Members of the Motion Picture Editors Guild presented the MPEG Fellowship and Service Award to re-recording mixer Donald Mitchell Oct. 5, in recognition of his professionalism, collaboration, mentorship, generosity of spirit and commitment to the labor movement. Guild members and guests from the postproduction community gathered in the Star View Room of the Universal Sheridan for the presentation ceremony that included cocktails and appetizers, a sit-down dinner and a dessert bar.
Producer Peter Macgregor-Scott flew in from New York to present the prestigious award. He had worked with Mitchell on The Fugitive, which received seven Ocsar-nominations including best picture and best sound, and took home the BAFTA for best sound as well as a CAS Award for outstanding achievement in sound mixing for a feature film. Macgregor-Scott commented that the honoree, “brought an artist’s touch to the mixing board.” In accepting his honor, Mitchell credited Hollywood’s artists and crafts persons as doing the best work in the world.
Mitchell’s career in sound spanned more than 40 years. He started as an electrical draftsman at 20th Century Fox in 1955, an era when most jobs came through nepotism. Because people helped him at the beginning of his career, Mitchell said, “I tried hard to give back. I helped everyone along the way like people helped me.” Working his way up the ladder in the sound department, he got his first opportunity to mix, as well as his first Academy Award nomination of 14, on The Paper Chase (1973). He took home the Oscar for Glory in 1990.
Mitchell loved movies and had always been fascinated with the technical aspects of filmmaking. One of the most appealing things to him about his work was having “the tools and the passion to give the director what he wanted to tell his story.” Mitchell’s specialty was dialogue mixing. “I liked the challenge of saving a line that might be looped,” Mitchell said. “I always thought performances on set were better.”
For Mitchell, the biggest technical advancement in mixing was the introduction of the automated console. He also credits noise reduction by Dolby with enhancing fidelity. Some things have changed in the workflow. The three-man crew is now a two-man crew. Schedules have gotten tighter and the numbers of units and tracks have grown, but the job is still to get a good mix up on screen. “Forget about your personal life,” Mitchell advised aspiring mixers. “It is a consuming industry. It is not a nine-to-five job. From all the people I know, everyone was passionate.”
A strong proponent for the art of sound, Mitchell, is an active member of the AMPAS sound branch executive committee and served three terms on its board of governors. Along with renowned sound editor Kay Rose, he successfully advocated to keep the sound editing and mixing awards as part of the televised Academy Awards when there was a proposal to move them to the non-televised Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony.
Although he is happy to be retired, Mitchell said, “I might be the luckiest guy on the planet. I liked all of it. I don’t miss the work. I miss the people.”
On hand to celebrate with Mitchell were many of his colleagues, including picture editor Carol Littleton, ACE and sound editor Don Hall, MPSE, who were each previous recipients of the honor in 2010 and 2011 respectively; picture and music editor, Michael Tronick, ACE; sound editor and director, Vickie Rose Sampson (daughter of sound editor Kay Rose); and re-recording mixers Frank Montaño, Michael Herbick, Kevin O’Connell and Rick Kline.
The first mixer to receive the MPEG Fellowship and Service Award, Mitchell was originally a member of the sound technicians IATSE Local 695 which merged with the Editors Guild in 1998. In addition to Littleton and Hall, previous recipients of the honor include picture editors Donn Cambern, ACE (2007) and Dede Allen, ACE (2008) and IATSE international president emeritus Thomas Short (2008). Maysie Hoy, ACE chairs the Fellowship and Service Award committee.