Sound mixer Greg P. Russell talks creating ‘dynamic range’ on ‘Transformers’

We’ve talked to Greg P. Russell here at In Contention numerous times over the years, stretching back, I think, to his work on 2006’s “Apocalypto.” He’s amassed 14 Oscar nominations throughout his career (including two in 1998), but the statue has eluded him.

This is kind of what I’m talking about when I harp on the fact that the Academy at large just doesn’t think all that hard about its choices throughout the crafts categories. From member to member, I’d be shocked if the difference between sound editing and sound mixing is all that considered or even known. It’s all about favorite movies when they get to those categories, which explains why other talented craftsmen like Roger Deakins and Kevin O’Connell have also gone Oscarless all this time despite often cranking out some of the best work in their fields.

Films like “The Rock” and “Con Air,” therefore, just don’t win Oscars. But Russell’s contribution to those kinds of films is substantial, as it was this year on “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

As part of a “Contenders” series, Russell recently participated in an interview with Below the Line, a trade paper that’s been doing great work spotlighting craft talent for years. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

“Definition, detail and a great dynamic range are absolutely essential to focusing an audience on what you want them to hear at every given moment throughout the course of a movie…Too many sounds are just going to mud out the mix. You cannot hear seven or eight things on top of each other. It”s just not feasible.”

On that note, Russell told me a while back that when producer Steven Spielberg first watched the finished product of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” he turned to him and said something along the lines of, “It was big and bold and never hurt my ears,” which is the kind of thing a mixer loves to hear.

Russell also, as always, showers director Michael Bay with a lot of love in the Below the Line piece. You always hear the horror stories about working on Bay films, but the guy has forged a committed crew over the years and always fights for them this time of year, hoping that their work can get the proper awards recognition. Says Russell:

“I am a much better mixer today, having worked on Michael Bay films. Having a long history with a director is a phenomenal thing, because you come to understand their own unique processes.”

I don’t think Russell will have any problem getting into the final five yet again this year and picking up his 15th Oscar nomination. But the issue of the Academy’s education on what makes a mix like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” so special will likely be another hurdle for him.

One day, though, he’s going to get his due.

Here’s a recent SoundWorks Collection profile on the sound of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” that’s worth re-posting:

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

Sign up for Instant Alerts from In Contention!