Admit it: you don’t really know the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, do you? Idiot! Rookie mistake when approaching one’s Oscar predictions – trust and believe, members of the Academy’s sound branch certainly know the difference. When it comes to voting for the final awards, however, you’re in good company, because the remainder of the Academy is similarly idiotic, and largely isn’t even aware that there’s a difference at all. Good work, AMPAS, you never let me down.
Take Aunty Paddy’s blend of British sarcasm and Irish callousness with a pinch of salt so big it’d make a soy sauce factory seethe with jealous, quivering rage. You’re not an idiot, you’re just an American.
I’m going to have to approach this again, then. You’re not an idiot, and nor are many of you even Americans. You just haven’t bothered to waste your time boning up on that difference. But it’s crucial to glean at least its basic characteristics in order to gain a robust appreciation of the nature of these categories within the Oscar race. And so, with my expert qualifications including over a decade of dedication to that race, and the possession of two fully-functioning ears, permit me to explain:
SOUND EDITING is the creation and/or enhancement of sounds. Sound effects fall into this categorization, as do adjustments to any existing sound material. Sound editors rarely, if ever, work on set during filming, and are thus almost entirely consigned to a film’s post-production.
SOUND MIXING is the recording of diegetic sound on set, and the layering of all of the existing sound tracks on the finished film. A production sound mixer will work on set to capture what material can be recorded during filming, and a re-recording mixer will fulfil the final role of a sound team, mixing together tracks from both the production and editing departments to create the final soundscape. Musical score must also be incorporated in this process.
Whether it’s the confusion around this difference, the general absence of Oscar-baity ostentatiousness in the soundscapes of most films, or the sound branch’s broad purview upon the eligible titles, for some reason or combination of reasons, these are often among the toughest categories to predict at any year’s Oscars. But Aunty Paddy knows a thing or two about tricky-to-predict categories and the idiosyncrasies of the Academy’s many branches in their voting habits, and thinks they know a thing or two more than they actually do! I can bestow upon my niblings a few nibbly pointers.
PADDY POINTER #1 – EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
Think Best Sound Editing is about explosions and gunfire? Think again! Well… yes, it is about explosions and gunfire, but it’s about much more than that too. Were those the only criteria required for consideration, many of the recent Sound Editing nominees wouldn’t have come close: All Is Lost, Birdman, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Slumdog Millionaire – all up for that award within the last decade. All Is Lost pulled it off without a corresponding Sound Mixing nod and all! Flash and bang will only get you so far, and far indeed they can get you in these categories, but voters here are savvier than the rest of us. And they look further for their favourites than almost all other Academy branches – think most Oscar voters have ever even watched films like Salt, Tron: Legacy, Unstoppable or Wanted? The sound branch voters sure did, because they nominated them!
PADDY POINTER #2 – KNOW YOUR WHO’S WHOMS!
‘Who’s whom’ indeed, because, as my dear sister Aunt Josephine always said, “Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don’t you find?” Anyway, the greatest joy among sound branch members seems to be patting one another on the back, because the same names just keep cropping up year after year in these categories. We’ll take the last ten years: among both categories, we’ve had…
2 nominations for Erik Aadahl, Karen Baker Landers, Anna Behlmer, Brent Burge, Ben Burtt, Glenn Freemantle, Eugene Gearty, David Giammarco, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Per Hallberg, Martin Hernández, Lora Hirschberg, Richard Hymns, Chris Jenkins, Tony Johnson, Drew Kunin, Walt Martin, Paul Massey, John Midgley, Chris Munro, Kevin O’Connell, John T. Reitz, Christopher Scarabosio, Philip Stockton, Mark P. Stoeckinger, Oliver Tarney, Mark Taylor and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle;
3 for Bub Asman, Lon Bender, Craig Berkey, Peter J. Devlin, Richard King, Peter F. Kurland, Paul Massey, Scott Millan, Tom Myers, Ed Novick, Gregg Orloff, Paul N. J. Ottosson, Gary Rizzo, Gregg Rudloff, Michael Silvers, Gary Summers, Jon Taylor, Randy Thom, Ethan van der Ryn, Mark Weingarten, Stuart Wilson and Matthew Wood;
4 for Alan Robert Murray, Ren Klyce, Frank A. Montaño, David Parker, Gary Rydstrom and Wylie Stateman;
5 for Greg P. Russell;
6 for Christopher Boyes, Skip Lievsay and Michael Semanick;
7 for Andy Nelson.
