Monday, August 15, 2011

Audio Roundtable at Mass. Production Coalition

The Massachusetts Production Coalition June Member Meeting featured an Audio Roundtable with a panel of six audio professionals discussing various aspects of audio production in film and video. The Moderator was Chris Anderson from Slice, and the panel consisted of
Following are some highlights from the talk, which covered general audio issues, ADR, as well as the CALM Act and working with composers.

John Whitcore: There’s so many incredible tools that we have as audio professionals. There’s a company right in town here, iZotope, they have a plug-in called RX2, an amazing plug-in for removing noise, hiss, and all that stuff. But it can’t fix everything, and it’s just so much more work after the fact, so just be kind to the audio guys. Pay attention to the little things, and it really is little things when you’re shooting in the field.

Brian McKeever: No matter what, a good recording is a good recording. We’ve never got beyond that. iZotopes great, it can do a lot of amazing things, but in the end the best stuff we work on in terms of film work ends up being the stuff that people go back and do ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement) on.

It’s heartbreaking when you realize that a lot of the problems are dialog. A great film has a dialog editor come in very early on, takes all your production audio, takes your initial cut, cuts it together and finds every piece he can of good audio and then decides what you need to do for ADR. As much as it seems like something we don’t have to do with all these wonderful tools, it is absolutely still a necessity.

I love ADR. I don’t like doing it. It’s arduous; it means an actor coming in long after a film has been done. It usually involves contractually forcing them to do it, because they don’t want to.

John Whitcore, Brian McKeever, Jim Sullivan

Dylan Schwartz: Perhaps some people are hesitant to do it because they think it sounds cheesy, but any skilled mixer will be able to finesse the dialog or add ambient sounds to make it seem natural.

You don’t necessarily want it void of sound, as long as the dialog itself is still easily understandable. Some people I’ve encountered, they want the thing devoid of noise and to me that doesn’t make any sense because [the background noise] adds to the overall vibe.

It’s good to capture room noise when you’re there, especially when used in conjunction with noise reducers. Many noise reducers work [by] sampling whatever that background noise is and if you can get a clean patch of it the noise reducer can get a better read of it and reduce the noise curve better.

Jim Sullivan: Sometimes there are producers that know exactly what they want. And other times they’re from Missouri, you have to show them. “What don’t you like about that sound?” “I don’t know, it’s just not working for me.”

David Williams: I just started teaching at Emerson doing a location sound class and one of the first things I tell them is “talk to the post” tell them, communicate with them, open a channel to begin with.

Should we be making different audio output for different devices?
Jim Sullivan: I’ve got one client, they do an audio-cast - we try not to call it a podcast - and I do treat that a little differently, maybe put a little more compression, anticipating that it’s going to be coming off a smaller device, and maybe in a noisier environment.

Do you do a separate mix for stereo and 5.1?
Jim Sullivan: Since a lot of stuff is required to be delivered in 5.1 we try and use that as the source for the stereo mix by folding it down. Then it’s just a matter of making sure you’ve got the right monitoring and metering to ensure that both mixes are passing technical spec and sound the way you want them to.

Since a lot of stuff is required to be delivered in 5.1 we try and use that as the source for the stereo mix by folding it down.

What's happening with the audio cap on commercials?
Brian McKeever: Last fall Congress decided to police the fact that when you go from a show to a commercial, it gets louder, and they passed the CALM act. It tasks the FCC [by the end of this year] with coming up with a standard that the broadcast networks will enforce.

Dialog is the main driver of volume. The perception of how loud that dialog is determines whether you feel like you have to turn it up or down. Our job obviously is to grab people’s attention, and for the last 60 years we’ve made them as loud as humanly possible, and obviously we got to the point where mom and dad are spanking us.

We now have tools, one of which is a specific meter made by Dolby, that looks at signal. It’s an average based on a very weighted algorithm that hopefully allows you to determine the loudness perception. That number currently for most networks is -24dB LKFS.

We’ve had one of our mixers hit first, he had a spot that was national, FOX kicked it back because it didn’t meet that spec. Then we realized that this really was happening, it wasn’t a nightmare, and we’ve implemented it.

It’s a little different; we’re not crushing things the way we used to. We used to have everything coming in as hot and loud as we could to grab peoples attention, now things will be a bit more dynamic, and mixers are probably looking forward to that, I know I am.

If you don’t adhere to this standard the networks will either reject it or they will adjust it. I think you want your audio professionals to be the ones to adjust it and make sure it’s right, as opposed to somebody at a station.

It’s purely a broadcast thing, it’s purely for television. Radio is still the wild west. Films have always been dynamic, films have always been as loud and soft as we can get them because you have that controlled environment, the web is the wild west. But this is something to think about. If you don’t adhere to this standard the networks will either reject it or they will adjust it. I think you want your audio professionals to be the ones to adjust it and make sure it’s right, as opposed to somebody at a station.

Jim Sullivan: It’s my job ultimately to save the Producers from themselves, say if you’re doing a war film where there are explosions all over the place and there’s a lot of audio information and it’s really driving your levels up. It’s ultimately up to me to make sure that it passes spec and the show doesn’t get rejected, no matter how loud the producer wants that explosion.

Dylan Schwartz, David Williams, John Kussiak

Does anybody do 7.1?
Brian McKeever: The delivery method for surround was determined by how the networks decided to roll that out and Dolby is in every facet of audio. It’s somewhat frightening and somewhat comforting because it acts much like a dictator, providing continuity. But it’s benevolent to some extent.

Because DVD had Dolby Digital AC3 5.1 surround as it’s delivery, the networks rolled that out as well…generally the flavor goes to what consumers are doing and most people will have a 5.1 setup now.

Going forward we are probably going to be phasing out delivering Stereo. We will deliver 5.1, they will derive by folding down the mix into stereo or even mono as needed. In the future who knows, there’s plenty of other formats out there but it’s a matter of getting traction and they get that traction when some format comes out that customers want

Going forward we are probably going to be phasing out delivering Stereo.

As a Composer, when do you get involved in a Project?
John Kussiak It depends on the project, and the producers, and what they are interested in. For example Errol Morris wants me there from day one, because he likes to edit to music. And it helps I think if the composer is there because you can avoid falling in love with temp music, which directors and editors do, and then when the composer goes to try and replace it, it’s like ‘over my dead body.’

A lot of times, if I’m involved early, I can compose some music right off the bat that they can use to temp with, and that helps.

Traditionally in the Hollywood style, composers don’t get involved until after the final edit is done. And they come in and these days the movie has been temped with the latest score from the last movie that sold a million, and then they’re supposed to write music that sounds like it, but [not so close] they get sued for it.

And if you hear the sound tracks, a lot of time’s it’s like “that sounds sort of like another one.”

What about Library Music?
John Kussiak: The music will be great for about a minute and a half and then it goes off into like Martian land and it’s no good for what you’re using. Often editors are spending voluminous amounts of time trying to edit a piece of music to make it work in a film where a composer could come and make the changes and make it work right off the bat.

There’s good things obviously about stock music library. It's cheaper and there’s a lot of good stuff out there. About 10 to 20% [is good] depending on who you ask The only problem is that everybody else is using those exact same cues because those are the good ones.

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