Meet Peter J. Devlin

Cinema Audio Society‘s 2023 Career Achievement Award winner and Oscar® nominated production sound mixer, Peter J. Devlin spent time with us answering some questions about his long and successful career. With over 70 films to date, Devlin has worked closely with some of the top directors, including Michael Bay, Ron Howard, and Patty Jenkins. We had the chance to speak with Devlin about his work on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever from earlier this year.

Los Angeles Post Production Group: You’ve spent your career on sets mixing sound, have the changes in technology  made things better and easier, or faster and more intensive, or both?

Peter Devlin: The changes in technology has given production sound mixers advantages regarding  preserving actors performance, in difficult on set situations. This has certainly allowed our colleagues in editorial to keep that performance as recorded, through post production, and thereby minimizing ADR, which is always our end goal.

Being able to record multiple tracks and the evolution of radio mic technology has been the most significant change for my workflow on set. Having all the tools that today’s technology offers can only take you so far. It’s the experience of your fellow team members of boom operators, utilities,1st assistant sound, and 2nd assistant sound that make a huge difference.

LAPPG: Tell us about the dynamics of working closely with a cinematographer, during a shoot.

PD: I’ll give you an early example here from 1999, working with cinematographer Sal  Totino on the Oliver Stone film Any Given Sunday which was incredibly rewarding. This was Sal’s first time working with Oliver. Despite the pressures of that, each and every time where camera choices could negatively impact the work that we had to do as a sound department, Sal would understand and work with us to effect a solution. That’s true collaboration.

In pre-production for my most current project Atlas, our DP John Schwartzman was talking about the physical FX on set that could impact the soundtrack. He was looking for solutions well ahead of time. That concern and consideration allows us all to do so much better work.

LAPPG: You’ve worked on some of the biggest movies to come out of Hollywood, it looks  like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is another huge hit, were there particular challenges recording that film?

PD: Every on set environment was noisy. Having worked on the first Black Panther, I knew we would be dealing with the same obtrusive backgrounds. Our main location was next to Atlanta’s I-85, so traffic noise was always a concern on exteriors. The location certainly didn’t give the aural signature of Wakanda! Our main priority was always signal to noise and to record our actors at a level that gave our colleagues in post a chance to use every noise reduction system available to preserve even the quietest of scenes. 

The funeral sequence for T’Challa was emotional for all those that knew Chadwick and had worked on the first film. We had a large sound crew so that we could provide music playback and also record live vocals from Senegal singer Baba Malla. It was one of those scenes that you carry with you long after you recorded it, and now as I watch how it impacts an audience in the finished film, it speaks to the truth in performance that can be captured on set.  

Photo Credit: Dan Scott

LAPPG: Congrats on receiving the Cinema Audio Society’s Career Achievement Award!  How does a career spanning award like this make you feel? 

PD: I’ve been amazed at how the last 20 years have flown by, and that I’ve worked on films that have been well received by audiences and critics alike. I’m incredibly appreciative of being chosen by the CAS, and very aware of the great work that the CAS has done from those early days in the 60’s to the organization it is today.

LAPPG: Can you share with us some of your career highlights – projects or scenes that were  particularly meaningful?

PD: There are so many meaningful scenes that I have loved recording over the years, but I will say that I was a Star Trek fan as a kid, watching those movies and the TV show at home in Belfast. Meeting Leonard Nimoy and recording his last scenes as Spock was something that will always be incredibly significant.

LAPPG: Do you have any advice for the novice just starting out?

PD: Find your passion in the arts whether it be in movies, television or theatre. Find that area you want to specialize in and learn as much as you can about it. The internet can be a great tool and allow you to reach out to those whose work you admire. It was a letter that I wrote to Michael Mann in 1987 asking to visit the set of Miami Vice that changed the course of my life. 

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