Oscars: Double Nominees for 'Unbroken' and 'Birdman' Provide Contrast in Sound Mixing Categories

"You just got to go with it. This is a different cat," Jon Taylor told Frank Montano about working with director Alejando G. Inarritu on 'Birdman.'
'Birdman'

Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman soared at various crafts awards ceremonies this past weekend, including a win for director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki at the American Society of Cinematographers Awards and the win for the sound-mixing team at the Cinema Audio Society Awards.

Two of the winners of the CAS Award — rerecording mixers Jon Taylor and Frank Montano — are also double Oscar nominees this year, for Birdman as well as Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. The pair have been working together for the past two years at Universal Sound, where additional collaborations include Fast & Furious 6 and the upcoming seventh film in the franchise.

Of the double nomination, Montano says it's "a truly amazing feeling, and the films' [mixing styles] contrast each other, and we are very proud of that. Unbroken is considered traditional, and on the flip side Birdman was sort of raw and anti-Hollywood."

"[Jolie] has a very graceful, elegant touch but then she doesn't like to hold back; she likes to make sure that the audience feels what is really happening onscreen," Taylor says. "The sound is very elegant, but in the plane fight, you feel like you are there. And then later on, during the psychological part of the film when [Louis Zamperini, played by Jack O'Connell] is being tormented by his captor, we had to make sure that it feels real. The overall goal was to feel his spirit and be with him."

In contrast, Montano says "Alejandro is very aggressive, especially on Birdman. He wanted to make sure Birdman, the alter ego's voice was very Batman-esque, over the top. [The sound of his voice] was aggressive, and we used the drums score as narration to really push the envelope. Everything had to be flashy when the camera moved, every single sound — the footsteps, the air vents, the crowds. Alejandro wants to make sure you are always involved."

Read more 'Birdman' Wins Top CAS Sound Mixing Award

Taylor, who has worked with Iñárritu as far back as 21 Grams, adds, "Frankie caught on quick. I said, 'Frankie, you just got to go with it. This is a different cat. As soon as you think it's normal, don't do that. Do something else.' "

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at the CAS Awards, production mixer Thomas Varga said Birdman was the most difficult job he had ever done. "It was a 35-day schedule and every day was one shot," he said. "It was mostly two or three booms and a lot of radio mics blended into one track. We had boom operators flying around from set to set. When they were in the hallways we used radio mics and we had another boom operator in the next room. They were constantly running around a three-story set. It was a very orchestrated ballet."

Also nominated for the sound mixing Oscar are the teams from war drama American Sniper, sci-fi adventure Interstellar and jazz drummer story Whiplash, which won the BAFTA in sound (the BAFTAs has one sound category, whereas the Academy separates sound editing and mixing).

Rerecording mixer Ben Wilkins says that the Whiplash team wanted to marry the sound finished in post with the actual production tracks and location characteristics from the film's narrative. "Our team played back a set of specialized tones into the space [on location], and then recorded them," he says. "Later decoding the tones gives you the exact naturally occurring reverb of the room. We got still photos of where the cameras were situated, and set up our recording equipment in similar fashion to capture reverb from the same perspective. Later on we could use those reverbs to re-create echoes and reverbs inside those rooms, and apply them to the (prerecorded drum music), so that everything could match up."

In approaching American Sniper, rerecording mixer Gregg Rudloff noted that "the story is on the screen. You want to use the room [to place sounds], but you still want to be cautious that you don't pull the audience out of the movie by doing something that's distracting to the story."

He added that sound level is always a challenge, certainly for a war film. "Fortunately [director Clint Eastwood] isn't one to believe louder is better. The way to beat that is to use dynamics. It's the relationship of the soft moments to the loud moments. It's the change in dynamics that can make something seem loud without having to be assaultive to the audience."

The final nominee is the much-discussed mix on Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, Rerecording mixer Gregg Landaker explained that Nolan wanted to "really capture the essence of space travel. ... We experimented with lowering stuff down so that you could hear the dialogue, but then it became so unreal. The idea of these scenes is to make you feel you're straining to hear just as much as [the characters] are straining to hear each other."

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA

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