Could The Hurt Locker Take Sound Oscars?

Mar 1, 2010 6:50 PM, By Blair Jackson



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Six months ago, it looked as though The Hurt Locker, though critically acclaimed, would go down in history as yet another Iraq war film that didn’t perform at the box office and be forgotten. But then something extraordinary happened. Critic after critic put it on their year-end “Best of 2009” lists and the film started to gain new momentum. Everyone, it seemed, loved that film and it just wouldn’t go away. It was nominated for several Golden Globes and a number of other prestigious awards, and then when it was released on video (do we still call it that?), it got a whole new life: Everyone who had thought about seeing it but hadn’t suddenly leapt at the chance to finally screen it—myself included. (I’m usually very good about seeing films in theaters, but last summer and fall I was swamped with a few big projects and missed a bunch.)

Anyway, I saw the film in HD on the “big” screen in my living room, and was blown away by every aspect of it—the story was terrific, the script natural and compelling, superb acting. And I loved the sound design. Now, going into it, I had no idea who had done the sound, but while I was watching it, I was struck by the way the sound job combined a stark and gritty realism with scenes that showed tremendous imagination and creativity. I was particularly amazed by one scene toward the end of the film that had the same nearly hallucinatory feeling of parts of Apocalypse Now, and it was the sound design—specifically, things we heard but didn’t see—that really carried the emotion of the scene. At the end of the film, I watched through the credits (as I always do; I can’t count the number of times I’ve been the last guy to leave the theater at some multiplex) and was delighted to learn that the principal sound man on the film was Paul Ottosson, whom I interviewed a few years ago about his work on Spider-Man 2 (which earned him an Oscar nomination).

Ottoson's a good guy and great craftsman, so I contacted him literally a couple of hours after I’d seen The Hurt Locker to see if he was up for talking a bit about his work on the film. A few days later—coincidentally, on the eve of this year’s Academy Award nominations—I interviewed him over the phone. I learned he had already been nominated for a BAFTA (that’s the British film awards group), so I obviously wasn’t the first guy to figure out that the sound for The Hurt Locker was something special. Indeed, Ottosson—who was sound designer, supervising sound editor and the sole re-recording mixer on what was a fairly low-budget (by Hollywood standards) film—garnered two Oscar nominations—for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (where his co-nominee is production mixer Ray Beckett). He’s up against some of the best in the business, too, all of them representing big-budget films: In Editing—Chris Boyes and Gwen Whittle for Avatar; Wylie Stateman for Inglourious Basterds; Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin for Star Trek; and Michael Silvers and Tom Myers for Up. And in Mixing—Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson for Avatar; Mike Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano for Inglourious Basterds; Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter Devlin for Star Trek; and Greg Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

I’m not copping out when I say, sincerely, that any of those films could win and you wouldn’t hear a complaint out of me. But there is something about Ottosson’s work on The Hurt Locker that really affected me deeply—it felt so intimate and real and it was such an important part of the fabric of that film. And, truth be told, there’s a part of me that always roots for the underdog; for the folks who didn’t have the luxury of endless resources, which was certainly the case with Ottosson and The Hurt Locker. Now, though, just days away from the Oscars, is Ottosson even the underdog? After all, he just won the sound award at the BAFTAs!

But let’s not get hung up on awards. It’s about “the work,” as everyone likes to say, so take a read through Ottosson's words about his work on The Hurt Locker.

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