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Mixed Media

Sonic Success

Mixmaster Thomas Curley nabs an Oscar for the film “Whiplash”

Thomas Curley

Photo: Max Gerber

“It’s a dream come true, for sure, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Thomas Curley (BA ’00)

By Mark Norris

“I met George Clooney once and that was kind of a star-struck moment,” Thomas Curley (BA ’00) says with a laugh. “But when you’re working on set, you’ve got stuff to do. You don’t really have time to be nervous. You just have to jump in.”

Curley has spent the past 13 years “jumping in” as a production sound mixer for more than 150 films and television shows. After years behind the scenes, Curley was in front of the cameras at the 2015 Academy Awards, where he took home a sound-mixing Oscar for the film “Whiplash.”

“I was talking myself out of winning, just in case,” says Curley from his North Hollywood home a few days after the ceremony. “It’s a dream come true, for sure, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

As a film studies student at UB, Curley knew he wanted a career in the entertainment industry, but admits he wasn’t entirely sure which role to take. “At the time, I still had thoughts of being a producer or director, but I didn’t really know what that entailed,” Curley says. “I did know that I needed to find a job that I’d be happy to get up and do.”

After graduation, Curley landed broadcast engineering and production assistant gigs near his hometown of Troy, N.Y. He also found a mentor in famed sound mixer David MacMillan on the set of the 2002 film “The Time Machine.” Curley moved to Los Angeles shortly after, opened Curley Sound with his brother, Brian (a musician and sound engineer), and has worked nonstop ever since.

“Whiplash” is the story of an aspiring jazz drummer and his abusive instructor, portrayed by J.K. Simmons in a performance that also won an Oscar. Documenting the fast-paced film, which centers on electrifying live music performances and dynamic blasts of dialogue, proved challenging. “Nobody wants to wait on sound,” Curley says. “A lot of that stuff was captured as it was happening. There were multiple cameras going that were shooting different little snippets. We had the booms overhead following the actors as they came in, opening their music cases.”

Next up for Curley is “Home,” a psychological thriller starring Topher Grace, and “American Documentary,” a new cable series from SNL alums Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers. Hope there’s room for an Emmy on the bookshelf.