The year is 1975, and there’s a killer on the loose: a giant man-eating, great white shark.
The town sheriff, a marine biologist and a professional shark hunter join forces to hunt down the beast that’s terrorizing a beach resort on Amity Island, a fictional New England town.
“There was a movie that was getting an amazing amount of hype,” said Peter Devlin, a film production sound mixer today, but then a 13-year-old-boy living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Like many people around the world, Devlin was caught up in a kind of sharkmania. “It was Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws.’”
Spielberg hired actor and screenwriter Carl Gottlieb to work on the film, which was based on Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel of the same name written the year before. After the filming was over, Gottlieb wrote a book that showed how then-26-year-old Spielberg turned the novel into a movie that won three Oscars and was the highest-grossing film at the time.
“I remember getting this book. It’s called “The Jaws Log.” This book basically took me behind the scenes of the movie. You can see some of those pictures there,” said Devlin, who in a video interview pointed to some production pictures.
“The book created a fascination for me about what goes into making movies,” said Devlin. “That film absolutely changed my life. It’s what made me want to get into the film business.”
Devlin didn’t get to see “Jaws” until the following year, the same time he got the movie soundtrack album. It was the first one he owned, he said, now pointing to the date he had inscribed inside: 1976.
People said he was crazy to try to get into the hard-to-crack film industry. Devlin recalled how his high school principal tried to encourage him to become a teacher, a doctor or an engineer, Devlin said. But he stuck to his dream.
Living in Belfast, Devlin had no idea how to do it. Nobody in his family had worked in movies, and he didn’t know anybody who did. However, the luck of the Irish was on his side.
Right after finishing high school, Devlin saw a newspaper ad from the British Broadcasting Corporation. He talked his way into the BBC’s sound department as an assistant audio trainee in 1981. By age 23 Devlin was still thinking, “I want to work in movies. I want to work in Los Angeles.”
After seven years at the BBC, he started writing letters to producers and studios in the United States — 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Universal Studio — asking to visit their sets. He got one life-changing reply.
“A director-producer called Michael Mann was doing a television series called ‘Miami Vice,’ and he invited me to the set,” said Devlin.
The visit led to a job offer at Southeast Audio Services in Pompano Beach, Fla., in 1988. It was the start of Devlin’s more than 30-year career as a production sound mixer.
He’s the person who sits on the set with headphones, a mixing console, and a digital recorder. His job is to preserve as much of the original performance as possible, and he’s done that with sound crews on 65 films and television shows.
“As you can imagine, when you’re shooting a scene, there’s all sorts of emotions, all sorts of magic that is happening between action and cut,” said Devlin, adding that the last thing actors want to do, six months after finishing a film, is to go back and redo their performance.
Devlin’s recent credits include “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018), “Pacific Rim: Uprising” (2018), “Black Panther” (2018) and “Transformers: The Last Knight” (2017).
“Here I am on the set of “Transformers” and along comes Steven Spielberg to watch some of the scenes. I could only flash back to when I was 14 years of age, thinking of myself in that old movie theater in Belfast, watching ‘Jaws’ on the big screen.”
Devlin has worked on five films that have been nominated for Oscars, which recognize artistic and technical merit in the film industry and are given out each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
This year, he was nominated for in the Best Sound Mixing category, along with Steve Boedekker and Brandon Proctor, for “Black Panther.” The cast and crew also received nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Music Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume, and Best Picture — seven altogether.
When the awards were handed out at the 91st Academy Awards on Feb. 24, although Devlin did not win in his category, “Black Panther” was a winner — three times.
Production designer Hannah Beachler became the first African-American to both be nominated for and receive the Academy Award for Best Production Design.
Ruth E. Carter won an Oscar for Best Costume Design. She is the first black woman to win an Oscar in this category.
Ludwig Goransson won an Oscar for Best Original Music Score.
The awards earned by “Black Panther” were the first Academy Award wins for Marvel Studios. “Black Panther” was the first superhero movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture. And the three wins make “Black Panther” the most decorated superhero movie in Academy Awards history.
“I’m just so delighted to see Ruth, Hannah and Ludwig receive the highest honor for their exceptional work. To be a part of a film that connected with so many people around the globe has been a career highlight for me,” said Devlin.
He encourages young people to pursue their dreams. He thinks it might be easier nowadays than it was for him because of the ability to reach out to more people than ever through social media and the internet.
Devlin also has this advice: Research the different film programs at universities, but it’s all about educating yourself as to who’s out there, what courses are right there. Make your own short films. You can do it on your laptop. You’ve got so much in terms of access.
“We all have the ability to influence each other in terms of career choices. All it takes is somebody to say, ‘You can do it,’” said Devlin. “So do it. Pick up that phone. Write that email. Make that short film. Follow your dream.”
Cali Dickerson, 15, is an iGeneration Youth reporter living in Delmar, N.Y.