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The Academy Awards: Guide to the Categories

Oscar-nominated Director of Photography EMMANUEL LUBEZKI prepares a shot with actor FORREST GOODLUCK (as "Hawk") on the set of THE REVENANT.

Best Picture. Best Actress. Best Director. We all know what these Academy Awards are given for. It doesn’t take a seasoned cinephile to know that the Best Actor awards goes to, well, the best actor of the year, at least in the eyes of Academy voters. But, how many of us watch the Oscars and nod our heads absently when the Best Production Design award is presented? And, we may know who DiCaprioBlanchett, and Fassbender are, but what about Oliver Tarney and Jack Fisk? Let’s face it, when it comes to the Oscar categories, there are some we don’t know anything about. I mean, what exactly is the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing? That’s what we’re here to tell you! Here is a quick run-down of the lesser-known Oscar categories to help you prepare and predict for the Academy Awards on February 28th!


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Image Source: Emmanuel Lubezki on set for “The Revenant”

It’s way more than pretty pictures. Cinematography is literally the art of making movies. The cinematographer is responsible for all of the visual aspects of a film. They determine camera angles and movement, lighting, color, and focus. Basically, everything you see in a given shot is credited to the cinematography. For example, the opening scene in “The Revenant,” where the camera slowly pans over the focused river, is the creative work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who previously won the Oscar for last year’s “Birdman” and “Gravity.” It’s the silent work of cinematography that leaves us visually stunned and intrigued over certain films.

Nominees: Ed Lachman “Carol,” Robert Richardson “The Hateful Eight,” John Seale “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Emmanuel Lubezki “The Revenant,” and Roger Deakins “Sicario”

Film Editing

Basically, a film editor is responsible for cutting and assembling shots together in a cohesive and artful way. Film editors are the reason we can get lost in movies—when done correctly, film editing allows the audience to forget they are watching a pieced together movie, and instead become enthralled with the world created on-screen. Film editors must take into account music, dialogue, and flow of action to present a complete work.

Nominees: Hank Corwin “The Big Short,” Margaret Sixel “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Stephen Mirrione “The Revenant,” Tom McArdle “Spotlight,” and Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Production Design

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Image Source: Colin Gibson on set for “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Production design, or art direction, is all about the overall physical look of a film. Creatively, art directors must visually bring about the desired emotional and conceptual response to a story. They are responsible for seeing the creative vision of a film through to fruition. Some ways they might do this are through specifying filming locations and designing the style for sets, costumes, and overall landscape.

Nominees: Adam Stockhausen “Bridge of Spies,” Eve Stewart “The Danish Girl,” Colin Gibson “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Arthur Max “The Martian,” and Jack Fisk “The Revenant”

Sound Editing

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Image Source: David Acord editing sound for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Sound editors are basically responsible for taking dialogue, sound effects, and music and making them sound the best they can. They might edit sound clips to make them sound clearer or ensure that the transitions from shot to shot are audibly seamless. Sound editors prepare and assemble all sound clips to be mixed.

Nominees: Mark Mangini and David White “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Oliver Tarney “The Martian,” Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender “The Revenant,” Alan Robert Murray “Sicario,” and Matthew Wood and David Acord “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Sound Mixing

Sound mixers, or audio mixers, take the edited sound clips—dialogue, effects, and music—and combine them into one channel. They might alter the levels of certain clips to make one sound more predominant, or add in reverberation or frequency. They bring about all of the separate sound clips into one cohesive, auditory universe.

Nominees: Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Drew Kunin “Bridge of Spies,” Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, and Mac Ruth “The Martian,” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom, and Chris Duesterdiek “The Revenant,” and Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”


We hope this list helps you appreciate all of the artists in the film industry who dedicate hours to their craft, all so we can enjoy the power of movies. We also appreciate all of the artists and scientists who are constantly innovating new ways to enjoy film, many of whom were honored at this year’s Scientific and Technical Awards. Be sure to tune in February 28th for the 88th Academy Awards on ABC.

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