Friday, March 02, 2007

SOUND MIXER SMACKDOWN?

I have revised this post somewhat because there are some readers who misunderstood my intentions. These are my own personal thoughts on an issue that has come up in the sound community since the Oscars. They are NOT the opinions of any of the organizations I am involved with. They are based on my own personal observations.

I know Michael Minkler pretty well. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Cinema Audio Society with me. (We are not personal friends.) He's also Past President of that organization and has received their Career Achievement Award. He's won three Oscars (for BLACK HAWK DOWN, CHICAGO, and DREAMGIRLS) and has been nominated 10 times. He won his first CAS Award this year for DREAMGIRLS and was very gracious about it. Mike is a very nice guy, with an extremely dry sense of humor.

I do not know Kevin O'Connell at all personally, so I will not attempt to make any judgements on his personality, but his reputation precedes him. Kevin has been nominated for the Oscar 19 times and never won.

I've never been a huge fan of the Oscar sound awards. The nominations are done by members of the peer group, but the final balloting is done by the general membership, and over 20% of the members are actors. Sound editors & mixers are actually the fourth-largest group, but only about 7 percent. Actors, producers and studio execs total more than a third of the Academy. As a result, a lot of people who do not know much about sound end up voting in the sound categories, so the most deserving nomination may not win. This means that a movie with obvious sound work, like a musical, may be likely to win. That's not to belittle Mike's work on CHICAGO or DREAMGIRLS, I know for a fact that they were both intensely difficult mixes. DREAMGIRLS was delivered to the dub stage with over 300 tracks per reel.

I think the CAS Awards are probably more representative of the best work, since only sound mixers vote on the award. (You'll notice that this year DREAMGIRLS won that as well, but last year, WALK THE LINE won over CHICAGO.) Kevin has been nominated for the CAS Award 11 times and never won. (He is not a member of the organization.)

Kevin has had the unfortunate luck to be nominated for a string of films by Jerry Bruckheimer, whose films are generally known for being LOUD and not necessarily good. That's not a reflection on Kevin personally, it's just an observation that the types of films that he has been nominated for are not the type most Academy members are likely to vote for. We're all a product of what we work on, and most of us have virtually no control over that.

It's also interesting to note that the Bruckheimer film BLACK HAWK DOWN happened to be mixed by Mike instead of Kevin (and went on to win the Oscar), so you can imagine why there might a friendly (or maybe not so friendly) rivalry between the (probably) two highest-paid mixers in Hollywood.

Kevin was nominated this year for APOCALYPTO. I happen to know that there are a lot of people in Hollywood who flat out refused to see that movie simply because of some comments made by the director of the film. Of course, if people don't see the film, they are a lot less likely to vote for it! Is that fair to his work? Of course not. The film did sound fantastic.

I can assure you that Mike was kidding when he made his comments about Kevin backstage at the Oscar press room.

You can watch his comments at the Oscar web site. After the lame commercial plays, stop playback, then click on "Sound Mixing."

The interview is over seven minutes long. The response to the particular question is over a minute long and all three mixers speak (it's the last question so you have to watch the whole thing). Mike is clearly VERY uncomfortable answering the question. It seems as if he is somewhat peeved at what he perceives as Kevin trying to get the "sympathy vote." However, it also seems clear that he is SMILING and therefore joking when he says Kevin should find a new line of work.

Sound mixers aren't generally in the spotlight, and with his dry delivery, it's clear the press misunderstood his intentions. You'll notice, by the way, that the mainstream media have not picked up this story (although VARIETY ran the one-line quote out of context, with little hoopla, and HOLLYWOOD REPORTER also mentioned it briefly).

Kevin himself responded briefly to an LA TIMES reporter. He remained professional at what must be an extremely difficult time for him.

Kevin's mixing partner responded to a post on another web site. He is clearly upset.

Was there an uncomfortable undertone of truth in Mike's comments? Possibly. Imagine you just won the Oscar, the highest accolade in your field, and the reporters' questions are not about you, your work, your talent, or even the film you worked on, but instead are on the person who lost. This underscores the fact that Kevin has gotten far more press for losing 19 times than Mike has gotten for winning 3. (Run a Google search if you don't believe me. Kevin has over 150,000 hits, Michael gets about 34,000.)

Kevin was interviewed on the BBC only a few days before the Oscars, and he spoke about his mother and how she got him out of working as a fireman and into film sound. It's possible Mike was referring to this interview, and jokingly recommending that if he's interested in awards, maybe he should go back to being a fireman.

Of course, none of this justifies his comment, whether it was a joke or not. It was a bad time and place to slip up, but it seems to me as if the entire incident has been blown out of proportion.

Also imagine this, your mother is in the hospital battling a lengthy illness, and you chose to go to the Oscars, even though you've already lost 18 times, instead of staying at the hospital. She died later that night. Needless to say, this has been a stressful week for Kevin as well, and that may be part of the reaction. My condolences to him and his family.

In many ways, the worst part of all of this for the sound community is that sound is always the least-respected area in the awards, and now it looks like sound mixers are just bickering children. Shame on the media for even covering this, and especially for taking one line out of context.

I received the following e-mail forwarded to me this evening:

Gentlemen, Friends, and Colleagues,

A very unfortunate situation has developed because of my stupid answers to some inappropriate questions. I did not seek this spotlight-the press did, as they have in the past. It was wrong of them to ask the questions, and wrong, wrong, wrong of me to answer them the way that I did.

I apologize to all of you for creating a messy situation, and exposing the appearance of any dissension among our ranks.

The press has been asking me questions about Kevin since 2002. They continue to hound me with the same questions again and again, and this time I lost control, using bad choices of words and bitter sarcasm. The Award should be about the work---period. It is always my concern to preserve the Oscar's significance to the filmmaking community and its international audience. My thoughts got away from me at an emotional time, and that I regret.

My response to the last question was off the cuff sarcasm meant as humor. However it seems that it has caused even greater reaction.shock. I wanted to end the questioning and those words came out. Not funny. I am very sorry. The time and place was wrong for any of it.

Adding sentiment to this unfortunate situation has of course been the sorrowful passing of Skippy O'Connell. My sincere condolences go out to the entire O'Connell family.

I have been in communication with Kevin directly, and I wish the best for him in the future. I am sure that he will receive his due recognition on that same stage very soon, and I will be the first to congratulate him.

In my career, I'm sure that I have accidentally hurt people, but I've never intentionally sought to do harm. I ask forgiveness from them. I have given shots and taken some, but I don't believe that at any time, true malice was the objective.

I appreciate you sharing your personal thoughts with me, as I always have. I now thank you for allowing me to share mine with you.


Respect to all,

Michael Minkler


Kevin tastefully responded to it here.

A good thread about this subject has been started on the Digidesign User Conference.

I have also added a few responses in the "Comments" link directly below.

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