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Chris Navarro, left, and Chris Munro.

CAS Launches ‘Gravity’ into Oscar’s Orbit

by Mel Lambert
photos by Ana Gibert
At the culmination of February 22’s 50th annual CAS Awards, held at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel’s spacious Crystal Ballroom in downtown Los Angeles and hosted by Doug McIntyre, the Cinema Audio Society presented its Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Motion Picture – Live Action to the crew that worked on Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-contender Gravity. They include re-recording mixers Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri and Christopher Benstead, scoring mixer Gareth Cousins, ADR mixers Thomas J. O'Connell and Chris Navarro, CAS, and production mixer Chris Munro. This was the second year that the Society included ADR and Foley mixers in its annual awards; in 2012 scoring mixers also were added to the roster of eligible crewmembers.
“Our biggest challenge while working on Gravity was sorting out the music,” Lievsay recalled during a phone interview from Deluxe New York, where he is currently mixing the soundtrack for Noah. “Alfonso [Cuarón, director] worked closely with the film’s composer, Steve Price, to develop a score” whose elements would move to follow the on-screen action. “There were few sound effects in the film [mixed by Adiri] because, as Alfonso stressed: ‘In space there would be no sound.’
“Music editor and co-recording mixer Chris Benstead developed between eight and ten 5.1-channel music stems [of synthesizer and heavily-processed orchestral cues] that he panned independently from the front of the auditorium to the back, and from side to side, sometimes collapsing the elements to mono or stereo, to achieve the required result,” Lievsay continued. “I simply ran overall volume against Chris’ Pro Tools sessions.” The film’s 7.1-channel soundtrack was re-recorded at Warner Bros.’ De Lane Lea facility in London, with a subsequent Dolby Atmos immersive surround-sound mix at the studio’s Burbank operation.
“Because of mechanical noises from gimbals and other rigs on the set, about 90 percent of the film’s final dialogue was looped at Audio Head, with other recordings from Burbank, New York and London,” explained ADR mixer Navarro. “Often the ADR process can lose the essence of the original performances. On Gravity, however, Sandra [Bullock] and George [Clooney] really put everything into their performances; they sustained and even improved them throughout the entire picture.”
Casey Stone, left, Mary Jo Lang and David E. Fluhr.
Taking the top honor in the category of Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Motion Picture – Animated was Oscar-contender Frozen, and re-recording mixers David E. Fluhr, CAS, and Gabriel Guy, together with original dialogue mixer Gabriel Guy, scoring mixer Casey Stone and Foley mixer Mary Jo Lang. “I first saw the film [inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story, The Snow Queen] in a loose storyboard form maybe a year and a half before we actually got into post, so that we could think about the story line early on,” Fluhr recalled. “Everything we do on the re-recording stage has to support the story, which is telling us what emotional aspects to put forth and how the characters interact with one another. For the last scene of the movie, our executive producer John Lasseter told us to take a chance with the sound. We took out everything and played with the bare pallet of sound that drew everybody into the scene.”
“Snow was obviously very important, so we brought in a lot of real snow ice every morning,” said Foley mixer Lang. “And we needed to make the snowman character Olaf sound particularly cute and adorable. We recorded a large number of snow squeaks and crunches from Foley artists Alyson Dee Moore and John Roesch [at the Warner Bros. Foley Stage] — more than we thought we might need for the dub — to provide the re-recording mixers with plenty of choices.”
“I recorded all of Christophe Beck’s exhilarating music at Warner Bros.’ Eastwood Scoring Stage,” Stone stated. “He delivered a sensitive and perfect score for this film, mainly orchestral with a featured choir and solo vocals for added poignancy. To maintain the same sonic space and atmosphere, the songs were also recorded at Warner Bros.” “We dubbed the soundtrack in native Dolby Atmos on Disney Digital Studio Services’ Stage A,” Fluhr concluded. “The choir elements draped over the audience in the upper loudspeaker channels. It’s a very immersive mix.”
John Williams, left, and Andy Nelson.
The CAS Career Achievement Award was presented to re-recording mixer Andy Nelson, CAS, —a two-time CAS and Academy Award winner for Les Misérables and Saving Private Ryan — by Oscar-winning composer John Williams, together with 20th Century Fox president of feature post production Ted Gagliano and current CAS president David Fluhr. “I have worked on a total of 16 films with John [Williams],” the honoree recalled. “He has always been one of my heroes; his accomplishments are legendary.” Nelson also thanked his former mixing partner, Anna Behlmer, who now helms the sound-effects chair at Technicolor at Paramount’s Theater 2. “We did a lot of great films together,” he added. (Nelson’s career and mixing successes will be profiled in the MAR-APR issue of CineMontage.)
Anna Behlmer, left, Edward Zwick and Jeffrey S. Wexler.
Academy Award-winning writer/director/producer Edward Zwick (Shakespeare in Love) received the CAS Filmmaker Award from Anna Behlmer and Jeffrey S. Wexler, CAS; coincidently, Zwick and Career Achievement honoree Nelson had collaborated on Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, Love and Other Drugs, Defiance and Courage Under Fire. Readily acknowledging that the room was “full of old friends and collaborators,” Zwick reflected on the re-assembly of films that takes place on the dubbing stage, “where a group of people help you put your movie back together. They help me see it again for the first time; to find the characters and make all those transitions work. I’m very grateful for such skills.”
Larry Bake, left, and Scott Curtis.
