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SESSIONS – AUDIO POST: Save Document Archive – Part 1

Audio post is made up of several different elements.  The simplest way to look at the various breakdowns is the D, M & E.  This is the dialog material (D), the musical material (M) and the sound effects material (E).  Within those three simple categories however is a whole lot of other stuff.  For instance, the dialog can include of a number of tracks including the sync location tracks, any re-recorded dialog tracks (ADR), any walla tracks (background voices) and or voice-overs.

The music can include the composed score, popular songs, and source music like radios, cars and or muzak.  Muzak is a brand-name but typically refers to background music heard in stores, elevators and the like. The sound effects can include sounds such as atmospheres or backgrounds, hard effects like car door slams or guns and explosions and or Foley recordings.  Each of these various sound elements may require a number of different edits and discrete sessions for final mixing.

For the purposes of this article we will discuss these ideas using Pro Tools as our recording, editing and mixing platform but these concepts can be easily ported to any other digital audio program.  For those who don’t use ProTools I will define the terms as I go – starting with “sessions.”  In Pro Tools world a “session” is simply the name of any one particular document.  In Microsoft Word you create a “doc file” in Pro Tools you create a “session file.”

Most computer programs allow for the ability to save a document “as” something new.  Basically you “save as” the file saving the past work and adding to it in the new “save as” session.  My strong recommendation is to “save as” whenever you are substantially changing a session.  In fact I like to do many sorts of “save as” sessions.

I have encountered many engineers who like to save over their prior days work.  Most programs have some sort of “back-up” schemes and Pro Tools is no different.  These sessions are automatically saved and can be used to go back to prior work.  However these sessions are meant as back-ups so they will not be well documented.  In the case of Pro Tools it creates a new back-up file by time increments designated by the user.  For instance, by choosing your preferences, you may create a back-up every half-hour or quarter-hour.  This is essential practice for any engineer as a safety but it is not useful over the long term for a complicated project such as a TV show or a feature film that may contain many different “sessions” prior to the final mixing.

Here is a simple system that I have devised using “save as” in my session saving.  The rule is – new day – save as the next increment – Dialog Edit 5 becomes Dialog Edit 6 and so on.  Or if a new engineer is adding to the session, as in the case of a multi-user facility or project, save as the next increment.  Also save each edit, record or mix session by name – “Dialog Edit 1”, “Foley Record 1”, “ADR record Jesse 1” and so on.

Over the course of a complex project will there be many sessions created in this manner?  Yes, absolutely, but it also allows for precise documentation of each session.  Also the media used within the project is what takes up drive space, the actual size of the “session” file is quite small so you are not using gigs of additional storage.  One of the difficulties in complex projects that are spread over many days or weeks is keeping tabs on the changes that occur as the show progresses.  One thing any good editor/mixer will learn early on is that there must be a simple way to get back to prior work.  Directors and producers change their minds often and you must be prepared to get to those changes quickly.  A director will not want to hear that a session or sequence must “be rebuilt” to conform back to what was recently completed.

I also create a document that references each session file as a paper document.  This is old-school – utilizes a pencil and paper!

These session sheets are printed, documented and kept in a show specific binder.  A sample document can be seen here.  This can and should be altered to fit the working style of the team as well as the project but this one hits the main points for documentation.

Name of session and date are obvious.  I also include the engineers name as well as which session, if any, it was created from.  I also include where the media and the session are physically located, i.e. which computer, which drive, which directory etc.  Nothing is worse than not being able to find an edit session!  Oh it’s on THAT drive!

There is also a notes section that is to used for – notes.  Detail these notes, this has been a long days work and there have been many changes, additions, deletions and breakthroughs.  Be sure to accurately note what has been done, what has not been done, what challenges are still faced in the session and so on.  It may seem that keeping all of this information in your head is fine but good luck in a month.  Theses documents will prove invaluable as the process continues and are particularly useful when multiple editors are working on the same material.

All of the session sheets are kept in a binder accessible to anyone that is working on the project.  In the case of a feature film for instance I break the session binder into sections and by date for easier retrieval.  One section is devoted to the dialog session sheets, one for Foley, one for sound design and effects editing and so on.  Each is placed in the binder on top of the next per section so the most current sessions are on top.

This documentation is not just for today.  A lot of projects change or get changed as time passes.  The producer gets a foreign sale and they require a new set of deliverables.  Or the music rights of some tracks have expired and the sound needs a re-cut.  I’ve had many projects come back at a much later date for a few “tweaks.”  These binders help track down the small things that directors need to alter the film.  I’ve swapped out entire music tracks and re-mixed, I’ve changed ADR lines, I’ve recorded voice-overs to clarify story points, all well after the final mix.  It’s in your interest as the post sound lead to be able to make these changes in a timely and effective manner.  Three years down the line tracking down some ADR takes may be more difficult than you think.

Archiving the sessions will also take some planning if they are to be useful at a later date.  Pro Tools has a great function called “save copy”.  What it does is it takes all of the audio files that are used in a particular session and creates a complete new session.  I can’t go into too many Pro Tools specific things here but there are a couple of tricks I use for archiving that Pro Tools offers.  It has some great ways of importing and deleting audio files and tracks.  When a project is complete I like to create what I call “master sessions” which are a reflection of the elements of the final work.

For instance, I will compile all of the ADR takes for each actor into one session.  I will then strip the session of everything except for the initial picture editors guide track, a stereo mix of the final completed mix and all of the takes recorded for all of the characters.  I will then save that as the “ADR master session.”

Of course you will need to create a “final mix master session” which will contain only the final edits, audio files and work that created the final mix.  Repeat as necessary. Foley master session, dialog edit master session, whatever is needed to easily reach for those sessions at a later date.

If this article was to be stripped down to its essentials I suppose you could pin it on one word – organization.  If you are the supervising sound editor on a big, long project such as a feature film you will need to find and document things clearly.  Get in the habit of it.  It will make the edit easier, it will make the collaboration easier and it will ultimately make your life easier.  Wouldn’t you rather have the chance from time to time to leave early and relax rather than stay late digging through drives looking for a random audio file?