Oscar Preview: The Sound Guy – Kevin O’Connell

Every week from now until the critics groups start giving out their prizes for the best of the year, I’m going to be spotlighting the big Oscar players and their chances at Oscar glory this year.

Trying to spread the love between directors, actors, writers and other players in Hollywood, I thought I’d take time in our third week to highlight one of the titans of screenwriting: Woody Allen.

Very little has been written about Kevin O’Connell’s personal history. He seems to keep mostly to himself. I think it’s a byproduct of being a re-recording mixer, not a terribly glamorous or well recognized role in pictures, and his desire for privacy. Audiences may not know the name, nor will they likely know what precisely a re-recording mixer does, but one look at his 4-6 films per year filmography and there will be countless titles you recognize.

For those unfamiliar with re-recording mixers, the position is responsible for taking dialog, music and sound effects and blending them into the film’s final soundtrack. The re-recording mixer has one of the most integral jobs on the post-production team alongside visual effects artists and editors. O’Connell’s career began as a sound recording technician in 1980 on George Lucas’ second Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back. Two years later, he was part of re-recording mixer on no fewer than five films. Although most wouldn’t count Airplane II, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Human Highway or The Secret of NIMH as great examples of sound mixing in film, his fifth film in 1982 would prove an unmitigated success.

Poltergeist was a gorgeous blend. From the loud scenes in the bedroom where the sound effects draw the audience’s attention to the doorway and the characters must shout to be heard, it’s all blended so effectively that you not only catch those bits of dialog, but each sound effect is detailed and plainly audible. And aside from the loud moments, there are plenty of quiet, chilling ones where utter silence is broken by simple noises creating a level of tension that helped make Poltergeist the success it was. Although the film did not earn O’Connell his first Oscar nomination, the next year’s Terms of Endearment would. From 1983 through 2007, O’Connell racked up 20 Oscar nominations for Sound/Sound Mixing. Not only is it a record for that category, he holds a rather dubious distinction. In 20 nominations, he has not won a single Oscar. 2007 marked his last nomination and his best shot at the Oscar as re-recording mixer on the Michael Bay technical extravaganza Transformers. Since then, he has only crafted one film that came close to a nomination: Unstoppable in 2010. The film managed a Sound Editing nomination, but failed to pick up a frequently-corresponding Sound Mixing nod.

Looking across his 30-year, 175-film career, there’s not a genre in which he hasn’t found success. He’s worked comedy, horror, action, drama. And although no one would consider most of his films to be good, there’s no question that he knows his way around the sound department. This year, his three films represent his latest chances at nomination. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single candidate that could earn him his 21st nomination. Though, surprises do happen.

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

Comedy doesn’t play well with the Academy, especially low grossing, critically maligned comedies starring Martin Lawrence. The film has already come and gone from the multi-plex and characterizes O’Connell’s frequent selection of mediocre sequels as vehicles for work. Of course, he has often worked on four or more films every year since he started, so this is little surprise. Not every picture can be a diamond.

Forecast Categories (where the film is most likely to compete): None

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Mel Gibson’s career nosedive has inadvertently affected a lot of talented people, most notably Jodie Foster and her directorial effort The Beaver. With How I Spent My Summer Vacation hasn’t even been able to find a distribution date within the U.S., releasing so far only in Scandinavia. This film, about a career criminal captured in Mexico and locked in prison features Gibson in the lead role of a man forced to survive with the help of a 9-year-old boy. This could be the kind of film for which O’Connell could get recognized, but it’s not the kind of film Oscar recognizes even with a distributor.

Forecast Categories (where the film is most likely to compete): None

The Muppets

Of the three films on his filmography for 2011, O’Connell’s lone shot at a Sound Mixing nomination comes with the latest film starring Jim Henson’s celebrated creations. The Muppets is likely to feature a number of popular songs, which attract the attention of the Academy sound department quite well. If there’s one type of film the Academy’s Sound Department loves and the Academy will reward outside of big budget blockbusters, it’s musicals. Chicago (2002), Ray (2004) and Dreamgirls (2006) all earned Oscars for Sound Mixing. That’s one musical every other year for six years, an impressive record. And alongside those three winners, Moulin Rouge (2001) and Walk the Line (2005) were also nominated. The issue is that the Academy does tend to recognize loudness over detail in the Sound Mixing category. On top of that The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan both earned nominations in score categories, which would suggest both that this franchise has distinct opportunities with the Academy, just not necessarily in Sound Mixing. So, while The Muppets could surprise with an Oscar nomination for Sound Mixing, it’s unlikely to actually land the nod, which makes this one more year where O’Connell is likely to sit out the ceremony.

