It’s always nice to be recognized for your work.
Doug Hemphill, a film sound mixer who lives part time in Missoula, has been nominated for an Academy Award and a British Academy Film Awards award for his work on the movie “Life of Pi.”
The Oscar nomination, for best achievement in sound mixing, is his eighth such award consideration. The BAFTA, a British equivalent to the Academy Award, nomination for best sound is his seventh. In 1993, Hemphill won the Academy Award for best sound for the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.” He has won four BAFTA awards.
Hemphill and his family own a house in Missoula, and he has been splitting time between here and Los Angeles since 1996. His sister also lives in Missoula.
“I love Missoula. I really do consider it my home. It’s very important to me,” he said.
Hemphill’s job as a recording mixer is one that he understands most people outside of the film industry likely are not familiar with. His work begins once a movie has been fully shot, cut and edited. The film’s director, along with Hemphill and a few others, get together in a theater to screen the film and balance the sound.
“It’s like what a cameraman does, like racking the focus of a camera, but for sound,” Hemphill said.
This postproduction process can take four to eight weeks, and during that work the little details can matter as much as the more grandiose scenes, Hemphill said.
“There’s a really simple scene in ‘Pi’ where he’s with the tiger and they’re dying. And we tried to make it sound like dead rain. Not ‘plip-plop’ rain, but ‘life is gone’ rain,” he said.
When he’s working on sound mixing, Hemphill said he always tries to stay in the perspective of the people who will be watching the finished product.
“I’m the audience, and I stay the audience. I don’t think about it like a technician when I’m working. My eyes always stay on the screen,” he said.
Hemphill isn’t the only person being recognized for the way “Life of Pi” sounds. The film’s composer, Mychael Danna, just won a Golden Globe for best original score. Danna is also nominated in the Academy Awards for best original score and best original song.
“His score on ‘Pi,’ I just don’t even have words for it. It was so beautiful,” Hemphill said.
He also praised “Life of Pi” director Ang Lee, who also directed movies such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Brokeback Mountain,” for being incredibly good to work with.
“Ang came out from New York and we just became such fast friends,” he said. “There’s a lot of tension in making a film, directors have done so much work and don’t always get everything they wanted on screen. But there is just so much respect among everyone, among such high octane people,” he said.
Overall, “Life of Pi” is nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture, cinematography, directing, film editing, original score, original song, production design, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects and adapted screenplay.
While he balances attending the Academy Awards and the BAFTAs, Hemphill currently is working on “A Good Day to Die Hard” after finishing up on “Hitchcock.” His next project will be “The Internship,” a comedy starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.
If it sounds a bit chaotic, it’s because it is. As a freelancer, Hemphill said he is constantly chasing after the next job.
“I work in a business that’s crisis oriented, which is silly, because we’re not solving world hunger or cancer or anything,” he said.
Hemphill has given talks about his job to students at Hellgate High School and the University of Montana, and said he intends to be back this spring to do it again.
The BAFTA awards show will take place Feb. 10, and Hemphill is flying to London for them. The Academy Awards are on Feb. 24, and while he’s excited to be there, Hemphill also said he misses Missoula desperately.
“I’d rather be in Missoula, at the Mo Club having a burger. At Kettlehouse, drinking a Bongwater,” he said.
Dillon Kato is a journalism student at the University of Montana and an intern at the Missoulian. He can be reached at 523-5251 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.