Every year, devoted viewers of the Oscars find themselves asking the same questions. Why is this so long? What are these movies? When are Tina and Amy gonna host this thing? Where does one even watch a short film? And what, pray tell, is the difference between sound editing and sound mixing?
Understanding this most elusive concept is key to winning your Oscar pool, because anybody can spot a Best Supporting Actress, but only the true experts can handicap the sound race. So before you fill out your ballot, consult this handy guide to all things sound, then recite it to your viewing buddies when some moron complains that there’s no reason for two sound categories (there should be like, nine, and don’t even get me started on casting).
Imagine you are making a movie about aliens who come to earth in giant space pods and communicate via an extremely complex visual language. This movie is called Arrival. Unfortunately, no giant space pods carrying aliens have arrived on earth yet (that we know of), so you have to make up what they sound like yourself. That’s the job of the sound editor. For an even better, legendary illustration, think of the Tyrannosaurus rex in the original Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs do not currently exist and there are no recordings of what they sounded like, so it was up to the sound editors to invent an approximation of their roar. For the T. rex, sound editor Gary Rydstrom incorporated elements of a baby elephant’s cry and his own Jack Russell terrier. (And he won an Oscar for it. This dude is iconic. Look him up.)
The sound editor also has to fill in everyday, real-world sounds that you hear while watching the movie but that don’t necessarily pick up during filming, like a glass breaking, or in the case of Jurassic Park again, the ladle hitting the ground when the kids are hiding from velociraptors in the kitchen. Editors do this by using a library of sounds they already have, or in some cases, creating the sounds themselves and recording them.
Now imagine you have made your movie about aliens who come to earth in giant space pods, but you can’t hear Jeremy Renner saying, “Let’s make a baby,” over the roar of the pods exiting the atmosphere. Time to hire a sound mixer! The sound mixer’s job is to balance all the sounds that the editors have created with the dialogue, the score, the soundtrack, and anything else that’s making noise in the movie. If you’ve ever watched a movie on cable and had to turn it down during the action scenes but way up during the dialogue, then you know what bad sound mixing is like. Also, if you’ve seen Interstellar. If there is any movie in the world capable of teaching people what sound mixing is, it’s Interstellar.
La La Land is probably going to win in this category because people love musicals and how they're mixed, but if you need a better example of what a sound mixer is doing, think of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. For that movie, the sound mixer had to make sure you could still hear Jyn Erso talking while Imperial walkers smashed palm trees all over Scarif, then add some score in for good measure. I feel like that’s probably harder than making Ryan Gosling sound like a legitimate jazz pianist, but that’s none of my business.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.