It's not easy being a smart aleck.

Oh, it looks easy in the hands of professionals like Jon Stewart or Stephan Colbert, but a smart alecky life is not as glamorous as it seems.

Article Tab : Inception, a movie that many people found confusing, won Oscars for sound editing and sound mixing. Perhaps people should have paid more attention to what they heard, and not what they saw.
"Inception," a movie that many people found confusing, won Oscars for sound editing and sound mixing. Perhaps people should have paid more attention to what they heard, and not what they saw.

Unlike those big cable TV stars, most smart alecks toil in relative obscurity.

And most of the smart alecks who exist in the real world – and not in the fanciful worlds of movies and television – have to take responsibility for their smart aleck remarks.

Which brings me to last week's column about the Oscars telecast.

In the column, I made a smart aleck remark about the categories "best achievement in sound editing" and "best achievement in sound mixing." Instead of taking the high road by explaining the difference to readers, I went for the cheap laugh. I said I didn't know the difference, implying that there is no difference. I thought it was funny.

Apparently, sound mixers and sound editors didn't find it so funny.

Since smart alecks like me have to answer to a higher authority – my readers – I am going to man up and turn this column over to a loyal reader who called me out on my smart aleck remark.

His name is Harry Cheney, and he not only is a professor at Chapman University's Dodge College of Film in Orange, but he has been a Hollywood sound editor for 31 years (the comedy "American Pie" and Sandra Bullock's thriller "The Net" were two of his films). He said he was amused by my "feigned confusion" regarding the difference between sound editing and sound mixing, and suggested that the skilled and hard-working people in his craft are accustomed to being misunderstood and neglected. I wish he hadn't played the "misunderstood and neglected" card. Smart alecks have feelings, too.

Anyway, he thought this might be a good time to clear up some of the confusion that people like me help to foster. I agree.

Before I turn over this space to Harry, however, I should note that he joked in the beginning of the letter that one of the main differences between sound editors and mixers is that mixers make considerably more money than editors. I guess Harry has his own smart aleck moments. I suspect that all sound editors wish they were smart aleck columnists.

Just for the record, the Oscar winner this year for best achievement in sound editing was Richard King for "Inception," and the best achievement in sound mixing went to Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick, also for "Inception."

People who were bewildered by that movie probably should have paid more attention to what they were hearing instead of what they were seeing.

Here's what Harry Cheney wrote (pay close attention to what he says because there might be a pop quiz):

"Sound editors 'fix' the dialogue recorded by the production mixers on the set. We take out unwanted noises and replace bad dialogue with ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) where the actor comes into a studio and re-records the offending lines.

"We record high-paid SAG actors putting words into the mouths of the people in the background who look like they are talking but are not.

"We record, select, manipulate all the sounds for a film. Anywhere from 80 percent to 100 percent of what you hear is added in post production.

"We 'perform' and record sound effects while watching the film on a Foley Stage. Here, we replace footsteps, movement and props the actors are handling, animal footsteps, and even big objects like trains.

"The 'Sound Designer' takes ordinary sounds and manipulates them to make them sound like robots, Wookies and spaceships.

"Our days last 12 hours or more, followed by long periods of unemployment.

"Mixers take all this work and then select the sounds that best tell the story at any given point in the film. It's usually a process of elimination. They balance the levels, with the dialogue usually taking precedence over everything else. I don't know about you, but lately I've had trouble understanding a lot of film dialogue. These high-priced mixers need to work on that.

"The mixers add the music, composed and recorded by…the composer and edited by the music editor.

"And I haven't even begun to talk about what needs to be done for foreign distribution."


Sound Editing Oscars:

2010 – "Inception"

2009 – "The Hurt Locker"

2008 – "The Dark Knight"

2007 – "The Bourne Ultimatum"

2006 – "Letters From Iwo Jima"

2005 – "King Kong"

2004 – "The Incredibles"

2003 – "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"

2002 – "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

2001 – "Pearl Harbor"

2000 – "U-571"


Sound Mixing Oscars:

2010 – "Inception"

2009 – "The Hurt Locker"

2008 – "Slumdog Millionaire"

2007 – "The Bourne Ultimatum"

2006 – "Dreamgirls"

2005 – "King Kong"

2004 – "Ray"

2003 – "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"

2002 – "Chicago"

2001 – "Black Hawk Down"

2000 – "Gladiator"