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Oscar-nominated sound editors explain their key challenges (and the sounds you may not know they create)

Leading up to Sunday’s Oscars, EW.com will take a closer look at four categories that moviegoers may mistakenly think of as “technical.” After tackling Film Editing, we turn to Sound Editing, with insights from the nominated supervising sound editors of Argo (Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn), Life of Pi (Eugene Gearty, who shares his nod with Philip Stockton), Django Unchained (Wylie Stateman), and Zero Dark Thirty (Paul N.J. Ottosson). Skyfall‘s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers complete the category. (Update: Read our Sound Mixing and Cinematography pieces.)

Early in his career, Zero Dark Thirty‘s supervising sound editor Paul N.J. Ottosson, who won both the sound editing and sound mixing Oscars for The Hurt Locker, his first collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, would create a sound for everything he saw on the screen. “I would make them as big and cool as you possibly could,” he says, laughing. “They’d bring me to the stage, and sometimes the director would take out things: “We don’t need this. You don’t need this.’ And you’re just thinking Why, I see that thing on the screen? But at some point, you become more of a storyteller and start to focus on the story itself, and it’s a revelation. You understand how much better your work becomes and how much more important it becomes to the movie itself.”

For Argo‘s Ethan Van der Ryn, a two-time Oscar winner for King Kong and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, working on Saving Private Ryan was a turning point: “Steven Spielberg knew that he wanted to play the invasion of the Normandy beach with sound only, no music. So it was really an open slate to make it work with sound — to get to use the right, authentic sounds so you really feel like this experience is recreated for the viewer in an immersive way and you’re there, but also be able to do it in a way that becomes very emotional, that’s not just about getting all the details right. You have to have the right ingredients, but you need to weave them together in a way that works on an emotional, powerful sonic level.”

To understand the art of sound editing, we asked the nominees to talk us through some of their key challenges and scenes. But first, let’s start with the difference between sound editing and sound mixing, a separate Oscar category.

Essentially, the sound editorial team is responsible for assembling every sound you hear in the movie except the score and the dialogue that was recorded on set. This includes atmospheric sounds like the wind and ocean; hard effects, which are sounds synched for things like cars, gunshots, and explosions; and nuance sounds such as footsteps and people touching things with their hands. Though it’s more fun to talk about those sounds they gather and create (which we’ll do), they also edit and clean up the production dialogue delivered to them for clarity — syllable by syllable if necessary for directors like Quentin Tarantino who want to use as little ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) as possible, notes Django Unchained’s Wylie Stateman, a six-time Oscar nominee who’s done all of Tarantino’s films since Kill Bill: Vol. 1.

It’s the production sound mixer’s job to capture that dialogue on set as cleanly as possible to preserve the actor’s original performance. Post-production, the sound mixing team takes all the prepared sound elements mentioned above (there could be tens of thousands), plus the score (there were roughly 96 music tracks in Skyfall, for example), and affixes them to the screen and positions them in the theater while also setting their volume levels relative to each other. So they, too, create that immersive, emotional experience.

NEXT: The art of building tension without music

'Argo' at the Oscars: What its likely triumph is really about

You know the old saying about how the best explanation for something is usually the simplest? One could easily apply that to the Academy Awards. After all the politicking, the PR campaigns (Roger Ebert in the Weinstein Co. ads for Silver Linings Playbook: “I sense a groundswell”), the “snubs” and the pendulum swings, an elite handful of movies, actors, and artists behind the camera will emerge as winners on Sunday night, and the reason that each of them will win is (drum roll!)…. the members of the motion picture Academy voted for what they liked best! Period. It’s a thought so simple and debate-halting that it could almost have come from Debbie Downer. READ FULL STORY

Oscar-nominated editors clear up the biggest misconception about their category (and explain the decisions you may not know they're making)

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Leading up to Sunday’s Oscars, EW.com will take a closer look at four categories that moviegoers may mistakenly think of as “technical.” First up: Film Editing, with insights from Life of Pi‘s Tim Squyres, Silver Linings Playbook‘s Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers, and Zero Dark Thirty‘s Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, the latter of whom also cut Argo, making him one of only a handful of editors in Oscar history to compete with himself. Lincoln‘s Michael Kahn completes the category. (Update: Read our Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography pieces.)

Ask a film editor what the biggest misconception is about his or her role, and the answer is the same: “It sounds funny, but a lot of people tend to think it’s a purely technical job where you literally go in and cut slates off, and the director says, ‘Do that, do that, do that,'” says William Goldenberg, Oscar-nominated this year for both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty and previously for The Insider and Seabiscuit. What will surprise those moviegoers then is just how many decisions the editor actually makes — and when. Let’s start with an overview: READ FULL STORY

'Argo' and 'Zero Dark Thirty' claim Writers Guild awards

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prize_fighter1_bannerArgo continued its domination of award season by claiming one of the last of the pre-Oscar prizes — the Writers Guild Award, where screenwriter Chris Terrio won the honor for adapted screenplay. READ FULL STORY

The EW Popularity Index: Which 2012 movies had legs at the box office?

There’s no arguing who won the 2012 box-office: The Avengers smashed the competition, making $623.4 million. The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, Skyfall, and Breaking Dawn Part 2 also recorded blockbuster grosses, and the executives responsible for these hits can pat themselves on the backs for delivering the goods, which in these cases did not come cheap. The top 10 movies on last year’s box-office list cost, on average, more than $175 million each to produce — and that’s before a dime was spent on the marketing of a film and all the other fine-print considerations that eat into the profits.

