Mark Weingarten, left, who worked on "The Social Network" and… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
The first time Ed Novick and Mark Weingarten were competing for an Academy Award, in 2009 when Novick's "The Dark Knight" was up against Weingarten's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" for the sound mixing Oscar, they both lost. The statuette went to the team for " Slumdog Millionaire."
FOR THE RECORD:
Sound mixers: An article in the Feb. 23 Calendar section about Ed Novick and Mark Weingarten, longtime friends who were competing against one another as Oscar nominees for sound mixing, said that one of the few times they had ever worked together was on a musical called "Shag" that was never released in theaters. In fact, it was released in 1989. —
This year, Novick and Weingarten are heading for a rematch, with the former nominated for his work on Christopher Nolan's dream-heist thriller "Inception" and the latter for his contributions to David Fincher's Facebook movie "The Social Network."
But you'd be hard pressed to find any real rivalry brewing between the two men. Novick and Weingarten, both 51, have been close friends since their high school days in New York at the Bronx's prestigious Horace Mann School, one of the top college prep institutions in the country, and the place where the two members of the class of '77 first bonded over a shared love of the Grateful Dead and film.
"That was fun," said Novick of the pair's initial Oscar experience, Weingarten sitting beside him. "We were at the nominees luncheon with our wives, just like we were at each other's wedding, and we were both giggling. It's still like that. Every time we see each other, we just laugh."
Novick and Weingarten's work, which involves recording the production sound as cameras roll, is one of the most unglamorous of all the below-the-line technical positions, but it's a profession in which the pair — both of whom kicked around New York University's film school at different times, though neither graduated — takes great pride.
"Sound was the job in school no one wanted to do," Novick said. "It's the ugly stepsister of cinema."
Added Weingarten, "Most people want to be either directors or cinematographers, if they want to be technicians at all."
As a film is shooting, sound mixers are tasked with placing mikes in just the right spots on the set or at a location to ensure that the director is getting the actors' dialogue and the other key sounds he needs. The sound mixer combines the different mikes used during a given day into one complete audio track, while also supplying the director and his postproduction team with individual tracks of the sounds picked up by every microphone working during a particular scene.
The job can be an exhausting one — sound mixers are on set during the entire production and are usually influential during preproduction when the director is scouting locations.
Both Novick and Weingarten endeavor to providing such clean recordings that their directors rarely have to return to the studio to re-record.
"We hopefully do a good enough job that they don't have to replace anything," said Weingarten, who was taking a breather from the set of Fincher's latest project, the English-language adaptation of the Swedish thriller "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
Added Novick, "So we keep the performance that was done on the day intact."
If their work is done improperly, it can become incredibly expensive to fix; a botched job ultimately can ruin a film.
"It's hugely important to have great production sound because without it films just don't play," said Nolan's producing partner and wife, Emma Thomas, who will work again with Novick when the new Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" begins production in May. "For a director like Chris who doesn't believe in going back — he loops as little as possible and, knock wood, he has never had to do reshoots — without someone like Ed, that might not be possible."
Eating lunch on the Paramount lot, the two men were quick to reminisce about the old days, especially with Novick surprising Weingarten with a two-decades-old photo strip taken at a carnival booth to mark one of the few occasions they worked together. It was on a musical called "Shag" that shot in South Carolina but was never released in theaters.
"That's awesome," said Weingarten of the photos, harkening back to his summer of fun in Myrtle Beach. "We were children."
Added Novick, "We're still children, just with gray hair."
Since both men have risen through the ranks to head up the production sound department, they often compete for the same jobs, like the time Novick walked out of Alan Ball's office after meeting on the film "Towelhead" only to see Weingarten walk in.
"If I'm not going to get the job, I'd rather he did," said Novick, who lost out on that gig to Weingarten.
The two say that they love getting dressed up for the Academy Awards, where, as you'd expect, they'll be rooting for each other as much as for themselves and their respective teams. Novick has been nominated for "Inception" along with Lora Hirschberg and Gary Rizzo, both sound re-recording mixers. Weingarten is nominated for "The Social Network" with Ren Klyce, sound designer, sound re-recording mixer, supervising sound editor; David Parker, sound re-recording mixer; and Michael Semanick, sound re-recording mixer.
Still, they insist the biggest accolades come from those directors who consistently hire them for project after project.
"It validates that you've done a really good job when people are willing to stand up and say, 'We want him, that's our guy,' " Weingarten said.
Novick agreed: "When Chris Nolan says, 'I'm doing another picture and I want you to be there,' that's cool."