headshot photo of Michael Kowalski

Michael Kowalski

Professor, Interim Dean, Dodge College of Film and Media Arts
Lawrence and Kristina Dodge College of Film and Media Arts
Expertise: Production and Post-Production Film Sound; Documentary; Post-Production Workflow
Office Location: Marion Knott Studios 310
Phone: (714) 628-7388
University of Pennsylvania, Bachelor of Arts
University of Southern California, Master of Arts


As a documentarian, Michael Kowalski says, you start with many views of reality, but you have to find an angle or focus. It's the creative process of structuring the story that he finds so fascinating, as a documentary filmmaker and as a sound designer.

"Reality doesn't work dramatically," he says, "and we don't care."  When he shows a sound class the opening of Star Wars, the students are not concerned with the fact that there is no sound in space, rather, they respond to the dramatic use of sound in the moment.

Kowalski's background—growing up in Europe, earning a Masters in Visual Anthropology at USC, teaching documentary techniques to students in architecture as a way of understanding how the city affects people—provided multiple ways to see the world.  His own work, either as sound designer or documentarian, covers a wide range of subjects, from the Alamo and medieval knights to a comedic view of a Britney Spears impersonator and an examination of an African-American community as a microcosm of underdeveloped neighborhoods in urban America today.

Kowalski applies his interest in storytelling to teaching as well: "The more boring the subject, say sound physics, the greater the storytelling challenge."

Recent Creative, Scholarly Work and Publications

I was responsible for the complete sound design work on the feature length documentary The Bad Kids. The Bad Kids is an observational documentary that chronicles a extraordinary principal’s mission to realize the potential of these students whom the system has deemed lost causes. The movie premiered and won a special award at at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Performed the complete sound design on "Rockaway After the Storm," Directed & Produced by Jennifer Callahan "Rockaway After the Storm" is a 50 minute documentary that explores the social and environmental impact that Hurricane Sandy had on the Rockaway Peninsula in NY. The documentary has been broadcast on New York Public Television.
Performed the complete sound design on "The Double Life of Li Xianglan'" Produced & Directed by Mei-Juin Chen Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation's Asian Cultural Council and Taiwan's Culture and Arts Foundation. "The Double Life of Li Xianglan'" is a documentary biography that explores the early life and multiple personalities of Li Xianglan (a.k.a.: Yoshiko Otaka and Shirley Yamguchi) a Chinese-born Japanese actress and singer who made a career in China, Japan, Hong Kong, and the United States.
I did the complete sound design on "Super Solar Yacht," a 45 minute documentary Produced by Mei-Juin Chen & Martha Burr for National Geographic The documentary is about the design and construction of the world’s largest solar yacht. It will screen on the National Geographic Asia cable channel.
I did the complete sound design on "Ray Charles’ America" a 90 minute documentary produced by Tremolo Productions for The Bio Channel. The documentary is about the singer Ray Charles’ and his music. It screened at the 2010 Amsterdam International Documentary Festival and will air on the Bio Channel in November 2010.