Blair's Blog

Oscar Notes: Beemer and Millan Each Nab Third Best Sound Trophy

So, what did you think of the Oscars? Did it bug you that some of the “minor” awards were given out with all the nominees onstage at once for the announcement, and the winner striding a few feet over to the microphone for the acceptance speech, while others had the nominees sitting in consecutive rows and the winner walking a few paces down the aisle to a mic set up there? In the last blog we talked about protests from the sound community about this, but you know what–I thought it was fine. In fact, I think it could be argued that the nominees actually got more “face time” this way–if I’m not mistaken, in past years the camera would not scan the audience looking for the nominees in the Best Sound category, for instance. The way it was handled this year, everyone got a fleeting TV moment, even it was mostly clapping while congratulating the person/persons who actually won. Okay, having the speeches in the aisle looked a little like Let’s Make A Deal, or some audience bit from David Letterman’s show, but it didn’t bug me. I think it did make the show move a little quicker, and it didn’t feel like an insult, as I’d feared. So, no horse-whipping of show producer Gil Cates for that. But why the hell did Beyoncé–who I happen to love–have to sing on three of the Oscar-nominated songs? Were all the other singers in L.A. sick that night? That was nuts. Not that it really matters: The Best Original Song nominees are almost always lame, stultifying, middle-of-the-road pop tunes and this year was no exception. I thought the Counting Crows’ song from Shrek 2 should have won just because it had the semblance of pulse to it. And singer Adam Duritz had one of the more striking hairdos of the night.

But enough on that. Can we give some props to the team that won the Oscar for Best Sound, for Ray? Picking up trophys that night were rerecording mixers Bob Beemer, Scott Milan and Greg Orloff (who won by virtue of finishing the final mix for Beemer when he was called away to work on The Passion of the Christ) and production sound mixer Steve Cantamessa. This was Beemer’s third Academy Award (the others were for Speed and Gladiator) in six tries, and also the third for Millan (Apollo 13 and Gladiator) in six nominations. It was the first nomination for both Orloff and Cantamessa. Well done, lads!

I caught up with Bob Beemer, whom I’d interviewed for Mix about The Passion of the Christ last year, to chat a bit about the Oscar show and his work on Ray. Beemer is currently working on Lords of Dogtown, director Catherine Hardwicke’s dramatization of the cool skateboarding doc Dogtown and Z-Boys, and then jumping into the sequel to The Mask of Zorro.

You were pretty outspoken about the issue of fair treatment of the sound guys before the Oscar telecast; what was your experience of the show like?

I actually enjoyed it. I was expecting to hate it–I was one of the big complainers–and in the end I had to go to Gil [Cates] at the Governor’s Ball and say, “Hi, Gil, my name is Bob Beemer...” He said, “Oh...yes...” And I said, “I owe you an apology. I’m a convert.” It was different but it was still respectful. I can’t say that it worse than it was before. Actually, I thought it seemed a little more human. Usually they’re showing clips or pictures while they’re reading your name.

The other thing I liked about it, as a nominee, was that usually, when you’re sitting there, three or four categories before they get to you you’re really nervous. But in this case they come get you 20 minutes before and they say, “OK, come with me,” and then you go through all these different security things backstage–up this corridor, down this elevator, double-check, triple check, wait in the green room...And doing that you get a chance to shake off your nerves–because you’re physically moving. It really helped me relax.

I can’t remember...who actually gave you the award?

Selma Hayak and Penelope Cruz, man! Penelope Cruz gave me mine.

Yow! Not bad!

And they were really sweet. They were huggin’ on me. We were takin’ pictures backstage. It was great!

Now, sharing the award with you was your longtime partner Scott Millan...

Actually, he’s no longer my partner. Last year we got offers to go work at Ascent Media, but I love working at Sony. I think it’s arguably the best sound department in the world. It has great people, it’s stable, it has movies constantly coming through. There are just a lot of things going for it, and I didn’t want to leave. But Scott wanted to take the [Ascent] job, because he was interested in transitioning into management and they gave him that opportunity. So he went and I didn’t; that was about six months ago. Ray might have been the last thing we worked on together; I’m not sure. But we had a great time together. In five years working together we got nominated [for Oscars] three times and won twice, so we had a pretty successful partnership.

