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INTERVIEW:Charles Martin Inouye, AKA Chuck Martin – Music Editor

Chuck Martin, one of the busiest music editors in Hollywood took a moment to talk shop about what he does and how much he enjoys it.

WOODY: How did you get into post-production audio?

CHUCK: Music editing.  That was my first and only jump into post-production audio, right into music editing.  My wife was a music editor and my  career as a musician was coming to an end so she suggested becoming a music editor like herself.  She trained me, and once she became too pregnant to music edit anymore, I took over her job at Hanna Barbera.

WOODY: So you are a musician and composer?

CHUCK: Musician and I consider myself -slightly – a composer.  I played guitar, made a living doing that for 10 years.

WOODY: Music as a sole means of financial support?

CHUCK: Yes. Started a solo career in a restaurant playing guitar and singing, and then playing in a band in various bars in the Newport Beach area, then going into touring with Juice Newton in the early 80s.

WOODY: When you got into the Juice Newton thing, were you also a session player?

CHUCK: No…I never learned to read music.  For Juice’s albums, the Producers felt more comfortable using ‘real guys.’  The touring band didn’t really record on any of the albums, although I did get to do a guitar solo because I was used to playing it live all the time.

WOODY: What venues did you play?

CHUCK:  Universal Amphitheater which is now called the Gibson Amphitheater.  A lot of arenas across the country.  We did a tour with Alabama…played at a couple stadiums.

WOODY: Have you worked in other areas of post?  Or just music editing from the start?

liquid-music

Back row, left to right: Jim Harrison, Julia Quinn (office manager), Andy Dorfman, Tanya Hill. Front, left to right: Jeff Carson, Chuck Martin.

CHUCK: Music editing from the start.

WOODY: Most people probably have no idea what a music editor does.  What is the primary function of the music editor?

CHUCK: Number one is to serve the emotional needs of a film.  That is broken up into two phases: One is the temp phase and the second phase is the final, where you are working with a composer.  Even when you are working with the composer, you are still doing the number one function, which is to serve the emotional needs of the film.

In the phase called temp, that is when you consider yourself the first composer on the film.  We look at the film, and with or without the director/editor, figure out where music should be, and what kind of music should go into those scenes.  The music editors start picking pieces of music, and that could be from any score, any composer that we want to use.

WOODY:  Just to get the emotional quality of the scenes?

CHUCK: Exactly.  Is it tense?  Is it romantic?  Is it full of action?  Then you go to the scores that work best for those scenes and for the film itself.  If you know the final score is going to be by a certain composer, if you can find music from that composer’s catalog that at least helps because there is a language already being spoken that the composer knows.

WOODY:  You can do this temp process without the director?

CHUCK: Absolutely.  I’m working on a movie right now where all they did was send me the movie, and I start sending them music.  I’ve been doing this for so long and working with various directors and picture editors for so long, they trust me that I will find the right spots and put the right music in.

The picture editors are the first line of defense before it gets to the director.  They sometimes send changes to me before they show it to the director.  There are a lot of film editors that don’t want to deal with music and there’s a lot of film editors that consider themselves music experts and put in music before the music editor even comes on.  Other editors bring us on immediately, even while still shooting the movie.  We can give them music for scenes; post production supervisors complain about that, but in the end it pays because you end up with a proper temp score.  We do know our business.  We are concentrating completely on one thing.  More often than not, for a temp, I don’t spot the movie with the director.  Trust me to figure out the right spots.

WOODY:   Do you find yourself going to music libraries as much as contemporary releases?

CHUCK: We have at our company over 2000 soundtracks of actual released movies rather than a production music library.  We find very little value in production libraries, just because of the nature of the quality.  Most of those are usually not large orchestras (if they get to use real orchestras) or they are synthesizers which don’t give the quality that we want.  A large majority are from “name any composer.”

WOODY: Obviously you have a long history of doing this work.  At this point there are specific composers that hire you or bring you on?

CHUCK: Personally, I only have worked recently (steadily) with Randy Edelman and whenever possibly Joel McNeely. Some other editors work exclusively with a particular composer.  I have a bigger relationship with directors and film editors, that’s who usually comes to me.

WOODY: You are probably brought on even before they chose a composer?

CHUCK: That happens maybe about 50% of the time. The one I am working on now they already had a composer lined up and he’s done several films with this director.  He uses his own music editor so I am only going to cover the temp part of this movie.  Which is fine.  If I come onto a movie with Randy Edelman and if there is a temp editor I will take over.  So it goes both ways.

WOODY: Tell me about the process after the temp, the actual collaboration between you, the editing team and the composer?

CHUCK: When the composer does finally come on, if I’m staying on the project, then we will definitely have a spotting session and go over all the places that we’ve covered in the temps, and if there’s any new ideas by the composer.  It will get more specific and that’s when the music editor becomes bit of a secretary taking exact notes of where each cue will start, so that the composer, when he gets our summary of all these cues, knows exactly what he’s doing and how many minutes he or she has to record.  During the final process we try to get the director involved with the composer; listening to demos, going to the composer’s studio and going over individual cues; as many as possible before it gets to the scoring stage where there will be no surprises for the director; he can pretty much improve as many cues as possible before it gets in front of an orchestra.

It is nice when you have a relationship with the sound effects people, or the sound editors, because there are moments in the temp where a sound effect, whether a car driving or explosion or even sound of wind, if that is played an emotional part of the scene or it just takes over and there is no reason for the composer to do much, then it’s nice to know that in the final there won’t be any kind of battles on the dubbing stage between music and effects.  As a music editor, number one is serving the emotional needs of the film.  If that means taking music out because the silence is more powerful, then so be it.  Even if a composer has written music for it, don’t fight the picture.  If it’s not serving the needs of the movie, as much as maybe someone’s bit of dialog or some creaky windmill, there’s cooperation and coordination between the sound effects and the music people that’s very important.

WOODY: So besides choosing and cutting in the temp music tracks do you also edit the final recorded score?

CHUCK: The music is represented fully by the music editor all the way through, whether it’s the temp guy or the temp guy becoming the final guy, working with the composer, the music editor brings the composer’s freshly scored and mixed music to the final dubbing stage. We protect the music all the way through the end.

WOODY: On a technical level, are you in charge of doing the music cue sheets and/or are you involved in any of the licensing of outside materials?

CHUCK: In the actual licensing of songs, or pieces of source music, other than from the composer, that comes from either the music department of the studio or an independent music supervisor.  We are responsible when the movie is completely finished to give the details of the title of the cue and how long it plays and the usage of it (whether it’s just playing in the background or if someone is singing in the foreground, then a visual and vocal cue) so we give a preliminary music cue sheet for the legal department in whatever production company you are working with.  You turn over those times and lengths and names of cues and how they are used, then they’ll do the final cue sheet, because they’ll have all the other information, like the writers of the songs, publishers, all that stuff.

WOODY: What seems like a grey area to many is the distinction between a music supervisor versus a music editor; I know a lot of people juxtapose the two. Would it be correct to say that the music editor is in charge of score elements where as a music supervisor is in charge of outside or licensed elements?

CHUCK: Yes, that would be fair, except for the editing. The music supervisor is responsible for bringing the songs to us, and the music editor will take those and edit them.

WOODY: So you are tasked with cutting in all of the music tracks.

CHUCK: Yes. Once we get to the dubbing stage the music editor brings all of the music songs and score.  From another rig (always using Protools pretty much) there’ll be the dialogue and then another rig will be sending sound effects and those will be coming into three separate places on the mixing board where you’ll have two, maybe three mixers up there. There used to be three mixers.  It used to always be a music mixer, a dialogue mixer, and an effects mixer, but as you probably know now a days there’s pretty much a dialogue mixer that switches over and mixes the music, and the sound effects person who deals pretty much just with sound effects. So those are the guys that receive all these different elements and those are the ones that make it into the final elements combination.

WOODY: Tell me about your company Liquid Music. How did that come about?

CHUCK: Well for 17 years I was a part of Segue Music which was probably the biggest music editing company in town for a long time. One of my bosses, Jeff Carson, he and I started Liquid music about 5 years ago, and that happened because Segue Music was purchased years ago by Zomba Records who saw a benefit of having a music editing company within their own record company. Then Zomba Records was bought by BMG publishing – that was over 5 years ago – and BMG was just a huge, huge company and they just had no idea what a music editing company did and for a company as small as us compared to all the other companies that they owned it just didn’t mean anything so they folded the company. That’s when Jeff came to me and said ‘hey, I still like this idea of how we work. Would you like to start up another company?” And we picked three music editors from the other company and started Liquid Music. And we have a sixth person who does all our bookkeeping and that stuff. So there’s a total 6 people from the outset and we’re still 6 people strong.

WOODY: How long has that been?

CHUCK: Over 5 years.

WOODY: That’s great you were able to turn the situation around.  Tell me about the facility itself do you have Protools bays, or…

CHUCK: We do. We have six offices all looking out at trees, and today there’s a pretty blue sky, and five of those rooms are Protools rooms. Three of them are mobile units so that for dubs, and temp dubs and finals or mixing sessions we could ship any one of or all three of those out if we’re that busy. There are five editors and five Protools stations here.

WOODY: Are any them set up like a mix stage or are they editing stations?

CHUCK: Definitely editing. Each one does have a little 16-track mixer but it’s all very rough mixing against whatever dialogue picture editorial has put into the picture at this point. We get nothing from the sound effects editors unless it goes through picture editorial and they may have some special sound effects that they’re using otherwise we’re just dealing with the music that we cut in and the production dialogue and effects.

WOODY: You have had a long and accomplished career and you’ve worked on some really terrific things. Are there any specific gigs that you’d like to discuss?

CHUCK: There are a lot, but I thought that I’d just jump to three. “American Pie”, mainly because that was the beginning of my relationship with Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz, the directors on that. Not to mention the fact that it’s “American Pie”! I love those guys, and they’re great people to work with. The other one that probably not many people know of, and not many people care about is “The Mirror Has Two Faces.”

WOODY: Wasn’t that Streisand?

CHUCK: Very good!

WOODY: I took my mom to see that; she loved it.

CHUCK: Oh! Well fantastic! The main thing about that one was just going to her house to meet her and Marvin Hamlish, and – it’s Barbara Streisand for God sakes! It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, you know, it’s Barbara Streisand. So I got to work very closely with her at night doing mixes over at what used to be A&M records up till 3, 4, 5 in the morning, just me and her and the operator over there and just having a blast. It was a really fun time. Another one that comes to mind is “Red Dragon.” I worked with Brett Ratner on pretty much all his films from the past 10 years, and “Red Dragon,” that was one where I temped the movie and then Danny Elfman wrote a great score for it.  Actually during the temp music phase the film got previewed, somebody got into the screening and then put up a review on one of the geek websites.  The review said that “Danny Elfman did a great job with a new score for Red Dragon” and didn’t realize that actually I had just temped it. So I got my first review.

WOODY: Review on a temp! Perfect.

CHUCK: Yes. I got a great review for a temp that Danny Elfman supposedly scored. So that was a memorable moment for me.

WOODY: So tell me about – obviously you’re a big fan of Juice Newton, but tell me about other composers or types of music that you enjoy.

CHUCK: I like all types of music. I mean, you know I’m old enough that Motown was a part of my life.

WOODY: I tracked a bunch of songs for Lamont Dozier.

CHUCK: Oh! You did?

WOODY: He’s an amazing guy.

CHUCK: I actually got to meet him last year at the academy when we nominated songs. And he was there, and I mean my god. The credits that guy’s got.  I also like of course the English stuff, Beatles, Stones, all that stuff, as well as the newer stuff…The Killers - my sons bring newer music to me, Animal Collective, I really like. I shut nothing out.

WOODY: So with all the availability now of popular music – you know, the myspaces and that stuff – do you find yourself reaching for that or spending time trolling and looking for that kind of stuff?

CHUCK: Not really. Once we get the film in our hands we just really are focused on scoring the film, temp scoring it.  The stuff we’re looking for is really more score.

WOODY: The other stuff really more the domain of the music supervisor.

CHUCK: They get the upfront credit, so let them troll through everything that exists!

WOODY: Yeah they get the head credit!

CHUCK: Yes they do.

WOODY: So where does the music editor fall within the hierarchy of audio post?

CHUCK: That all depends on where you are in the process. The music editor is the most important person in the world for – several weeks. And then when the credit rolls, we are not that important. So it just depends on what’s going on in the movie and how much trouble it’s in.

[Laughs]

WOODY: Regarding the technology, you’ve worked in the movie business a long time and the gear is always changing.  Obviously today it’s all about computers, Protools and digital audio.  Has this changed your way of working or has it changed the work that you are required to do now?

CHUCK: The work is the same, as far as finding the right music for each scene, but the technology has made it so much easier searching for it.  Before we used to listen to vinyl, LP Soundtracks, 1/2 and 1/4 inch tape of scores that we kept after working on a project.  That was our library, LP and tape, and in some instances audio cassettes.  We would send those out to be transferred to mag, and that could take a whole day turnaround just to get the order in.  Now it’s just at our fingertips.  That has been a huge change.  And of course the editing portion of it is ridiculously good.  No more pops to deal with if you make a bad edit.  There is no such thing as a bad edit because you can always fix it.  The technology has made it a wonderful medium to be in.

