Thu. Sep 19th, 2019

2017 Oscars: Sound and Fury Signifying Everything – Deconstructing Sound Editing and Sound Mixing Contenders

A deep bench of films are vying for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing nominations
A deep bench of films are vying for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing nominations

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We always find great races in the top categories like Best Picture and Best Actress (although both of those are getting closer to call by the day) but this year we have a fantastically open and exciting pair of categories to predict in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.

The relationship between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing is an important one and often a symphonic and symbiotic one. It’s no surprise that when it comes to Oscar nominations you’ll often find films earning both.

I know, I know, what’s the difference between these two and why should you care? First, let’s start out with a brief description of these two sound categories and their difference.

Sound Editing

A sound editing team and its supervisor create “designed” sound, meaning sounds that are not organically recorded during the production. That means things like the beeps of a car horn, the laser from a spaceship and, most often in this Oscar category, the gunfire and explosions in a war or police-driven film.

Sound Mixing

A sound mixing team and its leader the conductor; they take the recorded production sound, the music from the composer, rerecorded dialogue (ADR) that wasn’t captured on set and the added sounds created by the sound editing team to make the final version you hear.

What builds these two categories for Oscar’s final five are often a wide range of film types. If there’s a popular musical (like La La Land this year) you can bet on it getting a Sound Mixing nomination, and often a win. It’s less likely to earn a Sound Editing nomination though. If there are war films or action films with lots of gunfire you can pencil those in, too. Sometimes this is a good place to look for a very strong Best Picture candidate to emerge or solidify its status. 2010’s The King’s Speech earned a Sound Mixing nomination, which was a major clue to where and how it would end up beating The Social Network for Best Picture that year.

This year is getting increasingly difficult to predict as we have virtually all of these genres of film that do very well here currently in contention. Critical reception, good or poor, is often not a factor here. The sound branches that vote for these nominations are not large and are often very insular. It’s why you see repeat nominees and winners here year after year. That’s generally a good place to start even before predicting an actual film. You know almost instinctively that if Gary Rydstrom (a 7-time Oscar winner) or Kevin O’Connell (a 20-time nominee) have a film that you better consider it. This year, Rydstrom has The BFG in contention. Of Rydstrom ‘s 18 nominations, nine have been for Steven Spielberg films, including last year’s Bridge of Spies. The difference this year is that The BFG was seen as a mostly a failure both at the box office and critically. It doesn’t stand a chance at a Best Picture nomination as most of Rydstrom’s Spielberg films have accomplished. Still, it’s not out of the mix. Kevin O’Connell is the ultimate bridesmaid of the Oscars, having been nominated and lost 20 times. His streak between 1984-2008 is pretty extraordinary. Even though his first nomination came from the family drama, and Best Picture winner, Terms of Endearment, he’s widely known for his action, war and sci-fi/fantasy sound work. This year, he has two major films in contention that could earn him his 21st, and possibly 22nd, nomination. The World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge from director Mel Gibson, with its gunfire, explosions and swelling score, seem like a perfect combination for a Sound Mixing nomination (and Sound Editing, for that matter). Gibson’s last film, 2006’s Apocalypto, scored nominations in both sound categories. Passengers, from director Morten Tyldum, is a sci-fi film filled with music and sound effects that would make perfect sense as a nominee. Although O’Connell has been nominated in both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing before he is only in contention for Sound Mixing for these two films this year. O’Connell is no stranger to double nominations in a single year; he pulled it off twice – in 1997 with The Rock and Twister, and in 1999 with Armageddon and The Mask of Zorro. He could very well do it again this year.

Animated films used to do very well in both of these categories but we haven’t seen an animated film nominated in Sound Mixing since 2008’s WALL-E and in Sound Editing a four-year streak of nominations for Pixar films ended with 2010’s Toy Story 3.

So what other films are vying for a spot in these two categories?

The previously mentioned La La Land is not only a lock for a Sound Mixing nomination, you can pencil (pen?) it in for the win. Musicals, even those that don’t win Best Picture or even get nominated, do very well here. Les Misérables and Dreamgirls are the most recent winners here. Andy Nelson, the sound mixer for La La Land, is a 20-time nominee and two-time Oscar winner in this category. He also has Hidden Figures, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The BFG. He’s been double-nominated four times before and could become the first person to be nominated for three films in a single year.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has taken a critical drubbing, but between war sounds, football arena sounds, and fireworks, it’s a total contender here. Its re-recording mixers were both nominated for Ang Lee’s last Oscar-winning film, Life of Pi.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story could perform as well as The Force Awakens did last year. Granted, there will be a bit of a muted response in the shadow of The Force Awakens massive box office but with nominee Christopher Scarabosio on board, it would be a safe bet.

Two sci-fi films are in contention for these categories; the hit Arrival and the upcoming Passengers. As mentioned above, the Passengers pedigree here is the real deal. For Arrival, we don’t have the same team that worked on director Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, which earned a Sound Editing nomination (mostly for all of those rat-a-tat gun battles) but the film feels like it could receive multiple tech nominations elsewhere (not to mention top categories like Best Picture and/or Best Actress) and the created alien sounds combined with a unique score could find the film with mentions in both categories.

Martin Scorsese’s Silence has been shrouded in so much mystery but when you see that the film’s sound mixer and sound editor are both Oscar winners from Scorsese’s Hugo it’s something to consider.

Clint Eastwood’s Sully also has Oscar winners and nominees heading its sound teams, including Bub Asman’s two wins in Sound Editing for Eastwood films – American Sniper and Letters from Iwo Jima.

Dual Peter Berg films could find themselves nominated this year. The late summer release Deepwater Horizon and the Christmas release Patriots Day have mixers and editors that worked on both films. Deepwater Horizon has 7-time nominee Wylie Stateman and mixers Ron Bartlett (Life of Pi) and Mike Prestwood Smith (Captain Phillips). The latter is also on Patriots Day but is the only person with previous Oscar attention.

Live by Night, Ben Affleck’s follow-up to his Best Picture winner Argo, has Oscar-nominated heads of the sound editing and mixing team and could be a force here.

As predictors, we often look to the two guilds that represent these two categories; the Cinema Audio Society (CAS) for Sound Mixing and the Motion Picture Sound Editors guild (MPSE) for Sound Editing. CAS announces their nominees on January 10th, two weeks before Oscar nominations. They separate their categories between Live Action and Animated. Last year’s winners were The Revenant and Inside Out, respectively.

The MPSE is a much more difficult precursor. Last year they announced very late, with last year’s nominations coming after Oscar nominations and winners announced just days before the Academy Awards. The year before that it was about a week before nominations and winners. There is currently no announced date for nominations or winners. They also have multiple categories that acknowledge all elements of sound from Dialogue/ADR, FX/Foley, Music Score and Music in a Musical, not to mention the separation of animated, documentary and foreign language films. Last year’s winners included Inside Out, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Son of Saul, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Love & Mercy, Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant. Mad Max: Fury Road went on to win both Sound Oscars.

Check out what the Gold Rush Gang thinks is getting in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing right now.

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