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Exploring Sounds of The Heart and Soul In "The Revenant"
Martín Hernández
Martín Hernández garners Oscar nomination for 2nd straight year
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For the second consecutive year on the basis of his work on an Alejandro G. Iñárritu film, Martín Hernández has earned a Best Achievement in Sound Editing Oscar nomination, this time for The Revenant. (Twentieth  Century Fox). In 2015, the nod--shared with Aaron Glascock--came for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The current nomination is shared with supervising sound editor/sound designer Lon Bender, a four-time Academy Award nominee who won in 1996 for Braveheart; his other noms came for Blood Diamond in 2007 and Drive in 2012.

Among this year’s leading tally of a dozen Oscar nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director), The Revenant also gained recognition in another audio category, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing for Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek.

Hernández, who served as co-supervising sound editor/sound designer on The Revenant, enjoys and cherishes a special bond with Iñárritu, which goes back many years, to their days together in college in Mexico City, to shooting a short film on Super 8 every weekend during their early days together with Hernandez as the self-described “sound guy” working closely alongside then aspiring composer Iñárritu and another buddy who directed. Iñárritu and Hernandez then got a break at a local radio station as DJs, proving to be quick learners, going from inexperienced artisans to attaining popularity among Mexico City listeners. Their gig there also gave them access to sophisticated audio equipment where they wrote and recorded, experimenting with the potential of sound. After some six years of success in radio, Iñárritu wanted to try something different, which took the form of scriptwriting and then directing, yielding his first feature as a director/producer, Amores Perros, which was released in 2000. Hernández was sound designer/sound effects recordist and supervising sound editor on Amores Perros and has since worked on all of director Iñárritu’s films.

The Revenant is an epic story of survival and transformation on the American frontier in the 19th century. DiCaprio portrays legendary explorer Glass who survives a bear mauling and then the betrayal of a member of his hunting team, John Fitzgerald played by Tom Hardy. Fitzgerald was supposed to protect the seriously injured Glass but instead left him for dead--after killing his son. Alone and seemingly on the verge of death, Glass refuses to succumb, driven by sheer will and love for his late Native American wife and son. Glass undertakes a grueling 200-mile odyssey through the vast and untamed West on the trail of Fitzgerald. What begins as a relentless pursuit of revenge becomes a heroic quest to return home, resulting in a personal, spiritual saga of redemption.

The Revenant’s other Oscar nominations are for Best Cinematography (Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, ASC, AMC), Editing (Stephen Mirrione, ACE), Production Design (Jack Fisk, production designer; Hamish Purdy, set decorator), Costume Design (Jacqueline West), Leading Actor (DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Hardy), Visual Effects (Richard McBride, Matt Shumway, Jason Smith, Cameron Waldbauer), and Makeup & Hairstyling (Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman, Robert A. Pandini).


For The Revenant, Hernández reflected on the prime creative challenges that the movie posed to him as an artist. “Alejandro is always looking for the sound to reflect the characters and their environment. There’s a long process in discovering what sounds do justice to the characters and the story. We have the natural environment which is the first obvious place to search. But for Alejandro, that’s the least of his problems. There are a lot of people who can cut sound for nature. He wants that along with something much deeper. He wants the sound to tell the emotional state and the path taken by a character. We had a long conversation about all that when he was shooting. Without any images, I began exploring different sounds, pieces of sound that have emotional meaning to me. Random music that I liked, considering if these sounds and music fit the emotion, if they belong or not in the film. It’s an exercise, an exploration. It’s a way to start conversations and get Alejandro’s feedback. It’s about taking music and sound and putting them together to bring an important emotional feel to the movie.”

In Birdman, music and sound design meshed in a special way. Hernández built tracks by cutting takes of drum playing by Antonio Sanchez. Sound design came at times by cutting the music and deploying and adapting it to fit scenes. Hernández said that Iñárritu deeply values the storytelling power of sound, and some of the lessons learned from Birdman were applied to The Revenant--a prime lesson being how music and sound can become one, along with dialogue and visuals, to help tell and drive the story, to provide insights into each character.

Deploying sound to help delve into the heart and soul of characters is a constant process, shared Hernández who observed that perhaps “the biggest challenge is Alejandro himself. He sets a very high standard for himself. He is the reference point for everyone around him. He always want to explore more, research more. Even once we think we’ve gotten there, he strives to find something a little bit better. He is my friend. I’ve worked with him on all of his films. We’ve worked together for so long. We speak literally the same language. Yet every time, despite our familiarity with each other, it’s always a challenge--a very beautiful challenge. I’m grateful for that challenge, to be put in a place like that with someone like him.”

Also in the running for the Sound Editing Oscar are Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, Sicario and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Hernández said he is happy, grateful and humbled to be nominated, particularly to be included in the company of such a field of high caliber nominees. “That said, no one should expect anything going into a project but the gratification of your work,” observed Hernández. “To me that’s the big prize. The biggest award is if a director like Alejandro calls again and says I need you on this next film. That is the award. Anything beyond that [like an Oscar nomination] happens if it happens. It’s welcomed but completely out of my control and expectation.”

This is the 12th in a multi-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies, SHOOT’s February print issue (and PDF versions) and on The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards. The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 28, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

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