‘Hacksaw Ridge’ sound mixer Kevin O’Connell explains his craft – ABC News

During movie awards season, a lot of attention is given to the Oscar-nominated actors and directors.

But what about the nominees whose job responsibilities aren’t quite so obvious to the average moviegoer?

For a new series called “Behind the Lens,” ABC News got to know the people who were recognized for work behind the camera.

“Hacksaw Ridge” sound mixer Kevin O’Connell knows that a lot of people have no idea what his job entails.

However, he noted, his fingerprints are on every scene in the war film.

That’s because, in general, a sound mixer’s responsibility is to make create “the sonic landscape” of the movie, mirroring how a cinematographer determines its overall look. Every sound in “Hacksaw Ridge” was replaced, amplified or polished, and it was the responsibility of McConnell and his team to ensure that each one sounded exactly right and stirred emotion.

PHOTO: Sound mixer Kevin OConnell of Hacksaw Ridge speaks onstage at the Variety Artisans Awards during the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the Lobero Theatre, Feb. 6, 2017, in Santa Barbara, California.Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SBIFF
Sound mixer Kevin O’Connell of “Hacksaw Ridge” speaks onstage at the Variety Artisan’s Awards during the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the Lobero Theatre, Feb. 6, 2017, in Santa Barbara, California.

“What a lot of people don’t understand about what we do is that when they shoot the battle scenes, it’s a bunch of guys running around, basically, a dirt field the size of a football field and all of the explosions are props, the guns are props, none of it makes the noises that it does,” he told ABC News. “The only parts of the original tracks that we were able to keep were very small pieces of the dialogue. Other than that, every single explosion, gunshot, ricochet, bullet whizzing sound, footstep, everything has been recreated with period authentic weaponry to create what was essentially the Battle of Okinawa.”

To stitch the film together, O’Connell and his colleagues worked for months at studios in Australia and California, poring over a mixing console filled with thousands of sound effects ranging from dialogue to the music played by each section of the orchestra. O’Connell also gushed about the newly-updated sound system that has become more commonplace in movie theaters, which is comprised of many speakers strategically placed around the room. The possibility of better surround sound allowed the “Hacksaw Ridge” sound mixers to create the audio illusion of bullets whizzing overhead while explosions blasted in the periphery.

“Most people think it’s sort of a technical thing, but it’s really not,” he said. “It’s a very artistic craft.”

Though O’Connell has worked on many movies over the course of his decades-long career, he said that Gibson is one of the greatest directors with whom he’s ever collaborated. One reason sound mixing for “Hacksaw Ridge” was such a joy, he said, was because Gibson never tried to micromanage the team. Still, he was very involved in the work: At one point, O’Connell said he was having trouble finding sound for a scene in which Andrew Garfield‘s character is surprised by a Japanese soldier, so Gibson screamed into a microphone, and that sound was manipulated and put into the film.

“He hires people that he feels are competent to do the job and then he lets you do what you do,” O’Connell said. “He puts his heart and soul into everything he does. He’s an emotional director and so when the scene calls for a particular emotion he knows exactly what he wants to get out of that.”

All of that hard work paid off. Last month, “Hacksaw Ridge” picked up six Oscar nominations, including best director and best picture. O’Connell’s nomination for sound mixing is his twenty-first – though he holds the record for the most nominations without a single win. Though he insists that he’s not bitter about the losses, he does have hope that this is the year his luck changes.

“You couldn’t have a better film for sound than ‘Hacksaw Ridge,'” he said. “It epitomizes what the sound award is all about.”

For more about O’Connell and to hear how he changed Mel Gibson‘s scream into a usable sound effect, check out the full interview, above.

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