“And the Oscar goes to…”
Most wait for the moment the leading actors, best director and top film are announced during the swanky Hollywood gala – but there’s also plenty of off-screen talent and Oscar-worthy accolade that goes into making an Academy Award winning movie.
And this year, there’s a local connection.
Montrose native Charlie O’Shea is part of a sound mixing trio up for a golden statue in a few weeks.
The Vancouver-based crew includes Salt Spring Island’s Chris Duesterdiek, the production sound mixer, and Candice Todesco, a sound assistant O’Shea has worked alongside since teaming up in the science fiction disaster film, “2012.”
On Feb. 28, the long time boom operator will find out if he can add Academy Award winner to his list of achievements following six arduous months shooting “The Revenant” – Leo DiCaprio’s adventure thriller that leads the pack with 12 Oscar nominations.
After 30 years of building his resume as a boom operator on movie and television sets, the 1981 J.L.Crowe grad, says from the onset, the sound team had an inkling “The Revenant” could produce the chance of a lifetime.
He was recommended for the job because of his experience, but on top of that, O’Shea says there was also an element of luck involved.
“All the stars aligned and we got on the right movie with the opportunity,” O’Shea told the Trail Times. “Everybody knew there was an opportunity for an Oscar with DiCaprio in the film and all the hubbub around it.”
O’Shea knew if he could stick out the demanding project, the chance of being nominated for the hottest movie of the year was high, and worth every minute of 14-hour days standing in snow and freezing water to catch the perfect sound.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “With such a star, most people knew when they got on the movie, this might be DiCaprio’s opportunity to finally get an Oscar.
Everyone is kind of riding on the coat tails of that.”
Having multiple credits from TV series like Psych and Da Vinci’s Inquest as well as hits like Godzilla and Tomorrowland, O’Shea had sound in his life well in advance of his career.
His dad and namesake, Charlie O’Shea, owned the Radio Shack in downtown Trail.
After high school graduation, he enrolled in a film program at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology). From there, the budding sound mixer moved into broadcasting at a TV station in Lethbridge.
That was where he caught the movie bug.
OShea was on set for the 1987 filming of “Betrayed,” a drama starring Debra Winger and Tom Berenger, when the rest, as they say, is history.
After working another two years sound mixing for an Edmonton TV station and training as a boom operator, O’Shea says the industry began heating up in Vancouver.
A move to the coast brought post production opportunities and an eventual in to the IATSE Local 891, a union of artists, technicians, and craftspeople who work primarily in film and television production in B.C.
“You just have to slowly build up your resume in the areas you want to work in,” he explained. “Like if you want to work on a TV series, you can pursue that avenue – but I’ve always wanted to pursue the movies,” he added.
“And I decided to stay with boom operating because I like the part about being on set with the actors.”
The principal responsibility of a boom operator is microphone placement – with the aim being to hold the microphone as close to the actors or action as possible without getting in the way of the camera.
“There are three of us on a movie who have to try and figure out how to get all the dialogue from the actors, as clearly as possible,” O’Shea explained. “So when it does go to post production, called the re-recording mixer, we give them the best sound possible given the situation we were in.”
Long days in the remote Canadian wilderness (“The Revenant” was mainly shot outside of Calgary and in Squamish) and the unconventional manner of shooting presented some unique challenges for the boom operator.
“We had minus-30 days and a lot of us had to be in hip waders for all those scenes that were shot in the water,” he said, mentioning long johns and down-filled jackets were a necessity.
“We would get there in the morning and rehearse until the light was right for the director of photography, which was in the evening before the sun went down.”
After hours of practising with stand-ins each day, the final scenes were shot in a tight time frame.
“When the director came to set we only had a certain amount of time, which was really stressful,” explained O’Shea. “For the crew to get everything the way he (Alejandro González Iñárritu, director) wanted it, we had maybe two hours.
“A lot of work went into how to coordinate all the movement.”
As award season nears and “The Revenant” buzz continues to rise, O’Shea has already moved on to his next venture.
He’s back on set in Vancouver, working on the third installment of the “Planet of the Apes” movie series.
“I’ve been hacking away at this for 30 years, so it’s a long time invested in the business,” he said. “And it takes time to gain experience, it can’t be bought, you have to go out there and do it.”
Though he won’t be in a tux or walking the red carpet at the Oscars, O’Shea is planning to fly to Los Angeles next week to mingle with peers at the Cinema Audio Society awards.
And he has some advice for other small town kids looking to break into the industry.
“I know when I grew up in Trail, Hollywood was a place a million miles away,” he said. “But now it’s an accessible place that people can be part of it whether you are working in Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal – there’s this great opportunity for young people to become animators, sound people or camera people. It’s another part of our province being diversified, and you can have a good career working in film.”