Oscars: Sound Editing Versus Sound Mixing

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Instead of going into detail on each film and their chances (or lack thereof) as far as the sound goes, I thought it would be more beneficial to broach the topic of what the differences are between the Best Sound Editing category and Best Sound Mixing category, since I have to refresh my own memory most years when the Oscars roll around. Since more often than not, the composer’s score or the dialogue ring much more clearer in our minds while watching a film, we usually do not take the time to even acknowledge that many of the sounds we are hearing are not even apart of the film until added. Also, it is by the grace of the mixers that we can even hear dialogue coupled with score and sound effects. And with the overlap in both categories most years, many people just begin to assume that they must be basically the same thing.

Here’s how a fellow blogger (http://nevertooearlymoviepredictions.blogspot.com/2012/03/sound-editing-versus-sound-mixing-oscar.html) sets the differences:

Sound Editing is the creation and recording of new sounds, and the work that goes into cleaning up and perfecting individual sound elements.

Sound Mixing, by contrast, refers to the way that sounds are “mixed” or layered upon each other.

Most years you will see more action, war, or animated films being nominated in these categories and there’s a reason for that. These types of films require developing more sounds to be added, or in the case of animated films, all the sounds need to be developed on a sound stage. With action films, you’re not only producing the sounds of explosions or car chases, you’re also mixing those to an acceptable level where they are not too overbearing and so the audience can still enjoy whatever else is going on in the scene. If there’s an important discussion happening during the car chase, you can’t just turn off all the noise. It needs to be mixed so that the conversation is still audible next to the sound of engines revving, sirens blaring, or people screaming.

Looking at the nominations this year, you can get a better understanding for each:

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MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: The film is one giant car chase in a post-apocalyptic desert. The sounds of trucks and gun fire, splashing waters or raging fires, every extraneous noise must be edited and added.

THE MARTIAN: Since you can’t go to Mars and record sounds, you have to make your own. Anything in space and anything on a spaceship will have to be produced.

THE REVENANT: Raging waters hitting against rocks, attacking bears cracking the back of Hugh Glass, the sound of an Indian’s arrow going through a man’s skull; these are not noises that exist on a set.

SICARIO: The opening backyard explosion and the ear-ringing feature that puts you in the ears of the characters is probably enough to put this film on the sound radars. But then you add the gunfights and you’ve got yet another level of sound editing.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS: Again, it’s space. But now, you’ve added blaster sounds, the sound of X-Wings and Tie Fighters zooming by, explosions behind our heroes, Storm Troopers talking through voice boxes, as well as the iconic voice of Kylo Ren following in the footsteps of Darth Vader and James Earl Jones. You’ve got alien creatures making noise, the sound of lightsabers hitting one another, and Starkiller Base charging from a nearby sun and exploding entire planets. If you’re going to put a film at the front of the pack in Sound Editing, this one will likely take the cake due to sheer volume.

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BRIDGE OF SPIES: The only film not also nominated for Best Sound Editing, “Bridge Of Spies” probably contains something special in terms of ironing out the levels that it lacked in adding new sounds to the mix.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: Again, making conversations between characters during car chases with score playing underneath and even having it be audible is nothing short of a miracle and the fact that that’s almost what this entire film consists of it, makes this a pretty solid front-runner in Best Sound Mixing.

THE MARTIAN: Not to provide any spoilers, but when the most pivotal moment in the film is set during a suspense-filled climax of an approaching space station, a rocketing Matt Damon, and tons of blast offs, radio conversations, and suspenseful score, to make that the marvel that it is, you have to be able to comprehend the sounds while not letting it take you out of the moment, to which this does.

THE REVENANT: Mixing score and sound effects to perfection was the key here, since not a lot of the dialogue is positioned against much.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS: Take all the elements there were produced in Sound Editing and toss them together. It’d be great to have a chance to hear the un-mixed versions of these cuts, because it would be a garbled mess. If you’ve ever had surround sound and had a speaker go out or if you were in a theater with less than desirable sound, chances are you are a little aware of how important mixing is. To get any mixture of audio elements to iron out in a way that doesn’t take an audience out of the scene is impressive and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” does so to perfection, also making it a fellow front-runner in this category as well.

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