The Oscar-Nominated Sound Mixers: Deb Adair of ‘Moneyball’

Who needs action and special effects to get an Oscar nod for sound mixing? Not ‘Moneyball,’ which impressed the Academy with its blasts of silence as well as cracking bats

“Moneyball” is by far the quietest movie currently up for an Oscar for best achievement in sound mixing — notwithstanding a few crowd eruptions and literally game-changing cracks of the bat.

Previously an Emmy and Golden Reel winner, Deb Adair picked up her first Oscar nod for her work on the film (along with colleagues Ron Bochar, David Giammarco, and Ed Novick). TheWrap talked with her about how a sports film that is light on sports — and consists largely of debates in stadium caverns — found its place as a nominee alongside louder fare like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

When people think of sound making a big impression, they tend to think less about character- and dialogue-driven movies like “Moneyball” than things that clang.

Definitely. [Laughs] I like that — "things that clang." Yeah, it’s awesome to be recognized by the sound branch of the Academy. It’s not the typical kind of big, action-packed film that gets nominated for sound. Not a single explosion in this film!

“Moneyball” is in Dolby 5.1. On a non-FX movie, is it just as important to envelope people with sound as on an action picture?

I think it’s actually more crucial. Because with an action movie, you see an explosion, you hear an explosion. With dialogue-heavy movies, you have to play with subtlety more, and even just a quiet background sound you’re hearing can affect the audience in some way.

What do you think stood out to the Academy?

I think the creative way that we used sound to create environments and to kind of subtly comment on what the characters were feeling and where their heads were at in certain scenes. We worked a lot on painting the contrast between ithe stadium with the game and the excitement and being down below with Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his isolation. And I think people really responded to those moments where we used silence.

It’s a baseball movie without many baseball scenes — mandated by a lead character who says he never watches the games. You had to suggest something big going on out there beyond the concrete walls, without actually showing it very often.

Exactly. The director, Bennett Miller, described the locker room and down underneath the stadium as like being inside a submarine.

Can you think of a scene where sticking with silence was crucial?

Instantly my mind goes to the scene they call “Game 20.” It’s when Billy is driving in his truck, and his daughter calls and tells him to go back to the stadium. The A’s are up by 11, and when Billy gets there, they start losing. At the end of the scene, [Scott] Hatteberg hits the home run to win the game. That was a scene where we chose to go from the crowd’s roar to silence at one point. You’re kind of in the head of Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and it’s where he makes his decision to substitute Hatteberg to go up to bat. The first time I saw that with an audience, you could almost hear the audience gasp. They just weren’t expecting it. So that was a pretty cool experience.

And the purpose of that was to give the audience a jolt of silence?

Yeah, a jolt of silence. [Laughs] Also, there’s a great scene where Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) has to fire somebody for the first time. Billy Beane tells him how to do it — just tell 'em straight up that they’re fired, basically. And there’s this long pause of pure silence after he fires the guy, and it’s just great, because it’s one of those awkward moments that happens in real life between people.

Did you ever feel like you needed to muffle the crowd noise a little during the outside stadium scenes just so you wouldn’t blast people out of their seats after the quieter stretches inside?

We kind of wanted to blast people out [when that shift happens]. It was important for the director to really play that contrast. So a lot of times when we’re cutting back and forth, there were pretty big dynamics between the scenes.

People probably don’t think of “Moneyball” as a period piece per se, but there are definite period elements you were dealing with, not to mention real-life elements. Did those pose any specific challenges?

The archival MLB broadcasts we used were at times distorted and overmodulated. A lot of them had crowd and music tied to the announcer, and to bring the voice out was a little bit of a challenge. And then we also had ADR that we recorded to emulate an announcer and the crowd, if there was something specific we wanted the announcer to say. So to incorporate those two things together was a bit of a challenge. Of course the stuff that we recorded in a pristine setting I had to kind of dirty up to match the archival stuff. There were also instances in the stadium where we had the actual (vintage recording of an) announcer introducing a player, and then we had an (actor’s) ADR that was recorded, so to try to match those voices was a little tough, too.

You’ve been with Sony since 1999, so the job seems to be working out for you.

Gosh, I just love everything about it. I love the creative process and working with the director and the sense of accomplishment when you finish something and everybody’s happy. And there’s all this new equipment coming out, and it’s a blast, learning it and playing around with it. Every day at some point I think to myself, “Wow, I can’t believe they pay me to do this.”