By Luke Johnson & Allen Payton
Antioch native Michael Semanick has received his tenth Academy Award nomination for Best Sound for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” and has a chance to bring home a third Oscar Trophy.
The sound mixer earned his first Academy Award nomination in 2001 for “The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring,” and later won for the first time in 2004 for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” Semanick went on to wrap his hands around more gold in 2006 for his work in “King Kong.”
Poster from the 2004 Antioch event for Semanick.
Antioch held a celebration of his first Oscar win, in 2004. Semanick gave a talk at Antioch High’s Beede Auditorium, followed by a reception at Schooner’s.
Semanick did the mixing for the latest Hobbit movie in New Zealand, last fall.
This year, he’s up against four other movies: Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Captain Phillips and Lone Survivor.
Since 1987, the 51-year-old Semanick has taken part in over 110 films, and he said it has gone by too quickly.
“Sometimes I think ‘Did I really do all that?’” Semanick said. “I don’t realize until afterwards and I say to myself, ‘Wow! That’s what I’ve been doing.’”
Before graduating from Antioch High School in 1981, Semanick found a passion for music and performing arts, and knew that was the career path he wanted to pursue since his sophomore year.
He said the best part of his success is sharing it with the Antioch community, and hopes to inspire others that come out of the small suburban town.
“I want people to say, ‘If he can do it, I can do it, too,” Semanick added.
The Oscar winner said one of his biggest mentors has been his drama teacher Theresa Rossi at Antioch High. The school’s drama program has been defunct since 2012. Semanick feels it is a shame that something that was incredibly influential to him is no longer existent.
The 86th Academy Awards ceremony will take place Sunday, March 2, at the Dolby Theater, which used to be the Kodak Theater – where they’ve been held since 2001, in Hollywood and televised on the ABC network, beginning at 4 p.m.
In a separate, two-hour conversation on Wednesday, February 19, Semanick shared more background on the Academy Awards and his work:
Nominees are always on the floor of the theater. He was seated in the back, but close enough to get up to the stage, if announced.
“Two years ago I took my daughter,” he said. “This year, I’m taking my 15-year-old son.”
The wife, daughter, and the rest of his family will be in Los Angeles, as well, and probably go to a viewing party of the live broadcast.
The studio parties are usually held on Thursday or Friday nights. Warner Brothers is having a party for all of the nominees for their movies.
The studios scaled back since 2008, with less extravagant spending even though the companies were making more money than ever.
Semanick is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences and in the Sound Mixers and Editors Union.
The various divisions of the Academy nominate their own members. Actors only nominate actors, directors only nominate directors and sound branch members can nominate for sound and best picture.
“So you’re really being chosen by your peers,” he said. “But the voting is open to any active member of the Academy. So I can vote for all the categories.”
“Technically you should have watched the movies if you’re going to vote,” said Semanick. “Voting just opened up and closes next week. I don’t want to be swayed by friendship. I ask myself oes it stand on it’s own merit
He pointed out that there’s a difference between sound editing and sound mixing, and each has its own category for Oscar nominations and awards.
On winning an Oscar:
“It can be kind of a curse,” Semanick said with a laugh. “After winning my second Oscar I stopped getting work because they assumed they couldn’t afford me, because I had raised my rates.”
He doesn’t have an agent or a public relations person.
“I’m just fortunate they keep nominating me,” he added.
On his particular craft:
“Sound in a movie is good. But it can be too loud and it pushes people out of the movie.”
The key is to keep it well balanced.
“For me it’s all about creating dynamic in a soundtrack.”
He’s working on a picture called Big Eyes, by Tim Burton, starring Amy Adams, which is based on the painters of the big eye paintings, Margaret and Walter Keane.
“It’s a drama about who actually did the paintings,” Semanick shared. “He took all the credit but she did the actual paintings, locked in a closet. It actually happened in Marin County and it’s a fascinating story.”
Then, he’ll be working on 22 Jump Street, then a David Fincher movie called Gone Girl.
Then off to New Zealand for Hobbit 3, for the third and final installment.
- The other movies for which he was nominated for an Academy Award are The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).
- To learn more about Michael Semanick, visit www.redmachinemm.com/msemanick/.
- Publisher’s Note: We wish Michael good luck, this Sunday night and will be watching with fingers crossed!