ROLES OF AUDIO PROFESSIONALS IN FILM

In writing up my article relating to Audio Engineers and YouTubers, I ended up going into tons of detail about some of the various roles of Audio professionals across the film process. After sleeping on it I realized there was way too much information for my intended audience and I ended up cutting most of it out. I’ve decided that most of the information can still be useful so I decided to create an article talking about it on it’s own. So the film process uses the same basic sub categories that music does in that we have Pre-production, Production and Post Production. I’ll address each of these and hopefully people can take some information away from this and use it to their advantage.

PRE-PRODUCTION

Pre-production may not seem like a likely place to find audio professionals in film, but having them around can help alleviate and minimize all sorts of production and logistical issues before they become a problem.

          1. Producer – There are different kinds of jobs within music and film. Acting as a pre-production producer to help lay out possibilities on things like costs and time frames can help save tons of money on a given project.
          2. Consultant – This is something that I’ve repeatedly seen done as an afterthought in things like film and TV. Often times the sound department isn’t consulted until a project is already underway and the budget is set. I really don’t like having the conversation in the middle of the film where I get to tell the Director that he is over budget and it’s going to cost twice what he had planned for. The other aspect of a project that I always plan for is in regard to my equipment. If I draw up a budget I always add all of my equipment as if I had to go out and buy it new. There are a couple of reasons I do that. The first is it provides for the length and life of my equipment. Audio gear is hella expensive and when it breaks on a shoot, I either need to have a backup handy or the ability to replace it really fast. The second part of it is that it is a quality thing. I want to have the best audio available and so I want to use new stuff as often as I can. It limits discrepancies and odd variables that can happen with electronics over time.

PRODUCTION

So at this point I’m going to assume that if you decided to bite the bullet and hire an Engineer for their expertise. That’s great. There are really only two or three jobs in production that are really worth mentioning. I’ve worked as all three and they have very different aspects in regard to what your end result is.

          1. Sound Mixer – So if you are doing anything with dialog you want one of these guys. They are responsible for capturing and marking all of the takes in something like a film. The communicate constantly with the script supervisor on things like print takes and what are known as wild tracks. Wild tracks are sometimes just the scene done up close with all of the actors standing in a circle where they do their lines as just audio, or things that might help the sound designers later in post production. Depending on how good these guys are, they can make or break your post production budget.
          2. Boom Operator – A lot of people I’ve met think its a simple matter to be a boom operator and that anyone standing around can do it. That will do in a pinch, but in reality Boom Operators can save you a ton of time in post production by getting good usable audio on set. This means that there is less time in post production doing dialog replacement.
          3. Audio Engineer – The other aspect of production would be to do with something like a podcast or a video or a radio spot where you are in a studio and are properly mic’ed up. Most people think that these guys just push record and walk away, but if they are good, they will be constantly riding the volume fader and eliminate tons of editing time in post. This is just something that you just have to see to understand. It’s also becoming less and less common to do because it requires a lot more skill than just pushing record and walking away.

POST PRODUCTION

The last part where an Audio Engineer might be handy to have around is in Post Production. This is where all of the fun elements come together after something like a video or film is fully edited and cut. It’s also where all of your hard work can come together or blow up in your face. It’s also the most important part of Audio in videos and film. If you decide to spend money in just one area of audio to improve your quality, it should be here. So there are several processes here that are we use that I’m going to base the rest of this on. In the big leagues there can be up to 5 separate divisions working on the sound at the same time. It may be overkill for what you may need done but at least you’ll have some different options available.

          1. Lock Your Picture – When a film or a video comes to audio in post, there are a couple of things that should have happened already. If you use an editor or you are you’re own editor, make sure your picture is locked. You can read more about that and thing like project specs in my article in the Engineer’s Corner.
          2. Spotting Script Session – After a film comes to me and is locked into place, it is common practice for an Engineer to sit down with the Director and the Script Supervisor and do a spotting session. This is where we go through an entire film line by line and decide which lines need to be replaced in a process called Automatic Dialog Replacement. It also lets us pencil in specific times for things like voice overs or anything else that needs to be recorded. In the end we create a new script with the lines that need replacing as well as the exact time code placement start time for each line to be recorded. We use this later on when the Actors come in to speedily jump from one line to the next and it can save you hours in studio time. It is also a good idea to send all of the files to your engineer a few days before so that he can check for any problems. This step is really designed to save you tons of time. I’ve seen ADR sessions start 2 hours late because this step didn’t happen and we had to wait for files to transfer.
          3. Dialog Mix – After all of the lines are replaced the next step is to send it off to a dialog cutter/mixer. This guy can make or break your film. When they cut dialog, they should be making the dialog play all the way through with no breaks. You should be able to have just the dialog track and nothing else play and have most of the movie intact. It’s way harder than it sounds and is an art all by itself. It is also way easier if the project had a good Boom Operator and Sound Mixer in production.
          4. Foley – Foley is where we fill in the gaps of human movement or anything that needs to be performed to the picture. So things like footsteps or walking, running or a bunch of other movement would be covered here.
          5. Sound FX – Sound FX are usually everything that isn’t covered by foley. These sounds are often taken from pre-recorded sound libraries and are often warped and fit into place by a sound designer.
          6. Music – This one should be fairly evident but just for clarification, this would be any music that has to be recorded and locked to the picture, as in a Film Score.
          7. Re-recording Mix – So the re-recording mix is where all of the other sound elements get uploaded into a single session file and the Re-recording mixer does the final mix of the film. In the old days this used to be re-recorded to tape but now it comes out as as either a stereo file, 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound.

 

-S. F. Shields

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Posted in Enigineer's Corner.

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