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Awards Circuit Gleanings: Bullock and Bay

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 18, 2010 at 9:56AM

The week before the Golden Globes, which happens to coincide with the final days of Oscar balloting, is packed with parties, most of them designed for maximum impact with Academy voters during balloting season. The senior quotient is noticeably higher at these events, where movie stars of yore and character actors mix with current awards contenders.
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Thompson on Hollywood

The week before the Golden Globes, which happens to coincide with the final days of Oscar balloting, is packed with parties, most of them designed for maximum impact with Academy voters during balloting season. The senior quotient is noticeably higher at these events, where movie stars of yore and character actors mix with current awards contenders.

Sandra Bullock wears wigs.
At the Blind Side Oscar-press party at El Cielo last week, Sandra Bullock was radiant in red velvet. Surrounded by folks wanting their five minutes of chat, Bullock was charming, and genuinely surprised when directors P.J. Hogan and Betty Thomas turned up. (Producer Lynda Obst is more gnome-like than ever.) Bullock explained her longevity and recent winning streak with a strong work ethic instilled by her parents and keeping her blinders on when choosing projects. It's about doing your homework and not paying attention to what others are doing. Both have served her well.

Thompson on Hollywood

In other words, she works her ass off, according to writer-director John Lee Hancock. He landed her for the role of Leigh Anne Tuohy by introducing her to the woman herself. After spending a day with her in Memphis, Bullock wasn't going to let anyone else play the role. Hancock was skeptical when she first told him she would go blonde with a wig. "I have a great wig maker, trust me," she told him. He was impressed. His direction was always to avoid bathos by keeping Tuohy straight, no-nonsense (not like Tuohy herself), tough, unemotional. "Lean and mean," he said.

Alcon Entertainment's Richard Ingber cited the movie as hitting "the perfect storm": it pulled the sports demo, Bullock fans, African-Americans, and Christians. "Everyone owned it."

(Rebecca Keegan also covered the party.)

Some robot noises on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen come from washing machines.Two years ago Michael Bay mounted a detailed show-and-tell at the Sony Cary Grant Theatre, where he does the sound mix on his movies, to demonstrate how crucial the sound was to making all those robot fights make sense. (This movie went from 15 robots to 45.) He and his sound team took that to a new level of sophistication on Transformers sequel, which thanks to James Cameron's mighty Avatar , has a shot at Oscar wins only in the sound categories--even if it took 2000 people to build this crazy-noisy VFX juggernaut, which was the year's biggest grosser before Avatar stole its thunder.

For Bay, sound is 40 to 50% of the movie. "I love, love sound," he said, adding that Steven Spielberg accords sound a different percentage: 30%.

Greg P. Russell is Bay's go-to sound mixer. Since 1996's The Rock, Russell said, each movie has gotten bigger and more ambitious. "It's painting with sound."

All the sound guys at the event agreed on which Transformers 2 scene was their favorite: "Reedman," when alien ball bearings roll around on the floor as they re-form into different little robots with individual characteristic sounds. They first mixed the scene quietly as a palette cleanser, but Bay said, "Where's my sound, where's the fuckin' sound?"

"We struck a nice balance," said Russell. "Michael lets you know when something's wrong. This was the most demanding and ambitious sound mix of my career."

Sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn likes taking synthetic sounds and making them organic, and vice versa. He showed us the sound two little ball-bearing magnets make when vibrating against each other, or tossed in the air. "It's an organic sound with a synthetic edge," he said. "Like insects chattering in their own language."

The trick with a massive movie like this is keeping all the effects, dialogue and music distinct, said dialogue mixer Gary Summers, not burying them in a wall of sound. You need the sound to tell you what's happening where and to whom. Adds Russell, "you don't want to lose definition and articulation. To place sounds, you have to leave space for that sound to happen."

Sound editor Erik Aadahl has a secret recipe box full of millions of sounds, and knows how to access it. "Sound design is an abstract art," he said. "Sound is unfettered by the laws of physics. That's liberating and terrifying." You can take a kitten's meow and turn it into a giant robot motor, he said. Or collect sounds from around the house, like the creak of a door, a shaver (a Decepticon fly scout), opening an oven door (rusty ancient Decepticon), or slamming the door of the drier. "The simplest things pay off, Oftentimes you find the macro in the micro." He also took advantage of a 50s Theramin.

Prep-work is already under way on Transformers 3, Bay told me after the show-and-tell, because the powers-that-be at Paramount wanted it for 2011. He had planned to do something quieter first. But the next one will be less noisy, more of an espionage thriller focused on the characters. "This one was too big."

This article is related to: Awards, Directors, Franchises, Genres, Oscars, Transformers, Action


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.