For the first time in decades, the Academy has merged sound editing and sound mixing into a single category because of persistent overlap, and this season offers five exemplary nominees: the experimental “Sound of Metal,” “Mank,” and “Soul,” the rugged western soundscape of “News of the World,” and the explosive sounds of World War II battleships in “Greyhound” (the latter two starring Tom Hanks).
But Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal,” in which Riz Ahmed portrays Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer losing his hearing, is the favorite to win the Oscar for its complexity and detail. Although the film was snubbed at the MPSE Golden Reel Awards, it rebounded to take the CAS sound mixing prize. This is a film about sound because of the way it explores deafness as a way of experiencing sound and vibration. Getting inside Ruben’s head creates the dichotomy between “omniscient sound and perspective sound,” according to the director, who tapped supervising sound editor Nicolas Becker (“Arrival,” “Gravity”) to create this unique soundscape.
Becker made the internal vibration become all the more intense for this musician. He used a combination of multi-directional mics to create a hyper-real effect along with condenser mics. Plus, Becker put mics underwater and on the actor’s skull, which even captured the sound of his eyelids closing. A high-voltage transformer achieved a beast-like sound, from which he pulled a range of vibrational tones. Additionally, the sound of Ruben’s cochlear implant seemed cold and synthesized. Jaime Baksht, the re-recording mixer, then combined the sounds to complete the experimental soundscape.
In “Greyhound” (which won the effects/foley MPSE Golden Reel), the sound design was a symphony of crashing waves and heavy gunfire. The sound team, led by three-time Oscar-winning supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Michael Minkler (“Black Hawk Down,” “Dreamgirls,” “Chicago”), balanced the soundscape with destroyers, U-boats, and stormy high seas. But there was also the barking of nautical orders by Hanks in the heat of battle along with quieter moments of exposition.
For David Fincher’s “Mank,” the black-and-white Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) biopic about Golden Age Hollywood and scripting “Citizen Kane,” go-to sound editor and mixer Ren Klyce experimented with modern tech to reproduce the aural limitations of movies from the ’30s and ’40s. And he did it through reverse engineering. First, Klyce made it sound great, then he downgraded the spectrum, treating every aspect separately, and then he mixed it several times, adding distortion, compression, and other artifacts. Finally, at Skywalker Sound, he created heavy echo, reverb, and other annoying anomalies to authenticate what “Citizen Kane” sounded like in a movie theater.
For Paul Greengrass’ first western, “News of the World,” about a treacherous Texas road trip between Hanks’ ex-Confederate, who reads the news from town to town, and Helena Zengel’s 10-year-old orphan, the soundscape was spare and austere, but unpredictably violent. Greengrass was in good hands with four-time Oscar nominated supervising sound editor Oliver Tarney (including “1917,” “The Martian,” “Captain Phillips”) and rerecording mixers Mike Prestwood Smith (“Captain Phillips,” “United 93”) and William Miller (“Baby Driver”).
For “Soul” (which won the MPSE and CAS animation awards), Pixar’s first Black-led feature, Klyce was tasked with creating two distinct soundscapes for the jazzed up New York City and the ethereal Great Before. Both were each made to play off the jazz music composed by Jon Batiste and the synth score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who were recommended to director Pete Docter by Klyce). While the urban setting sounded hectic and full of danger, the sound of the semi-transparent, pre-birth world was calm and child-like.
Key Oscar Indicators
The Academy’s sound branch currently has 634 members, of which 542 are active and 92 are retired. The reason for the consolidation was overlapping Oscars throughout the last decade and sound editors doing a lot of their own mixing. However, the Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) and Cinema Audio Society (CAS) of sound mixers remain active as separate organizations. The heavily favored “Sound of Metal” looks to buck the Oscar trend that leans toward action and musicals. In terms of animation, eight Pixar films have been nominated, with “The Incredibles” winning for sound editing in 2004.
Thursday, March 25, 2021
CAS final online voting begins
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
CAS final online voting ends
Monday, April 12, 2021
MPSE final voting ends 5:00 pm PT
Thursday, April 15, 2021
Final Oscar voting begins
Friday, April 16, 2021
68th annual MPSE Golden Reel Awards
Saturday, April 17, 2021
57th annual CAS Awards
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Final Oscar voting ends
Sunday, April 25, 2021
Winners announced at the 93rd Academy Awards (Oscars)
“Sound of Metal”
“News of the World”