Premier sound editor with Tampa ties has won three Academy Awards

Richard King at the Indy 500. Says the three-time Oscar-winning sound editor: “Just listen for five minutes.”
Richard King at the Indy 500. Says the three-time Oscar-winning sound editor: “Just listen for five minutes.”
Published July 23, 2013

Not many people win Academy Awards, much less three of the coveted statuettes. And only one triple Oscar winner in history hails from Tampa Bay.

Richard King, a graduate of Plant High School and the University of South Florida, is one of Hollywood's premier sound editors, with the gold-plated hardware to prove it. King's handiwork can currently be heard in Turbo, the animated adventures of a garden snail with an Indy 500 dream.

King's Academy Award collection began in 2004 with his first nomination, for editing the seafaring sounds of Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Blockbuster collaborations with director Christopher Nolan — The Dark Knight and Inception — added another pair of Oscars to his shelf.

"Something in a million years I never would've imagined I'd be part of," King, 59, said by telephone from Los Angeles. "I'm just a fan from Tampa. I can't pretend to be so jaded that it's not exciting. It's terrifying, of course, to get that call (on nomination day)."

Four chances, three wins and King clearly remembers his only Oscar night loss, in 2006 for Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds.

"You can't believe how nerve-racking it is to wait for your category to come up," King said. "I was in a very nervous state that night and my category came up and I was saying to myself: Oh god, I hope they don't call my name.

"Then they didn't call my name and there was this instant of relief then, d---, I should've gotten that. All the nervousness went away, replaced by feeling like everybody else (nominated). I was a semi-sore loser."

Hollywood is a long way from South Tampa where King grew up, making Super 8 and 16mm movies with classmates. "Many epic movies all over Tampa," he said. "That's how we spent our adolescence. Even filmed one on the deck of the old Bounty (ship) that used to be moored in St. Pete."

King graduated from Plant in 1972 and "fumbled around with odd jobs" for a few years before enrolling in USF's arts program. After graduating in 1979, he moved to New York with a dream of making movies and no idea of how to begin.

"I kind of clawed my way into the underbelly of the film business," King said, "working on lots of low-budget stuff, whatever I could get, basically."

Working on the Chuck Norris 1983 action flick Invasion U.S.A. presented King with his first sound editing experience, and a chance to move to Los Angeles for postproduction. He never left and has stayed busy ever since. Turbo marks his 85th credit as a sound engineer, with acclaimed directors like Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson and the late Robert Altman hiring King multiple times.

"I spent so many years working on mediocre movies," King said. "I still loved it but it was tough getting to that point with people who were really, really good. ... It's very satisfying and gratifying to get to work on inspiring material that you know will live on."

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King waxes at length about the "profound subtlety" of sound he manipulates for cinematic effect, not only dialogue and music — "what most people think of when they think of sound" — but ambient noise and sound effects setting the environment and spurring emotions. What is heard but not always listened to in real life, King's ears instinctively pick up.

"I recommend to anybody to go on your balcony or sit on your front porch and just listen for five minutes," King said. "A whole story will unfold, a whole string of sounds that in normal life you would tune out because they're not relevant to your situation or point of focus.

"I can't stop listening. I have to put in 20db earplugs when I go to sleep at night, so I can't hear anything."

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.