WOODY:  And also since the technology has made things easier and more accessible it creates the idea that “Okay, you have a day to turn this thing around.”?

CHUCK:  Absolutely, that has happened for all of us in this industry; the post-production schedules have shrunk as they see it doesn’t take as much time between reels to load at a dubbing stage, same thing at a scoring stage, don’t have to wait for the projectionist to rewind to the beginning of the cue, it’s just instantaneous.  They expect less time for the same amount of work that you used to give them.  Sometimes it puts the pressure on, but at the same time the speedier technology does help us.  I don’t know whether it’s hurt us overall, or not yet. I’m not really 100% sure yet.  After doing this for this long, I still love doing what I’m doing.

WOODY: What is it that you love about the work?

CHUCK: It’s two things. It’s the creativity.  As I said before, we are like the first composers, and the things we can do now with ProTools, rather than just taking, finding some piece of music from a certain score, just tossing it in and making a few edits, we can enhance it with little toys that ProTools provides.  Pitching things so that you can have something from one score laying on top of another piece from another score and if it’s a half step off musically, or a whole step tone-wise, you can pitch one or the other to match the same key and have two different things going on that creates a whole new cue.  So there’s the creativity part of it, the other part of it is working with great people.  I’ve been really lucky over the years to work with great directors and editors and mixers and sound people who are just a pleasure to work with.  Just nice people.  There’s an occasional jerk out there once in a while, but I count myself very lucky to not have to deal with that very often at all.  That’s a big part of it.  And my coworkers here at Liquid Music; I love coming to work with them.  It does not suck.

WOODY:  Is there anything you don’t like about it?

CHUCK: If anything, it’s the politics within the studio or within a project itself.  Just trying to figure out who’s really in charge of the project.  Is it the director, for sure?  Or is a producer that’s really running the show?  Sometimes you just have to balance the two personalities or sometimes someone at the studio is really running the show and neither the producer nor director know it yet.  It’s dealing with the politics sometimes that is a little unpleasant.  It’s finding your way in that forest and making sure you don’t get lost.

WOODY: What qualifies someone as a really great music editor?  What qualities?

CHUCK:  Fortunately when Jeff and I both started the company we both admired each other enough and we both agreed on the three people that we wanted to bring with us.  For their various strengths, which was not only the ability to match the best scores with each scene and temping, but also the ability to get along with just about anyone.  Also the ability to communicate with them, whether they’re the director, producer, other editors, heads of post production, just getting along and communicating with them is a huge part of being a good music editor. We’ve got that with our company.

WOODY: Are they musically inclined or a musician themselves?

CHUCK: What’s really interesting is that three of us are musicians. The other two have no musical background at all. My partner Jeff is not a musician, and he’s been a great music editor for as long as I’ve known him. He has the intuition and the ability to do this work. And he’s really great with people.

WOODY: That’s so key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter that you know Protools cold. That won’t get you the job.  The social aspects play a huge part in the collaboration of making films. Knowing Protools and knowing how to run a room with a lot of different personalities is not the same thing.

CHUCK: Well I can guarantee you that there are a lot of people out there who know how to operate protools and know how it works way better than I do.  But there are just other things that are more important in the whole picture. You’re absolutely right about that.

That’s what Jeff and I have been trying to do with Liquid Music, and were succeeding at it.  When people call and they ask for me, or ask for Tanya, or Andy to be their music editor, what we’d like them to know all of us during the project, so that when they call they go “is anyone there available” and we are.  Over the five years we’ve been doing this, we’ve really improved that. So that a post production supervisor will call and say ‘is Andy available?”  “If not, then who is, cause I need this temp done now” and that’s really a great thing.  Each one of us represents the company.  The five of us here are it so at least we know who we have to work with and we’re not afraid to send any of them out anywhere.

WOODY: What advice do you offer someone who says “Hey, Chuck, I want to be a music editor. What should I do?”

CHUCK: Wow. That is a good a question. Because of the technology a lot of the jobs that used to get you into music editing are gone. That’s apprenticing and assistant positions. Here we have neither. We have no film to wind up anymore; we have no transfers to go pick up so we don’t even need a driver anymore.

WOODY: There are no fly on the wall opportunities?

CHUCK: Right. There are so many people who want to intern here, once they come to our office and see how cool it is.  We have to unfortunately turn away people who want to work for free because they would just be doing nothing. My advice would be to get in a sound house that can take you in just so you can get your hours and just keep cutting music and tracking things on your own, and get to know post production people. Jeff and I made a concerted effort over the last 5 years to get to know all the new post production people we haven’t worked with before just so they could see what we do here. That might just be an edge that music editors are starting out that we can give them if they’ve got their hours and they’re in the union just to get them going. Just work on your personality. Try to get along with everybody.

WOODY: Do you have any advice for a composer?

CHUCK:   If they’re brand spanking new, let us help them.  Let us help you see what your powers are as a director, as a composer…let us help you avoid political landmines that can happen within a project – between a project and a studio itself, or personalities within the producers or production companies and studios – let us help you get through the process more than telling you how to compose or telling directors how to direct. I think that would be our best advice. It’s on an individual basis, depending on the personalities of the new director or new composer cause that’s always a part of our job and it’s part of Jeff and my strengths – feeling out ‘what is this person like, what is the best way to deal with this person.’

WOODY: Right. The thing I often tell people is don’t discount your sound person. While this might be your second feature film, this may be your sound person’s twentieth.

CHUCK: Exactly.

WOODY: You do music editing everyday. You’ve done it every day for decades, and so the experience level is so vast. To not take advantage of your expertise doesn’t make sense.

CHUCK: That’s the thing. Even working with directors who have been doing this a while, we still have done more movies than they have. We do 3 or 4 films a year, and you add that up with how many a director does it’s not going to come close. But the ones that are really new to it, those are ones you can help if they’re open to it.

WOODY: Thanks Chuck for all the great info.

HOLIDAYS – A Time For Giving – BUY INDIE FILM

The year-end Holidays are a time for giving and sharing and also oddly a time for crass commercial pushing of products, goods and services.  In the spirit of those Holidays I’d like to offer some DVD titles that are, in my humble opinion, great projects and in need of support.  INDIE film is a mercurial thing and it takes dedication, hard work and luck for any one movie to find an audience.  In full disclosure I’d also like to submit that I was involved with these movies in one way or another, but I am so impressed with them I wanted to share them with all of you.

Let’s start with an HD INDIE feature called “Box Elder”.  This is a project in the spirit of (maybe) Kevin Smith and I think the tag line sums it up nicely – “On the road to nowhere these guys call – SHOTGUN!”  I had the pleasure of mixing this movie and working closely with Director Todd Sklar and Producer Brock Williams.

Whenever I am bidding on a feature project one of my first questions is “Do you have distribution?”  There are a number of reasons for this but for my bidding purposes this will mean that if the answer is “yes”, I will get a long list of “deliverables” which will specify how the audio is to be finalized and delivered.  Often I hear “no distribution, we’re going to hit the festival circuit and then it’ll get picked up.”  I won’t go into the pitfalls of this “model” at this time, but filmmakers following this “plan” may well be disappointed.

The team from Box Elder had/have a quite novel approach.  When I asked Todd Sklar about distribution or film festivals for “Box Elder” he said “no, I have a different plan.”  He instead was “going on tour.”  There is a lot of heat about Todd and his tour which can be found here on his website. I also did an interview with Todd for this blog in which he discusses his unique model.  Those who are interested in the trials, pitfalls, triumphs and solutions to INDIE filmmaking should give it a read.  Those who are particularly interested in sound for film should read it.  And not just “sound people”, Todd had many insights regarding audio when he got the post stage and also about his location recordist Mr. Jesse “C-Nug” Brown.  Kudos to Todd for spying back on the process and understanding how to make things even better next time.  And kudos to the Box Elder team for such an entertaining production on a shoe string budget.  The new 2-disk set is available from Todd on the “Box Elder” website. Buy two and share!

Next up is the documentary “Fat Head” produced and starring Tom Naughton.  A perceptive and well researched project that concludes that everything you know about food, diet and eating is wrong.  Tom makes a very persuasive argument.  In the process he tackles the FDA, The Center For Science in the Public Interest, the US Government and documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock.  This is a highly recommended documentary for those interested in better nutrition, weight loss and the often dubious practices of the government and documentary filmmakers.fathead

A wealth of additional information on the doc is available on the movie’s website. Tom is a recovering stand-up comic and a highly intelligent and entertaining guy.  His doc is deeply researched, filled with great facts and figures that are fleshed out by wonderful and funny animations and sharp observations about “the great experiment” that the US government has foisted on an unsuspecting populace.  It is not available in US until Feb 3, 2009 but it can be purchased directly through Amazon.com.

One of my New Years wishes will come true in ’09 if I can see Tom and Morgan sitting across from Oprah and debating the merits of a “fast food diet!”  As you can see from the picture “You’ve been fed a load of bologna!”  I have many favorite moments from this movie but I particularly like the news footage of the McGovern sub-committee telling the scientists to “develop cholesterol free eggs.”  Yep, we vote ‘em in….

Finally I want to bring to your attention a very different sort of documentary by filmmaker Costa Mantis.  ”Flying Pumpkins – The Legend of Punkin Chunkin”.  Costa made a delightful feature doc about an annual event held in Delaware each year.  Started as a simple challenge between two bored neighbors about who could throw a pumpkin farther across a field with a home-made contraption, it’s now a four day event that benefits charity.  It’s a fascinating look at an obsession of kids, young adults and the young at heart who build awe-inspiring contraptions to throw – pumpkins.

flyingpumpkinsYou can find a wealth of information regarding the movie and and Costa at his website here. You’ll see retired IBM execs, journalists, mechanics and engineers, scouts and students perfecting all sorts of machines to toss pumpkins.  It’s grown to a point that there are categories for catapults, air canons, torsion contraptions and more as well as kid and adult divisions.  It is beautifully photographed with a terrific bluegrass score.  This one is for the family.  In a time of ever decreasing quality family fare this one is truly for the young and old.  Kudos to Costa and the Pumpkin team as well as all the participants in the annual event.  The doc shows a cross section of event participants as they build and assemble their monster machines and then shoot pumpkins across a field! This disk is available on the website listed above.

Again in the interest of full disclosure I am not a producer, investor or financial participant of these movies in any way.  There is no financial incentive or renumeration for this post or any of my endless PR for these shows.  I am a true fan and friend of all these filmmakers and understand the difficulty of INDIE film and documentary filmmaking.  I am a champion of them and their grit and determination to finish these projects and I, in my small way, want to spread the word about their acheivements.  Rent, buy, or attend a screening of these movies and become a supporter of INDIE filmmaking!

My Other Audio Post Blog Posts

I am a regular contributor to Studio Daily. I’ve recently posted a new article regarding Preparing For Audio Post.  The link can be found here.  Check it out!

RAVE: iZotope’s RX Audio Restoration

Ho hum – audio restoration …another audio tool to spend money on that isn’t a bright, shiny, fun toy.  But if you have some severely compromised audio tracks you will be looking for a solution.  iZotope’s RX is an excellent one.

I was recently mixing a broadcast project with some serious audio issues.  These production issues are always a head scratcher.  There was an interview of two subjects sitting side by side.  One was distorted and sounded like they were in a wind tunnel, the other sounded clean.  The scene cut between a two-shot and individual close-up shots of the talent.  None of the audio cuts even remotely matched even though they were sitting next to each other!  Blasts of clean audio cut to distorted audio cut to the wind tunnel.  I was asked to “clean it up a bit.”  Easier said than done!

I started checking through my box of tools to tackle the problem and several fit the bill.  I won’t name the other programs but one of them wouldn’t authorize although I’ve owned it for over a year.  Their website was useless for this and they wanted me to pay for support.  I can’t quite figure out how these companies have the gall to charge me to figure out why the program I bought and paid for won’t load.  But … that is a rant for another day!  Let’s just say that I have had these problems with this company before and now I’ve finally “washed” my hands of their noise reduction product and them.

RX has five separate modes for tackling tough audio problems.  These are not unique to iZotope since these are the types of tools generally found in similar sorts of programs.  However the iZotope implementation has a wide variety of parameters to adjust how the source file is being effected.  These are very powerful tools with a real range of abilities.  A brief description of each is -

Declipper – a repair algorithm that finds and repairs analog or digital clipping or overmodulation.

Declicker – a repair algorithm that finds and repairs clicks and crackles from recordings.

Hum removal – a repair algorithm that finds and repairs hum and buzz.

Denoiser – a repair algorithm that finds and repairs pesky broadband noise problems.

Spectral Repair – a repair algorithm that finds and repairs random noise within an audio file.  Pretty cool feature.