Maybe you didn’t read all that, which is proof enough that they like whom they like. Maybe you did, which ought to prove exactly the same. It’s a figure far higher than that of the one-time nominees over the same time frame, and further still when one considers all the multiple nominees with only one mention in those ten years. And yes, it’s quite the boys’ club…
PADDY POINTER #3 – OVERLAP AT YOUR PADDY PLEASURE
But don’t do it carelessly. Below, my predictions offer a few examples, but here’s the reason. The same films tend to court the same voters, and it’s true that those with strong sound editing are likely to boast strong sound mixing too, and vice versa. But some films will buck that trend, resulting in a little disparity between the two sets of nominees. Since the Sound Editing category was expanded to a permanent five nominees ten years ago, the two have never matched perfectly, though their overlap has stayed largely very strong: 4/5 in eight frames, 3/5 in one, 2/5 in one. Yet the fact that it hasn’t yet ascended to 5/5 is confirmation that voters have different standards and preferences for the different categories, and much as that might affect films in reaching the nomination threshold when ballots are cast, so too is it likely to affect their rankings within the respective categories. Since the Academy doesn’t release any voting figures from any stage in its process, we can only assume so, and it’ll have virtually no impact upon which films actually win these awards. But, for now, it’s a smart thing to do, adjusting your predictions a little to accommodate that disparity.
Know what you’re doing now? Good, that makes one of us. And if you’re in need of some extra guidance, I remain on hand and en garde to dispense yet more, in the form of some early-December predictions!
- MIXING: LA LA LAND / EDITING: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
Not every musical is a hit with the Academy, and not every musical is a hit with the Academy’s sound branch. But sound mixing is such a particularly integral element of musical filmmaking that, when a musical picks up major Oscar buzz, you can virtually guarantee its inclusion in Best Sound Mixing. Enter La La Land, surely set to follow in the footsteps of Moulin Rouge!, Chicago, Dreamgirls and Les Misérables in picking up a nod in this category. Sound Editing, however? Not even nearly as likely. None of those four fellow musicals were nominated there, despite the latter three winning Sound Mixing. Action / effects-driven films are safer bets there, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story would seem to have all the necessary ingredients to cook up a tech category smash: good reviews, a December release, humungous projected box office gross, robust (and recent) previous – the list goes on and on.
- MIXING: SILENCE / EDITING: SULLY
Two heavy-hitters from two heavy-hitting Oscar faves. Silence comes from Martin Scorsese, who has secured Sound Mixing nominations for three of his five Best Picture nominees this century to date – those three were the elaborate period pieces that slayed in the tech categories, and Silence looks to fit that mould more than that of The Departed or The Wolf of Wall Street. Count it in. It’s less of a sure thing in Sound Editing, which is where Clint Eastwood’s Sully comes in… or perhaps it’d be more apt to call it Bub Asman and Alan Robert Murray’s Sully.You’ll recognize their names from above – three nominations in the last ten years for Asman, and four for Murray; his nod for last year’s Sicario aside, all of those have been for Clint Eastwood pictures. Dead cert.
- MIXING: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY / EDITING: HACKSAW RIDGE
With exceptions (period dramas and musicals in Mixing, the odd action film or animation in Editing), strength in one sound category tends to carry over into the other. Rogue One isn’t so much a weaker contender in Mixing than it is in Editing than it is a stronger contender in Editing than it is in Mixing, you get me? It’s no exception, and ought to expect recognition for both awards. And now, enter Hacksaw Ridge, the awards contender we all saw coming, until we didn’t. But now we must look again, as the industry is embracing Mel Gibson all over again with the kind of almighty defiance they’d never extend toward, say, Nate Parker, alas. Tech branch voters have repeatedly shown their favour to Gibson’s films, and at least one sound nomination for this period war movie (check off about 19 boxes there alone) is a probable scenario.
- MIXING: ARRIVAL / EDITING: ARRIVAL
I predict that Arrival will be a success across the board with the Academy; it has the potential to be one of the year’s most-nominated titles, and has terrific reviews and box office to back it up. So the reason that this well-received science-fiction isn’t placed higher on these lists is simple – remember PADDY POINTER #2? Denis Villeneuve’s largely French-Canadian team is, person by person, fairly unknown to voters, which can only have a negative effect on its Oscar chances, especially for the sound awards. But its genre status, its popularity, and the sheer excellence of its sound design ensures that it remains a contender for both Mixing and Editing, and that it remains among my predicted nominees for both awards.
- MIXING: SULLY / EDITING: SILENCE
Again, here are the two heavy-hitters from the two heavy-hitting Oscar faves. With its vivid plane crash sequences, of whose success the sound design was an enormous component, and with its none-more-popular duo of Asman / Murray on that side of things, Sully is inevitably a stronger contender for Editing than it is for Mixing. But that strength must carry over to some extent, and indeed, Sully’s sound mix is worthy of a nomination. Similarly, Silence has the cred to reap a Mixing nod with ease, though will struggle more in Editing, given its lack of overt effects (it’s tough to get in here without at least a little gunfire, explosions, alien / monster effects or vehicle wrecks). But this is the kind of film that could handily sweep the tech categories à la Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant last year, of which Sound Editing is just one likely mark among many.
