21-time Oscar nominee gets 1st win with 'Hacksaw Ridge'

Kevin O'Connell opens up about making the film and his historic nomination.

ByLESLEY MESSER
February 26, 2017, 10:25 PM

— -- There aren't many people who have received more Oscar nominations than Kevin O'Connell.

The "Hacksaw Ridge" sound mixer had received 21 nominations prior to taking home his first Academy Award on Sunday.

When asked about the distinction earlier in January, O'Connell said simply that he believes "everything happens for a reason."

"I've had the opportunity to work on some great films with some great people, with some great crews, but unfortunately, we haven't gotten a check in the win column yet," he said. "But I don't hold any animosity toward anybody. I'm not upset about it. I still feel honored just to be privileged enough to be nominated so many times and to be honest with you, this morning when I got nominated, I was just as excited as I was the first time!"

O'Connell, 59, began working in the entertainment industry about 40 years ago, earning his first Oscar nomination in 1983 for "Terms of Endearment." More nominations followed, including one in 2000 for his work on "The Patriot," the first of several collaborations he's had "Hacksaw Ridge" director Mel Gibson. In addition to the nomination for sound mixing, the World War II drama, which is based on a true story, earned five other Oscar nods, including one for best director for Gibson.

Making "Hacksaw Ridge" was a special experience, O'Connell said. He noted that Andrew Garfield, who's also nominated for an Oscar, and the rest of the cast "gave that movie 100 percent," which he said inspired those who worked behind the scenes to "step up to the plate to make the audience feel that they are in the middle of the battlefield with Andrew, Luke [Bracey], and Vince Vaughn."

"The Battle of Okinawa was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific, and it looks 100 percent real. It was up to us on the sound team to translate that realism to the screen through the use of sound because what many people don't know is a lot of these battle scenes are shot without any sound, and every single sound in the movie needs to be replaced," he said.

He continued: "Every single explosion, every gunshot every ricochet, every footstep have all been recreated to give the film that sense of realism."

O'Connell said his team used weaponry sounds from the time period, but amplified them to make them more dynamic. They also took advantage of the fact that new sound systems, which have 56 speakers around the theater rather than 10, have become ubiquitous. The increased number of speakers allowed O'Connell and his colleagues to "pinpoint the sound of the artillery, the incoming explosions, the incoming missiles, the incoming bullets -- and place them all around the theater."

The result, he said, is that the movie should make viewers feel like they're in the middle of a battlefield.

Given the work he and his team put into mixing the sound for "Hacksaw Ridge" (in total, it took about eight to 10 weeks in Australia and California), O'Connell said ahead of the awards that he thought that he had "a great shot" to take home a trophy. When he finally won on Sunday, he said he was thankful for the recognition.

"It was the greatest feeling in my entire life and I'm so grateful for the opportunity," he said. "I'm so grateful. It's amazing."

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