Don Hall’s Devotees: Some Words from His Admirers…

Don Hall.
Erik Aadahl.

– Compiled by Bill Desowitz

I met Don in 1997 as his student. Little did I know of his legacy, but as the semester progressed, I realized that my USC sound teacher was in fact a giant in Hollywood––a sound editor and supervisor on some of the greatest film titles of all time, not to mention a Governor in the Sound Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Don taught me how to listen, to find the magic in whistling wind and the music in whistling birds. As the very best teachers do, he unlocked another reality for me.

Don possesses a gift, something that comes naturally to him but eludes most: Class. He is a gentleman who reminds me of the stars from the Golden Age of cinema––all warmth, all humility, all genuine. And all Don Hall.

Congratulations, my friend; you’re an inspiration.

Erik Aadahl

Student; Supervising Sound Editor

***

There’s a reverence for Don Hall that goes beyond the fact that he is an esteemed sound editor and teacher. Students affectionately refer to Don as the “Sound Yoda.” But that’s just the thing; he is a man to be revered, but he is also grounded enough to appreciate the joke.

Working beside him for over three years and seven classes as his teaching assistant, I’ve observed certain predictabilities with the incoming students. Generally speaking, they don’t know what to make of this class on Sound (they are in film school to be directors, after all), and they certainly don’t know what to make of this Don Hall, who, because of his kind eyes, and maybe his vague resemblance to their grandfather, is not like the other gregarious and sometimes belligerent teachers they are probably used to. Don offers a quick welcome with his gentle, kind voice. Then he tells an off-kilter joke, and the students giggle (“Wait, did he just say that?”). Then he tells another, maybe picking on one of the students, or himself, or me––and then the students are laughing and suddenly engaged.

And the semester rolls on. Don rarely drops reference to his awards or credits––not because of false modesty, but because what he wants to impart to his students is his experience distilled into digestible chunks of PowerPoint-friendly wisdom. He is as quick to admonish a student for carelessly calling elements of his soundtrack “noises” as he is to commend a student for her hard work. After class, when it’s lunch time, he asks me to round up the herd––that is, any teacher, sound student or staff––for what we have affectionately termed “family dinner.” This is, of course, on Don.

It’s hard to describe, but you learn so much from Don, not just about sound, and even when he isn’t teaching. Really, when you are around Don, you become his student; you become subject to his wisdom, spirit and generosity––and you can’t help but take something away from that.

Valen Alexis Hernandez

Student; Sound Editor/Mixer

Don Hall receives the John H. Bonner Medal of Commendation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2006. Photo Courtesy of Don Hall

***

We are extremely proud that Don Hall is being honored and acknowledged by the Motion Picture Editors Guild. Don is a true professional, having performed an excellent and outstanding job as sound editor and sound supervisor. He worked well with the full gamut of a film crew.

Don possessed an uncanny recognition of talent, allowing people to develop their potential to the utmost. Whether it’s in Foley, dialogue, ADR, sound effects or mixing, his subtle guidance and nurturing spirit were forever felt.

He was a mentor with his humble quiet demeanor––extremely generous with his knowledge, which is still apparent to this day with his current involvement at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

With the support of his loving family, we have been blessed with Don’s kindness, generosity of spirit and heartwarming soul.

Skippy O’Connell, John Bonner, Kay Rose, Dede Allen, Paul Huntsman, Joey Ippolito and Jay Engel––to name a few of the departed who loved him––would have been so very proud of him.

Bobbi Banks.

Carmen Baker

Colleague; Supervising Sound Editor/Sound Effects Editor, Runaway (1985), Twice in a Lifetime (1985), Stick (1984)

***

Don Hall’s longevity and commitment to his craft is truly a testament in itself. It is rare to find someone who can combine the love of film sound and knowledge of great soundtrack preparation and impart it to others. As a founder of the Motion Picture Sound Editors, he has helped to shape one of the organization’s primary missions: its commitment to educating others about our craft.

Bobbi Banks, MPSE

Sound Editor; President of the Motion Picture Sound Editors

***

David J. Bondelevitch.

I was very lucky to be teaching at USC when Don chose to join the faculty. I had never had the opportunity to work with him professionally but had always wanted to, as Don’s knowledge of film sound is legendary. He had decades of experience working on many important films but, more importantly, Don also had the uncanny ability to keep his students interested and enthusiastic about the subject of film sound––even though very few students entered his classes with the intention of following sound as a career. It would be almost impossible to underestimate the influence he has had on that generation of film students.