Unfortunately for me I had to use each of these tools on this interview.  And they rocked it.  The hum removal is an adjustable comb filter that takes out the main frequency hum and it’s associated harmonics.  (Comb filters are filters of many small bands that graphically look like a – comb.)  This has many parameters to adjust and worked like a charm right off the bat.  Next I had several bits of horribly distorted audio.  Using the declipper tool I was able to make things sound less awful.  Not great but definitely better.  I can’t blame RX on this one, fingers pointed squarely at the sound recordist.  Each of these tools have a box where you can audition only the portion of the audio which is being filtered, adjusted, manipulated or repaired.  I wanted to check that the decipper was actually addressing the issue and when I listed to only the audio to be repaired lo and behold all I heard was distortion.  So although it didn’t “fix” the file it took some of the edge off.

Next up was the A/C – wind tunnel problem.  This was a real treat.  I used the denoiser tool to clean these audio bites up.  As is the case with other similar tools on the market you find a “clean” portion of the noise (huh??) and “train” the filter what to remove.  Once it’s trained you process the file.  There are a couple of denoiser algorithms and I found in this case the “offline” ones worked best.  I am working in ProTools and you can run the RX tools as inserts to process the track in real time.  Since these had so many different noise problems I hard-processed the files and rewrote them.  These higher powered algorithms are not available as a real time insert and instead process offline – or in other words rewrite the file with the processing.  The difference was stunning.  All of a sudden I was able to match the audio files to sound like they were actually – recorded well!

This is a highly effective tool for audio post.  I have not used it specifically on music sources but if you check their website out you’ll see several powerful demonstrations specific to music.  I have used all of the major software vendors for noise reduction as well as the high-end hardware units.  Now this can’t compete with the dedicated hardware solutions but it’s not thousands of dollars either.  If you find yourself up against difficult audio restoration in your projects I would highly recommend RX as a solution.  These tools can make you a hero to the producers who want a “little clean up” on their horrible audio recordings!

SESSIONS – AUDIO POST: OMF Considerations

OMF files are an essential component for audio post workflow.   OMF or Open Media Framework is a file format developed by Avid Technology as a way to more conveniently transfer digital data.  It was originally released in 1990 and then updated in ’96 , it’s a standard and it’s a bit long in the tooth.  But we’ll get to that soon enough.

Simply put an OMF file is a digital container of all the audio files, edits, crossfades, pans and volume automation from your non-linear video editing platform.  It is a mighty handy tool compared to the old way of doing things. 

Here is a screenshot from Final Cut Pro.  You can see that there are eight tracks of audio, the top four of which are muted.

There is volume automation, panning information and a general temp mix in this edit timeline.  When we export the OMF from this timeline it will include tracks 5 – 8 only.  The OMF sees those muted tracks and leaves them out of the final export.  Most sound editors will want it all.  So I’d say unmute before the OMF creation.

Also a small FYI for those of you still using Final Cut 5 and below, the OMF is not a full spec OMF file.  It will not include volume automation, which if it’s feature length can create whole lot of extra work.  Not that you won’t re-mix from the ground up which is usually the case, but the temp mix can be a real time-saver for long projects.

I’ve also included a screenshot of the actual export of the OMF from the Final Cut Program.  Nothing fancy just a simple pull-down under File/Export – you can see – Audio to OMF.

You’ll get another dialog box after that which will give you a few options.  One is the handle length or the amount of audio that will be included on either side of any cut.  Handles are very important and contain loads of valuable information for a sound editor.  I generally ask for handles to be at lease five seconds if possible.  The default in FCP is 30 frames or one second.  Another option is to include volume automation and I would also add that functionality as well.  You can also choose to include crossfades which can be re-created by ProTools or the program that will be importing the OMF if they are not included.  There was a bug a while back in OMF exports that was related to crossfades.  This is no longer an issue.

What has just been detailed here is merely the mechanics of creating the OMF file.  As you can see it is a pretty simple and straightforward process.  Avid, FCP and other leading non-linear video editors offer some sort of OMF functionality and exporting them are all about the same process.  Make sure to mark an in and an out point create the accompanying movie file as well as the OMF from these same stop and start points.

Now that we have detailed the process of the OMF export what should be on the timeline in your non-linear video editor?  In my humble opinion, in a world of “less is more”, for audio post I would say that “more is more”.  If you have alt takes of lines, include them.  If you have roomtones include them.  Please.  Pretty please.

In fact I’m going to stop there.  Roomtones are a key component in audio post.  Period.  Notice the use of the word – key.  Not optional, not “if I can get to it”, not anything other than – key.  Not having roomtone is like writing without an eraser, a delete key or white-out.  Whoever digitizes the original camera tapes or dats will surely come across them.  Digitize them and stick them in a folder to give the sound editor or better yet as I advised cut them into your timeline and export them with the OMF.

I often ask the production recordist why they did not include roomtones and am generally told that they did indeed record them.  But somehow they never found their way to audio post.  So what happens to them?  They get lost in the shuffle with the mistaken assumption that they are not all that important.

In general picture editing gets a bit of time to complete their process.  Sometimes months and sometimes a year will be spent creating the final locked picture edit.  At the end of that they want the audio edited, mixed and output pronto.  So the best picture editors assemble their audio in a meaningful way to make the audio editors task simpler.  One thing that must be remembered is that all of that audio will be picked through, sorted, rearranged and cut to different tracks by the sound editor since it is their’s and the mixer’s job is to create a set of mix stems.  The editor had to create only one stem – a stereo temp mix.  And because of that many picture editors get lazy and just have their audio fall any where there is is room on an audio track.  This is fine for their temp mix but will not do to create a proper mix.  If Sound effects and music and dialog are all jumbled in the timeline – they will also be jumbled in the OMF.

Who cares?  “The audio guy will sort it all out ….”  The person who will care is the person who foots the bill.  Why?  Because they are going to be paying good money for studio time and an experienced sound professional to do basic housecleaning on the OMF.  It may sound minor but audio post deliveries are always tight and getting tighter and to waste a whole lot of time on things that have nothing to do with sound design and mixing is also a waste of the Producer’s money.  If you have a feature length project where the audio tracks were assembled willy-nilly it will take considerable time to sort out.    I have received OMF’s when opened reveal that the boom track and the lav track swap from take to take.  My job is to find “the best” sound and make that sound better.  If the boom sounds best then that means I have to audition and sort every single sound bite to determine whether it is the boom or the lav.  There may be thousands of these audio files in the timeline.  If the editor has diligently always put the boom on one track and the lav on another then he has cut my prep time considerably and I can concentrate on the task of making the movie sound even better.  Feel free to comment with questions since this is a huge topic that I’ve barely touched on.

INTERVIEW: Eric Pierce, C.A.S. – Location Recordist

Eric gave up a much valued lunch break to talk with us a bit about location audio.  He has a vast amount of experience which includes recording live TV morning shows to feature films to game shows and to episodic television.  Some notable recent highlights include “Scrubs”, “Big Love”, “Hannah Montana” and “Tenacious D – In the Pick of Destiny”.  A partial list of credits can be found here and information on the Cinema Audio Society here. (C.A.S.)

WOODY:  As a production recordist, what is the scope of your duties on set?

ERIC: The way I look at it is I am responsible for everything audio that happens on the set in order to collect the tracks that need to be put in to the soundtrack of the film.  Whether it’s playback equipment, speakers for audience if need be, whatever it might be audio wise in order to collect those tracks that you know are going to work best in the editing.

WOODY:  So if you’re doing a multi-camera show, and they’ve got audience in there on risers you have to mix for the audience as well?

ERIC: Exactly.  That would be a circumstance where you’d be responsible for the PA (Public Address Playback) or if you had a pseudo-live performance you’d be responsible for that.  Whether you’re doing that or if you have a separate PA mixer it’s still in the scope of your duties to put that team and gear together and make sure it’s right.

WOODY:  So you hire additional crew?

ERIC:  Yeah.  Anytime there’s additional crew I would clear it through the PM (Production Manager) and say “this is what I’ll need, I’ll need a playback person” or “I’ll need a PA system or operator or a PA company”, if it’s that big.  Whatever it takes.

WOODY:  Let’s talk about your location sound recording cart.  What are your pieces of gear and what are your preferences?

ERIC:  The O1V (Yamaha Digital Mixing Desk) would be the heart of it.  I have the 16 in-out AES digital card that feeds both my recorders.  And I can digitally feed external video decks whenever I need to.  I can route anything to what I want.  So it’s the recorder, the desk (O1V), the 2 Comtek DSC 25′s , one for production and one for sound so you can have a private conversation.  And then I also have a full onboard computer.  Not a laptop, but a full computer.  When I was putting the sound cart together for a full sound cart, I had a checklist.  I need video monitors, at least two, I need playback, and also I’ll need to check my email.  And with everything I went, “computer will do that,” “computer will do that,” so I built an IBM based computer that has a four input video card and two tuners.  I can take the wireless feed right off of the camera if they’ve got one, and it also has playback capabilities and I’ve got full editing.  I use Sony Sound Forge and Vegas.  I can also do multi-track record and playback, which I’ve used before for off-camera response and things like that.  And then I’ve got an Lectrasonic 6-pack.  I’ve got six wireless and I normally go wireless boom so I also have two transmitters that plug right into the booms.  So my boom operators can be totally wireless and not have to worry about cable, reposition if they need to, walk along steady-cam and not have to worry about cables at all.

WOODY:  So your crew communications are wireless as well?

ERIC:  Yes.  Absolutely wireless.  I’ve done things where all of a sudden the boom operator at the last second has had to reposition around lights  He just runs over and he’s ready.  No delays, no tripping or other uncomfortable things.  I think that’s everything pretty much.  I my O1V have modified for DC, so I have a 105amp battery that sits in the bottom of my cart and when it’s plugged in it’s constantly charging and it can keep everything going for about eight hours.

WOODY:  What device are you actually recording to?

ERIC:  I go back and forth between my primary and my secondary recorder.  I have a Deva 5 10 track and a Sound Devices 744 4-track.  Eight tracks are digitally sent to my Yamaha 01V digital console, I can put eight tracks digital direct into the Deva and keep that there.  My preference of actual delivery in a recorder is 744.  One really interesting reason I found out just talking with editorial is that when they’re taking dailies the file name Deva gives is basically like a PNO (start ID #) number.  It starts out “one” and increments “two, three, four, five”, so you’ll always have to reference back to the sound report.  It’s just extra steps.  When you input the scene and take information on the Deva 5 it only goes to the Meta data, not as a file name.  In the 744 it goes into the Meta data and it goes into the file name.  So when they drop my disk in is if they need scene 20B take 1, it’s right there in the file name.  The way mine is set up it says “T” between the scene and take number.

WOODY:  And then it does “T1, T2, T2″?

ERIC:  Yes, it’ll continually increment until you change.  If you go from Bravo to Charlie it will go back to “one” again.  I was told on a show that I took over and started using the Deva on that it was putting about two hours extra time into syncing their dailies because of the lag time of having to constantly reference the sound report.

WOODY:  So you find yourself going to the Deva just when you need more than the four tracks that the Sound Devices 744 will give to you?

ERIC:  Pretty much.  Sometimes I might use that as just the extra track machine.  But if I see something that’s always going to be two wireless or radio mics or I can see that this is going to be just a boom and every once in awhile I’ll have to pull out a couple of wireless mics for a shot here and that’s about it, I’m going to go with the 744.  I’ve just found it’s more intuitive and the updates are far fewer in-between, but they always work.

WOODY:  And it’s a fantastic sounding box.

ERIC:  Yes.

WOODY:  What file format are you recording?  Are you recording Wav 48K 16 bit or are you going 96K, 24 bit?

ERIC:  For what I do it’s never 96-24.  That’s only going to be used for effects or music.  If I were to record effects, although most of that’s done by sound designers when I need something specific, they’ll do a high resolution because they’ll need to manipulate it.  So for that reason they’ll do it and for music that’s just the way they do it.  But as far as what I do, I’m either 16 or 24 bit.  I prefer 24 bit, but there’s a lot of places that either can only handle 16 bit and they’ll just truncate it down if I give them 24 bit, which doesn’t do anybody any bit of service, or sometimes you get the people who want it 24 bit and that’s the people, the editors or the editorial supervisor or whoever it is that really is keen on it and then it’s like, yeah, these guys are going to care.  It’s kind of a good feeling.  When you get the 16 [for delivery specs] it’s like, well, that’s the way our equipment’s set up for it so we’re going to do it that way.  That’s just kind of the attitude I get with that.

WOODY:  Boom or a lav?  How do you make a decision between the two?

ERIC:  It’s dictated by the shot, primarily.  Or the genre.  If you’re chasing a bunch of people then you’re going to be wireless, but as far as a dramatic, it’s totally dictated by the shot.  Your preference is [boom] microphone, and there’s different kinds of microphones and patterns of microphones and ways you can hide microphones if you need.  One of my favorite things in the world to do is to hide a microphone in plain sight of the shot.  Whether it’s a press conference and one of those microphones in front of them is your microphone or if you can actually see the microphone but can’t tell what it is, that’s my favorite.  It doesn’t happen all that often, but we look for it.  The preference I think of everybody, for dramatic especially, is a boom microphone.

