No one has ever witnessed a level of crazy at The Oscars® like what we saw in 2017, and that includes Paul Sandweiss (shown above). He’s the audio director for the Oscars broadcast, and he was the mastermind who – along with his team – mixed all of the sound elements in The Dolby Theatre before they hit your living room in Dolby Audio™ 5.1 surround sound.
Following the Best Picture mix-up seen (and heard) ‘round the world, we were able to grab a few minutes with a gentleman who had a front row seat to the madness. “I personally have never seen anything like this happen,” said Sandweiss, and this is coming from a guy who has mixed a litany of events as complex as the Super Bowl halftime show for the past six years.
He continued: “We were just trying to get off of the air on time [before the mix-up occurred]. We’re trying to focus, and everybody is trying to finish the show. Then, we received word from our lead stage manager that something needed to be fixed. At that point, you’re sort of flying in the dark; none of us knew what was going to happen. We just had to get it right.”
Sandweiss explained that while there’s a standard time buffer for all broadcast productions, nothing on his end was censored. His biggest concern was matching what viewers were seeing on screen with what they were hearing. “It’s my job to try and represent aurally what [viewers are] seeing visually.”
Above: The Oscars mixing truck in 360-degrees.
In essence, Sandweiss was responsible for watching who was going where, what cameras were being broadcast, and what microphones should be live. “I didn’t want to open Jimmy [Kimmel]’s mic before he’s out on stage. You don’t want the viewer hearing stage direction.”
It’s easy to be critical in moments like these, but in our conversation, Sandweiss made an apt point: “If [the public] saw what goes on backstage [to make this show happen], I think they’d be in shock. It’s surprising that more things don’t go wrong on live television. We’re all human!”
We also agreed on one key point: in the end, the right result was achieved. “Once the mistake was realized,” said Sandweiss, “I don’t think you could’ve done anything else that was more honest or more transparent.”
Prior to The Oscars broadcast, Sandweiss was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter’s Carolyn Giardina, where he detailed the rollercoaster that is mixing “speeches from the podium, the audience response, video packages, music and effects” in real time, knowing that “tens of millions of viewers around the world” were listening.
It’s the kind of task that almost no one watching will stop to notice – unless, of course, something goes awry. That’s the sign of a professional doing what they’re built to do. Said Sandweiss: “It’s running on heavy adrenaline — it’s fun. You’re working with the best directors, producers, talent, crew… but it’s still a little crazy. Everyone’s watching!”
In the piece – which you can read here in its entirety – Sandweiss details the extreme lengths crews go through behind the scenes to ensure that everything is perfect come showtime, as well as throwing in a few comedic surprises about mixing a live event.
Need a few new nuggets to trot out at trivia night? Here are a few other facts about how the Oscars are heard around the world, as well Dolby’s impact on the Academy Awards:
- The broadcast signal travels from The Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles to ABC’s New York mothership, and then to a small army of satellites hovering 22,300 miles above the Earth.
- It’s estimated that several hundred million people in over 200 countries watched the telecast.
- Dolby works closely with telecast lead sound mixer Paul Sandweiss, producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd, this year’s Oscars director Glenn Weiss, and nearly 50 additional sound experts and audio engineers to bring audiences around the globe the very best sound experience possible.
- The night of the show, a team of top sound mixers manage the sound to ensure that those watching at home have the very best sound experience.
- 2017 marks the 16th year that Dolby engineers have been present to help ensure quality sound for every broadcast of the Academy Awards show.
- Dolby’s assistance in the Dolby Audio surround sound broadcast of the Academy Awards started in 2002 in the home of the Oscars, which was renamed The Dolby Theatre (formerly named the Kodak Theater) in 2013. (The Oscars were first broadcast HD and 5.1 in 2002).