For some in the film industry, things tend to quiet down considerably at the end of a year, allowing one to focus on making good with new resolutions and fine-tuning their projected annual goals. For others, things aren’t so peace and quiet. There’s this little event in January called The Sundance Film Festival, and preparing for it can drive even the most seasoned of filmmaker a little bonkers.
If you’ve ever found yourself involved with a Sundance-bound project, I can bet you’ve got an interesting story to tell that involves scrambling through the holidays to meet the last possible delivery deadline before the film screens in Park City. Fortunately, in the great spirit of filmmaking, it is all done with great excitement and with eager anticipation.
Our most recent venture into Sundance territory came with Greg Barker’s MANHUNT, an HBO documentary that follows the CIA’s twenty year pursue of Osama Bin Laden. The film made its Sundance premiere this past Sunday, January 20th, and we are proud to have provided sound editorial and final mix for it. This makes our third collaboration with Greg and his team (SERGIO, KORAN BY HEART), and though we’re pretty familiar with Greg’s approach to sound design and how his films should sound, that mad dash to Sundance can easily throw your workflow into a frenzy. The problems, nay, challenges aren’t always creative in nature, and as such, we have adopted several challenge-meeting steps to taken in order to overcome the times of panic and to ensure successfully deliver our required elements.
Step 1: Forget what isn’t ready; start cutting whatever IS.
Our jobs in post sound can’t really begin until we’ve got locked picture in house to cut to, or at least elements that are “locked enough” to get started. On MANHUNT, our biggest challenge though was not in preparing a complex soundscape, but in waiting for proper locked elements to turn over, and in coming up with an organized plan of attack to get everything done on such a fast schedule.
Understandably, it can be a daunting task for documentary filmmakers to sift through an ocean of unscripted material in order to structure a story that is both entertainment and educational. As if the mad Sundance dash weren’t enough of a stressor, Greg Barker’s wife was days from giving birth, so our director’s time and energy were split between locking the picture, and being at his wife’s side (not to mention time spent in color correction and time at the sound mix!). Luckily, Greg’s got a pretty dynamic creative team, and elements soon began trickling into Monkeyland on December 26th. Though the turned-over material did not include any locked A/B reels, we received sequences and segments that were “locked enough” for us to commence editorial. Every few days, new pieces would arrive, and with the January 7th mix date looming, we continued to cut quickly and precisely, staying on course, one sequence at a time.
Greg Barker usually prefers a more minimalist approach to sound in his films. The dialogue plays up front and center, of course, with music keeping a steady pulse underneath, and sound effects taking a more muted, yet punchy and present supportive stance. However, in contrast to our previous Greg’s previous two films, MANHUNT employed the use of a computer-generated flowchart to help demonstrate (via moving arrows) the CIA’s extensive and elaborate grasp on the far-reaching terror network known as Al Qaeda. The graphics were slightly thematic, thereby requiring some low-key eleventh-hour adds during the mix. Minor visual changes continued well into the final.
Step 2: Keep precise notes
A massive assembly of all cut sessions for MANHUNT took place prior to the start the mix. We kept and distributed a strict log of each picture and OMF delivered, and each editor was responsible for labeling his cut sessions with the appropriate version number. This numbering system allowed for a more manageable collection of all the cut sessions, as there always existed the possibility of newly “locked enough” picture being delivered prior to current cutting sessions being complete. Thankfully, dialogue and effects were both cut to the same version of picture, so no mini-conforms had to take place. Updated “locked enough” sequences were in fact delivered, but we decided to keep the FX and dialogue editors working on the originally delivered version, then conform everything to the latest version in one massive mini-conform once we’ve had a chance to assemble all the edited sessions into one big session. Only Foley adds were shot to the newer versions of picture, and those sessions were then easily merged into the newly conformed full editorial session.
Oh, and at some point after we started mixing, we received the beginning and end scenes of the film.
Once the picture department began to turn over full A/B reels (during pre dubs), our sound supervisor Steven Avila conformed the large session to match the final locked picture reels. All six fully cut reels were now ready for Mark Rozett, our re-recording mixer. A few more conforms happened on the stage during the final mix, but fortunately they were minor enough to not interfere with the mix time.
Step 3: Communicate with your Re-Recording Mixer
Somewhere in between the compressed sound editing schedule and the firm delivery date lays what became the seven-day final mix of the project. And you think the editorial stresses are tough! It is imperative to have at least a pow-wow with your re-recording mixer prior to the mix. They need to know the scoop on how things were edited, who cut what, how many tracks, any spotting or director notes, etc. We always try and keep the mixer in the email loop, or at least involved in some capacity prior to the mix. With any luck, there may be a predub day for the mixer to familiarize him or her self with the material beforehand. On MANHUNT, Mark Rozett was lucky enough to have two days worth of predubbing before being joined by the picture editor on Day One of the final mix.
In the end, the mix turned out just fine. The dialogue played up front and center. The music kept a steady, underlying pulse. The sound effects were muted, punchy and present. Greg Barker’s wife did have their 3rd baby just prior to Sundance, and Greg was able to make it to the Sunday morning premiere at the Marc. It all worked out just fine, and after all the mad scrambling to get MANHUNT ready to screen at Sundance, the worst is now behind us. Suddenly, it isn’t such a harrowing horror story, but rather, a fond memory about the making of a film with a compelling story to tell. Thank you, Greg Barker, for continuing to bring us along on your journeys. We look forward to the next mad dash to Sundance with you, and hope MANHUNT continues to meet positive response at Sundance.
MANHUNT premieres this Spring on HBO.