Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Sonic Philosophy: A Supervisor's Challenge

Let's face it, either somewhere in the editorial process or during the final mix, things can and sometimes will go wrong.  Most often than not the issue may be a simple lack of communication and the problem can be quickly addressed, but sometimes an unforeseen act of god (like a system crash) can create panic in the studio.  Either way, it is important that the clients' best interest be handled with the utmost care, since we are supposed to be stewards of their project.

In some situations, problems can be prevented with a little foresight and much preparation.  Thus, in this blog, I wish to share a few thoughts on my simple approach to actively trying to thwart tough situations before they arise and make the audio post-production process delightful for the clients.

Supervising: Preparedness and Taking Responsibility
On some occasions, I am called to supervise the sound effects for a project, which usually means that in addition to my duties as an editor on the show, I am also responsible for the quality of the sound effects and foley that are being cut by other editors.  I approach the supervisory role with much care and excitement, but always keeping in mind that ultimately, I must answer for everything that could go wrong on my sound "ship."  As a "captain" (to continue with the seafaring motif), it is one's duty to make sure the crew is pulling its weight, creatively putting together awesome tracks, and adhering to all the steps I discussed in my previous blog ("Stress and the Crazy Deadline").  If a member of the team is not living up to expectations, it is the supervisor's job to address the issue as quickly as possible.  

A supervisor has the dual responsibility of not only making sure the client's sonic vision comes blazing to life on the screen, but also of being an ambassador for the company that employs him or her.  Since a director's experience with a Post house can (to some extent) be measured by how well they were treated throughout the process, as a supervisor, I make it one of my many goals to go to bat for the client while trying to keep the good name of my employer respectable.

My newly updated editorial suite, Monkeyland Audio
Preparing for a Sound Effects Review with Clients
Under normal circumstances, it is the supervisor who liaisons with the client throughout the entire process, thus it is he or she who will conduct the sound reviews and receive the clients' critique firsthand.  To quickly recap, the review session should contain all cut sound effects, sound design, backgrounds and foley, and should be accompanied by a clean-enough dialogue guide track which could be turned on or off to give the client a sense of what to expect on the mix stage.  

The supervisor should spend enough time smoothing out all the sound effects so that they plays well during the review and truly enhance the story.  All the client's initial FX notes and concerns should have been addressed by this point, but if the work needs some beefing up, the supervisor should either do it him or herself, or get the editors to build additional tracks to blend into the comp.  Whatever needs to be done prior to the client taking a listen, make sure it gets done.  Period.

Though each editor, assistant, engineer and mixer should share equally in the duty of trouble shooting potential problems and giving them a preemptive "fix", on occasion things do slip through the cracks and it is the supervisor who's on the receiving end of the rant.  I must admit, I've faced a bit of that heat before (though on rare occasion, I might add), but in retrospect, those tough moments were great moments that truly tested my wits, my communication and detective skills, my sense of humor, my faith, my relationship with the client and lastly, my desire to be a sound guy!  I'm still here and I'm still challenging myself continuously.

Which brings me to my next point:

A word or two about Integrity
By no means have I ever, nor will I ever, throw any member of my team under the bus to make myself look good.  Integrity is a key ingredient to the job, and a quality that I work hard to maintain in all aspects of my life.  As a supervisor, I know that it's my ass on the line, and though another editor may have been responsible for producing some shoddy or sub-par work, it is in the job description to ensure the client only listens to high-quality, top-notch design.  My philosophy?  Fix the problem, not the blame.  Work with the editors or roll up your sleeves.  Either way, get it done... and again, BEFORE the clients come in for a review.

To revise our nautical metaphor one final time (I promise!):  A ship can only stay afloat when all hands are on deck, rowing in the same direction and making sure the vessel remains waterproof.  A greedy or hapless captain who abandons ship at the first sign of trouble (and leaves his crew to fare for themselves) is a captain whose colors are not worth sailing under.  A captain with integrity, well, he goes down with the ship... but then again, that's part of the job, isn't it?

When granted the task of supervising, I always try to challenge myself and my crew to really dig deep and come up with some good stuff.  I don't want to meet the client's expectations, I want to surpass them.  If it's good, I want it better.  If it's great, I want it mind-blowing!  Each film deserves to be treated with respect, and I want the clients I work with to know they're in good hands from start to finish.

Whether I'm supervising the sound effects work on a film, or just cutting the backgrounds, I approach each task honestly and responsibly, with integrity, creativity and with absolute respect for the project and the filmmakers.

That's all for now.  Thanks for reading!


  1. Well put - I think part of dealing with stressful situations and handling mistakes is trust and honestly, in addition to keeping your integrity. It reminds me of something a client said a couple weeks ago...

    I was brought into a studio to do fixes on a project because my client didn't trust the mixer they had hired. The mixer was blaming issues on equipment and the editors work. The client told me (about his frustrations with the situation): "it's ok to say no- that you can't improve something or fix a problem - as long as you show you're trying. Refusing to try by being defensive or placing blame just makes me question if they know what they are doing."

    Its not taking responsibility or not being honest that makes me question if something is wrong.

  2. Nicely stated April. I appreciate you sharing your story and hope things are going well with you!

  3. Like your Sonic Philosophy - "fix the problem not the blame."


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