How the Oscars' Sound Team Handled That Epic Best Picture Flub

8:45 AM 6/6/2017

by Carolyn Giardina

And more tales of the trade from the editors who create the noises that erupt from monsters and old guns, and mixers who combine all those layers.

Oscars Sound Flub - Photo-Illustration - One Time Use Only - H 2017
Courtesy of Dusan Martincek/National Geographic (Genius), Justin Lubin/NBC (Hairspray), Netflix (Stranger Things), Sergei Bachlakov/NBC (Timeless), Christopher Rafael/Amazon (Mozart); Eddy Chen/ABC/Getty Images (Beatty)

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • 89th Annual Academy Awards

    "Jimmy [Kimmel] was great," says Paul Sandweiss, broadcast mixer for this year's Oscars telecast. "But things happen." In this case, what happened was Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announcing the wrong best picture winner. "Now you're unscripted," says Sandweiss. "We opened the mic at the podium and left it open. You're thinking, at some point, Jimmy is going to come out and say something, but you don't want to open his mic early and catch something that's not intended for the audience. You have to watch the picture and represent what you see."

  • 'Genius'

    "One of the big challenges was making sure that no elements of contemporary sounds are in there," says re-recording mixer Bob Bronow of the limited series about Albert Einstein, young and old. "If you heard a siren, or a car went by, it had to be replaced with period sound. As we progressed through history, it was horse and buggies and then motor vehicles. The most fun and challenging were Einstein's thought experiments, such as imagining himself traveling next to a beam of light. There were beautiful graphics, but then, what does it sound like? All the while, the Einstein character is narrating. It was challenging to create that sonic space to get the impact of the visuals while still having room for the dialogue and exposition."

  • 'Hairspray Live!'

    With three stages, outdoor sets on Universal's backlot and a live audience, Hairspray Live! posed logistical and technical challenges for its sound team. "It was an interesting hybrid of Broadway style and broadcast sound," says production sound mixer/sound designer Tom Davis. "We had a huge cast, and they were singing and dancing. In all, we used close to 100 [microphones]. We hid mics in wigs or hair, and the principles had spares. Sometimes we used audience sound for the broadcast; it was a moving target on how to treat each scene. Some scenes were big where music is playing, while others were more intimate dialogue."

  • 'Mozart in the Jungle'

    "At times, the sound effects department's contribution would overlap with that of the music department," says Peter Carlstedt, co-supervising sound editor on this comedy about an orchestra conductor. "For example, musicians warming up onstage — the sound of a clarinetist blowing air through the barrel of their instrument, or a violinist rosining her bow — it was fun to add all those details to the soundscape of an episode, to give the audience the feeling of being onstage with a symphony orchestra. I used to play in a professional orchestra, so I have an advantage in knowing what it feels and sounds like. We also had the chance to re-create the atmosphere of many varied locations — riding a gondola in Venice, attending a concert in Central Park, or even taking a field trip to Rikers Island."

  • 'Stranger Things'

    "Our biggest challenge was creating new sounds and building interesting atmospheres that fit the show," says Brad North, supervising sound editor on the 1980s-set sci-fi drama. "The monster sounds were created by layering different animal sounds so it would be real and organic. The lights flickering were different recordings of filaments, a battery charger and other electrical sounds, with the intent to edit them with a musical feel. And the atmospheres, like the upside down, were built by layering different sounds that were organic."

  • 'Timeless'

    "On each episode, we were taken to a different period in time," says Wade Barnett, supervising sound editor of the series about time travel. "We had to pull new sounds for the cars, guns, planes and backgrounds that would match the time period of the episode. The other main focus was building the sound design of the time machines. It's very subjective as to what an actual time machine would sound like, and we had a lot of fun experimenting with different ideas and dialing in those elements. We had a constantly evolving sound design template for each of the two time machines in the show."