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Insights to Oscar Night with Professor Russell Williams

By Tara Lang

Russell Williams, artist in residence, holding his Oscar and Emmy awards

With Academy Award season in full swing, movie fans across the country are hotly debating whether The Social Network will take Best Picture over The King’s Speech, and if Natalie Portman will sweep all the awards shows with another Best Actress win for her role in Black Swan.  

On February 22, you can join in on the Oscar fun with a special Faculty Down the Road (FDTR) event featuring AU alumnus and School of Communication Distinguished Artist in Residence, Russell Williams, SOC/BA ’74, a two-time Academy Award winner for Best Sound (also known as sound mixing).  Keith Gill, AU’s Athletics Director, will host “And the Oscar Goes To . . .,” a combination reception and presentation at the state-of-the art AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring.

The Faculty Down the Road series, now in its second full year, brings the best of AU faculty members to our many alumni, parents, and friends who live just down the road from AU, in Montgomery County and northern Virginia.  Featuring the same reception/lecture format as our celebrated Faculty on the Road series, FDTR is a great way to experience both great networking and an interactive lecture from one of AU’s premiere faculty members.  

Gill notes a compelling part of the evening will be its demonstration of the depth of AU’s faculty and staff.  “How many of our alumni are aware that we have a two-time Oscar winner who is both a faculty member and fellow Eagle?” says Gill.  “It will be a treat to have the opportunity to connect with the alumni community and listen to Russell talk about his experiences winning ‘championships’.”

The event at the AFI will provide attendees with a little taste of the behind-the-scenes activity and preparation leading up to and including the awards night.  Professor Williams is something of an expert on the topic, having won back-to-back Oscars for his sound work on the films Glory (1989) and Dances with Wolves (1990).   He was the first African American to receive multiple Oscars, but for those not schooled in Academy Award winner lore, back-to-back wins are incredibly rare in any category.  2011 marks the 20th anniversary of Williams’ second win for Dances with Wolves.  In honor of the occasion, he plans to attend this year’s ceremonies, so watch for him on the red carpet!

Williams notes AU professors Glenn Harnden and Dr. Frank Turaj as big influences in his understanding the craft and the content, respectively, of films, and he says AU’s focus on student internships and the work opportunities he experienced while in school were critical to helping “sharpen his ‘A’ game.”  

After graduation, Williams worked in documentary and news sound in Washington, D.C., then headed west to try his luck in Hollywood.  When asked how he broke into the industry, he remembers, “Without a publicist, agent or benefactor – one small job at a time!  I was the go-to guy for mixers with bigger credits until I developed my own clients.”

While it’s clear that Williams has now become a “go-to guy” in his own right, he notes his gratitude to his AU family for encouraging him to pursue the “top rung on the ladder.”  Through his work with the School of Communication, he passes along that same inspiration to current students. 

Get inspired yourself – and gear up for Oscar night – by joining Professor Williams and Athletics Director Keith Gill for Faculty Down the Road, “And the Oscar Goes To . . .” on Tuesday, February 22, from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.  Event cost is $10 per person and includes heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine, beer, and soft beverages.  Register online or call 202-885-5968.