Sound Mixing Father-Son Duo Re-created Family History in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

Once upon a time in Hollywood -  Michael and Christian Minkler- Publicity - Inset - H 2020
Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures; Inset: Courtesy of Subject

Sound has been a Minkler family affair since 1929, when Darrell Minkler moved to Hollywood from Chicago to work on the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system at Warner Bros., providing soundtracks for the early days of the talkies.

His son, Don Minkler, followed in his footsteps, working as a rerecording mixer on projects such as 1967's Tarzan series and 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

These achievements were followed by three-time Oscar winner Michael Minkler and his son Christian Minkler, the third and fourth generation of Minklers to forge their path in the world of Hollywood sound.

Combined with their uncles, Bob and Lee Minkler, these four Minklers have now earned a total of 16 Oscar nominations and four wins.

Michael and Christian Minkler came together to work on Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood alongside production sound mixer Mark Ulano, the trio earning a sound mixing Oscar nomination this year.

Underscoring the family's movie business history, there's even a scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood during which Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate goes to a movie theater and watches a trailer for C.C. and Company.

"My father and I worked on that movie in 1969," says Michael Minkler, 67, a rerecording mixer. "It's kind of a weird thing."

Michael has won Academy Awards for Dreamgirls, Chicago and Black Hawk Down; Once Upon a Time in Hollywood marks his 12th nomination. A notable nom came for 1982's Tron, which he mixed with his uncles; Bob — an Oscar winner for 1977's Star Wars — and Lee.

"It was the only time in the history of the Academy that three family members were nominated," he recalls. Since Michael received news of his latest nomination on Jan. 13, the first that he shares with his 48-year-old son, he says, "I have been literally in tears. I'm so happy for him."

Rerecording mixer Christian says he grew up on mixing stages and remembers watching his Uncle Bob win the Oscar for Star Wars on TV. "Star Wars was one of the biggest influences of filmmaking in my life. I was very fortunate to be able to love something so much and continue to do it as a career."

Their nominated work on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood includes the unsettling mix in the sequence at Spahn Ranch, where Charles Manson's cult resided. "It was dictated that in that scene there was going to be no music; let's do this 20-minute scene with just sound effects," Michael explains.

The sound palette was "literally like composing a piece of music, note for note," Michael says. "We were trying to create suspense and horror. In a typical Quentin movie, you don't know what's going to happen next. All of that had to happen within the 20 minutes of the soundtrack, with sound effects only."

When three members of the Manson family enter the Cielo Drive home of star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and surprise his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), chaos ensues. "It was comedy with an incredible amount of violence," Christian notes. "I'm trying to make [the sound] as violent as possible and the images are as violent as possible, but you can't help but laugh."

For instance, just before Cliff hits one of the attackers in the face with a can of dog food, she rushes toward him. "We took her scream and threw it into all the speakers," Michael explains. "Crazy, loud, I just thought that was super funny."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.