The LAMB Devours the Oscars – Best Sound Editing; Best Sound Mixing

by Dylan · January 30, 2008 · LAMB Devours the Oscars · 10 Comments

Editor’s note: Welcome to the third of a multi-part series dissecting the 2008 Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every weekday leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category (or more) of the Oscars (there are 24 in all). To read any other posts regarding this event, please just click on the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!

By Pat from Doodad Kind of Town

If you’re anything like me, you probably haven’t paid too much attention to the Oscar categories Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. Truth be told, when I’m watching the awards at my friend’s annual party, I’m more likely to be filling my plate at the buffet table when the sound awards are announced than to be glued to the TV screen in rapt anticipation.

This year will be different, though. This year, I’ve actually done some reading and research about the work of the nominated film sound designers and technicians. Plus, I’ve discovered there is a little drama behind one of this year’s nominations.

Kevin O’Connell, a nominee for Achievement in Sound Mixing, holds the all-time record for most Oscar nominations without a win (19, to be exact.) He’s the Susan Lucci of film sound mixers, you might say. This year, O’Connell got his 20th nomination for “Transformers.” Will he win – or will he continue his distinguished but winless run in the category? I’ll be watching intently to find out.

The complete lists of nominees are as follows:

For Sound Editing

“The Bourne Ultimatum” (Universal) Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg

“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Skip Lievsay

“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney) Randy Thom and Michael Silvers

“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) Christopher Scarabosio and Matthew Wood

“Transformers” (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro) Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins

For Sound Mixing –

“The Bourne Ultimatum” (Universal) Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis

“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland

“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney) Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane

“3:10 to Yuma” (Lionsgate) Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Jim Stuebe

“Transformers” (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro) Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin

You might be wondering (I was): What’s the difference between the two awards?

The Sound Editing award is given for achievement in executing the sound design of a film – it has a lot to do with the creation of sound effects. (In fact, for many years, the award was called Best Sound Effects , then Best Sound Effects Editing.) The Sound Mixing award, by contrast, is based on the excellence of the finished soundtrack of the film, including the entire mix of sound effects, music and dialogue.

(Why did “There Will Be Blood” got the nomination for Editing, but not Mixing? Was it Jonny Greenwood’s score – which tended to sound more like a swarm of crazed cicadas than music – that alienated voters? I’m only guessing. Personally I found the score both disturbing and effective, but not everyone shares that view.)

This New York Times article is not only a great introduction to the craft of film sound, but also gives you a whole new appreciation for the importance of sound design in double-nominee “No Country for Old Men.” With only 16 minutes of music in the film’s entire 122-minute running time, the sound effects have even greater impact. As “No Country” sound editor, Skip Lievsay explains, “The idea here was to remove the safety net that lets the audience feel like they know what’s going to happen. I think it makes the movie much more suspenseful. You’re not guided by the score and so you lose that comfort zone.”

Oh, and the sound made by that air-powered cattle stun gun wielded by Javier Bardem? It’s actually a pneumatic nail gun. According to sound mixer Craig Berkey “I wasn’t looking for authenticity, so I didn’t even research cattle guns. I just knew it had to be impactful, with that two-part sound, like a ch-chung.”

Reading this article made me want to go back and see “No Country” again just to focus on the sounds. Ditto for “There Will Be Blood,” after reading this interview with Sound Designer Chris Scarabosiso and Re-recording Mixer Mike Semanick (both P. T. Anderson regulars). Here they talk about how the sound of the oil derricks underscores the tensions in the story:

Semanick: (The derricks have) a constant grinding – they’re going and going, you know. And I mean a constant (he makes a “Chug! Chug!” sound). It’s like poking at the town’s folk and poking at the preacher kid because they got shorted out of the money. And the derricks are still pumping away, so it’s this ongoing character in the background, a constant track audible every day in these people’ lives.

Scarabosio: (Paul) was pretty adamant about it sounding dangerous. But Paul doesn’t like things to sound too over produced So, it’s the challenge of trying to create that without it sounding too over done. Give it that sense of darkness, danger, but also convey it’s this big piece of wood with these big metal wheels and stuff and they always have to have some kind of imperfection to them as well.

