Motion Picture Academy's craft series spotlights music and sound


Uncovering secrets, explaining complex technology, building a historical record — they're all part of the mission of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Its latest program, “Spotlight on Crafts: Music & Sound,” starts tomorrow in New York.

"The Academy hosts an annual series dedicated to the craft of making movies," Patrick Harrison explained in a phone interview. "This is our third program, following series dedicated to animation and screenwriting."

Harrison, the director of New York programs and membership for the Academy, notes that many film series focus on directors or actors. "We try to make an effort to be inclusive in our programming. The idea is to educate the public, get them interested in all of the crafts associated with filmmaking, and increase their appreciation for film and film history."

The program opens at Film Forum tomorrow, May 20, with one of Hollywood's great adventures, The Adventures of Robin Hood, a Technicolor swashbuckler starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The Academy is sponsoring a discussion with two Oscar winners: sound designer Ben Burtt (Star Wars) and visual-effects supervisor Craig Barron (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Using clips, they will demonstrate how Warner Bros. technicians achieved the movie's wonderful sound effects. For example, what exactly went into the distinctive "zing" sound of arrows hitting their targets? Robin Hood set such high technical standards, for cinematography, as well as its soundtrack, that other filmmakers borrowed from it for years.

On May 23 at the Museum of Modern Art, "We'll Fix It in the Mix" showcases two brilliant, New York-based re-recording mixers: Lee Dichter and Tom Fleischman. Dichter is a frequent collaborator with Woody Allen (Café Society, Blue Jasmine), while Fleischman has been Oscar-nominated five times, winning for Hugo. Backed with clips, they will discuss their careers and explain how their work can change how viewers experience cinema. They will also talk about the creative process itself. For example, how do you collaborate with a director like the late Jonathan Demme, who had such sophisticated tastes in music?

Also at MoMA on June 15, "Layers: How to Build a Soundtrack from the Ground Up" assembles a sound team to describe how sound design is achieved in contemporary movies. The panel includes supervising sound editor and dialogue editor Philip Stockton, supervising sound editor and effects designer Eugene Gearty, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Paul Hsu, music editor Suzana Peric and supervising ADR editor Deborah Wallach.

"Deborah Wallach is also on the Academy membership committee," Harrison says. "We discussed putting together an evening where all these experts could come together and explain their contributions in creating sound from a music-editing standpoint, an ADR standpoint, a sound-recording standpoint. And it turns out that many of the team had just worked on The Promise, and they were all very happy to get together again to talk about their process."

Harrison is especially excited about "Made You Look: Four Decades of Hip-Hop's Impact in Cinema," screening at the SVA Theatre over four Tuesdays in June. Guest curated by hip-hop scholar and archivist Martha Diaz, the series includes the iconic Menace II Society (June 13), directed by the Hughes Brothers, and 8 Mile (June 20), from Curtis Hanson, during his life a staunch advocate of film preservation.

Opening the series is Wild Style (June 6), Charlie Ahearn's groundbreaking 1983 film about graffiti and hip-hop. Wild Style introduced an unknown culture to an entirely new audience, bringing artists like Donald Joseph White, Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy into repertory theatres. The music, fashion, and even slang in this film quickly spread throughout popular culture. Ahearn will introduce the film and take part in a post-screening discussion.

The final film in the series, Nas: Time Is Illmatic (June 27), is a documentary portrait of the 1994 album from the multi-platinum artist. Directed by One9, the movie also collects testimony from significant figures in East Coast hip-hop. (Coincidentally, Illmatic sampled music from Wild Style.) One9 and writer Erik Parker will join Martha Diaz for a Q&A session after the screening.

"Hip hop has made its way onto Broadway with Hamilton," Harrison points out. "Its influences just can't be ignored."

“Spotlight on Music & Sound” is an exclusively New York program, although the Academy's Los Angeles branch sponsors similar series.

"Our mission is to preserve movies, but also to educate and inspire the next generation of filmmakers," says Harrison. "We do that through our awards show, but also through programming. Our series are designed to increase appreciation for film and film history. And speaking personally, I like these programs because the more people learn about crafts, about the departments in making film, the more likely it will be that they sit through film credits."