But there’s more than one way to judge a film’s success, and while every producer might prefer to be in The Avengers‘ position, other, more modest films can claim victory as well. Back in 2005, EW devised a Popularity Index, which measured a film’s staying power in theaters; we’ve tweaked it only slightly this year to recognize the increasing number of platform releases. To get the index, we simply divided a movie’s total domestic gross by its biggest weekend tally — normally its opening frame, but not always.

The result is 10 movies that didn’t have record-breaking opening weekends, but they had legs. Many of them started slowly and gained steam as awards season heated up. Others were initially seen as disappointments, but then they just refused to go away, playing week after week to decent crowds. Most all of them had that rumored-to-be-extinct Hollywood creature: The Movie Star. Beancounters might prefer to be on that other box-office list, but the Popularity Index captures elements of quality that studios shouldn’t overlook.

Click below for the 2012 Popularity Index Top 10. READ FULL STORY

Oscars 2013: See the Academy's special edition posters for the nine Best Picture nominees

The Best Picture nominees have gotten a pop art facelift. Not that the nine Oscar contenders needed a facelift of any kind, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – along with Gallery1988 – still found a way to produce a fresh, eye-popping take on now-iconic images from these films.

The Academy recently released nine posters, one for each nominee, created by an international group of artists, many of whom have worked with Gallery1988 before.

Called “For Your Consideration,” the project is the first collaborative exhibition for Gallery1988 and the Academy. The Los Angeles gallery’s past entertainment-related poster collections include “Fringe Benefits,” which featured art inspired by fan-favorite episodes of Fringe, and The LOST Underground Art Show. READ FULL STORY

On the Scene: Ben Affleck charms BAFTAs, takes home top prizes for 'Argo'

Ben Affleck had them at “Good evening.” The organizers of the British Academy Film Awards (a.k.a. the BAFTAs: if you’re wondering what the ‘T’ stands for, it’s ‘television,’ now relegated to a separate ceremony) were surely fluttering their eyelashes at the Argo multi-hyphenate’s praise for their awards. He took to the stage with Bradley Cooper to present the night’s first award, Outstanding British Film, which went to the Bond film Skyfall, and uttered music to their ears: “Good evening, this is our first time at the BAFTAs and it’s thrilling to be here. I’ve always been a little bit in awe of the excellence of the British film industry.”

Maybe Affleck knew a grand night was in store: Argo bagged the night’s top prizes, Best Film and Best Director, as well as Best Editing. And Hollywood has been in agreement in recent years that it’s worth the transatlantic hop to brave BAFTA’s annually soggy red carpet (not much you can do about British weather), making one last stop before the Oscars. Even presenter Billy Connolly couldn’t dampen the mood when he insisted the BAFTA award resembled “a death mask on a stick.” Host Stephen Fry would have echoed the thoughts of the British film royalty gathered in the opulent Royal Opera House if he’d dared to utter: Hollywood, you like us, you really like us. READ FULL STORY

BAFTA winners announced, 'Argo' picks up Best Film and Director awards

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts handed out their awards Sunday in London. Argo walked away the big winner with Best Film and Best Director for Ben Affleck.

Lead acting prizes went to Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln and Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, with supporting awards going to Christolph Waltz for Django Unchained, and Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables. Click past the jump to take a look at the full list of winners.

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Box office update: Soderbergh's 'Side Effects' is no match for 'Identity Thief'

Identity Thief persevered in spite of winter storm Nemo, with an $11.2 million Friday opening. The R-rated Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy vehicle from director Seth Gordon opened wide in 3,141 theaters, and may be on track for a $35 million weekend. Bateman and Gordon scored big with Horrible Bosses, which had a $9.9 million Friday opening in July and went on to gross $117.5 million domestically. This is McCarthy’s first starring role, and could bode well for The Heat, which was pushed back to a June release. McCarthy also recently started a production company with her husband Ben Falcone and already has three projects in the works.

Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects fared less well, opening Friday in 2,605 theaters at $2.8 million–almost exactly on track with Soderbergh’s Haywire, which opened in late January 2012 with a $2.9 million Friday and a $8.4 million weekend. Channing Tatum’s last three movies, 21 Jump Street (March), The Vow (February), and Magic Mike (June), all had Friday grosses exceeding $10 million. Rooney Mara’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opened decently the weekend before Christmas in 2011, but fizzled after that.

The area affected by Nemo represents about 12% of the country’s box office. AMC alone closed 43 theaters in the northeast corridor including in Boston, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. New York theaters will attempt to open Saturday night, but Boston theaters are planning to remain closed through Sunday.

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Ben Affleck wins Directors Guild Award for 'Argo'

prize_fighter1_bannerSome people can win for losing.

Ben Affleck claimed the Directors Guild of America Award for Argo on Saturday in Hollywood’s latest thumb-in-the-eye to the small group of filmmakers in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who failed to nominate him for an Oscar.

“I worked really, really hard to become the best director I could be, by putting in as [many] hours as I can, and banging my head against a wall, berating myself, lying to myself about whether it’s going to work,” Affleck told the crowd, never mentioning the snub. “Basically, I got to a point where I was nominated for this award. And I don’t think this makes me a real director — but I think it means I’m on my way.”

It’s the third time in its 65-year history that the DGA Award has gone to a filmmaker who was not also up for Best Director at the Academy Awrds. It happened to Ron Howard, who claimed the DGA honor in 1995 for Apollo 13, and Steven Spielberg, who won in 1986 for The Color Purple.

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