When the Academy Awards roll around every year, the question of what differentiates the Oscar for Best Sound Mixing and Editing can arise. Two technical categories awarded on Hollywood’s Biggest Night, and yet sounding so similar – they’re bound to breed confusion! Besides sounding similar, the nominees for sound mixing and editing often overlap. So what actually is the difference between the two categories?
Before being called sound editing, the Academy referred to this category as ‘sound effects editing.’ The award’s original title is much more telling of what the job actually entails and what the Academy recognises.
The 89th Academy Awards outlined the responsibilities of a sound editing supervisor as ‘the principal interpreter of the director’s vision to the sound editing team.’ Sound editing supervisors are responsible not only for approving sounds and deciding their placement within a film, but also with editing dialogue and coordinating any additional dialogue recordings, or ADR, the cast needs to perform. Everything you hear on screen is composed and constructed by a sound editor.
Besides compiling the sounds that have been collected throughout production, sound editors are also responsible for creating new sounds, whether they record them themselves or use a sonorous library of effects.
In essence, sound editing is the responsibility for all of a film’s sound elements, including dialogue; sound effects; dialogue replacement; atmospheric sound and more.
Once the sound editor has completed his job, the sound mixer can get to work, working on top of the sonorous landscape the sound editor creates.
A sound mixer enters the scene once a film’s sound has been edited. Variety magazine defines a sound mixer as the person on a film’s production which decides how the audience will hear the film. Academy Award nominated sound editor Erik Aadahl, who was nominated alongside Ethan Van der Ryn for Argo, described the post-production sound design as an orchestra. He went on to describe that “the sound editor is the composer choosing a symphony while the sound mixer works as a conductor, deciding when the symphony should rise and fall.”
Sound mixer’s manipulate a sound editor’s work in order to inject certain emotions in a scene. A sound mixer may decide to emphasise a film’s score during a particularly melancholy moment just like they may decide to highlight a character’s heaving breathing, overshadowing a scene’s other sounds to help build tension.
The Academy’s Sound Mixing category is often populated by large action and war films. With big action films like 2017 nominees Hacksaw Ridge and Rogue One, sound mixers can have up to 2,000 channels of sound they need to work with. It’s important here to balance the individual elements in the scene as much as it is to create an overall atmosphere.
You may ask if having two sound categories is really necessary and in reality the Academy ignores various technical categories that often go without recognition. For now, we’ll have to be satisfied with just these two sound honours.