Other CAS Award winners included Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Television Movie or Miniseries for HBO’s Behind The Candlelabra and re-recording mixer Larry Blake, scoring mixer Thomas Vicari, Foley mixer Scott Curtis and production mixer Dennis Towns. “We didn’t need to play the costumes and, since the production sound from the shoot was so great, we had those tracks available to match at the Paramount Foley Stage,” said Curtis. “My biggest challenge was to make the pre-recorded music sound organic — like it was happening in the Las Vegas showroom,” Blake acknowledged. “I was there when Tommy Vicari recorded the score and was involved with its layout. That and getting the crowd elements to sound right; the great Eric Potter worked closely with me on that sound-effects recording aspect. In terms of overall dynamics, I treated the soundtrack just like a theatrical release.” Currently, Blake is working with director Steven Soderbergh on The Knick, a 10-part miniseries for Cinemax.
Brett Voss, left, Ronan Hill, Matthew Waters and Onnalee Blank.
The CAS Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Series – One Hour went to the team behind HBO’s Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere: re-recording mixers Onnalee Blank, CAS, and Mathew Waters, CAS, Foley mixer Brett Voss and production mixers Ronan Hill, CAS, and Richard Dyer. According to Blank, who handled dialogue and music re-recording, “During the mix, we take each scene and watch it first without our elements, just so that we can focus on the emotional sound requirements. The show is mostly looped, so I mix all the production and then I mix all the ADR. Then I ask Mat ‘Which sounds better?’ And he comes back with, ‘Who knows? I’m paying attention to my effects tracks!’ It’s a really cohesive team effort; we go scene by scene to make it sound great.”
“One of the joys of working on this show is finding out what plays the story the best,” Waters offered. “We did a show just last week, and the music started right when somebody turned around.” As Blank recalled: “We asked ourselves: ‘Is she turning around because of a music sting?’ ‘Should we try something a little less obvious?’ In the end we used an effect to emphasize the action and started the music cue a little later.”
“We have six to eight days to mix each episode,” Waters said. “It’s wonderful that HBO gives us that flexibility, because it leaves time to make decisions.” “And a lot of flexibility to try out alternatives,” interjected Blank. “Maybe we will try muting all the music, or maybe moving a cue earlier, to get more creative.” In terms of Foley elements, “We look at each sequence and try and figure out which specific character is going to work best for the particular scene,” added Voss. “Maybe somebody is working in the background, so maybe we will bring out a specific element. Very often, less is more.” “Since Foley is a character in the show,” Waters concluded, “it’s got to be real!”
Penny Harold, left, Brian R. Harman and Dean Okrand.
The CAS Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Series – Half Hour went to ABC’s Modern Family: Goodnight Gracie and re-recording mixers Dean Okrand, CAS, and Brian R. Harman, CAS, plus production mixer Stephen A. Tibbo, CAS. “We try and make it the cleanest sounding show we possibly can,” said Okrand, who handled dialogue and music re-recording. “Since the jokes are really important, the viewing audience has to hear everything; nothing can get in the way.” “It should sound real; the soundtrack shouldn’t take you out of where the characters are,” added sound supervisor Penny Harold. “For the producers, the show is all about the story, so we do not want to do anything that detracts from that importance, and our portrayal of the real world.” “After so many seasons, we know what the producers like,” concluded sound-effects mixer Harman. “They want the sound effects to be there, but not at all obvious and intrusive. The effects are mainly ‘flair’ in a scene.”
The CAS Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Non Fiction, Variety or Music – Series or Specials went to Jigsaw Productions’ History of the Eagles – Part One and re-recording mixers Tom Fleischman, CAS, and Elliot Scheiner. “Elliot supplied me with several 5.1-channel music stems of vocals, individual guitars, bass and drums,” Fleischman recalled during a phone interview from Soundtrack F/T New York, where the project was mixed in 5.1 surround. “My biggest challenge was weaving the music around the voice-overs and oncamera interviews, and making sure that each transition worked seamlessly. We did a little clean up on some of the older dialogue elements to remove camera and lighting noise, but most of it was kept documentary style. We did a final pass at John Ross’ LA facility, 424 Post, for the theatrical release because [co-producer and band member] Glen Frey couldn’t make it to New York, and a separate session for TV and cable. It was a busy mix!”
During the evening, Ray Dolby, noise-reduction inventor and founder of Dolby Laboratories was honored, including a tribute from company executive David W. Gray and archival footage of Dolby accepting the CAS Life Achievement Award at the Society’s 1989 awards ceremony.
Celebrating their 50th year, the CAS chose to have eight past Society presidents present awards in various categories: James A. Corbett, Michael Minkler, Gary Bourgeois, Edwin J. Somers, Robert Deschaine, Steve Hawk, Melissa Hofmann and Edward L. Moskowitz.
The CAS Technical Achievement Award – Production went to the Sound Devices 633 Mixer/Recorder, and the CAS Technical Achievement Award – Post-Production to iZotope RX 3 Advanced Audio Repair Suite application and DAW plug-in.
Awards sponsors included Trew Audio, 20th Century Fox, Dolby Laboratories, DreamWorks Animation, NBC/Universal Operations Group, Technicolor, Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Motion Pictures Awards Office, plus Avid, HBO and Warner Bros. Studios Facilities.
Mel Lambert has been intimately involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is a principal of Media&Marketing, a Los Angeles-based consulting service, and can be reached at


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