WOODY:  So when you have a situation like that where you have five or six radio mics out there, are you doing five or six discrete tracks or are you mixing them down to two tracks?  How are you dealing with that?

ERIC:  Primarily, since we have the tracks, I send them the tracks pre-fade (each mic recorded to it’s own discrete track) and I’ll also provide a mixed track.  It all depends on what the editors want, too.  I can do anything.  So whatever they want I can do.  Obviously I do a mix for the context for the people listening on the headsets around video village.  With that many wireless tracks pre-fade, it would take forever for an editor to really weed through it without being on set and knowing what’s going on.  So for expediency on the editorial side, I always give one [of the delivered] channel a mix.  That way they can cut their picture to that and then it can go into sound editorial or if they’re doing their editorial on Avid or Final Cut they can go through [the isolated tracks] if they need to fix stuff if they need.  But I think most of what I gave them today is just as good if not better than if they want to do sound editorial.

WOODY:  Who’s your boss?

ERIC:   On the set the director is the ultimate authority.  But at the same time the producer is the one that signs the check.  And so you’re keeping both of them happy.  And what happens is if the director asks you something that you need something extra for, whether it be extra people or whatever it is that you don’t have with you, I will need to go to the producer and say “this is what we want to do, this is what he wants, so here’s how we can get it done, what do you want to do?”  The financer makes that decision and then the producer talks to the director.  So, in a way they’re both, both the ultimate, the one that you’re trying to help with the vision, is the director.  That’s the one.  They’re going to tell you want they want to do and you can suggest a few things, but they are the ones that are really in charge.  Because they need to be that way.  And then if it gets financial or sticky then you go to the producer and say, “what do you want me to do?”

WOODY:  How closely do you find yourself working with the DP?

ERIC:  As much as possible, for two reasons.  First off, whether I can’t stand them or not, I always get along with them because they can make or break you without even trying.  It’s not worth getting into a pissing match.  It’s gonna be over, and they can make you look a lot worse than you ever could do to them.  You know how it works on the set.  They’re what they are.  I find that some of them have a great rapport, some of them will want to work with you and you always need to give and take.  You give a lot more than you can so that when he really needs something he knows you’re not being a pain in the ass.  [Make them understand] that you’re actually asking because you’ve tried everything else and you just can’t do it any other way.  They’ll help you because they know that you’re not just being a whiner.  That’s really important.  So, it is a give and take situation and I always give first because I take where I need it.  We have a lot more leeway than they do.  You can’t re-light a scene in post.

WOODY:  That’s good advice.   You know, when I’m doing a feature I don’t usually get to talk to the location recordist, but I can know within the first scene what the whole show will sound like.  I can tell by the way they’re handled the tracks, whether something’s on mic or off mic, the recorded levels and so on.  I can immediately see, all these tracks are problematic or instead that this guy’s a good mixer, he was just having a hard day, because all these tracks are good except for this one scene.

ERIC:  Sometimes in features, the entire editorial department may come on when it’s almost wrapped or wrapped, but you’re clearly after wrap cause that’s when pictures lock.  So you’ll never get a chance.  They’ve way moved on.  In doing TV it’s a constant process.  You’re about three episodes in when they start doing the first mix.  So you’re still on while the post [department] is working.

WOODY:  So in those instances, other than your camera log, do you actually get on the horn and talk to editors or post sound people or is it just sort of, I turned it in and it’s been noted in the log.

ERIC:  If I’m doing it serious, I try to go to a mix, the first mix especially, and sit in on that.  Those are the people that are going to be doing it every day and you want to let them know who you are.  And there’s things that they don’t even see, the stuff that’s cut out, they see the final product.  So they don’t see the actress that absolutely doesn’t want you to touch her to put on a radio mic or the great one, the actresses that you’ll put a radio mic on and as soon as you turn your back, they think you don’t know what you’re doing and they’ll take it and put it somewhere else and it just sounds terrible.  And you go, “I just put that in place, that shouldn’t have been that way” and you go back and it’s moved because they, [the actors] know better than you and they’ve ruined the take.

WOODY:  Or they take it into the bathroom and drop it into the toilet.

ERIC:  That’s happened. (Laughs)  A hair dryer on them for about an hour usually brings them back to life.  So they, [the post department] don’t get to see those things.  They don’t know the political things and stuff, and so you can kind of get a rapport with them, otherwise they say “I don’t get why they did this, I don’t see why you couldn’t have put a microphone over here cause this sounds terrible” and once they get the idea of, okay, the DP’s hard-lighting or whatever it is or whatever the political things are, they know.  And also I found places when they’re in the mix that I say, “you know what, I know that track is good if you look”, and I’ll usually remember where it is.  And I’ve done that a couple of times on shows.  And they go back and they drop it in and all of a sudden that thing that they were going to live with is now better.  With TV sometimes, you don’t have the time, you don’t have sound editorial.  They do everything on the Avid and most of the time they don’t even go to those tracks and they just send them to the mix.  The mix sometimes only has five or ten hours, depending on what it is, to do everything and they can’t go searching for everything.

WOODY:  Do you think they’re using your comp mixed track more than they’re reaching for those isolated recordings?

ERIC:  It’s interesting.  The show that I’m finishing up now, editorial actually wants everything split out as much as possible.  They only get two tracks that’s delivered to Final Cut, but if I have two mics they want them on two mics.  So in that case, they’re post-mixed, but they just want more separation.  They want to be able to have more manipulation for whatever they do.  I don’t really know what they use.  I just like to know that I’m not getting a phone call, because it’s all there.  If you had an issue with this, that track’s right there, go for it.  And I know it’s clean.

WOODY:  So what is the personnel of your crew?

ERIC:  Generally myself and a boom operator and a utility sound who is also going to do second boom.  That’s for single camera productions.  If I were to do a four-camera proscenium style, live style show, I would have upwards of six people on the crew, including myself.  It would be a mixer, and what’s called a booth A2 or also known as a recordist who operates the audio recorder but also does other things, then you have two boom operators because you’re covering all angles and they’re on Fischer booms, and generally you’ll have a utility sound technician that pushes the boom as well and also sets mics and will do an additional third or forth boom, which I’ve had happen.  The booms are on wheels and they’ll need to be moved from set to set and often be moved during a shot because of extreme upstage-downstage or even left and right stage action.  You might need to take an entrance that’s fully upstage and so you have to push the boom in because there’s just not that much of a reach for a stage type of show.  That adds up to a pretty good sound crew.

WOODY:  So you’re essentially the crew head?  So does it work that you are hired by the producer as the location recordist, you’re given the scope of the job, and then you turn back to them and say, I’m going to need five people for this show?

ERIC:  A lot of that is known.  Maybe the beginners wouldn’t know.   It depends on the show.  Now if I’m doing a single camera show, I’m rarely going to need more than two other people.  And that’s assumed.  Now if you have a big scene you’re going to need extra people or a playback operator or such, they’ll generally tell you first.  The director will usually figure out I’m going to do this and this and this, it’s a lot of people, we may want to let sound know we may need another boom cause I want to have all this in the shot.  A lot of this stuff is bouncing back and forth in a real time situation.  A lot of times they’ll know that.  It’s rare that I’ll need more than 2 booms, which for the second boom the utility sound technician will take care of.  But as far as hiring, they absolutely don’t care.  They hire me, and I give them a list.

WOODY:  What are some of the challenges of location recording?  Is there a particular story you can tell?

ERIC:  I know I’ve got stories but they’re all in the back of my head buried in places I don’t want to find them.   (Laughs)  The very first thing I do right of the bat is walk around and look for the noise and listen for noise, whether it be fans or humming and where’s it coming from and can we turn it off.  Get every bit of noise, find out where it is and we either get it shut off or if it’s a refrigerator can we have someone on this to turn it on and off.  It’s the very first thing I do when I get on any set, even if it’s on a stage, just listen for noises.  Maybe video assist has noisy computer fans, which is quite often, and they’ll be right next to the set.  It’s like, let’s move you back a bit and put some pads in front of this.  The time you really notices the noises are when everyone finally shuts up when you’re doing a take.  If you can deal with those first thing in the day [is best], because maybe they need to find somebody with a key to go unlock something to be able to get to fan control or something.  So it’s the very first thing.  Reel the carts in, look for the noises and any potential noises – this is a hardwood floor, do we have any hard shoes – whatever could possibly happen, that’s the first thing.

WOODY:  Do you also deal with reverberant spaces?

ERIC:   Oh yeah.  Sometimes I get my furniture pads out if I can and I’ll spread them out on the floor.  You can spread those all over a floor or get some C-stands and clip them along walls.  Usually the floor is the easiest because it’s usually the most reverberant part.  And at least if you can dampen one or two walls you’ll cut your reflections down immensely because it’s going to stop after one or two reflections instead of going on and on and on.  That’s what really kills you.  And sometimes if it’s too live, you have go to two wireless mics just for that.  Or what I’ll do is I’ll boom it, but we’ll also wire them.  So when you’re sitting in a quiet room and you’re trying to do your edits and your reverb is overlapping or it’s just too much, you can always go to the wireless mics in your backup [track deliveries].  It’s one thing that the multi-track has given us is being able to present options.  We prefer to use the boom, but if we’re not too sold on the sound of it, but we don’t really want to go with wires in case maybe the room works well, so we’ll give you that option.  We’ll give you a boom on your dialog track, and then just sitting on tracks will also be their wireless tracks.   The other challenges, other than the obvious, are what are your shots and just trying to keep up with that.

I started [working on] a stage based [television] show, and the producer said, “I don’t really want to do this, but we have an exterior that we need to shoot.”  I hate starting a show off in the exterior right off the bat, but they’re forcing me into it.  So we’re going to shoot it outside the stage on the Disney lot right up against that wall on the west.   So I go out there and as soon as I turn the corner to it, I hear what sounds like a jet plane getting ready to take off.  We are two hundred feet from the central air conditioning plant for the entire [Disney Studio] lot where it runs 24/7, 365, it does not shut off.  And I walked back and said, “you can’t shoot out there.  You’re right next to the thing.”  “Oh, I didn’t even think of that.”  We ended up shooting with the idea, I said, “okay, they’re in a car, if we have all the windows closed, that’s fine.  You’ll still hear it, but you can bury it, it’s fine.”  Well then, not only did the DP want the windows open for the cross shot, but he also took the windshield off and the car was facing that.  So, our very first shot on a show that never has [had any] ADR (automated dialog replacement) was ADR’d.

WOODY:  What kind of advice would you give to a first time director of a feature film regarding your job and what they should know about location recording?

ERIC:  I think the main thing is, what I said before about when you’re doing your location surveys, listen.  It looks quite pretty.  I did some stuff for some first time directors who were doing a series of one-minute films.  They found this great location where they wanted to have a stalled out car out in the middle of absolutely nowhere where you can see in the distance for miles.  Just nothing there.  Just mountains and trees and a big cavernous canyon.  They found the greatest location.  I drove about an hour plus to get to this place, and I parked and they said this is where we’re going to shoot.  I said okay and we have the 15 freeway on a grade about 5,000 feet away and I said, “are you going to see the freeway?”  And they said no.  And I said, “cause you’re going to hear it.”  And we’re talking loud just to talk over the [noise of the] freeway.  Trucks are at low gear, high whine and on the other side they’re braking.  Well, it’s what you’re going to hear.  And they’re like, oh, we didn’t think of that.  So it’s the same thing – listen.

WOODY:  That’s the best advice.

ERIC:  I shot for a first time director, it actually collapsed after the first day, but it was a Sunday morning.  They were supposed to be in there five or six o’clock to this restaurant where he had access.  And we’re shooting upstairs in what was supposed to be a desolate bar in Harlem.  Where we’re shooting, which was the bar area of this restaurant was a mezzanine of a big huge family style restaurant that only had a thick curtain between the bar and that.  The idea was the kitchen staff would get there about 1 o’clock and they opened about 4 o’clock for dinner.  Well we didn’t get the first shot off until noon.  The DP just lit and lit and lit and so by the time we finished up, we had a full family restaurant with kids screaming, dishes clattering, an open air kitchen down below, it was like, none of this is going to be used.  None of it.  And the guy kind of realized it and realized he had made a mistake with the DP.  It ended up collapsing and he realized he had to re-think it.  He realized he wasn’t ready.

WOODY:  What is your background?  How did you get started?

ERIC:   I started playing with tape recorders as a little kid.  I discovered public radio when I was a junior in high school so I just rode my bicycle down to the local college station and got my [radio] license and started doing broadcast.  Not as a personality, but I would engineer for other people, do taped and live shows, sometimes voiceover station ID.  But pretty much just keep the station running.  I did a lot of weekends where you’d start off with your taped programming or you’d send live or something that had just been recorded, go into some other taped programming, someone would come in and do a two hour show and you’d engineer for them and that kind of thing.  And that was kind of it because I didn’t know you could make any money doing sound.  The only thing I knew was radio and I know there were concerts.  And I tried the radio, I couldn’t get a paying job anywhere, I didn’t know anything about concerts, and it never ever dawned on me that anyone was making a living or had a job in sound on movies and television.  And I ended up getting a job for a company called AudioTech, which was a small company split off from a company called Burn-Shoker Audio.  And they were a PA company, a sound reinforcement company that was geared towards television.  And the very first thing they did was they took me NBC who was a client and showed me around to where I’d be delivering things and picking up things.  And I looked around and I remember that day clearly because I was in such shock.  I saw people walking around carrying microphones and cables and operating consoles and it never ever dawned on me [that people did sound for that].  So from there I just kept working and meeting people in television and film and kept learning and doing different things.

