Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Sonic Philosophy: Stress and the Crazy Deadline

I've been fortunate in my career as a sound editor to have had many character-building and enriching experiences.  Since no two days are EVER alike, and since every project brings with it its own unique set of challenges, I've had plenty of opportunities in which to test myself as an editor, as a liaison for Monkeyland, and most importantly, as the person responsible for bringing the clients' sonic vision through the editorial process and onto the mix stage successfully.

"My Sonic Philosophy" will hopefully become a way for me to share some of the knowledge I've gained along my journey through the world of audio post.  Enjoy!

Lesson 1:  Coping with Crazy Deadlines

Communication between the entire editorial and mix team, as well as between Monkeyland and our clients, is absolutely crucial for a project's success, no matter how long or short the editorial schedule may be.  More often than not, we're presented with a strict budget and a very compressed editorial schedule for a film, and our goal is to deliver a rich sonic experience under those parameters.  Also, these cozy parameters may include a day or two of predubs as well as a five-day mix.  These tight confines leave very little head room for any surprises, and though we're always prepared for last-minute picture changes and new music delivery, our biggest challenge relates to the preparedness of our team.  This poses an interesting challenge to our supervisors, and I will share my approach to making a project fly successfully.

1.  Understand the vision.  It is imperative for everyone cutting dialogue, sound effects, foley, backgrounds and design to get where the director wants us to go sonically.  This also goes for the ADR and foley mixers. If time permits, I like to have a mini post-spotting session sitdown with the crew and express the finer points of the director's vision in person.  If time doesn't allow for a team pow-wow, I present the group with detailed notes from the spotting session.  Consciously working towards a common goal is the first step towards efficiently making our deadlines.

2.  Cut creatively.  And, I must add, always do you your best.  Half the battle is won by just making good sound choices.  Whether you're a seasoned editor or someone just starting out, trying your best to do your best is win-win in itself.

3.  Think like a mixer.  With impending deadlines and short mix times, it's best to prepare your tracks as cleanly as possible.  I highly recommend that editors think like mixers in the sense that they present their cut sessions with lots of depth and appropriate perspective.  Tightly-cut foley with good volume graphing and perspective cuts can really enhance the minutia relating to story's characters and situations.  Similarly, a well-prepared car chase split out into banks for ease of panning can heighten a film's more intense moments.  Backgrounds highlighting both close up and distant sounds can enhance a film's tone and give lots of rich depth to the story.  I encourage volume graphing, hard cuts on a frame, long prelaps of sounds, jarring dips down into silence, creative cross fades, muting, grouping, and any other sort of inventive way to tell the story in a dynamic way.

4.  Make the next person in line look good.  In the spirit of teamwork, I like to think that all the editors and mixers I work with share the common goal of not only creating a solid soundtrack for our clients, but also will strive to make the post house we work for stand out as a well-organized machine.  The post house's reputation stands on the line with each project, and therefore it is important that each member of the team fully adhere to the above three points.  By understanding the film's sonic goal, by cutting rich and intense sounds and sculpting them into relative perspective, we would have already added tremendous value to the project even before the different elements are put together and prepped for review with the clients.

Think about it:  If everyone along the audio-post ladder really made a conscious effort to make the next person in line look good, then we could quite possibly achieve higher levels of efficiency throughout the hierarchy, and consequently, come in under budget.  

By adhering to items 1 through 3, the sound editors will have put their best foot forward, delivering their best work to the sound supervisor, thereby minimizing said supervisor's "fix it" time, allowing him or her extra quality time to spend enhancing the work and bringing it to a higher level for review with the client.  If all goes well, the supervisor will look good in the eyes of the client (thanks in part to the efforts of the editorial team), and once the work has been reviewed and additional fixes have been made, the supervisor will deliver super-duper, well-prepped tracks to the mixer.  With few predub days, it's uber important that the supervisor work hard to make the re-recording mixer look good, particularly since the mixer is the last bastion in the long line of sound people, and everything now rides on his or her shoulders.

Needless to say, the stress level can be quite high under such tight mix schedule, but by setting small, achievable goals at each level of editorial, and if each editor strives wholeheartedly to meet those goals, the  mixer could very well earn a bit more time to spend not adjusting levels, tweaking sync or recutting sounds, but in doing the thing he or she was hired to do:  MIX! 

A mixer that looks good in the eyes of a client can do justice for the post house that employed him or her.  The client can go away with a strong project and a good feeling in his or her belly, and as a result, the company will look good.  Two plus two can definitely equal five if everyone aims for the same goal.

That's all for now.  In the meantime, I'll keep upping my game, cutting creatively and doing my best.  Hopefully, my work can speak volumes about my standards and work ethic.  I look forward to blogging again soon!

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