Academy "Favoring" Consolidation of Sound Editing and Sound Mixing Oscars (Exclusive)

The sound branch's three governors notified branch members of what it acknowledged would be a "big change" at a time when "the lines that separated our responsibilities to the overall soundtrack of a motion picture are blurring."
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

A category shakeup at the Oscars may be around the corner.

A subcommittee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' sound branch is "favoring" a consolidation of the sound mixing and editing categories, the branch's governors informed members Wednesday in an email, calling it a reflection that "the lines that separated our responsibilities to the overall soundtrack of a motion picture are blurring."

Governors Kevin Collier, Teri Dorman and Scott Millan wrote that the subcommittee was tasked with investigating "substantial overlap" between nominees for and winners of the best sound editing and best sound mixing awards, and reached this conclusion.

In 2006, the sound editing Oscar was given "permanent status with five guaranteed nominees," like the sound mixing Oscar. Over the 13 Oscar ceremonies that have taken place since, the governors write, "there have been a substantial number of times when the same film was recognized in both of our award categories" — specifically, eight in the last 13 years, with 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, 2009's The Hurt Locker, 2010's Inception, 2011's Hugo, 2013's Gravity, 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road, 2017's Dunkirk and 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody.

It is important to remember that the Academy's sound branch members, who presumably understand the distinction between sound editing and sound mixing, solely select the nominees in the two sound categories — but the categories' winners are chosen by the entire Academy, and the vast majority of members are not experts in sound and do not know the distinction between editing and mixing. (This is a recurrent point in The Hollywood Reporter's annual 'Brutally Honest Ballot' conversations with Academy members.)

The letter, which the governors said they sent in the interest of "transparency," revealed that there has been "an ongoing conversation within our branch executive committee" about "fundamental changes" ever since the awards and events committee of the Academy's board of governors first asked the sound branch governors "to review our two awards and consider combining our awards into one award" three years ago, a request that "was reintroduced again last year."

The sound awards subcommittee has since "met and discussed our current award configuration," the governors' letter continued, and "are favoring taking the step of combining sound mixing and sound editing into a unified 'best sound' award'" which would recognize both disciplines, with nominations going to "up to 2 supervising sound editors, 1 production sound mixer and up to 3 rerecording mixers." The governors added, "Everyone that has been part of the discussion so far feels that this change will give us more unity as a community and strengthen us as a branch."

The governors added that they "are pushing to have the sound branch vote on this award change in the coming months" and emphasized that "any potential change would not go into effect until the 2021 Oscars (93rd Academy Awards)."

The full text of the missive appears below.

* * *

Dear Sound Branch Members,

It has always been our goal to represent you with integrity and transparency. For that reason, we would like to make you aware of an ongoing conversation within our branch executive committee to examine our current awards rules and consider the possibility of fundamental changes. As a result of this discussion, we have formed a Sound Award Subcommittee to further evaluate this potential change and to consider all of the various details that it would entail. Your feedback is requested and valued.

For the past 13 years, since the sound editing award was given permanent status with five guaranteed nominees, there have been a substantial number of times when the same film was recognized in both of our award categories: sound editing and sound mixing. Here are some of the stats the Sound Branch Executive Committee has reviewed:

2006 to 2018 = 13 years

Same film has been nominated for both sound mixing and sound editing = 100% (13 years)

Same film has won for both sound mixing and sound editing = 62% (8 years)

Same person has been nominated for both sound mixing and sound editing = 46% (6 years)

Same person has won for both sound mixing and sound editing = 8% (1 year)

As you can see, there has been substantial overlap in nominations and recognition between the two separate categories within the sound branch. The reasons for this have been many and are due to new technology and changes within the business model under which we do our work. We are, and have always been, a unique branch clearly defined by what was considered to be separate disciplines, but it is becoming more apparent that the lines that separated our responsibilities to the overall soundtrack of a motion picture are blurring. It seems inevitable that we as a branch address these issues at hand and move forward in the most constructive way.

Beginning about 3 years ago, the Sound Branch was asked by the Awards and Events Committee to review our two awards and consider combining our awards into one award. This request was reintroduced again last year. The Academy’s Board has valid reasons for making this request, but those reasons are not the motivating force that has brought together this subcommittee. Please understand, this is not a directive from the Academy but simply a request to review at this time. Any potential change would not go into effect until the 2021 Oscars (93rd Academy Awards, for films released during 2020). The Sound Branch Executive Committee feels very strongly that we have a responsibility to look at our awards as they currently stand and determine if they truly represent the sound community and the work we do in the best possible way.

The Sound Award Subcommittee that your Sound Branch Executive Committee formed has met and discussed our current award configuration. They are favoring taking the step of combining Sound Mixing and Sound Editing into a unified "Best Sound" award. The people on the committee feel that changes in the way we work and the merging of roles through the use of digital technology warrant this change with the end goal of keeping recognition for both disciplines, (up to 2 supervising sound editors, 1 production sound mixer and up to 3 rerecording mixers) but combining them under one award banner, which is "Best Sound for a Motion Picture." Everyone that has been part of the discussion so far feels that this change will give us more unity as a community and strengthen us as a branch.

This is a big change and is not yet a done deal. Again, we your governors and your Sound Branch Executive Committee, want to represent our membership, so we wish to engage you in this conversation and solicit your input. Truthful feedback, both pro and con, is very important to us as we seek an accurate assessment of the opinion of our members. We are pushing to have the Sound Branch vote on this award change in the coming months, so we’d like to hear from you as soon as possible.

It must be acknowledged that the creation of the soundtrack of any motion picture is a team effort that should be recognized for the unique and joint contributions of both editing and mixing. The end result is much more than the sum of its parts. Please reach out to us and engage in the discussion. Together we can guide our branch in 2019 and beyond by recognizing and honoring our legacy while looking towards the future.

Thank you!

Sincerely,

Your Governors,
Teri Dorman, Scott Millan, Kevin Collier