Oscars 2020: Best Sound Mixing Predictions

"Ford v Ferrari" and "1917" are running neck and neck in the Oscar race for sound mixing. Updated 1/25/20.
George MacKay as Schofield in "1917," the new epic from Oscar®-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Sound mixing continues to get more complex and nuanced — often integrating the soundscape with the score — and emphasizing the immersive benefits of Dolby Atmos. This year’s contenders are led by the high-octane thrills of James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” racing biopic, Sam Mendes’ continuous-shot, World War I extravaganza, “1917,” and Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to 1969 Tinseltown, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

In “Ford v Ferrari,” car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) teams up with iconoclastic test driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to build and race the revolutionary Ford GT40 Mark I in the hopes of winning the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Fully intact period sports cars are hard to come for the rigors of racing movies, of course, but sound editor Don Sylvester found a guy in Ohio who built a Ford GT from scratch using vintage parts. He let them trick it out with microphones and drive it around a track. That became the hero Ford GT. Then he found a ’59 Ferrari in Atlanta, whose owner let them run it through its paces (in Florida, though, because of noise limitations in Atlanta), and that became the hero Ferrari.

However, the mixing was just as challenging since the cars were extremely noisy, so all the sound from cars to dialogue for the louder scenes had to be recreated in post, since production sound was unusable. On top of that, the engine sounds needed to be suitably paced and contained within the subjective experience of Miles. Therefore, you had to follow where he was in the races at all times and you had to be aware of his state of mind as an emotional journey. Just being loud wouldn’t do, so sometimes silence became a sonic tool as well. Additionally, the mixing team integrated Marco Beltrami’s score by using the car motors as the low notes.

Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Twentieth Century Fox’s FORD V. FERRARI.
Christian Bale and Matt Damon in “Ford v Ferrari”Merrick Morton

In “1917,” two young British soldiers (George MacKay as Schoefield and Dean-Charles Chapman as Blake) must deliver a letter that warns of an impending ambush beyond No Man’s Land. This single-shot narrative, put audiences through the trenches with them like an obstacle course. Like everything else, sound had to be meticulously planned ahead of production. “In interpreting Sam’s vision of the story as a continuous unbroken journey, it was important that the audience felt ‘locked-on’ to Schofield & Blake every step of the way,” said sound mixer Stuart Wilson. “The sound is important for that. We had to find a way to capture their breathing and footsteps every step of the way. Through deep trenches, in and out of buildings, over battlefields. We had to find equipment and develop techniques I’d never used before.”

While sound and music are always integral to the movies of Tarantino, this most personal of projects contains a more complex soundscape involving the recreation of vintage TV shows and the iconic rock hits from AM radio station KHJ, the sounds of classic cars, a martial arts fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), and the violent clash with the Manson Family (including a flamethrower). It became quite the mixing balancing act.

The final five contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.

“Ford v Ferrari” Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow
“1917” Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson
“Once upon a Time in Hollywood” Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano

“Ad Astra” Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano
“Joker” Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland

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