"Sound is more important than picture!" Robert Wuhl said with conviction. I absolutely agree ... sound is crucial. It is exactly what sets a film's tone before you ever see a picture projected on the screen. I knew exactly what I was in for the minute I heard the beauty pageant announcer exuberantly talking over the music of Devotchka before ever seeing Olive's face in Little Miss Sunshine. A sound mixer's stamp on a film is that deafening. Even silent films relied on sound to tell their stories. Buster Keaton's impeccable talents in The General still couldn't mimic the sound of a frantically moving train and the beating heart of a man driven by love.
"Sound people don't get the respect they deserve," Wuhl also said. The work of a sound mixer can, ironically, go unheard. It's the more 'technical' category of the Oscars where the winner will certainly be hushed off the stage by a premature sound cue -- the irony ensues. Luckily, the Cinema Audio Society held their 43rd Annual award ceremony on February 17 to honor their own for their outstanding achievements in filmmaking.
What would Dreamgirls be if you couldn't hear Jennifer Hudson singing? How about The Departed if you never heard a gun shot? Of course, the ceremony kicked off with a joke as master of ceremonies Robert Wuhl -- comedian, Emmy-award-winning writer, and star of Arli$$ -- came on stage to a microphone that emitted no sound. After a prolonged gag the works of each nominee were exemplified in a short clip. The categories included outstanding achievement in DVD original programming, television non-fiction, variety or music series or special, television series, television movie or mini series, and motion pictures.
Perhaps the most poignant and well-deserved nominees were re-recording mixers Mark Linden, Tara A. Paul, Liam Lockhart and Harry Snodgrass who worked on the most difficult film for television to create and to watch Flight 93. I could barely even watch the 30 second clip that only gave a taste of the work they did. Tara Paul was grateful for the recognition, " It was hard ... watching it over and over and over again because of the reality and gravity of it."
CAS awarded re-recording mixers Michael Minkler and Bob Beemer as well as production mixer Willie D. Burton for their work on Dreamgirls. The film would have been a spectacular failure without their talents. In their acceptance they divulged some of their particular challenges -- gossip you could say -- that I hadn't heard before. Apparently there was major angst between Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Hudson -- we'll call Hudson a thunder stealer -- and Eddie Murphy is jealous over Jamie Foxx's Oscar. I guess supporting one's ensemble went out the window on that production.
CAS also gave tribute to two very special honorees with the CAS filmmaker award and the CAS career achievement award. This year's filmmaker award went to the well-deserved and very accomplished Gil Cates. Not only did Cates receive a standing ovation upon receiving his award, butcolleagues shared Cates' effect on both their personal creative lives and their careers for nearly 40 minutes. Cates is a director and producer of film, television, and theater. His resume is bountiful and his obvious vast influence on the lives of those he has worked with has been, and continues to be an incredible one. Cates truly honors the hard work of sound mixers -- perhaps the real reason for his reverence by CAS -- as he has great "respect for difficult work well done."
CAS career achievement award went to the very dedicated and talented Edward Greene. The professionalism and care he takes to create perfect sound spans a career that started back in 1954. Like Cates, he was acknowledged by his peers with words that convinced me that he may be the best sound mixer that ever lived. He's done everything! He's won Emmys, and he was responsible for the sound of nearly every television drama. He's done award shows and Olympic ceremonies, and has worked with individuals like Sammy Davis Jr, Bette Midler and the Muppets. Perhaps the most shocking fact was Greene is 72. The man has the energy and looks of a guy in his thirties.
The care and responsibility the Cinema Audio Society takes in deciding to whom they pay tribute each year makes the recipient of their award a technical deity. A film begins and ends with sound. It is the first thing that introduces us to a film and it is what says goodbye to us when we leave the theatre. It takes dedication, passion and commitment to be a brilliant sound mixer and there was no doubt that every sound mixer that evening at the Biltmore Hotel possessed those three qualities.
The full list of winners:
- CAS Filmmaker Award - Gilbert Cates
- CAS Career Achievement Award - Edward J. Greene, CAS
- DVD Original Programming - Ultimate Avengers: The Movie; Mike Draghi, CAS and Eric Lewis
- Television Non-Fiction, Variety or Music - Paul McCartney: The Space Within Us; Matt Foglia, CAS and David Kahne
- Television Series - Deadwood "A Two-Headed Beast" - R. Russell Smith, CAS; William Freesh, and Geoffrey Patterson, CAS
- Television Movie or Mini Series - Flight 93; Mark Linden, Tara A. Paul, Liam Lockhart and Harry Snodgrass
- Motion Pictures -Dreamgirls; Michael Minkler, CAS; Bob Beemer, CAS; and Willie D. Burton, CAS