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.