WOODY:  Any advice regarding location sound for budding directors?

ERIC:  One thing I’d like to say to budding filmmakers and directors is try not to let the technology get in the way of the story.  More and more directors are relying on video assists.  I’ve actually seen productions come to an absolute standstill because there’s been a problem with the video assist where they [the directors] can’t shoot unless they see the frame.  Well, look through the eyepiece, get the idea of the frame, and then trust your operator and your DP.  They made films for 90 years without video assists and they’re some of the greatest films ever made.  Regarding the multitracks and the wireless mics – instead of relying on wiring everybody, you know we have 12 people on a scene, and 12 wireless mics out, you know, stage your shots a bit, don’t just rely on that.  Rely on sticking to your script a bit more.  I’ve just seen people go into things with an idea and “we’ll work it out in the process.”  And either you’ll boom it and half of it’s off mic because everyone’s just shouting out things that come to the top of their head, or you wire everybody and it’s just a wireless nightmare.

WOODY:  What do you love about your job?

ERIC:  I like being involved with the picture making process where you have all these challenges.  I guess that’s one thing, to have a challenge, and to watch it.  To watch the director say “okay, here’s the scene and this is how we want to do it.”  And then the scene plays out and you watch them develop the characters.  I’m in this work because I love movies and I love the process where you see it start from just a bunch of people with a script and then by the time you’re done the characters have direction and they pull things out of the script that you’ve never seen before or [they create] shots that are really cool and really make that scene work.   It’s very satisfying.

WOODY:  We’ll keep an ear out for your work!

INTERVIEW: Monique Reymond – Foley Artist

I have the pleasure of sharing this great interview with Monique Reymond a top Hollywood Foley artist.  Monique was nominated for a prime time Emmy award for her work on the TV series “Survivor” (yes – they Foley Reality TV too, we’ll get into that) and this year won a 2008 Golden Reel Award for her work on the animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants.”  She is also the proud recipient of a 2008 Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Music and Sound – “America at a Crossroads / PBS Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” for her outstanding Foley work.  If you click her name above you can find a link to her IMDB page and although it is not complete you will find it to be exhaustive.

WOODY:  How do you define Foley?

MONIQUE:  I sit in a room with a microphone and an engineer records me making sounds for use in television or film.  At a minimum, I cover all of the human sounds, by this I mean footsteps, hand pats and grabs, and props that the folks onscreen handle.  This does not preclude animal sounds, we do animal footsteps and movement as well.  There are sounds that are covered mainly by foley, and others by a sound editor that may be cut from a library.  Who covers what is dictated by:  time, budget and available resources. Sometimes, both Foley and effects will cover a particular sound and the re-recording mixer will use a combination of both.  If it’s a big sound like a car crash, our tendency in Foley is to cover the debris from the crash as opposed to the actual impact, which a sound editor would cut in as a hard effect.  If I have the time I may help the impact along, but I won’t be able to get as large of a sound as an editor can cut in from a library.  We don’t generally do sounds like engines or motorized sounds.

WOODY:  I think most people would be surprised at the amount of Foley that gets done.  How much Foley will you do on a feature?  Do you do all the human sounds?

MONIQUE:  On a standard feature we do all of them.  Some of the Foley “legends” will do far more than just the human sounds.  They will do huge impacts for example,  I heard about a foley artist that covered the sound of a train chugging along and screeching to a halt on the tracks for a film that featured a very long train sequence.  The fact that they covered the train in foley instead of recording an actual train blew me away.  Part of the reason they can do this is because they are very talented, but also it is because they have a stage that affords them a lot of space and a lot of really great large props, also they have the time to experiment and figure out how to create something as involved as that.  They may have a month to do a film, which is generally not the case with me.  Usually I do a feature length project in five days.  I don’t have the time or the resources to experiment with that kind of thing.  But it can go far beyond human sounds if you’ve got time.

WOODY:  When you say “legends” you’re talking about studio Foley artists and large Foley stages like Warner Bros. or Paramount?

MONIQUE:  Exactly.

WOODY: You’re doing the Foley for a full-length feature film in five days?

MONIQUE:  Five to ten is the most I’ve been given.  Budgets have gotten tighter.  ProTools has been really good and bad for the industry.  In some ways it’s been great because you can redo a take very quickly.  In the old days when you were shooting tape everything required a pre-roll.  Back then, to redo the slightest thing took twelve seconds just to prepare for that, whereas now, it’s instantaneous.  If you don’t like it you can very quickly redo it.  But it’s also brought down the budgets because people are doing guerilla Foley in their garages.

WOODY:  Probably also with ProTools you have more and more tracks.  Do you find that, too?

MONIQUE:  Yes, absolutely.  When there were less tracks, we also worked in pairs because that way you could double up on things.  Double up on footsteps for crowd scenes, double up on props, like somebody would get one aspect of a sound while the other person would handle another.  Say it was a dining room scene and if you have very few tracks you could have somebody doing chair creaks of people sitting at the dining room table while somebody else is handling glassware or dishes and you can do it simultaneously.  Now, with so many tracks, you keep everything on it’s own track.  Which is good in some ways but also it’s a lot more for the mixer to contend with.

WOODY: Do you generally work solo or in teams or both?

MONIQUE:  Generally, I work solo.  They still work in teams on the lots at Sony and Warner Bros., but it’s getting to be less and less at your little boutique studios which is where I work.  They tell me they don’t have the budget and they don’t see the value in having two people because they think that someone is just standing around, which isn’t the case at all.  It works really well to have two people doing Foley for a number of reasons.  One is that somebody might be stronger at a certain thing than another.  I recently had to do a film where I had to walk Samuel L. Jackson, and I weigh about 120 pounds, and it’s a struggle for me to sound like a plus 6-foot man.  So if I had a partner that was maybe a bigger person, male or female, they might have been a little bit better at that.  There were some things they did with the EQ and the way I physically hold my feet and do the steps and choices of shoes that help me, but the reality is in having a partner there’s somebody who is going to be better at one thing or the other.  And also it gives you a bit of a break from not having to do every single thing all the time.

WOODY:  I’ve personally never recorded two Foley artists, but I’ve often thought that it could be a really creative atmosphere.

MONIQUE: Yeah.  It’s much more creative because two people, well I don’t want to say two because whoever is recording the Foley has a very heavy influence on the creative process, so having three people in a room coming up with ideas is much better than just two.

WOODY:  So you see the engineer as a partner in the collaboration of the Foley recording?

MONIQUE: Oh absolutely.  I don’t really know how to articulate how important the engineer is in the entire process.  Usually we will have a discussion as to what we are going to cover first or what we think is the most important thing and we will do that first.  Within a reel we won’t necessarily go linearly.  Because we are trying to budget time, we sort of pick what is the most interesting or what relates to the story.  If there is something that is a really key prop that’s used over and over and over again, then that’s something that we really want to establish.  And sometimes we will record that in it’s entirety throughout the film all at once for consistency’s sake.  I recently did a horror film where somebody spends a lot of time with a box over their head with a bunch of locks on it, which is not pleasant, I’m sure, for the person wearing the box.  But anyhow, I could use that wood box with the latches that I have created for the sound, and if I do it over a period of days, I might change the way that I handle that particular prop.  It might be rattling more one day than the other.  So when it’s something like that, we will usually record it all at once just so we get the same sound from it and that my interpretation doesn’t change depending on my mood over the days.

The recordist is huge, huge, huge – on the level of morale for the space that’s created because it is such an intimate space, especially if I’m working by myself and the person on the other side of the glass is my only contact.  There have been many times that I have worked with people that have had such great, great, great ideas that I would not have come up with on my own, and together we build on each other’s ideas and it is an amazing thing.  Also, I don’t always have the best judgment of how the sound is translating through the microphone.  I can be thinking that something is just right on, and if I’m not working with somebody who is really skilled in that awareness of what is working and what’s not, I’ll go back and listen to what we have recorded and it’s not so good.  I can’t always tell how the microphone is picking up what I’m doing and I heavily rely on the recordist’s judgement.  I work with a bunch of different types of engineers.  Some are truly mixers and have taken it to an art form and EQ and modulate and do all sorts of things and others I work with just do straight recording, but are very picky about my interpretation of what I am doing.  I’ve been really blessed and I have avoided situations where I would have to work with someone who either is unpleasant or lacks really, really great judgment.  The people that I work with are really quite incredible.

WOODY:  It’s great to hear that you rely on a real collaboration with the engineer.

MONIQUE:  It’s more important than anything.  It’s more important than the props I have to use, it’s more important than the stage I have to use, it’s more important than the show I’m working on.  I’d have to say it’s singularly the most important thing.

WOODY:  That is very encouraging.  Let’s shift gears a bit – how do you determine what to cover within a scene?

MONIQUE:  That comes from experience and budget and time.  Usually when we start a film we’ll start at the beginning and we’ll work reel by reel.  Let’s say we’ll start with a cloth pass. And that will be the first time that I’ve usually seen the film.  I generally don’t see what I’m working on until the time comes that we are recording [the session].  When I do the cloth pass, I like to wear headphones so I can listen to the production audio so I can hear what the film sounds like.  Because a lot of times we are trying to sound like production so the foley can be used and not pop out in a bad way.  The floor surfaces and shoes need to sound similar so if they replace the production dialogue in a scene with adr the foley matches up.  So I’ll do a cloth pass which involves me close mic’ing manipulation of cloth to emulate the characters’ movements.  I’ll have a variety of types of cloth depending on what the people are wearing.  A denim shirt kind of does it all, it sounds like almost anything, but if someone is wearing a silk blouse, for example, I’ll have a piece of silk handy.  So we’ll do a movement [cloth] pass, which is something I never noticed prior to doing Foley.  Now I hear it being used all the time, even on television.  It’s just an interesting thing that you may not even be aware of on a conscious level until someone tells you about it and you’re like, oh that’s that rustling sound.  So we will start with that and then we’ll do a footsteps pass where we will get all the characters’ footsteps on the various floor surfaces.  A good Foley stage has a cement surface, a wood floor, a dirt pit, a gravel pit, a way to make the sound of grass.  We will do the footstep pass and then we will do a pass of props.  You’ll do a setup for basic hand props and then, depending on the time and the budget, you’ll cover things that maybe the effects people will be covering as well, but since you have the time, you will be able to do that.  But if you don’t have the time and you think it is something the effects guys are going to cover anyhow, then you’ll just skip that.  You pick your battles.

WOODY:  What are the tools of your trade?

MONIQUE:  I’ve got about forty pairs of shoes.  I’ve got a small portable kit that I bring with me.  I have a foley purse with some stuff in it that rattles kind of cool.  I’ve got a lot of metal things, some hinges and wood, glass, plastic and rubber items.  Things are basically categorized into like materials.  I have a backpack with various paper (photos, newspaper, cellophane, wax paper, etc.)  I’ve got some different clothes that I carry with me (a leather jacket, nylon windbreaker).  It’s really great when you can find something that squeaks or creaks.  It’s invaluable stuff to me.  I was at a yard sale and I was looking for a day planner to use as a Foley prop.  So I’m at this yard sale and I’m opening and closing this day planner.  I’ve got it held up to my ear and this guy looks at me, I guess the owner of the day planner, and he said, “it’s only a buck.”  And he thought I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to spend the dollar on his planner for some other reason.  It didn’t sound good, so I didn’t buy it.  My favorite props I think lately, are a couple of pillow cases filled with cornstarch, which I use for snow.  The reason I put the cornstarch in the pillow cases is [that] it contains it so I don’t leave the stage with a nice white powder covering everything.  But cornstarch has a nice screech and creak to it that’s really, really cool.  The crunch sounds like snow.  It also works really well for body falls in animation.  If somebody falls in sand, it’s got a lot of loft to it, and it’s more of an interesting sound than just using sand, for example.  A chamois has been a great friend of mine.  When you get them wet, they make lots of cool dimensional gushes and mushes and things like that.  And I’ve also gotten a lot of mileage out of a pinecone.

WOODY:  Really?  What do you use a pinecone for?

MONIQUE:  I can step on a pinecone and the cracking of it can sound like ice breaking.  If the pinecone is worn down a bit and I manipulate my fingers on it can sound like little bug legs.  It can sound like all sorts of things.  It’s a secret favorite of mine.  I remember telling an engineer I worked with, “don’t tell anybody about the pinecone.”  There are Foley secrets and with the exception of when I was training, I’ve almost always worked alone.  I’ve gotten to have a partner a few times, but the downside to working alone is that there are some Foley secrets that I don’t know – that are only passed on if you’ve worked with someone who knows them.  But I’ve developed some of my own, so I’ll do those for now.  (Laughs)

WOODY:  When you go to a Foley stage or a session, what items do you anticipate they will have there for you?  Obviously you aren’t going to be carrying a car door around with you.

