Sound designer and Oscar winner Randy Thom has had a huge influence on the art of film sound through both his work and his writing. Few have explained so clearly what goes into making great sound for movies.

Variety spoke to Thom and asked him to lay out some of his core ideas, then spoke to sound pros from some of this year’s movies about how these ideas apply to their pictures. We split the answers into the two Oscar sound categories, sound mixing and sound editing.

Sounds must be articulated clearly

Even when you’re knee deep in the sonic landscape of an action film, sounds have to be distinct. Move them forward or back to keep the overall sound from getting muddy.

Make room for silence between sounds

Moments of silence or quiet are crucial in the overall sound design of a film. Just like pauses in musical composition, those times give the audience a break and they also make whatever comes after the quiet seem more impactful and meaningful.

Moderate the use of dialogue

Other sounds takes a back seat whenever someone’s talking. Films that use dialogue judiciously open themselves up for greater use of sound.

If you have to choose, go for dramatic sense over technical accuracy

Sometimes the sound of an actual explosion won’t have the same emotional impact as some other sound altered to represent what you’re seeing onscreen. If that boom turns out to be the noise of a penny rattling around in vacuum cleaner, don’t be surprised.

Eye on the Oscars: Vfx, Sound & Editing
Thesps up f/x respect | Longtime teams keep work fresh | Randy’s rules for top sound | Sound editing: Always make dramatic sense | Sound Mixing: Making it all feel real | Digital tools add quality, cut costs