Xeitgeist ~ the spirit of the event
by Melinda Darlington-Bach


semanickWhat do the brilliant Peter Jackson, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, Peter Doctor, Mark Forster, Frances Ford Coppola, Robert Rodrigez, Clint Eastwood, Ang Lee, George Lucas, M.Night Shyamalan, and most recently, Tim Burton all have in common? Besides the obvious fact that the list reads like the modern day royalty of film directors, they have all collaborated with long-time Marin resident and two time Academy Award winner, Michael Semanick on their films. He first embarked on his career as an engineer for foley artists, the person who records and creates many of the natural ,everyday sound effects we hear on the screen. Foley artists also accent the existing sounds to make them more effective. Mr. Semanick then moved to re-recording and sound design, which is conceptually a creative and technical field, completing all the non-compositional elements of a film. To achieve the desired effects required by all of the above directors, Mr. Semanick is a master at the manipulation of all the audio elements.

His talent as an artist was edified twice by awarding him the coveted Academy Award, first for The Lord of the Rings:The Return of the King in 2003 and King Kong in 2005.

While the majority of the studio work may be in Los Angeles, Mr. Semanick has been able to balance having the quality of life afforded by living in Marin and also being able to commute to work in Los Angeles. , He works alongside the best directors in the business. Michael is highly sought after and his long list of working relationships reflects the top notch projects to which he has been attached.

A big reason why this has worked so well is due in a big part to his wife of 19 years, Cheri. An energetic, lovely, woman, who is completely supportive of their life in Marin which "keeps her and the family very grounded." Not wanting to uproot the family, it is so important to of both them that their three children are raised in the stable and loving environment that Marin County provides with the excellent schools and a superb quality of life. When his work with Peter Jackson and The Lord of the RIngs demanded a long distance , the entire family moved to New Zealand for three months.

Due to Mr. Semanicks's sterling reputation, he is able to pick and choose projects that are exciting, different and always demanding. Perhaps one of the most challenging may be the current film ,Tim Burton's effects -heavy much anticipated eternal surreal tale of "Alice in Wonderland" in 3D. This classic, coming of age story is sure to be a super-charged take on the Lewis Carroll iconic fairytale. Mr. Semanick's job is to help move the narrative along seamlessly with sound that supports the picture in a subtle but powerful way. With an unparalleled work ethic, his extensive collaboration on Alice required 16 hour days for weeks on end. As a seven time Academy Award nominee and a true perfectionist, Mr. Semanick deserves all the awards and accolades given to him.

In an relatively new arena of 3D, Mr. Semanick had new challenges sonically to enhance the film as well as create a "much beefier version for the IMAX 3D which utilize a center top speaker." This is the fifth collaboration between Michael and Tim Burton and their work together involves" a major level of trust and great respect." A new, original lush score composed by the talented Danny Elfman, accompanies the film. Without taking a breath, Michael returns back to Marin and to his family to start work on Toy Story 3 with director, Lee Unkrich, longtime member of the impossibly creative team at Pixar.

As Lewis Carroll wrote in his Alice in Wonderland : "He was part of my dream, of course, but then I was part of his dream too." Michael and Cheri Semanick are choosing to live their dream together with their family and do it right here in fabulous Marin.

~ Marin Arts Council Magazine, January 2010