Article published in Dropline.biz on August 1, 2005
“Pete Damski”—Emmy Nominated Production Sound Mixer
By Dino M. Zaffina
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced on July 14, 2005, all the names of the nominees for the 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. Once again, the Academy has recognized Pete Damski’s achievements by nominating him for a seventh time.
Pete Damski graduated in 1979 from the University of Florida with a Broadcast Production degree. His intention was to go to Los Angeles to become a recording engineer. This was in April of ’79.
Damski worked in the recording studios for approximately three-and-half years at Record Plant Studios and Larabee Recording Studios. Although Pete’s passion was in the music business, he decided that it was not the best business for him. It just so happened that an opportunity arose, by way of a friend that worked at Vidtronics. Through his friend, Pete was able to land a job with that company working in their engineering construction department, doing wiring and installations.
Pete remained at Vidtronics for approximately two-and-half years, moving up in that facility, before realizing that he really didn’t enjoy working in a darkroom everyday. Damski was looking more to getting back to the adrenaline rush of production.
This led to Pete taking a job in ’83 as a cableman on a feature film that his brother was directing in Columbus, Ohio. Damski’s brother is Mel Damski, director of such television shows as Without A Trace; The Guardian; The Practice; Charmed, and many others. After completing this 10 week stint, Pete decided to leave his full-time job at Vidtronics and delve into the insecure world of production.
Upon returning to Los Angeles Pete found himself unsure as to what he wanted to do next. One day the telephone rang and on the other end was Bill Anderson, who along with Phil Squirres was in charge of booking the technical crew members for all the Embassy shows that were in production at Universal Studios. Anderson hired Damski to push “boom.” (A boom is a long arm with a microphone at the end which sits atop a large platform on wheels that an operator works the microphone from).
Pete was happy to receive the opportunity to work as a utility sound technician, pushing boom, but he always had the intention of moving upward. While working on the sitcoms Diff’rnt Strokes and It’s Your Move, Damski was promoted to the “A-2” position. (An A-2 is an audio technician who works primarily in the audio booth with the production sound mixer, but also as a liaison to the floor). Because of Pete’s knowledge and prior experience he fit the A-2 position like a glove.
For the next three years, Damski worked as an A-2 until he took a job with Michael Ballin on The Tracy Ullman Show (a brand new show for the Fox Television Network). While on this show, the producers decided that they needed two production sound mixers, so they approached Damski to fill the position. Pete worked as the second mixer until Ballin left to work on another show, at which time the producers promoted Pete to the main mixer. The Tracy Ullman Show was an ideal place for Damski to cut his teeth on mixing. It was the type of challenge that Damski would not shy way from, but instead, jumped into with both feet.
After Pete left The Tracey Ullman Show, he happened to get a telephone call from Frank Pace at Warner Bros., who at the time was the producer of Head of the Class. Pace offered Damski a job as a utility sound technician on the show while they did a remote in Moskow. Pete accepted. The remote was being mixed by two top mixers in the business, Russ Gary and Doc Siegel. Before Head of the Class began its third season, the show’s mixer, Gary decided that he wanted to move on to another show, so Pace offered the mixing job to Damski.
In 1992, Damski was offered the mixing job on Mad About You. Although Pete had mixed film production while working on the Tracey Ullman Show, this was his first sitcom on the film format. Damski remained with Mad About You for the entire seven seasons from September 23, 1992, through May 24, 1999; mixing 164 episodes.
During his run on Mad About You Damski was honored to be nominated three times for an Emmy Award by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Pete received the Emmy Award for his first and second nominations. He was known in the television world as a top production sound mixer, but now he was honored for his hard work, talent, and skill.
While mixing Boston Common, which was produced by the Will & Grace people, Damski was approached to mix the Will & Grace pilot. Pete accepted. During the time between the end of pilot season and the new fall season, Damski received a call to mix Encore! Encore! starring Nathan Lane and Joan Plowright. Unfortunately, the show did not fulfill its promise of greatness and its run ended after only 12 episodes.
Fortunately for Damski, he had been receiving telephone calls on a weekly basis from the producers of Will & Grace asking him to transfer over to their show as their mixer. Pete being a loyal person did not want to jump ship from Encore! Encore!; however, once he was informed that the show was ending, Pete notified the Will & Grace producers to let know that he was available if they were still interested; they said they were.
