Sometimes, it’s the fashions that make Oscars® news: in 2012, it was Angelina Jolie’s leg-baring gown. Sometimes, it’s the speeches, such as Sally Field’s exclamation, “You like me, right now, you like me!” when she received the Academy Award® for Best Actress in 1985.
You might gasp or laugh at home. But imagine the sharp intake of breath or cheering delight of 3,000 people around you. Dolby has long been a part of the Academy Awards broadcast, and this year the plan is to make it a richer sound experience—as though you’re there, in the middle of the Dolby® Theatre(SM).
Gary Epstein, Product Marketing Manager at Dolby and a Grammys® broadcast veteran, consults on the Academy Awards broadcast. He pointed out some of the differences audiences will experience with this year’s Oscars broadcast.
Lab Notes: More than 39 million people watched the Academy Awards on TV last year. What are the mixing challenges that you face during a live broadcast of this magnitude?
Gary Epstein (GE): During a live broadcast like this, the mixing challenges can be amazingly difficult. You’ve got a podium microphone, and you might have a presenter who’s very short, or very tall, with a strong voice, or a weak voice, standing far from the podium, or close to it.
You want to get the enthusiasm from the room, because you want the people watching at home to feel like they’re a part of this show—but you don’t want the sound of the live audience to overwhelm the presenter’s microphone. All of those variables affect how you capture the sound of the show versus the sound of the hall.
Lab Notes: What makes this year’s Oscars broadcast so special for you?
GE: This year, the Oscars are being broadcast from the Dolby Theatre, and we have an even bigger stake in making sure it’s the best possible audio experience from inside the theatre all the way out to the viewers at home.
Dolby has been involved in the surround sound broadcast of the Academy Awards since day one, but that doesn’t mean that every show is the same. The broadcast sound signal starts with the stage, the podium, the audience, the voiceover introductions, and the film clips, which may have quiet dialogue, or bombastic orchestral music, or heavy artillery fire. This year’s production will feature more live musical presentations, too.
Lab Notes: What are some of Dolby’s responsibilities at the Oscars?
GE: Prior to the live broadcast of the show, Dolby personnel are helping the show mixer and crew make sure that everything is calibrated properly and equipment is working right. The show is rehearsed and rehearsed, and we listen to it in every possible way a viewer at home can listen to it.
On the day of the show, we make sure that things are stable and stay that way through the live broadcast. My responsibility during the broadcast is to listen.
The show’s mixer, Paul Sandweiss, has to split his listening attention between the show he’s creating and what the director is asking for, and know what’s coming up next. So he wants us to give him valuable information about what we’re hearing in Dolby’s calibrated listening room in Los Angeles, to compare with what he’s hearing from his speakers in the mixing truck.
Like Paul, we have the ability to listen [in 5.1 surround and] in stereo, as well, and listen in mono, to make sure that everything is working for backward compatibility to every possible way a listener could hear this show. We tell Paul how it sounds in real time in the listening room, and he then can make subtle changes that can improve the sound for everybody. Our critical listening-room feedback gives Paul further confidence in the audio that he has crafted.
Lab Notes: What is your ultimate goal when it comes to this kind of broadcast, and what does it take to pull it off?
GE: We want to help Paul deliver his concept from the theatre to the home, and ideally, make home viewers feel like they are actually in a seat in the audience.
The success of a broadcast like this relies upon a team that pulls together every year. It’s great that we have been invited to be a part of this, and it’s really great that it’s coming from the Dolby Theatre this year and we can contribute even more to the audio experience.
Gary Epstein sounded off on the differences you’ll hear this year. What are you hoping to hear from the Oscars broadcast?