Kevin O’Connell: Oscar bridesmaid
I don’t like to lose. My hyper-competitive upbringing has instilled in me a win-at-all-costs mentality. It’s also made me a big-time hypocrite. I sit and lecture my children on how we play games to have fun, and that winning and losing doesn’t matter, all while I’m smoking them for the 300th consecutive time at Sorry!, Trouble, checkers, and chess. That’s right, you heard me — I go full-force against my children in board games. Let the kids win, you say? Whatever for that.
So I took the Oscars pretty hard last year. for 19-time Oscar nominee — and 18-time non-winner — Kevin O’Connell in the Sound Mixing category for his work on Apocalypto. We got him onto the back page of the magazine. We followed up online. We put him on Oprah! (Okay, I can’t say I had much of anything to do with the Oprah booking, but as a campaign manager you have to learn to take credit for anything and everything.) Alas, when the big night came, Kevin was left trophy-less again. The night would only get worse. Right after his category was announced he rushed to be by his ill mother Skippy’s side. She died that evening. Not only that, but while he was there, one of the Sound Mixing Oscar winners, Michael Minkler (Dreamgirls), had this to say at the backstage press conference.
”I think Kevin should just like maybe just go away with 19 wins and just call it a record and that would be the end of it. We work really, really hard at what we do, all of us do in our craft. And if we, you know, stumble upon an award like this, you know, if somebody is willing to honor us with something like this, we are so grateful. And I just wonder what Kevin’s trying to do out there by trying to get an award by using sympathy. And Kevin’s an okay mixer but enough’s enough about Kevin…. I just think that maybe he should just take up another line of work.”
Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down. Minkler has justifiably been raked over the coals for his comments. Dude, you just won an Oscar! Show a little class. (I would like to point out, however, that I had some correspondence last year with another Dreamgirls winner, Bob Beamer, who couldn’t have been more pleasant, especially after I jokingly referred to him as a ”clown” in print. Beamer’s okay in my book.)
So, Oscar night 2007 didn’t go so great. I remember e-mailing Kevin after, saying, ”We’ll get ‘em next year.” Well, guess what? It’s next year! And not only that, but O’Connell is once again nominated, for his sound mixing work in Transformers. And I gotta say, I feel good about 2008. Really good. Last year, I figured Kevin was a longshot for two big reasons. First off, he was nominated for his work on a Mel Gibson movie, and coming off of Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic remarks, there were a lot of people in Hollywood that simply were not going to vote for a Mel Gibson movie. Secondly, there were a lot of folks — like me — who don’t know a whole lot about sound mixing who probably automatically voted for Dreamgirls because it was a musical, figuring that sound and music simply go together. (This is not to dis and dismiss the work on Dreamgirls, which I am sure is first-rate, just an obvious point that it — as a musical — was probably a natural choice for a lot of people.)
This year, however, is a different story: No Mel, and no splashy musicals to get in the way. The competition — Ratatouille, 3:10 to Yuma, No Country for Old Men, The Bourne Ultimatum — all seem to have a pretty equal shot at a win. That’s good news for Kevin. And even better news for me if Kevin keeps to last year’s promise to thank me from the Oscar stage. (Although after 20 nominations, I’m not exactly sure how high I’ll be on that list. Probably somewhere between ”Annoyed Man in Library” and ”Slushing Lady” from City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, another O’Connell masterpiece.) In any event, I called Kevin earlier this week to see how he’s feeling heading up to the big night. It was a trying year for him with the loss of his mother, who got him into the sound business to begin with, but he is looking forward to busting out the tuxedo once again and having a swell time on Feb. 24 — win or lose.
So, Kevin, I imagine your mom has been in your thoughts a lot as the ceremony gets closer?
Definitely. It seemed like all of my life, those first 19 nominations I had, I was trying to win for her. At this point, obviously she’s not around any more, and so now the focus is on my own family. It would be nice to get the monkey off the back.
What sound-wise was the biggest challenge for you on Transformers?
It took an army of people to bring Transformers to the screen in terms of sound, including my partner Greg Russell, who is also up for his 12th nomination this year without a win. The biggest challenge at the end of the day was to provide a soundtrack as clear and defined as Transformers was without it becoming a train wreck with so many sounds happening on the screen at one time.
So you needed to show some restraint?
Greg and I have been working on many action films and we look at each shot on the screen and decide, what’s important and what should we be hearing for that one shot. And then the next shot may be completely different. So all the sounds that go in one shot may not make any sense on the next one, so we don’t even need to hear them, they don’t even need to be there. We just try to focus on what’s happening on the screen at that time.
Dreamgirls was obviously the favorite last year. Who do you think is your biggest competition this time around?
I actually think this year there is a really level playing field. I think all of the films are excellent sound mix choices. I don’t know if we have a frontrunner. I think that because No Country for Old Men is up for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director — what happens is that they have a huge campaign behind the film, and the sound gets kind of lumped in that as well. So if anyone has a little bit of an advantage, it’s No Country For Old Men. But if it wins, it was a great sound job, so it deserves to win as well. I believe that any film that wins this year is worthy of the award.
NEXT PAGE: Kevin O’Connell on Michael Minkler’s comments last year, whether this is finally his year, and just what the hell is Space Chimps?