Sound Editing and Sound Mixing make or break a movie

Morgan Smith

The two most under appreciated Oscar categories have to be Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.

But, like almost every other category, they are vital to every film. They are just as important as Cinematography or Film Editing.

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Ever since “The Jazz Singer” in 1927, films have consisted of half moving images and half sound. You can’t have one without the other. Even silent films have music and sound effects attached to them.

This is a simple idea, but often overlooked. The biggest mistake of first-time filmmakers, and even experienced ones, is poor attention to sound. If you watch any home video or amateur short film, you can tell its quality immediately by the sound. Loud pops, unintelligible dialogue and a lack of background noises ruin a film.

This is where sound editors and mixers come in.

The difference between the two is the same difference between cinematography and film editing. The cinematographer or cameraman captures the film or video, and the editor cuts and pieces it together.

All sounds that get mixed in the final cut are dialogue, effects, music and foley (an umbrella term for ambient noise like footsteps, the creaking of wooden floorboards or the rustling of clothes).

Sound editors are responsible for capturing the sounds on scene. But most of the time, its not possible to record all foley noises and background noise.

So the editors have to create the sounds themselves. One of the weirdest jobs in the world, sound editors will sit in a studio, watch the footage and come up with new, strange ways to mimic expected sounds.

For example, editors of old samurai films like “Yojimbo” would break chopsticks that were stuck in dead chickens in order to get the right sound for a sword cutting through flesh. The famous lightsaber sound effects for “Star Wars” were made by combining the sounds of the motors in old film projectors and the interference on an old TV set.

Sci-Fi/fantasy and action films are the best at this because so many sounds don’t actually exist, like the roar of a dragon or the beeps of a motherboard on the Enterprise.

Sound mixers have to focus on two things: balance and clarity. If every sound were mixed in at the same volume, everything would be a chaotic mess. Gunshots need to be louder than dialogue, which is louder than footsteps and rustling clothes.

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Again, this sounds simple, but is messed up so much. I can’t get through all of “Lawless” or many other films with thick accents because the sound mix on the dialogue is horrible.

For regular dramas, this isn’t difficult, but in movies like “Skyfall” or “Lord of the Rings,” there are a million different sounds in every frame of an action scene.

This kind of complexity is the reason why films will sweep Sound Editing, Mixing and Visual Effects more often than not.

So the next time you watch a movie, pay attention to all the nuances and background sounds and you’ll see how much care was put into every scene.

Collegian A&E Film Beat Writer Morgan Smith can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @MDSFilms.