- MIXING: HACKSAW RIDGE / EDITING: PATRIOTS DAY
You better trust and believe in Hacksaw Ridge’s chances! I know the internet can be a little slow to adapt to shifts in the Oscar race, but it’s remarkable how few pundits have picked up on this film’s enormous awards potential, already healthily proven in early awards and nominations. It’s very much in line for a Sound Mixing nod, though the competition above it is heavy as hell. And here’s where Peter Berg’s Patriots Day makes its entrance, though it has much to prove – it may need to make bigger bucks than box office analysts are currently predicting to overcome its lack of traction with voters in early stages if it wants to win the Academy’s favour. Strong early responses indicate that it’s in line to attract considerable numbers of votes, though, should it succeed. Again, however, it’s relying on several other films to all out of said favour to secure a slot.
- MIXING: PATRIOTS DAY / EDITING: BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK
Everything I wrote about Patriots Day above, only with a tad less enthusiasm, because Sound Mixing already has a slot saved for La La Land. And now Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. It’s a technically-groundbreaking war drama with a major sequence set during the halftime show at a football match in a stadium. This one screams sound nominations, though its status in the race has affected it badly. From almost any other filmmaker, the critical reception that Billy Lynn has received wouldn’t have been so injurious, yet for Oscar darling Ang Lee it has virtually shunted his film out of the race completely. Films with lower Metascores could easily score nominations in either Sound Mixing or Editing as a result, but given that sound branch voters aren’t especially inclined to be turned off by lukewarm critical reviews, it makes little sense to assume that they’d overlook Billy Lynn simply because it didn’t meet expectations.
- MIXING: BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK / EDITING: DEEPWATER HORIZON
And again, you read what I wrote about Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk already. So now Deepwater Horizon. Here’s a film whose potential for a Sound Editing nomination hardly needs delineating. Again, a title that probably won’t find its footing anywhere else in the race, and again, an Academy branch that probably won’t care. It’s Peter Berg’s first film this year, though second film on this list, and ranks lower than Patriots Day in that its release was further from the voting window, and that its gross is lower than Patriots Day’s current projections. It looks like a much stronger option for Editing than Mixing, though consider that it’s entirely the work of the film’s mixers that layered together the various tracks within its impressive soundscape, and you’ll understand why it’s only just more likely to be recognized for Editing than it is for Mixing.
- MIXING: DEEPWATER HORIZON / EDITING: PASSENGERS
Re: Deepwater Horizon, see above. You know that by now. It’s Passengers’ turn. It’s a space-set action sci-fi, so Sound Editing ought to be its stomping ground. This film had major Oscar potential, with former nominees like Morten Tyldum, Jennifer Lawrence, Rodrigo Prieto, Guy Hendrix Dyas and Thomas Newman on board. But then the rumours turned out to be true and the film’s shit and that very potential has taken a nosedive. And yet it remains a contender, as a film whose tech specs could push past the negative buzz to score a few surprise nods below the line. I mean, sure, the reviews pan the premise and the script and yada yada yada, but how many of them tear into the sound editing?
- MIXING: PASSENGERS / EDITING: ALLIED
With Passengers out of the way, a 10th place choice that might surprise some. Allied will almost certainly be ignored by the industry as a whole this awards season, save for a rogue Supporting Visual Effects nomination from the Visual Effects Society, or something similar. But Robert Zemeckis’ films are always technical showcases, and Allied is a typically polished one from this innovative filmmaker, with a cracking sound design. Those in the best position to take notice are, naturally, sound professionals, and it’s thus quite within the realm of possibility that those in the Academy might find a spot or two for this war drama among their nominees. It has gunfire and a plane crash. It’s in with a Sound Editing shot for sure.
You’re a trooper making it this far through a post about the Academy’s most-maligned categories. Congratulations. Your life has been immeasurably enriched by this transferral of knowledge, as raw and unprotected as any impromptu insemination of an alternative orifice, and equally salty. Trust me, it took me longer to write than it took you to read.
You can relax now. Relax and read my blog, screenonscreen.blogspot.co.uk or frequent my Twitter @screenonscreen or drop by my flat for a chinwag, a cup of tea and a biscuit, some fish and chips, we can pop on the telly and watch Coronation Street! Take the lift to the sixth floor, I’ll cut your fringe, you’ll wear a jumper, we’ll eat some aubergines, eggplants and swede, you can call me on my mobile, we’ll have a ruddy good time, what ho!