MONIQUE:  Exactly.  A car door is important.  There was a long time where one of the stages I worked at didn’t have a car door and I was trying to use a folding chair.  It was terrible.  Finally one day one of the sound editors took pity on me and went to “pick-a-part” and bought a car door.  A car door is a big one.  A wood chair is nice because nothing sounds quite like a wood chair, especially one that has a little bit of creak to it.  I prefer not to carry dishes and glassware with me, so it’s nice that, even if they don’t have a proper Foley stage, usually the places I work will have a kitchen.  Nothing is sacred or off limits.  I will grab whatever is around the facility.  I won’t break it or anything (usually).

I’m definitely resourceful and I will find things and use them.  Some of the creativity comes from, in my experience, trying to make do.  Working at little boutique studios, they don’t have everything that one needs, literally.  So trying to figure out how to make a wide range of sounds working with very little is, I think, a great part of the creativity.  On the other hand, having done this for 11 or 12 years, a lot of times movies have someone riding a horse.  Not as much in contemporary films, but I did a lot of old movies where I did the Foley.  And I’ve always faked it with some cool leather creaks and some belts I use as reins, but the other day I was somewhere that actually had a saddle and I got to use the saddle for the creaks.  And it sounded so good, I was like, oh my god, I can’t believe I’m finally getting to use this thing!  So it would be a luxury to work somewhere that had all sorts of cool things, but it’s also honed my creativity to not have that option.  If I would have always had the chance to literally use “the thing” then I wouldn’t have grown in the way that I have needing to improvise and make do.  Also, the literal prop does not always sound the best.  It just depends.

There have also been situations where you spend a lot of time compensating for the shortcomings of a room. Say the stage is an ADR stage and there are no Foley pits, there is no dirt or gravel or grass area, you can still make do, as long as you have a decent concrete surface, which can be used for tile, cement, or asphalt.  For dirt footsteps,  you can throw a carpet down and throw some dirt on the carpet and walk on that but you have to walk much softer so you don’t reveal the floor underneath and there are other things you have to do to try to pull that off.  You can do it.  It doesn’t sound as good, but you can get away with just about anything as long as the room is quiet and it doesn’t have weird bounce.  I’m not an acoustician, but there have been times that in working in makeshift rooms there’s weird bounce that happens from all of the right angles in the walls and the ceiling.  I recently worked on a stage like that where I was walking “a big guy” and I was walking really hard and it sounded great to me, but then when I listened to the recording I sounded like a woman in heels.  There is just a bizarre, weird, echo bounce thing that can happen which makes things more difficult.  So I ended up having to walk this big guy really soft so that we wouldn’t hear that [the poor room quality].  It compromises the quality when you don’t have a great stage, but we can make do with just about whatever we are given.

WOODY:  You do Foley for feature films, but you also do it for television as well?

MONIQUE: Yeah.  Because I work at a few different places, I get to work on a really nice variety of projects which I think is helpful as far as one not getting into a bit of a rut.  I work on feature length films, good and bad.  I work on television.  I recently started a really great one-hour drama, “Mad Men”.  I sometimes get to do animation, which is the most difficult thing I do from a creative standpoint.  I work on reality TV, which most people are just amazed that there is Foley in reality TV.  That seems to be a huge secret that no one knows.  Even people in the industry are shocked when I tell them that I do Foley for reality TV.  I’ve done Foley for “Survivor” for 13 seasons. I am currently working on “American Gladiators” and “Wipe Out”.  I did Foley for many years for “Fear Factor”.

WOODY:  So you’re doing the munching of spiders?

MONIQUE:  Yes, yes, yes.  People eating intestines and things, the sound of people in a fish tank full of roaches moving about.  All of that stuff does not really have a sound associated with it, we put that in.  At first when I started “Fear Factor” I was very creeped out by the content and then what I grew to realize is it was one of the most creative things that I’d ever gotten to do from a Foley standpoint because it’s not straightforward.  It’s not setting a wine glass down.  There’s only so much pizzazz that can have.  But having to come up with a way to make the worms sound different than the roaches and the pig intestine chewing sound different than the hundred year old egg involves some true thought.  And plus, they actually play the stuff up, which is really nice.

WOODY:  That was going to be my next question.  Did you find that they use this for the on air mix or is it more for the M&E and foreign delivery.

MONIQUE:  For “Fear Factor” it made the mix and it was played up.  On “Survivor”, they say they use what we do, but the show has such wonderful music, the composer for that is just outstanding.  For something like “Survivor” we mainly cover the competitions.  So if somebody is going through some sort of obstacle course, that’s what we cover.  We also cover them traipsing around through the jungle and certain things that didn’t come out well in production because they don’t mic reality shows for those sounds the way they do when they are shooting in a controlled setting.  They mic for dialog, but no one bothers sticking a mic into the tank of cockroaches and I don’t even know if they would, what that would sound like.

WOODY:  I often prefer to work with Foley artists than to have to search through my sound effects library and layer and create and edit sounds.  Many times it’s better and faster and more creative to do it with a Foley artist.

MONIQUE: It’s so weird.  People get so cheap when it comes to Foley and they think, oh I can just cut that, but they don’t realize the time it takes to cut something like that that’s multi-dimensional and nuanced.  It takes quite awhile as opposed to we can do it in a matter of seconds.

WOODY:  So how did you get into Foley in the first place?

MONIQUE:  I was very fortunate.  It was accidental.  I had been doing art department work and I knew that was not where I wanted to end up.  It seemed like a lot of moving furniture to me and I didn’t want to be a production designer.  I couldn’t really see it going beyond the dreaded furniture moving that I was doing.  So, I thought I wanted to get into picture editing. I was at a party and I met someone and he said he was in post and I thought that meant that he was a picture editor.  I didn’t know anything, I thought that post was picture editing.  And I said, “oh I’ve always wanted to do post.”  And he said actually he was in post sound.  And I said “oh, I’ve always wanted to do that.”  I just went along with it.  He said he actually recorded Foley and I said you know, that has always been interesting to me because I’d seen the LA Times trailer [shown during the pre-show of film screenings which depicted various crew positions in motion pictures] they had a few years ago and it did look interesting.  So the guy called me a couple of days later and he said “we’ve been trying to train somebody and it’s been about a month now and he’s just not getting it so we’re auditioning people.  Would you like to come in?”  So myself, along with about ten lucky others, all had a chance to come in and try to walk footsteps in sync or move a piece of cloth.  Nothing real taxing or complicated, but just to see if you could hit sync with what was being projected.  They picked me and ironically I worked for them for about a month before the purchase of their building fell through and thus, their foley stage went along with it.  And so I had about a month experience and I sent a resume saying that I was told that I had potential talent but I had very little experience.

I was really lucky.  My timing was good and I met some very kind people who were willing to show me some things, which is extremely rare.  There’s not that many of us, I think there’s maybe only a hundred Foley artists in the state [California], and the work isn’t long like editors who can work on movies for a year given the different budgets.  But Foley artists, our job, even on a big budget thing, maybe get twenty days a month.  So everything is very competitive and no one wants to teach anybody how to do what they do because then that person is going to be willing to do what they do for cheaper.  It’s funny.  It’s very, very difficult to break in to.  It’s very, very competitive.  No one wants to show anybody anything and I managed to get some people to show me some things and to hire me.  I still am stunned.  I don’t know quite what happened and I don’t think I realized how lucky I was at the time.  I felt glad, I thought, this is cool, but I really didn’t know how truly lucky I was.  I am glad I didn’t know how hard it was to break into.  My naivete probably helped me along quite a bit.  If I would have known how hard it is to get into foley I may have not thought it realistic.  I meet people all the time that say they’d love to do Foley and I wish them well, but it’s very hard to break into.

WOODY:  I get that question all the time.  “Hey, I’d love to do Foley.  Would you hire me?”

MONIQUE:  I think part of the problem is schools, too.  I met a kid a couple years ago who went to a recording school and his parents paid I think about a hundred grand in tuition for him to go to school there.  And of course his parents were expecting that he would be able to come out here and get a forty or fifty dollar an hour job, which is what the school said would happen if they trained in this area.  I’m not saying all schools are to blame, this is just an isolated story, but the poor kid came out here, he was doing an internship and making nothing, and the next level up from that he was maybe going to be making $8-$10 in the machine room somewhere.  And he was super bummed because his parents kept asking him when he was going to make that big salary he had been led to believe he was going to get upon graduation.

I recently was on a judging panel for a paid internship that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences holds.  The person who receives the internship gets to work at a sound facility here in Los Angeles for a month or two.  And it’s a paid internship, it’s not a huge amount of pay, but it’s still some pay.  But they get the experience of that.  There were maybe thirty applicants and we had to narrow it down to three.  They have to write a letter explaining why they want to do the internship and what they hoped to gain.  It’s really interesting.  They get letters of recommendation from faculty and it’s just really interesting seeing what peoples’ ideas of what this business is and what’s going to be expected of them and what position they get to assume upon arrival.  There’s, of course, a number of talented people coming from USC, but the panel also likes to give opportunities to people from other states where they don’t have a chance to meet people and make contacts the way they do out here.  The exciting thing about it is there are a lot of bright talented foks out there that really are into sound, which is very cool.  I don’t know that that was the case twenty years ago.  I think people are a lot more educated about the importance of sound than they used to be.  It used to be kind of an after thought, didn’t it?

WOODY:  In many ways it still is.  One of my rants is that people think sound for film and TV is just a technical job.  They have no idea the amount of collaboration and creativity involved.

MONIQUE:  And I don’t know if they’ve changed course, but it used to be AFI didn’t even teach sound.  It’s weird, too, about that collaboration thing.  I think that’s really huge as far as what we do in general.  Editors have a tendency to work a lot by themselves, sound editors in front of a computer, but they’re still collaborating with the sound supervisor, with other editors on what the tone of the film is supposed to sound like so that there’s some continuity, and then with the dialog [editor] and with the mixer.  All of these forces come together and it’s really a hugely collaborative effort.  Every once in awhile I’ll meet somebody who is a Foley artist/recordist where they maybe have some way to push play from the stage, like they’ll have a little portable console and they’ll record themselves.  And that’s like working in a vacuum.  I would rather not do Foley at all than to work like that.  The collaboration is what makes this really interesting.

WOODY:  It also makes it better.

MONIQUE:  Oh, so much better.

WOODY: I don’t think people think of the sound portion of motion pictures as being artistic.

MONIQUE: I think it’s moving more in that direction where people are beginning to understand, but I think it has a long way to go.  Another thing, too, is that people have a tendency to run out of money.  They spend all of their money in production and then if they have a little bit left, that goes to picture editors and that process, and by the time they get to the audio portion, that’s the last thing. And then they have neither money nor  time.

WOODY:  A lot of times directors don’t understand or see the value of what we do until they sit in on a sound edit or mixing session.  What do people most misunderstand about what you do?

MONIQUE:  I’d have to say that what they misunderstand about Foley is that they imagine the difficulty would come from the creativity or from the sync.  Both of those things are difficult, but I find the thing that is the most challenging about doing Foley is having to pay such close attention the entire time.  You are glued to every second on that screen and you have to almost be psychic to be able to tell what a character is going to do next and to be able to do that in sync with the right intensity.  It requires a great deal of concentration.  So there will be times where I’ll work a really long day, maybe I’ll work a double shift, and people would imagine that I would be tired because I’m running and slamming things down and moving about and that’s not the part that’s tiring.  The part that’s exhausting about doing Foley is having to pay such close attention from the moment you’re in record.

WOODY:  Can you give me some insight in terms of your brain -you’re looking at something in life, a prop or item in a store, and somehow your brain sees that but hears something else.

MONIQUE:  It’s weird.  Sometimes people have said to me that as a Foley artist you probably hear things differently.  And that’s not true at all.  I hear things the same way everybody else does.  The only difference is that I might be, on occasion, more aware of them.  Like I recently bought a silicone, waffle-weave pot holder and I bought it because it was cool looking and I needed a new pot holder, but the other day when I was rinsing it I realized that it made this cool kind of sucking sound.  And I’m like, oh, this would be cool for something.  And I didn’t know at the time, and I still don’t, what it will be used for, but there will be a day where I’m sitting on a stage and I’ll need that particular sound and my brain will go, oh, that pot holder you have at home would be perfect.  Another thing is a lot of times the recordist will come up with a really great way to articulate to me what is or is not working about what I’m trying.  Say I’m trying to do a bug crawling and the legs sound too big or too crunchy, a good engineer will be able to tell me specifically what about it that isn’t working and then I’ll have to just be resourceful and based on the description of what is needed try to just experiment and figure out what will work.  Sometimes they can help me with EQ and sometimes they can actually help with suggestions.  As far as what part of the brain,  or what makes a foley artist able to access those ideas – I used to have a lot more fear about it.  I’ve actually lost sleep over thinking “how am I going to make this particular sound?”  But what I’ve come to realize is that we always work it out.  Whether it’s my idea or the engineer’s idea, at the end of the day we always work it out. So I don’t have that fear so much anymore.  If I don’t know how to do it, I just go, oh I don’t know how to do that, but I know that by the time I need to I will have figured it out or the recordist will have or we both will have.