However, the thing that most impressed me about Don was his ability to remain congenial even under the most trying of circumstances. I had come from a generation of supervisors and mixers who were much less patient than Don was, and seeing that he was able to accomplish a great deal without losing his cool was a major motivating factor on many of the changes I made in my life over that period of time.

I was also lucky enough to be elected President of the Motion Picture Sound Editors, which gave me the opportunity to present Don with our Career Achievement Award. Don had been a founding member of the organization, and it seemed to me an obvious choice to recognize his lifetime of positive work in the community. I was very proud to share the stage with him at that moment.

David J. Bondelvitch, MPSE

Sound Editor; Past President of the Motion Picture Sound Editors

***

I was sound editing full time in the mid-1990s when I was asked to teach a night class at USC. Hearing that I was an adjunct at the film school, colleagues started coming up to me to ask if I knew this Don Hall guy. There was a reverence, a certain “glow” that came over people when they started speaking about him. “Gave me my first job,” “Helped me get my hours” and “Showed me the ropes” are phrases I heard over and over. As the stream of sound editors continued to approach me, I thought it wise to change my response and started shaking my head knowingly, as if this Hall guy and I were best buds.

Since I couldn’t make most of the daytime faculty meetings at USC, it took me a while to figure out who the unassuming, sharply dressed, very fit gentleman was; the irreverent guy who could crack jokes to you under his breath and then, only when absolutely necessary, speak with the authority of experience to cut through the bull…loney.

When a tenured position opened up, and the dean was looking for a new faculty head for the sound department in 2000, Don generously and graciously stepped aside and did not apply. I was now experiencing the Don Hall treatment personally as so many others had before me.

His contribution to the industry––hard work, generosity and kindness in giving a hand up to the next person––has continued into his career as an educator. He is an outstanding professor and mentor to upcoming generations, as well as to fellow faculty. I don’t know of another human being who gives so selflessly. He is our Obi-Wan Kenobi. One of the greatest gifts of my career at USC is that Don Hall and I truly have become “best buds.” Congratulations, Don, on behalf of your colleagues and students at USC. We love you!

Midge Costin, MPSE

Colleague; Sound Editor; Kay Rose Professor in the Art of Sound and Dialogue Editing and Head of Sound, USC School of Cinematic Arts

Don Hall receives the Motion Picture Sound Editors Career Achievement Award in 2004.

***

I had the pleasure of working with Don Hall on several films in the early 1980s. As a sound editor, I have known him for almost 30 years. Working with Don on any project always felt like you were part of a team. He had the ability to make his crew feel part of a process and he inspired us with an incredible work ethic. For someone starting out in the business, it was a perfect example of what teamwork should be. He always maintained a sense of calm and professionalism. I feel privileged to have worked with him.

 Teri Dorman

Colleague; Sound Editor, Brainstorm (1983) Impulse (1984), Canonball Run II (1984)

***

I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Don Hall many, many years ago in 1958, on my film Proud Rebel, and again many years after that in 1991, on my film

Samuel Goldwyn Jr.

Livin’ Large. Don is a very valuable addition to the Academy as a member of the Board of Governors (Sound Branch). He incorporated sound editing into his life and united it with his emerging talents. His great competency in this industry has enabled him to make vast contributions to the University of Southern California’s film school, sharing his energy, vision and passion for the sound industry through teaching.

He is a much-admired man and has been very inspirational to many throughout his years as a sound editor. He has given many people their first opportunities, which have flourished into long-standing careers. For that alone this tribute is most fitting.

I know first-hand how important and necessary sound editors are to the business, so I was thrilled to learn in 2004 that Don was the recipient of the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ Career Achievement Award and, in 2006, the Academy’s John Bonner Medal of Commendation–– wonderful additions to his already numerous awards and achievements.

Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.

Chairman of the Board/CEO Samuel Goldwyn Films; Producer, Proud Rebel (1958), Livin’ Large (1991)

***

I met Don Hall in 1978 when he headed post-production sound for Quinn Martin Productions, housed at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios. Some of the many TV series I worked on there were Barnaby Jones, Colorado CI, Operation Runaway, A Man Called Sloane and many movies made for TV. During this period, Goldwyn made a transition, after having been purchased by Warner Bros. and re-christened as Warner Hollywood Studios. There, I worked for Don, where he had cutting rooms and contracted work on features, such as Teachers (Arthur Hiller), Stick (Burt Reynolds), Runaway (Michael Crichton), Twice in a Lifetime (Bud Yorkin) and Carbon Copy (Michael Schultz).