Let’s talk about some of the challenges of the Ray job. I remember you were working on that at the time I interviewed you about The Passion of the Christ. You talked about the challenges of dealing with music coming out of radios; things of that nature. I imagine there were also a lot of pre-records and some live singing on the set.

Well, there was very little of that. Everything was lip-synched..

Even when he was just sitting down at a piano and singing a line or two?

It depends. I’d have to sit down and go through it with you. But almost never was it actually being sung live. Like, remember when he’s in the bedroom with the woman he marries and he’s singing “I got a woman...” Okay, like the first half-sentence is him singing it on the set, and the rest of it is Ray Charles pre-record. But it was really, really well done. It even tricked me, and I never get tricked. I was talking to [director] Taylor Hackford about the moment when it gets to “Georgia on My Mind,”and you can tell it’s the record, and I said, “So is this where it starts to be Ray Charles all the time?” He said, “No, it’s been Ray Charles the whole time.” It was such an amazing performance. You’d see the fingers [playing], the body, the throat, but it wasn’t him.

For me, the story was rather complex visually because there were a lot of dissolves, montages that went over periods of time, different countries, and you just get little smatterings of the charm of each locale. Also there were bits that were pertinent to [Charles’] world being a sound world with no visuals, and we were able to exaggerate some things to convey that. Like the scene with the hummingbird [where Charles can hear it outside] or when he freaks out with the heroin withdrawl–that involved a lot of sound effects stuff. And then there were the different locales in the South, with the beautiful wind and trees and birds and cicadas and all that. Then, when it was in the city it obviously sounded very different. So there was a lot of variety.

Not to diminish the quality of your work in any way, but I wonder if when Academy voters are voting on a film like this, how much they are influenced by the music itself.

Probably quite a bit. It’s true that generally speaking the Academy is predisposed towards to musical-based projects for sound awards. You knew a film like Chicago had a great chance of winning if it was any good, which it was. I think it makes some people a little mad because there’s obviously a lot of pre-recorded material in a film like that or in Ray. But that really doen’t make it any easier or less challenging. Many times [the Academy’s love of musical films] has worked against me, because I do big sound effects shows, too, but this time it worked for me, so I’m happy to take it. [Laughs]

Did you think Ray had a good chance to win?

Actually, I did. The day we started working on the movie–there was something about it; it had a lot of good karma. I thought it might be up the Academy’s alley.

Was there a scene that stands out to you as having been particularly fun or creative from your standpoint?

My favorite scene sound-wise was the scene where he’s a young kid and he’s gone blind and he comes into the room and he falls and twists his ankle and he’s crying for his mama and mama makes him fend for himself. Then he hears the tea kettle, he hears the cow, he feels the fire. We call it “the cricket scene,” because at the end he catches a cricket and then he says, “I know where you are, mama. You’re right there,” and she hugs him. That was very, very sweet.

What kind of input did Taylor Hackford have in the process?

Taylor is the perfect combination of let-you-do-your-thing and major hands-on. He’s into everything; it’s defintely a Taylor Hackford film. A lot of times, directors will just leave it to you, maybe give you some notes about what they’re looking for, and anybody who’s competent is going to give them a presentable product. But the best directors are really into it, because they know that sound affects the storytelling a lot and they want to be purposeful about it. Taylor is definitely that way. He’s a very sound-oriented director. He was very involved with every sound.

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No, we have NOT forgotten that there were two sound Oscars given. In the Sound Editing category, the very deserving winners were Randy Thom and Michael Silvers for The Incredibles. It was Thom’s second Oscar (the other was for The Right Stuff) in eight nominations for either Sound or Sound Editing. Silver has been nominated three times; this was his first victory. For more on Randy Thom, check out Maureen Droney’s superb interview with this sound master from the January 2005 issue of Mix, or here:

What did you think of the Oscars, or the choices in the sound categories? Lemme know: