With audio post production being one of the final steps in the filmmaking process, it is a rare occasion when we are asked to impart our know-how during the early phases of a film’s creation. However, with budgets and schedules shrinking, and with the demand for stellar sound continuing to rise, it would seem imperative and advantageous for filmmakers to dialogue (pun intended) with a sound facility prior to the start of principal photography, in order to help a filmmaker avoid burning through their budget. Equally important is the fact that a solid line of communication between both parties can lead to an efficient, well-sculpted and extremely satisfying audio post production experience. If you’re planning on making a film, we’d like to share a few ideas that can save you some money, time and lots of heartache.
Tip 1: Hire a solid, like-minded crew
The key ingredient necessary for producing a film with amazing results is, and always has been, talent. Not only having it, but hiring it! A filmmaker who surrounds him or herself with a group of dynamic, professional, clear-headed and talented individuals stands to gain so much more for his or her project. Sushi Girl, a film we sound designed and mixed at the end of 2011, had that dynamic synergy from conception all the way through to the final sound mix. We still get goose bumps thinking about how all the departments gelled so perfectly (the film is now available on VOD, by the way).
Tip 2: Forget fixing it in post
It is a curious misconception that a film’s sound can be miraculously saved in post production, but unless you’ve got unlimited funding, be aware that not everything can or should be fixed in post. If your dialogue is buried under what sounds like the 5 Freeway during rush hour, there’s only so much filtering or noise reduction your editor or mixer can do before they begin to chip away at the frequencies that shape the dialogue. The alternative fix would be to ADR the troublesome scene, but you risk losing the spirit of the performance captured on location. There’s nothing worse than watching an actor come in for ADR, only to discover that we need to revoice their intense emotional crying scene because someone left a generator running through some of it. Don’t fix it in post; avoid it in production. This leads to our third tip:
Tip 3: Love your production sound team and let them do their job
It sounds like common sense, but capturing strong, clean production sound is essential, not only for having a healthy post production experience, but for simply telling your story. Let your sound guys record as much roomtone and ambiences as possible, particularly if environments are naturally noisy or dodgy. The more roomtone the better. Our dialogue editors appreciate having it. Other things to be aware of during production include: Generators or fridges running during a take (or two, or three), airplanes and/or traffic, muddy or distorted recordings, dolly tracks or camera movement, off screen crew members movement, etc. Your production sound team won’t ever ask for anything other than a few moments of silence. Use that time to meditate on how much money those couple of minutes will save you in the end.
Clean production tracks can not only make the dialogue editorial a relatively smoother task, but it can also result in a more focused and streamlined ADR schedule. Instead of booking time to fix technical issues, you can use your ADR budget to enhance performances. Your actors will appreciate that. So will your producers.
Tip 4: Avoid the Pitfalls of Temp Love
As sound editors, we seek to create unique sound experiences for each project that we are involved with, always striving to “up our game” while minimizing or avoiding the use of cliché sounds. We have terabytes filled with commercial libraries and custom recordings, and with the ease and flexibility of Soundminer and ProTools, there exists the possibility for elevating a film’s soundscape to staggering heights. Sadly though, despite all these great tools at our disposal, a bad bout of temp love can squash the potential for incredible sound design.
In no way are we opposed to picture editors cutting temp sound effects into their OMF/AAF. On the contrary, we feel that utilizing temp sounds in the cut can be extremely effective in helping to convey the director’s vision to the sound designers. However, temp love can unwillingly arise at some point during the endless hours of picture cutting, where a director is exposed repeatedly to the questionable sounds over and over and over and over again. In some instances, the temp sounds may have some charm to them and may work just fine (with a little sweetening), but often enough, many of those sounds come from old, overused sound libraries, are low quality or mp3 recordings, or were ripped from previously existing movies (yep, we’ve seen it happen).
Overcoming temp love can be a nasty fight, but in any case, it is important to keep the filmmaker’s vision in mind, communicate vigorously on what the film needs sonically, and offer to enhance and build up the existing OMF sounds using the audio tools and skills we have at hand.
Wrapping it up
Seriously folks, if you’re going to make a movie, remember that post-production sound CAN truly bring your film to new levels, but don’t think of your film sound as an afterthought. Start right away. Talk to some sound designers early on, and pick their brains about sound. It may just inspire you! Get to know your production sound crew and let them get as much coverage as they need. Budget properly for post and allot enough time for your sound designers to impart their wealth of sonic madness onto your film. Save your film before it breaks! Happy filmmaking!
Photo Credit: Owen Peterson