Forecast Categories (where the film is most likely to compete): None

Kevin O’Connell’s Oscar History

  • Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son; Geezers!; How I Spent My Summer Vacation; The Muppets (2011)
  • The Back-Up Plan; A Nightmare on Elm Street; The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time; Secretariat; The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; Unstoppable (2010)
  • Hotel for Dogs; Public Enemies (2009)
  • Hearing Everett; The Ruins; Space Chimps (2008)
  • Transformers (2007) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • The Life Before Her Eyes; National Treasure: Book of Secrets; Spider-Man 3 (2007)
  • Apocalypto (2006) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • The Da Vinci Code; Deja Vu; Glory Road; The Pursuit of Happyness; RV; Talladega Nights (2006)
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Bewitched; Guess Who; The Island (2005)
  • Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • King Arthur; Man on Fire; National Treasure; The Passion of the Christ; Spanglish (2004)
  • Bad Boys II; Big Fish; Dreamcatcher; House of Sand and Fog; The Hunted; Kangaroo Jack; Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
  • Spider-Man (2002) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Bad Company; Dragonfly; Men in Black II (2002)
  • Pearl Harbor (2001) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Saving Silverman; Spy Game (2001)
  • The Patriot (2000) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Coyote Ugly; Gone in Sixty Seconds; Hanging Up; Little Nicky; Rules of Engagement (2000)
  • At First Sight; Mumford; The Story of Us; Wild Wild West (1999)
  • Armageddon (1998) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • The Mask of Zorro (1998) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Enemy of the State; Godzilla (1998)
  • Con Air (1997) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Lolita; Speed 2; Starship Troopers (1997)
  • The Rock (1996) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Twister (1996) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • The Fan; Ghosts of Mississippi; House Arrest; The Juror; The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)
  • Crimson Tide (1995) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • The American President; Bad Boys; Congo; Hideaway; The Net; Nick of Time (1995)
  • City Slickers II; North; Speechless; Wyatt Earp (1994)
  • Alive; Heart and Souls; In the Line of Fire; Sliver; Tombstone; True Romance; Undercover Blues (1993)
  • A Few Good Men (1992) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Falling from Grace; Hoffa; Love Field; Mr. Saturday Night; Raising Cain; Thunderheart; Trespass; Unlawful Entry (1992)
  • City Slickers; Grand Canyon; Hot Shots; Hudson Hawk; Ricochet (1991)
  • Days of Thunder (1990) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • The Adventures of Ford Forlaine; The First Power; I Love You to Death; Misery; Revenge; The Spirit of ’76; Tremors (1990)
  • Black Rain (1989) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Big Man on Campus; Blue Steel; Cousins; A Dry White Season; Field of Dreams; Triumph of the Spirit (1989)
  • The Accidental Tourist; Beetlejuice; Big Top Pee-Wee; Child’s Play; Hot to Trot; Masquerade; A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master; Rambo III; The Wrong Guys (1988)
  • Best Seller; Beverly Hills Cop II; The Big Town; Broadcast News; Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll; La Bamba; Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home; The Running Man; Who’s That Girl; You Talkin’ to Me (1987)
  • Top Gun (1986) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Blue City; Jumpin’ Jack Flash; Little Shop of Horrors; Miracles; Ruthless People; SpaceCamp (1986)
  • Silverado (1985) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • A Chorus Line; The Last Dragon; Maxie; Rambo: First Blood Part II; Secret Admirer; Stick (1985)
  • Dune (1984) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • Firestarter; Firstborn; Gremlins; Starman (1984)
  • Terms of Endearment (1983) – Nominated for Best Sound Mixing
  • The Big Chill; Breathless; Right of Way; Stroker Ace (1983)
  • Airplane II: The Sequel; Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid; Human Highway; Poltergeist; The Secret of NIMH (1982)
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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