WOODY:  When you see the final project, how much of what you do, do you think, makes it?

MONIQUE:  It really varies.  That’s where the re-recording mixer is the final say.  Some mixers love to use Foley.  Others really just like to use production and only use Foley when absolutely necessary.  I have learned through some disappointments early on.  I was doing “Gods and Monsters” maybe my second year of doing Foley, and I remember there was this one scene where Ian McKellen’s character operates on Frankenstein.  He opens his head and he removes his brain and then he stitches it back up.  This was one of those occasions where I lost sleep trying to figure it out.  I was pretty inexperienced and it was so specific and the sound supervisor said “oh we want something really cool for this,” so it was really something that kind of freaked me out.  I couldn’t tell you what I did now, it was too long ago, but I spent about an hour on it actually recording different elements for it and all together it sounded really cool.  I remember the sound supervisor called me in to a room where they were watching down the Foley and the director was there, and they were so complimentary.  And they were saying, “Monique this is just amazing, this is exactly what we want!”  They were thrilled and I was thrilled and everybody was thrilled and then I went to the screening a few months later and I was all excited about my big scene and all I heard was music. (Laughs)  So I’ve learned to separate myself from attachment to the outcome of what makes a mix.  As long as what the engineer and I have come up with sounds cool when our session ends when we play it back, as long as that sounds good, whether it makes the mix or not I’ve had to separate myself from caring.  Of course it’s nice when it does, but I can’t take that as a personal failure if it doesn’t because it’s really not anything to do with that.  Or sometimes it might be.  Sometimes they may not like it, but it’s generally just a creative choice.  Clearly with this Frankenstein scene they opted for music.

WOODY:  Do you enjoy the work?

MONIQUE: Yeah!  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I’m picky about where I work.  If something doesn’t feel right, like if I don’t get along with the people, I don’t work there.  So the show can be bad, the show doesn’t have to be good, it’s nice when it is, but really the most important thing is who I’m working with.  And if the show is bad it just gives us something to laugh at.  Sometimes we take our work for granted and we’re really fortunate to be living in a beautiful place, [Southern California] working in this industry that so many people would love to be a part of.  So many people have jobs they don’t care about.  They just do it as a means to an end, but I’d like to believe that if I came into a windfall of money from the sky, that I would still do Foley because it’s fun.

WOODY:  And I hope I’m behind the glass with you!

RAVE: JBL LSR 4328 Monitors

JBL professional monitors have been an industry standard for a long time. I’ve owned JBL’s inside of guitar cabinets but have never used them for mixing and monitoring. I’ve had a chance to review the stereo pair of the LSR4328′s paired with their subwoofer the LSR4312 and I have to say that I am mighty impressed with their sound, their feature set and their construction.

Most good monitor speakers, have good electronics, good woofers and tweeters in a nicely designed box with maybe a dip switch or two to bump or dip a particular frequency to correct for room anomalies. These JBL’s are a whole new class of monitor with bells and whistles that actually add value. The front panel will strike you with not only a row of buttons including the power switch, but also with a calibrated LED meter. These buttons will power up the monitors, solo individual speakers, enter into calibration mode, activate and access EQ settings, select input modes and step up or down through settings (+/-). You can choose the meters to be dimmer or brighter or off completely by pressing the +/- buttons simultaneously a couple of times. And since we are all so lazy these days, all of these functions and more are available through a remote control!

The rear panel also hosts a list of input and output options. There are XLR and 1/4 inch TRS analog inputs, as well as AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital inputs. By accessing the front panel controls you can select the active inputs to monitor as many as three separate sources, digital and analog . The analog ins go through 24-bit/96kHz A/D converters, and the digital ins can support sampling rates from 96kHz down to 32kHz . They have also included an input sensitivity switch which toggles between – 10 dBV and +4 dBu.

There is a lot of convenience and options with these monitors. As you can see there are plenty of I/O options, superior functionality, fantastic sound reproduction and as if no detail is too small they actually included handles on the side of each monitor for ease of movement and positioning. If you study the rear panel picture you’ll also see USB and CAT5/Ethernet I/O as well. That’s right – these speakers not only talk to each other through the CAT5 but they speak to the computer system as well! And we’ll get the their “Room Mode Correction” feature in a minute.

These monitors use JBL’s proprietary LSR (Linear Spatial Reference ) technology. In JBL’s own words – “LSR technology measures the performance of a speaker over a sphere that encompasses all energy radiated into the listening environment in every direction and analyzed algorithmically via known psycho-acoustic principles to calculate complete and accurate optimization of the sound field, including the direct sound field, the reflected sound field and the reverberant sound field.” Which is a fancy way of saying these speakers offer superior reproduction of sound sources and that they put a lot of time, research and moola into developing this monitor technology.

JBL has also incorporated their RMC (Room Mode Correction) technology into this monitor system. It’s a clever and simple system to use. Since so many music producers, video editors and sound editors and mixers are working at home or in very compromised spaces this technology has been developed to compensate. All you need to do is set up the monitors in their mix position, network the monitors with their included CAT5 cables, attach the included microphone into the back of the “left” monitor and position it at “ear height” of the mixing sweet spot and press the RMC front panel button. It sweeps the space with tones, calibrates the monitors and stores the information. Done! I have not had the opportunity to try this in a compromised space, I’m using them here in my professional studio, but I have contacted others who are truly amazed at the difference they found before and after. The RMC switch allows you to bypass so it is easy to A/B to hear the difference between the corrected and uncorrected signal.

So, yeah, blah, blah, blah, how do they sound? In a word – great. These monitors have astonishing clarity in the mids and highs and no mud down at the bottom and excellent stereo imaging. I have auditioned a wide range of material through them and they handle high decibel levels with ease and sound great all down the line. As a long time user of another company’s monitors, I was sure that these JBL’s would not be much competition. I was wrong, so wrong in fact I am no longer a user of those monitors (HINT – made in Finland) and have now outfitted Mix Suite A with the LSR4328′s. There can be no greater recommendation than that. If you are in the market for professional monitor speakers, I am of the opinion that you can’t do better than these for this price point. Also check out their little brothers the LSR4326′s which offer all the same bells and whistles with a slightly smaller woofer. They are even better priced and would work quite well in smaller spaces.

INTERVIEW: Todd Sklar – Writer/Director

Todd Sklar, writer and director of “Box Elder” has just wrapped the first leg of his nationwide tour for the film.  The tag line for his movie “Box Elder” seems to sum up what it’s all about best – “On the the road to nowhere, these guys call shotgun.”  Todd took time out from scheduling the next leg of the tour to talk about directing, the tour and of course – sound.

Todd Sklar (left) and Brock Williams (right)WOODY: Many first time directors are more attuned to the visuals and the technical aspects regarding the picture than the audio and the recording process on set. Did you find that to be true for yourself?

TODD: I would say that for me story and performance always come first, but visually, as the technical aspect of the film, I understood that better. In a weird way sound is something that I am very acutely aware of when I am watching films but I have no practical production experience with it what so ever. It was more so the lack of know-how in the translation from point A to point B. I love overlapping dialogue and I really wanted that. I would always source Mash, you know how great that is.

WOODY: Altman was a master in his use of sound and production dialog.

TODD: Exactly, exactly. But I did not understand necessarily how much effort and work he put into that you know? They don’t have audio commentary tracks on DVD’s with sound guys talking about how you approach sound. The first time I watched Boogie Nights P.T. Anderson was talking about how they got that first tracking shot and so I can understand how to do that and plan how to do that. A lot of it was just not having the experience to understand how difficult of a thing production audio is. And the weird thing is, going into making the film I had so much research that I was doing and everybody, any idiot who’s made a film in the world would warn you and tell you how important sound is, and I was well aware of that. But you really don’t understand how it’s your number one priority if you do not know what you are doing. You should be listening to the sound guy and telling everyone else to shut up. That’s a learning lesson without question.

WOODY: And have you made other pictures as well?

TODD: I have made some shorts, but I would not really even consider them shorts. I would call them “film experiences” because they are all so flawed in their own little way. I have no background in film and didn’t go to film school. The only reason I made shorts was to get that hands-on experience and to learn story telling through the lens in a hands-on approach. Every one of the shorts I made was way overtly ambitious in every aspect of the medium, the story telling and everything. That way I could try to stretch myself and figure out how to do certain things. So they are all very much flawed and hard to watch.

WOODY: So that was inspiration to go ahead and tackle a feature-length project?

TODD: (Laughs) Yeah. It’s interesting because my technical prowess didn’t actually grow that much. I think my ability for story telling has always in its strongest form been natural instincts and intuition and what not. The thing that kind of progressed me into doing a feature is just the last short I made before this feature was around twenty-eight minutes long and that was heavily condensed with a lot of scenes. It was really too heavy and that was in its shortest form. I just could not fit all the things I wanted to do in a story in less than ninety minutes. So for me, I didn’t set out to necessarily write a feature, but I think the first treatment was twelve pages longer than my first draft of the script, which was like 160 pages. (Laughs) Either it’s going to be a TV show or it’s going to be feature.

WOODY: So you out grew doing shorts?

TODD: Pretty much. And only in the story telling aspect. At that point I did not even feel comfortable making another short as far as my technical skills go. I had to pick that up at a much more relevant pace to match the story telling.

WOODY: So in terms of actual time from when you finished the script to actually wrapping was what, 9 months or a year?

TODD: Yeah, a little bit less than that.

WOODY: And how about the post process? How long did it take you to get from wrapping production to a locked picture edit?

TODD: That was a crazy experience as well. (Laughs) Our editor Kamau [Bilal] was editing overnight the rough cuts of each scene that we shot during the shooting. So we had our first actual rough cut of the film I want to say less than five or six days after we wrapped. So that helped a lot. That really expedited the initial post process. Then from there me and Kamau worked together every day for a little less than 2 months. We did one day of re-shoots and then just edited around 18 to 20 hours a day between me and him. And I want to say we wrapped around mid September and had picture lock in the beginning of February so that would be about five months.

WOODY: In terms picture cutting, did you think that was about right?

TODD: I thought it was unbelievably fast. Our ethos during the whole process was that we were going to make the best movie possible and we’re not going to have any deadlines, festival or other. I worked at Sundance that year, so I was gone for a month doing that and then we did an initial round of ADR that took two weeks, so we had about a month and a half of that five months where we weren’t cutting at all. So technically it was really more like 3 1/2 months. And I thought for that, that’s just incredibly fast for a movie that going into it with as much improvisation as we did and also leaving ourselves as much exploration room as I needed to figure things out. I thought 3 1/2 months is pretty incredible to burn through and find the story that we did. That said though, keep in mind that Kamau and I were literally editing 18 to 20 hours every day during that period. So as far as actual hours go, it’s probably not too quick compared to a regular production, but as far as actual days go I thought it went pretty quickly.

WOODY: What format did you shoot?

TODD: We shot in HD. We used the Panasonic HVX and it is 720p and stereo sound and we used the 35mm adapter and shot most of the film with either the 35mm lens or a 50mm lens. Some of our close ups, especially the outdoor stuff, we used an 80 to kind of get the faces to pop out a little more. But a lot of that with the lenses works out because of the campus. (University of Missouri, the setting for “Box Elder”) My DP and I worked together a lot in preproduction talking about different styles and the kind of things I was interested in and the films that influenced me in general. He did a great job of understanding what about those films I liked and then we were intuitively able to create similar things. So in a weird way there is not a lot of rip off shots if you will. They’re very kind of (Jim Jarmusch) Jarmusian and Wes Anderson like with the relation between characters and space and settings. I think it helps tell the story because the whole idea was keeping the campus as a character in a way.

WOODY: How did you do your production audio?

TODD: That’s a really good question. We had the wonderful Jesse “C-Nug” Brown who was mixing and doing boom at the same time.

Jesse \

WOODY: Wow, that’s always a challenge.

TODD: (Laughs) It really is. This was his first feature as well and so it was a nightmare for him but he was a trooper and he did an unbelievable job. Primarily we used a Sennheiser Shotgun and some wireless lavs as well. For a little while we were using plate mics just to get production audio around the set, but mostly we just shot with a shotgun, a boom, and tried to keep the sound as natural as possible. Our production audio was easily the weakest element going into post and that was primarily because of my inexperience, again technical inexperience. And for C-Nug this is his first feature and his first time working with any of us, so he didn’t know anybody on set. It was very hard for him to kind of step up and say “hey guys I think you need to do this” or “I think we need to do that.” He did try to do this and unfortunately we didn’t listen as much as we should have. Thank God he was a trooper about that because a lot of people know they’re right and they should if they know their job, and you’re telling them to shut up or don’t worry about it. They will just storm off or get grumpy or say “I do not want to work with these people.” C-Nug was just like you know “it’s cool, let’s do it your way, we will worry about it later.”  And he never once in post when we had sound issues was like, “I told you so.” You never heard him say that one time. It was always “what can I do to help.” So we got really, really lucky to have a personality like that on set even though we kind of did not utilize him as skillfully as we should have.

