winning sound editor, teacher and author, told Deadline. “I think his strongest tracks are on the John Carpenter movies, such as Christine and Escape from New York, the masterpiece of their collaboration being The Thing.”
Yewdall was working as a sound editor on the 1985 period drama The Aviator, for which star Christopher Reeve insisted on doing his own flying. The story goes that the film’s insurer would go along with that only if the 1920s-era biplane had a second engine installed. The task for finding one fell to Yewdall, who scoured the pre-Internet landscape for a suitable original engine for the plane. He ended up locating — and using — the motor whose serial number was 00001.
“His own sound effects library he collected over his career was just amazing,” Lee said. “When you traded sounds with him, you always felt you were getting a better deal. He had one of everything, and it was all brilliantly recorded. That was one of the keys to his great success.”
In 1988, Yewdall was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story. Around that time he was the only American to work on Talvisota (The Wionter War), an epic Finnish film that told the story of how that country fought off the Russians in late 1939. Yewdall and his wife were tasked with doing the Oscar campaign for the film.
He also taught at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem during the 2000s, with more than 30 of his students eventually joining the Motion Picture Sound Editors, including some Oscar nominees. At SXSW in March, he took part in a panel titled “VR Film Production in Extreme Environments.”
Yewdall also served on the board of Utah-based sound production company NightPro Technologies; was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — former sound editor Robert Wise signed his AMPAS certificate — and Motion Picture Sound Editors for more than 30 years; and appeared in last year’s documentary short Sounds from the Cold.
“Yewdall could be a very serious man,” Stone said. “He had a great interest in making the best recordings of vehicles and of military equipment, and he cataloged these with the precision of a museum curator. But what friends and coworkers saw around his cutting rooms and dub stages was the playful artist. Making new sounds for the imaginary worlds which audiences would inhabit was Yewdall’s profession, but he turned work into recreation, energized by his boyish enthusiasm and humor.”
Yewdall is survived by his wife Lisa, whom he married in 1984, and his mother, Mary Frances Lander. Plans for a memorial service are pending.