Oscars might remove a category

The Oscars is like a living, breathing entity, constantly evolving and seeming to either be skirting or courting controversy with practically every decision its voting bodies make. Let’s introduce the Popular Oscar! Just kidding, that’s not happening. Let’s relegate cinematographer speeches to the commercials! On second thought, we’re including everyone in the broadcast. Let’s hire Kevin Hart as the host! Actually, never mind, we’re going host-less.

At least it keeps things interesting.

The latest potential change isn’t garnering the same level of outrage as those previous decisions, perhaps because this one actually seems to be pretty good idea: the governors of the Academy’s sound branch are reportedly “favoring” the concept of consolidating the Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing awards into a single “Best Sound for a Motion Picture” award. Read their reasoning below.

The Oscars Might Remove a Category…But Not Until 2021

The Hollywood Reporter acquired a copy of an email that Academy sound branch governors Kevin CollierTeri Dorman, and Scott Millan sent to its members, informing them that they were “favoring” combining the sound editing and sound mixing categories into one after an investigation into the “substantial overlap” between nominees and winners in those categories over the past several years.

It all boils down to these numbers:

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)

The governors stress that this is an “ongoing conversation” to “examine our current awards rules and consider the possibility of fundamental changes”, so no final decision is in place yet, but the branch was asked to consider this change three years ago and the request was made again last year.

“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…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 re-recording 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.”

It’s not surprising that the Academy would ask the branch to consider making this change – it seems like every year, they try to find new ways to trim the broadcast time in an era when the awards ceremony consistently lasts around three hours and general audiences aren’t tuning in as much as they used to. This would be a way to snip a few minutes out of the broadcast without causing too much of a ruckus.

Then of course, there’s the fact that, as THR points out, the sound branch members currently select the nominees for these two sound categories, but the entire Academy votes on the winners, and “the vast majority of members are not experts in sound and do not know the distinction between editing and mixing.” (The most basic way I remember the difference is that sound editing involves what sounds are in a given scene, while sound mixing involves the volume and intensity of those sounds.) A case could be made that members of a voting body should, oh I don’t know, maybe take their responsibility seriously enough to actually learn the distinction instead of throwing their hands up in the air and just voting for the same thing in both categories, but here we are. In any case, I’ve seen some good points made comparing this possible consolidation to how set decoration is a vastly different job than production design, but both of those arts are recognized in the same category, so there’s precedent for this type of thing already.

Even if this decision does move forward, it wouldn’t go into effect until the 2021 Oscars, so look forward to filling out both categories on your ballot early next year…maybe for the last time.

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