WOODY: Prior to “Box Elder” had you had any post audio experience?

TODD: No I didn’t. Most of the time whoever is [picture] editing for me would do all of that for me. It’s a very interesting thing – I’ll say three of my four shorts the DP ended up doing the editing and did a lot of the sound design and the other one the editor did a lot of the sound design and sound effects and cleaned it up. I never recognized this until looking back, but in almost everyone of those processes I was in the editing room you know like twenty-four hours a day being a partner in every decision until “now I’ll just clean up the sound and we will look at again it tomorrow.”  And I can’t believe that I never once considered what “cleaning up the sound” was. It’s pretty amazing especially knowing that I would break and I would go and stay up for twelve hours and think about a new scene to shoot and the editor would stay up for twelve hours “cleaning up the sound” but I never connected on how intensively he was working on that. So my lack of experience in post sound definitely crippled the film a little bit.

WOODY: So when you began to focus in more on just the audio were you horrified, did it open more doors for you or did you see it as a chance to change the pacing or to help scenes in a way that you hadn’t prior?

TODD: That’s very interesting. In every other facet of the post-production phase I did a good job in making sure to stay creatively thinking “how can we make the film better.” How can we take this and creatively either fix it and find a creative solution or use it to our advantage and to the film’s advantage. But at that point with the audio we had tried so many things and failed so many times that I had become more lenient there than ever before. It’s either – we are going to try and fix this and get it the way I want it or we are just going to bite the bullet and do what we have to do. And that was my attitude going in. But then after working on it and focusing on it and realizing the possibilities that were still there even though we were in a time crunch, it opened up to me – we are still creating a film here! What I really look forward to on the next one is doing the post edit for the sound as a whole new other edit again. For first time filmmakers, especially in a time crunch and budget crunch, it’s a tough thing to remember that you’re not just fixing the mistakes, you’re supposed to be creative. I looked at it more as a “mistake fixing” scenario than a creative one.

WOODY: Kurosawa said something like, “Cinematic sound does not merely add to, but multiplies two or three times, the effect of the image.”

TODD: That is great. That is really good. I’m probably going to steal that.

WOODY: If you were advising other first time feature directors, do you have any advice either about the production audio or the post audio process?

TODD: For post audio I would say take half of your post budget and dedicate it to post audio. And that’s a minimum. And I would also say take half of the time you’ve allotted for post and dedicate that to post audio.

WOODY: You know a lot of people will think you’re crazy for saying that. (Both laugh)

TODD: Here’s the thing. We had a production with “Box Elder” that was the epitome of “we have one less day” or “one less thing” than we need. And that said, throughout the whole process, from every aspect, from money to time to resources, everything, the only thing that we actually ran short on was time and money for post audio. We got away with everything else. Everything else we found a creative solution to make to make it work, make it fit. I would much rather error on the side of having too much time and too much money for post audio verses the other. I don’t think you would waddle around if you had extra time. You are already so close to the finish line. And my advice regarding the production audio is, and this is so repetitive because everyone will tell you this, but it’s the most important thing in the world. I was very well liked by my actors and my crew was very supportive but the biggest aspect of my production for me was to protect the actors, to make sure they had an atmosphere and an energy where they could create and people weren’t inhibiting that or offending them or making them feel uncomfortable or make them feel like they had to perform. And a lot of that was because of the natural energy and the creative energy and what not. But I think that the sound person, whoever is doing production sound should be defended and respected by the director in the exact same regard. Especially because it is so often that the sound person is looked at as the evil guy on set because “oh no, we didn’t get it because of this or that” or “I’m not quite ready yet because I’ve been waiting on you guys and now I have to start doing my job.” It’s definitely a job that everybody on set doesn’t really take into consideration and it’s so important. So one thing I will be doing next time out is being as conscious of my production sound person as I am with my actors and just as protective. You know C-Nug was amazing – being on set in his first feature, he doesn’t know anybody there, and it compromises that situation and makes it so much more pressure filled. I really feel like it is the filmmaker’s obligation, it was my obligation to say “Are we okay? Is the refrigerator on?” Because that way if he says “no, we need fifteen minutes” I’m on the hook. I’m the guy who makes that decision and says “you know what guys, I know we want to shoot this, we want to make the day but we need to wait fifteen minutes to get the sound in.” He’s not being the bad guy, I am. I think that is part of what being a filmmaker is all about, being the bad guy, making sure that you are the one making those decisions. Because everyone who is there, they showed up to make your film. They don’t care if they have to wait fifteen minutes – they came that day to do what you needed them to do. They didn’t come that day to do what C-Nug needed them to do. That’s not his responsibility, its mine. So I think the biggest thing for any future filmmaker is to make sure you are responsible for your sound person. That is totally your responsibility. And that was like the biggest thing that I learned- because I did not recognize that at all I didn’t defend him at all and that should have been an absolute priority. It’s incredible to think that like I was so protective of these actors because it was their first time, I never once considered to think about that for the sound person. Yeah man what a trooper, what a guy.

WOODY: So now you’ve packed up your film and you’ve taken your show on the road. You are driving around the country, bringing your film to the masses. How did the actual tour concept come about?

TODD: I originally came up with the concept before I was actually writing the script, or it was right around that period of time. It was primarily based around my experience that I had with booking bands and concerts in Columbia, the college town I went to for school. I had a lot of success with graduate marketing and e-marketing and event planning and event coordination and event booking. I didn’t have any background in that so I was using a lot of hustling, just kind of intuitive skills to make that happen. I felt like if I could do that with bands in a small college town then I could probably do it with movies. Not too different of a business. And when I started to explore that, the difference between the two of them I found was that it really wasn’t that different of a business model. It was just that the movie industry on the distribution side of things is a lot more of a mess than the concert industry. So in actuality the situation is more stacked in my advantage to book a film in a town and make it an event than it is with a concert, which is really eerie to think about because it is such a different trade off on the financial side of things. But based on that I had a pretty large social network in different college towns and I did a lot of road trips, so I knew the country fairly well and felt that I had the right guys in place to come along with me to make it all happen, so it was kind of fundamentally based on that. And also at the South by Southwest festival there was a panel that Richard Linklater was on. It was right after he had sold “Fast Food Nation”, and they were asking him the things he was shocked by as far as new trends in filmmaking were concerned. The questions were geared towards digital cinema and how did he think technology has affected cinema. He said how he was shocked by how technology wasn’t changing cinema. He was blown away that when he sold “Slacker” at Sundance in ’91, I think it was, the same person who had sales rep’d for him then was his sales rep when he sold “Fast Food Nation.” He was just blown away that every other aspect of the industry had changed ten times over in the last sixteen some odd years but not with the infrastructure – those same people were still doing the same jobs. There just had been no change what so ever. And that to me was like, if this guy thinks that there is a problem then I am not crazy and maybe, just maybe, we have not a solution but the beginning of something. So that was just a real source of inspiration.

WOODY: And how has the tour experience been?

TODD: The tour went pretty well man, it was pretty crazy. It was a good venture. We ended up showing the film in a little over thirty-three theaters, which is a good amount for any independent film and ended up selling about nine thousand six hundred tickets or a little more than that. So, yeah, we did well with that. With that said, the whole idea of the first tour was to kind of make it a beta stage for the distribution model itself. We took a lot of risks and tried every trick in the book at cost effectiveness. We ended up spending more money than we should have, but through trial and error we made a little bit of money. We need to make a lot more, but it was good. It was defiantly an incredible thing. It was amazing to see, you know, a couple of hundred or so odd people in the theater every night watching your movie. The great thing is getting to know your fans. These people become zealots because it’s your audience and you’re doing a very direct marketing, doing a niche-oriented first hand, person-to-person target marketing. You’re picking up people who you think and kind of know are going to love the film and getting them in there and knowing that they’re going to love it is a very inspiring thing.

WOODY: So how many times did you end up watching the movie?

TODD: You know its funny. I watched it all the way through at start for I don’t know, I didn’t get sick of it until maybe half way through the tour, then I would kind of watch it in parts. Then it got so busy towards the middle of the tour that during the screenings I would be working outside the theater still trying to set things up for the rest of the tour, so I ended up not watching it for about a month and a half. Then I kind of missed it. So the last few weeks I started watching it again, which is kind of nice.

WOODY: Sometimes when I re-watch a picture I spent a lot of time with after a break I often find that I take something new and different away from it.

TODD: Totally, see that’s the best part. That was the first experience for that with me finally with the film, to see it with new eyes for the first time at the end of the tour, which is really nice.

WOODY: Many filmmakers make their project and just shop and shop and shop it hoping a sales rep or distributor will pick it up. I really admire your proactive approach to getting your picture out to audiences.

TODD: I think a lot of filmmakers and not just filmmakers there are a lot of people in the industry in general, I think it might be more of a producer/investor thing than a filmmaker thing, and they don’t make content for themselves and they definitely don’t make content to story-tell. They don’t make the content to show it to people, they make the content to either make a profit or build or progress a career in some way shape or form. So then the idea of making a film, then the plan is to sell it and the investors will make money and the producer will have a blue star on their resume and the filmmaker will get to make another film and everyone is happy. That’s the goal. Where as with us, I already had an investor group interested in making my next film before I had even started shooting this one. There was no pressure what so ever to try and get my next film made. I had no interest in progressing a career and neither did Brock [Williams - Producer of Box Elder]. We just wanted to make a film so that we could show it to people. I think that’s the other thing that didn’t necessarily play into the actual distribution model but the thing that kept it alive the whole time from like November 2005 or whatever to actually touring it, the fact that no one got in the way of saying, you know, maybe we shouldn’t tour. It’s just that we all wanted to make this film to show it.

WOODY: So what’s on tap for the next Todd Sklar project?

TODD: (Laughs) Well we are touring again in the fall. We’re going to the west coast then we are touring in the east coast and we are going to make a documentary while on tour this time. That’s going on and then summer of next year the plan is to make another film. I have a script that I wrote before “Box Elder” that’d kind of a little bigger in scale that I want to make going across the U.S. and kind of like a little road movie and hopefully a with a lot of the same people.

WOODY: Can’t wait to see it.

Woody Rant: A Slight Imbalance

I offer free audio post discussions quarterly each year.  These are filled with filmmakers of all stripes, new and experienced, amateur and professional who are close to or at the time for audio post and they are hungry for knowledge.  I will generally discuss all the hot and heavy aspects of what we post sound folks do.  We talk about the production audio, we talk about the design process and elements, we talk about the mixing of the material and the types of stems required for longevity and usefulness.

I generally ask the same types of questions and each and every time I get the same types of answers.  I’ll start by asking what format the project was shot with.  I’ll hear very excited answers about HD and HDV.  We’ll talk about interchangeable lenses and progressive frame rates.  This is where everyone is excited and maybe even showing off a little for the other folks.  They’ll crow about being one of the first to shoot with the RED camera system, or that they did a film-out from HDV that looked stunning, or that they played with the all the different flavors of HD but decided that 720P was the one that fit their project best.

I can see that we are on a roll so I’ll continue with the discussion.  I’ll hear about the beautiful lighting set-ups, challenges with lighting for green screen.  I’ll hear about using monitors on set and prepping for the DI.  We’ll talk about the ruggedness of the new cameras, the ability to shoot in adverse situations or with extremely low light.

Then I’ll ask about the audio.  “What microphone did you use?”  Quiet.  “Anyone?”  One person will mutter it was mostly boom but also some radio mics.  I’ll ask what brand.  Quiet.  “Did you use an outboard mixer or straight into a camera?”  Quiet.  “How about roomtone, did we all get clean roomtone for each location?”  “Well hmmm”  I’ll point out the discrepancy between the picture and the sound.  Do we see a pattern here?

In these filmmakers’ passion for the “perfect shot” they seemed to have forgotten that it generally has audio attached to it.  And in my experience they will expect the audio to be clear and seamless when they get to the final mix.  No matter how little regard they had for it on the day of shooting.

I’ll often ask these filmmakers if they can recall a behind-the-scenes photo from the set of a well-regarded feature or TV director.  I’ll ask if they notice anything significant about them.  I’ll hear they’ve got a special lens to view shots with, or hoods over monitors to keep out the daylight.  I’ll say there is usually one thing more.  If you look you’ll see that they are generally also wearing headphones.  An experienced director not only asks the DP if he “got the shot” or to “check the gate,” he’ll ask if the audio was recorded clean.  He (or she) understands what badly recorded audio will mean when they get their program to post.

There is an old adage “we’ll fix it in the mix.”  And indeed it will be addressed and fixed if possible by then but this generally a very poor approach to filmmaking. Many problems can be easily solved on set with an experienced production mixer and a couple of extra minutes.  There is a mistaken notion that since there’s “all these people here” we don’t want to have them “wait” for audio.  If A/C, refrigerators or computers need to turned off, sound blankets hung over reverberant spaces and quiet to be had for 30 seconds of recording roomtone it can literally save days  of time in post.  All the best directors know and understand the importance of taking the time to get the best audio possible.  Don’t be picture wise and sound foolish!