Since Encore! Encore! had two episodes remaining, Damski made sure that the Will & Grace mixer, Edward L. Moskowitz was given those two production weeks. Even though the Will & Grace producers wanted Pete, he still felt bad for his peers, Moskowitz and crew.
During all his seasons on Will & Grace, Damski was again honored by the Academy, being nominated four times for the Emmy Award. The first three times on this show, Pete was not given the award, but his fourth coming up this year looks promising. Damski’s nomination for the 2004-2005 season, gives him a total of seven nominations and two wins.
Damski explained how the Emmy process works. “I am able to submit my own show,” he said. “I do that in concert with the post production people, to find out which one they thought was the best as well.” Damski went on to explain, “Part of what I go for is that you are not doing a straight ahead sitcom.” Since the Academy members that judge the sitcoms tend to be single-camera mixers, to avoid any appearance of bias, sitcom mixers choose to submit episodes that they feel will best represent what the single-camera mixers find as good sound.
Therefore, sitcom mixers might often choose episodes that have a mixture of on stage and exterior scenes because the sound for exterior scenes is very much like single-camera mixers’ work. “They can relate to those episodes best,” Damski said. “What the judges are looking for is a single good production track that can carry them all the way through editing and mixing.”
Damski’s sound crew on Will & Grace consists of his Microphone Boom Operators, Jeff Johnson and Ted Van Klaveren; his Utility Sound Technician is Dean Plotnick; and his Recordist is Dale Burkett. “It’s all about them,” Pete said; recognizing his sound crew as the backbone for his Emmy nominations. In the past when Pete won his two Emmy Awards he not only made sure to order certificates for his crew members, but he had the certificates made into plaques for them as well.
Pete Damski belongs to a wonderful organization, The Cinema Audio Society, which its members consists of production and post production mixers and other sound technicians. Whenever the credits appear on televisions or theatre screens and the production or post production mixers’ names are tagged with the acronym “C.A.S.” this organization is what they are referring to.
The Cinema Audio Society (“CAS”) was formed in 1964 for the purpose of sharing information with Sound Professionals in the Motion Picture and Television Industry. CAS currently has three categories of members, Active (Full) Members, Associate Members, and Corporate Members which encompasses over 400 members. For more information visit CAS’ official website at: www.cinemaaudiosociety.org.
CAS has a Board of Directors and Officers that are responsible for running the organization. The Board of Directors consists of eleven directors and four alternates. Damski currently holds a position on the Board as an alternate. Pete said, “I like the organization because it is basically an organization of my peers and it provides and opportunity for us to share information and improve our jobs through communication and networking.” Besides donating his time as an alternate on the Board,Damski is also the co-editor of the CAS journal which is published quarterly, and also writes some articles.
Pete is also very active in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He has been a peer group executive committee member for approximately 5 years total, and three years this run. Damski, once again has run for a governor seat for the sound branch. The election results will be announced sometime during the week of August 1, 2005.
He also volunteers at the Academy to QC tapes (“Quality Control”) that are converted to DVD for distribution to the Academy members for voting on the Emmy Awards. Damski works together with Steve Venezia from Dolby Laboratories, Inc. Both men measure the dialogue levels of the each episode. They check samples of approximately three minutes, four times within a show. Pete explained the purpose for this process, “If a show is 5 or 6db hotter, it may seem to have more presence because of that; so you really want to try and level the playing field as much as possible in this judging process.” Pete had someone else QC his show, to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Damski loves working in sitcom production because it gets him home at a reasonable hour; however, in recent years due to the 1/3 cut in most crew members’ salaries because of the arbitrary termination of the 50 year old “3-for-2 guarantee,” even a top mixer like Pete is voicing concerns over the financial losses. Fortunately, Will & Grace honors the half century old guarantee, but soon he will be working on a High Definition format show in the 2005-2006 season that is only paying “2-for-2.” This is a huge financial loss for all crew members. For this reason, Pete has considered taking a staff job; this will provide him a steadier income, it will eliminate the 3 month long hiatus, and will provide an opportunity to freely schedule a good two week long annual vacation.
Although he is considering the move, good production sound mixers like Pete Damski will always be in demand.
Articles Written or Co-Authored by Dino M. Zaffina
© 2022 Dino M. Zaffina. All rights reserved.