John Stuver ’89 has a degree in physics from UC San Diego – and he just won an Emmy Award. Interested in theater and sound production since his days at Webb, Stuver has since made his way to Hollywood, working alongside such industry tycoons as Tom Hanks, HBO and Michael Mann.
As a sound editor at the Hollywood-based company Soundelux, Stuver’s job involves putting together every single part of the soundtrack, from dialogue, to music, to sound effects, and then mixing all the different tracks to form the final product. Over the years, Stuver has become successful in the industry, proven by his recent Emmy win for sound editing on Hanks’ and Steven Spielberg’s HBO TV mini-series The Pacific.
Currently, he’s working on a variety of movies starring such actors as Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogan and Barbra Streisand.
How did you get started in your career?
You could say the first inkling of sound I did was at Webb, where I was a DJ at the radio station KWEB. Fellow class of ’89 alum Erik Hart and I had a show, and we had a blast doing it. When I went to college, I became very active first at WTUL, Tulane’s radio station, then at KSDT at UC San Diego [where I transferred junior year from Tulane University]. At KSDT, I worked my way up to the production director, and I was in charge of editing all of the promos and spots for all of our shows.
My sister had a friend who was a producer, and he introduced me to the sound designer on his latest film. I was able to get a summer internship, and was quickly immersed in the world of editing, designing and mixing sound for features. I knew right away this was what I wanted to do for a living. It involves both creativity and problem solving, finding the right sound for what is happening on screen.
What was your Webb experience like?
Webb provided such a great foundation of learning, for every aspect of life. Not just the classroom education, which was obviously top notch, but also learning how to apply values in everyday life. The friendships, memories and sense of community from Webb are things I always look back on with a smile on my face.
The tradition and honor that came with a Webb experience were things I carried forward into my adult life. … I can envision my children [Gavilan, 8, and Audrey, 4] attending Webb and getting the same wonderful experience that I did.
Were there any teachers or coaches who were meaningful to you?
One of my favorite teachers was our English/Humanities teacher, Larry McMillin. I’ll always remember going to classes at the Stone Hut. It was never about rote learning with him, it was always a critical discussion that made you think. He never talked down to us, he treated students as equals and he shared his wisdom so openly.
Tell us about your work on The Pacific.
The Pacific was easily the most amazing project I’ve gotten to work on. With most feature films, we work on the sound for a couple of months, depending on the budget. On The Pacific, we spent eight months putting together the soundtrack for ten television episodes.
We wanted the sound to really pull the audience into the show, so that they felt like they were right there with the marines in the middle of war. In an epic battle sequence, you obviously have lots of gunfire and explosions to help make the scene grand. But even in the quiet scenes, you can make, say, the jungle sounds surrounding the characters feel dangerous and inhospitable, using subtle auditory effects that help immerse the viewer in the whole experience.
To be able to work on a project that was so moving and so powerful was such a fantastic experience. Winning an Emmy for our work was the icing on the cake.