It was shortly after the Oscar nominees luncheon that we caught up with Skip Lievsay. We didn’t ask if he had double portions that day, but he’d be entitled, since he’s up for a statue in both the Best Achievement in Sound Mixing category (along with Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland) and the Best Achievement in Sound Editing as well.
And fittingly, for a dual nominee, he allowed that Academy voters might be having a “dual response” to the aural aspects of the Coen Brothers’ critically acclaimed adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about the corrosiveness –and pervasiveness – of violence.
The dual response would be to both the emotional aspects of the work—the story—and to the spare audio work, replicating the parched landscapes on the screen and the starved bewilderment of the characters (the only one who is sure of his purpose is a mass murderer).
His colleagues in the Academy probably “understood there are two types of great sound jobs,” said Lievsay, one being the wall-of-sound-like work in summer crowd-pleasers like Transformers, contrasted with the less traditional mix found in No Country.
With no traditional score to work with, Lievsay and his crew only had ambient sounds to cue the audience in terms of suspense, rising and falling action, and character motifs. Rather than carpet bombing in the mix – with blasting guns, screeching tires, music—there was a “very minimal, precision touch.”
Lievsay should know. He’s been with the Coens since Blood Simple. “They’re very interested in sound,” he says, wanting to know what kind of gun, what kind of car would be screeching away. But all without overdoing it. “It’s a story about elemental issues,” he says. “It’s about leather, and dirt, and horses…and gunshots. For us, it was about getting the best, most simple versions of those things.”
As for getting it (mostly) right the first time, “the Coens kind of demand that.” But then, “they’re happy with what we’re coming with.” And why shouldn’t they be. “I know how to do it better now than I ever have,” says Lievsay, reflecting on a career spent not only on Coen brothers films, but also overseeing much busier mixes on pictures like Goodfellas, Men in Black and more recent I Am Legend.
– By Mark London Williams
Oscar, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, No Country for Old Men (shared with Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
Oscar, Best Achievement in Sound Editing, No Country for Old Men
BAFTA, Best Sound, No Country for Old Men (shared with Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
Cinema Audio Society, Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Motion Pictures, No Country for Old Men (Shared with Peter F. Kurland, Craig Berkey and Greg Orloff)
Motion Picture Sound Editors, Best Sound Editing – Effects & Foley, Sleepy Hollow (shared with Thomas W. Small, Sean Garnhart, Lewis Goldstein, Paul Urmson, Craig Berkey, Richard L. Anderson, John Pospisil, Michael Dressel, Scott Curtis, Matthew Harrison and Tammy Fearing)
Cinema Audio Society, Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Feature Film, Men in Black (shared with Lee Dichter, Michael Barry and Peter F. Kurland)
Emmy, Outstanding Achievement in Non-Fiction Programming – Sound Mixing, 4 Little Girls (shared with J.T. Takagi and Rolf Pardula)
BAFTA, Best Sound, Silence of the Lambs (Shared with Christopher Newman and Tom Fleischman)
Written by Mark London Williams