Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:
Today, Nick Rehak of French Toast Sunday is here to look at the nominees for Best Sound (Editing and Mixing).
Sound (Editing and Mixing)
Sound Editing and Sound Mixing OR: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Every year, I have to take a second and figure out the difference between Sound Editing and Sound mixing. Do I feel silly? Of course. I went to broadcasting school and did some extensive audio editing and mixing. See. Right there. So I should know these things. But, hey, we’re not perfect. BUT, you can be with these simple paragraphs breaking everything down for you!
The nominees for sound editing this year make explaining this category real easy. Sound editing is essentially creating sound effects. One of this year’s nominees, to no one’s surprise, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, is the perfect example.
During the filming, actors will wield colored sticks as stand-ins for lightsabers. They’ll make clack and whack noises, and it’s up to the sound editors to take those sounds out, or dampen them, and insert the proper sounds. In this case, it’s the “lightsaber sound” we’re all used to hearing. The static laden distorted whoosh of sorts. Most of these are already stored, and it’s a matter of clicking, dragging, and determining length and level (something we’ll touch on later). Sometimes, these effects don’t exist.
When filming the original Star Wars, George Lucas and Co didn’t have a bevy of sounds to play with. So a bunch of guys got together and took apart a television, and just put metal to different components, making weird noises. Sometimes you hit a metal bowl a certain way with the mic positioned another. It’s what foley artists do, essentially. They’ll watch the film and if a board breaks, maybe they’ll break a board or snap several sticks at once to add that extra crunch. Or maybe they get absurd and they throw in a bowling ball striking pins when a character is slammed through a table.
This year’s nominees include the aforementioned Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, 1917, and Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. I’m surprised by Hollywood’s nomination. Most of the editing here would have been ambient effects, be it cars passing in the distance or the sound of the projectors in the movie theater scenes. Joker makes some sense. Towards the end when things become chaotic and riotous, wilder sounds would have been added, but I don’t see this one running away with it. To me, the front runners are Ford v Ferrari and 1917. There is PLENTY to add to Ford v Ferrari. The entire film is jammed with car noises and sounds. All the revs, tire screeching, and the symphony of power tools had to have Donald Sylvester working overtime. 1917 is a war film. Plain and simple. Both of these films can’t afford to have the actual sounds going during the film as it would make recording audio impossible. But when that does happen, Sound Mixing comes into play.
So while Sound Editing is more inserting and creating, Sound Mixing gets it all together and makes it sound flawless. Think of the club scene in The Social Network when Sean is explaining to Mark that a billion dollars is cooler than a million dollars. When the scene is shot, there is no music. It’s Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg talking while colored lights wash over them again and again. People are out on the floor dancing to whatever song is in their head. Pay attention next time at a club scene and watch how the characters really aren’t dancing in time to the song. It’s often why montages are used during those scenes. Think of The Matrix when everyone is dancing at that underground rave place in slow motion to the music. I’ve only seen the film twice. Zion? I don’t know where they are. Sound editors will add the music, but it’s up the the mixer to layer it in and make it all seem like it actually happened in real time.
The Sound Mixing nominees are no surprise. Ad Astra was at times quiet and methodical and then it immediately shifts into the score describing the actions/emotions. The narration plays a key too, as you don’t want it too loud and overpowering, but you don’t want it soft either. Personally, I could have done without the narration, but we’re not here to talk about that. The rest are double dips from Sound Editing: Joker, 1917, Ford v Ferrari, and Once Upon a Time.. In Hollywood. 1917 and Ford v Ferrari have to get the balance just right. If the car races or gun fights are too loud, it can be jarring, annoying, and push the viewer away, rather than bring them in and let them explore the world sonically. Joker, I think, did a masterful job with Sound Mixing and is my pick for the Oscar. They balance the sounds of the city, a gritty and dirty place, and use the soundtrack as this powerful force, kicking the door down and allowing Joker to step in and kick Arthur Fleck out. Once Upon a Time could sneak up behind and grab it though. There is a lot to balance here. Street/Highway sounds, numerous musical cues that Tarantino is known for, as well as the occasional narration. I was fortunate to see all of these films in the local Dolby Atmos theatre and the sound quality was absolutely amazing. Not a bad apple in the bunch, but I feel Joker will take it, mostly because of that score. That cello THUNDERS through the film and adds so so much. But that’s hear nor there. Get it? I used hear instead of here. It probably doesn’t work, but I’m not sure how else to end this post.