I love the idea of the oil derricks being a sort of additional character in the film. Those are the kinds of subtle details I rarely pick up on a first viewing, but knowing about them makes me want to go back to “There Will Be Blood” all that much more.

Randy Thom – a double nominee this year, and a two-time Oscar winner for “The Right Stuff” and “The Incredibles” – gives a little insight into his sound design for “Ratatouille” in a video interview at filmsound.org. Here he talks about the special challenges of creating sound for an animated film, and gives some background on how his team was able to create an authentic feeling of being in Paris. (Hint: listen closely and you’ll hear actual Parisians speaking French in the background of some scenes.) Thom is a distinguished sound veteran who got his start working on “Apocalypse Now.”

While I appreciate the fine sound work of “3:10 to Yuma” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” (I didn’t – and won’t – see “Transformers”), I believe the award winners will come from one of the three aforementioned films. In fact, my money is on either “No Country for Old Men” or “Ratatouille.” Why should you believe me? Well, I’m no expert, but I have won my friend’s Oscar-predicting contest in three of the last four years. And I usually choose the technical awards correctly.

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10 Responses to The LAMB Devours the Oscars – Best Sound Editing; Best Sound Mixing

  1. Marilyn says:

    Great article, Pat. I’m so much more visual than auditory that I never pick up on this stuff unless it’s shoved down my throat. Thanks!

  2. Nick says:

    Wow, that was a pretty good article, there! I love watching behind-the-scenes stuff, and it’s always interesting when they talk about the sound effects and how they get some of the things to sound the way they do. Sometimes you’d never expect it.

  3. Woo, that was a riveting read. I can’t believe I used the word riveting :D. Swarm of crazed cicadas! That has me laughing no end. The first time I heard it I was ready to run away, but it made sense in the madness after the second and third listen.

    There’s a lot of stuff here I had no idea about and it’s awesome! I hope whenever I see a movie, I will remember your article and watch the movie with wonder and amazement.

    Me to future movie buddies while watching a movie together:
    “Did you hear that sound? Was that a Chuuiiiing or a more of a Keraaaiiiinnng?”

  4. I admit I’ve always had trouble understanding the difference between these two categories. Thank you so much for this write-up! The No Country and There Will Be Blood portions were especially intriguing.

  5. Daniel G. says:

    Great job, Pat. I’m really glad you referenced that NYT article – it’s from the same section that had the Art Direction article I tried to link to in Nick’s. (It also has a good editing article for whoever’s doing that). I thought all of those were really interesting.

    These are going to be tough categories to call this year I think – made no easier by your great analysis of the strengths of each!

  6. mikemachacon says:

    very informative article, pat. ;o)

    of the nominees for both category, i’ve only seen Bourne and Transformers, so i can’t really venture a guess as to who will win both categroies.

  7. movie gal says:

    In terms of Sound Editing I don’t know why there is even any other nominees aside from Transformers. I know many are saying that There will be Blood should take the award however I disagree as there was barely any sound to edit in that film!!! Transformers on the other hand takes the cake as not only a great film but a great example of how a movie can be transformed( haha) with a exceptional sound editor.

  8. Lauren says:

    I’m not going to throw my hat in with people who seem to worship this article, though it was a decent effort. It’s nice to have a clarification of the differences between the two awards.

    I’d really suggest you give Transformers a chance. Yeah, it’s robots blowing stuff up, but it’s actually robots blowing stuff up done fairly well. In fact, it’s the reason I’m reading this article, as I remember watching the movie and thinking “damn, this sound is done really well”, and I never think that about movies.

    If you want your article to be comprehensive, you need to watch all of the nominees, and evaluate their sound with an open mind.

  9. Matt says:

    Thanks for the analysis Pat!

    Like everyone else I couldn’t have explained the difference between sound mixing and sound editing if my life depended on it.

    I especially enjoyed hearing about the work that goes into every facet of a film’s production. It reminds me how cinema truly is an art form.

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