The production sound mixer is the member of a film crew responsible for recording all sound on set during the photography of a motion picture. This requires choice and deployment of microphones, choice of recording media, and mixing of audio signals in real time.
The recorded production sound track is later combined with other elements or re-recorded by automatic dialogue replacement.
In Hollywood, a mixer usually makes between $250 and $450 per day (plus overtime) (Ginsberg).
The duties of a sound mixer include:
Hiring the boom operator and utility sound technician.
Discussing sound-related problems with the rest of the crew.
Specifying what sound equipment will be used on the set.
Responsibility for ordering and preparing the equipment to be used.
Andy Nelson is responsible for the sound of Tom Cruise's voice.
Well, in a manner of speaking.
Nelson, 52, is an esteemed sound rerecording mixer, his official title, for which he's been nominated for a dozen Academy Awards, including one this year for best sound mixing for the Cruise blockbuster "War of the Worlds." It's work that even movie buffs may assume is highly technical, borderline-geeky and not the domain of a true artiste.
Not so, says Nelson, who's been in the business for more than two decades and has collaborated with director Steven Spielberg 10 times. He insists that the process of blending, tweaking and modifying the noises that roar through the movie theater speakers is extraordinarily creative.
"What we try to do with sound is enhance and create the storytelling. We're really creating the voice of the movie," Nelson said.
Nelson and frequent colleague Anna Behlmer, another rerecording mixer, typically spend about six weeks working on a film. During that time, they sit in front of a movie screen and a huge mixing board, taking all the existing audio elements (dialogue, score, effects) and blending them together. Nelson, Behlmer and production recordist Ron Judkins, who captured sound during the actual filming of "War of the Worlds," are nominated together in the best sound mixing category.
They divvy up the duties like this: The high-pitched Dakota Fanning screams and the swelling melodies composed by John Williams are Nelson's responsibilities, as the mixer who focuses on dialogue and music. The crack of the alien tripods bursting forth from beneath the sidewalks of New Jersey falls to Behlmer, who handles the mix of sound effects.
Both worked closely with sound designer Richard King, who supervised the overall creation of the film's otherworldly reverberations.
Unlike mixers Behlmer and Nelson, King is nominated for an Oscar in the best sound editing category. Nelson explains it in rock 'n' roll terms: King and his group make the music, while Nelson and his team mix the various tracks to produce a hit song.
Eventually, Nelson, Behlmer and King collaborated with Spielberg, Williams and film editor Michael Kahn, who collectively aimed for the best possible merger of audio with visuals.
"I've worked with directors who are extremely nervous during the process because they realize the whole thing is coming to an end and these are their last chances to put any major changes into the movie," Nelson said. Spielberg, however, is an exception.
"I love working with him because he is extraordinarily efficient with his time," Nelson said. "I'll play him a sequence and he's laser-sharp in his ability to go right to the area where we need to do some work."
Despite his 12 Academy Award nominations - he won once, in 1999 for "Saving Private Ryan" - Nelson said the thought of hearing his name called on Oscar night makes him anxious. ("It makes my mouth go dry just when I think about it.") But Nelson says he's hoping for a "War" victory this year, if only so Behlmer can have an Oscar, too.
"If we win, she would be the first woman ever to win an Oscar for sound," he said. "That would be a breakthrough."