Expecting no less from his crew, Don always maintained a high standard of quality and a tradition of excellence in his projects. He emphasized the essential importance of sound effects and how crucial they were to “sell the shot.” Much in the same way that film music enhances the visual aspect of a movie, so too do sound effects perform their duty in dramatizing a situation, providing punctuation to the storytelling. While in his employ, I constantly learned something new that added to my working knowledge, always being nourished and expanding to a higher level.

During my Quinn Martin period, I sometimes brought my English bulldog, Butch, to work. On certain weekends, Butch would wander into Don’s office, lie down upon his prized leather sofa and snooze––shedding his blonde fur all over the black coverings. The next day, Don discovered this with some dismay, having the unpleasant task to tidy things up with a whisk broom. Don only mildly complained!

It’s oft repeated that those who refer to Don Hall, do so with respect, with great regard and with high esteem. It’s all true!

 Frank Howard

Colleague; Sound Editor, Carbon Copy (1981), Stick (1984), Teachers (1984), Runaway (1985), Twice in a Lifetime (1985)

***

Robert C. Jones.

I always have a good feeling when I run into Don Hall. He is talented, intelligent, empathic, personable, funny and willing to involve himself in countless beneficial causes. I have known this about Don since 1962, when he was a very young sound editor on It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and I was a very young picture editor. On an extremely complex film from a sound point of view, Don went about his work with zeal, plus a great deal of humor. Following that, he and I worked together a few more times on movies, but not nearly as many as I would have preferred.

We lost contact for a period of time until, in 2001, I was invited to join the faculty at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. I was delighted to learn that Don had firmly entrenched himself there as a faculty member for a number of years. It was great to see him once again, and it was comforting for me to find a long-lost friend amongst a sea of new faces.

I was fortunate to teach several classes with Don, and quickly discovered that he was as popular with students and other faculty as he was with me. With a twinkle in his eyes, the mischievous little boy not far beneath the surface, Don captured the creativity of the students with his vast background of knowledge and wisdom. We don’t teach together any longer, so I have to wait until I see him by chance on campus or in a hallway. And, then, as always, I have a good feeling when I run into Don Hall.

 Robert C. Jones

Colleague; Picture Editor, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Twice in a Lifetime (1985)

***

While Don became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences back in 1964, I can only attest to his tireless efforts in this organization for a mere 35 years, as I first met him when I was hired by the Academy in 1976. He is one of a relatively small group of Academy members who has truly given extraordinary amounts of his time in service to the Academy over the years.

He not only served as a long-time Chairman of the Sound Editing Award Committee, but also as a member of the Sound Branch and Scientific and Technical Awards Committees. In addition, he has helped the Academy support and encourage the next generation of filmmakers with his many years of participation (including serving at one time as Chairman) on the Student Academy Awards Executive Committee. I should probably also mention that he’s served for over 16 years on our Board of Governors, representing the Sound Branch.

However, with all that, the most important thing I can say is (and I shamelessly paraphrase the great Will Rogers), “I never met a man that didn’t like him.” Don is just one of those rare people who haa an ability to get along with everyone. And while he may not always agree with everyone, he’s always respectful of different opinions and I can honestly say I have never heard him raise his voice in a meeting. He’s a gentleman and a friend, and is more than deserving of this prestigious Editors Guild Fellowship and Service Award. Congratulations, Don!

Richard Miller

Awards Administration Director, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Don Hall, behind camera, filming a shoe commercial in 1951 at Mercury International Pictures.
Photo courtesy of Don Hall

***

My heartiest congratulations to Mr. Don Hall. He has accomplished what most other people only talk about. He is a caring and ambitious man, and his past awards and film successes testify to his extraordinary talent. For years, he has been recognized by his colleagues as a truly wise man. It takes courage and energy to accomplish such a magnificent career over the years.

Don’s credits are numerous. The few feature films we have worked together on are The Mephisto Waltz, The Culpepper Cattle Co., Silver Streak, Stroker Ace, Cannonball Run II and Diggstown, in addition to various television projects.

The University of Southern California has had the good fortune of retaining Don, who has been teaching in their film school for many years now. I’m sure he has created all kinds of new opportunities for young people starting their careers in the film industry. I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to speak to his classes a few times; thank you, Don!

The members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences have made a wise choice over the years, electing him to the Board of Governors, term after term after term. Well deserved! He has done an excellent job representing the sound community.

Creativity, good ideas and hard work have really paid off for Don Hall. Once again, congratulations, Don, you are one of the good guys.

Don Mitchel.

Donald O. Mitchell

Colleague; Sound Editor, The Mephisto Waltz (1971), Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972), Silver Streak (1976), Stroker Ace (1983), Cannonball Run II (1984)

***

What can I say about my idol, Don Hall? Way back in 1958, Don gave me my first feature sound editing job as his “side-kick” on a Western, The Proud Rebel. He was taking a big chance with me, in my opinion. This is where I learned my most important lessons from Don. First, when someone tells you don’t bother with the footsteps because the music will cover you…Wrong! When they drop out the music because it doesn’t work, you’re dead. It could have happened to me if I hadn’t listened to my idol. Second, always be nice to the mixers because if you aren’t, they can kill you! Back in those days “sound effects cutters” were regarded only a little higher than a craft serviceman.

In the mid-1960s, I co-founded EDIT-RITE and my idol was our first employee. Sadly, however, he didn’t stay long because he kept being offered important films that he couldn’t refuse. Then the nominations and awards for his work started flowing in.

As time went on, Don played a major role in making the field of Sound Effects Editing respected. Back then, the Academy Board of Governors gave a Sound Effects Award only now and then. They had inducted a handful of us into the Academy, and Don spearheaded the effort for us to get an annual award. After more years of lobbying, we were finally given our own branch and Don was the first sound editor elected to the Board of Governors, where he still sits.

He has constantly worked for the interests of sound editors. In 2006, he was given the John Bonner Medal of Commendation by the Academy. For several years, Don has been instructing at the USC Film School. It’s a new life that he loves far more than gunshots and door slams.

I close by saying, “Who can pay a proper tribute to someone like Don Hall in 300 words or less?”

James Nelson

Colleague; Sound Effects Editor, The Proud Rebel (1958)

***

Lucy Coldsnow Smith.

I had the great good fortune of working with Don Hall in the beginning days of my career. He was my teacher and my mentor, always encouraging me while preparing

me for the move to editor from assistant. I spent a lot of time with Don behind the Moviola and on the dubbing stage, learning how important our editorial contributions were to the final mix. We always worked hard, but had a lot of laughs along the way.

Over the years, I have remained friends with Don and have benefited many times by his wisdom, kindness and caring. You could not honor one more richly deserving than Don Hall.

Lucy Coldsnow Smith

Dialogue Editor, A Change of Seasons (1980), Stroker Ace (1980)

***

All of us in the motion picture and television business are lucky to be surrounded by talented people. Don stands out among them, not only for his talent, but also for being an outstanding citizen. I have had the pleasure of serving with Don on committees at USC and at the Academy, and am always impressed by how much he gives of his time and energy, his knowledge and experience.

He is truly a role model for all of us who are involved with teaching the next generation of filmmakers. We often talk of a writer’s writer or an artist’s artist. Don is a citizen’s citizen. He is indeed worthy of the honor he is receiving from the Editors Guild and, for me, it is indeed an honor to call him a colleague and a friend.

Michael Taylor

Colleague; Chair of Film & Television Production, USC School of Cinematic Arts

***

Randy Thom.

Don Hall is one of those rare people who is truly a nice guy and truly a great craftsman. His tireless dedication to educating youngsters about sound in film also sets him apart. Upholding traditions while still being open to new ideas is a tightrope that Don has successfully walked for many decades. He’s one of my heroes, a gentleman/scholar/artist to the core.

Randy Thom, CAS

Colleague; Director of Sound Design, Skywalker Sound

***

Don Hall is great. He has always been great. Thirty years ago, he was the sound guy on a movie I produced and directed. He spoiled me as a producer because, subsequently, I never again had anyone as good as Don.

And the wheel has come full circle, as we’re working together again in the Peter Stark Program at School of Cinematic Arts at USC. Suffice it to say, the ambition and skill set of the Stark student films took a giant leap forward once Don came onto the scene. And he’s a terrific guy personally.

Larry Turman

Colleague; Director/producer, The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971)

***

Don Zimmerman.

I have known Don Hall and his lovely wife Teddy for over 40 years. He has always been an inspiration for me. We worked on several movies together, and he always

gives you the best. Whether you give him time to sound your film, or two minutes to give you something, he always delivers––never a worried word, just a smile.

Sounding a film, running a studio sound department, working on the Board of Governors at the Academy, or teaching at USC, he is the best. The business and the world need more Don Halls, and I am proud to know him.

Don Zimmerman, A.C.E.

Picture Editor, A Change of Seasons (1980), Best Friends (1982), Staying Alive (1983), Teachers (1984), Diggstown (1992), The Scout (1994), A Walk in the Clouds (1995)

 

About B Desowitz 20 Articles
Bill Desowitz writes about film for his Immersed in Movies blog (www.billdesowitz.com) and is a regular contributor to Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and Animation World Network. He can be contacted at bill.desowitz@yahoo.com.

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