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Open letter to production managers about on-set sound mixing principles
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1. OVERLAPS - When possible, it's always better not to have overlaps at all during singles unless absolutely necessary because you can only be in one cut or the other and it will cause terrible editing problems.

You may decide later you want to see both sides of the actor's dialogue and you won't be able to do that. It's always easy to create an off camera overlap later when you want it. Usually, the overlaps on set come from a belief that the performance will be hindered without them. That argument loses credibility because you are then forced to not even see the face of one of the overlapping performers. You can only pick one or the other actor to see when there is an overlap! Of course there are times that overlaps must happen for other reasons, and both sides must then be miked.

2. USING TWO CAMERAS - There is a proper way to use 2 or more cameras, and an improper way. It is perfectly acceptable to use 2 cameras of the same approximate frame size at the same time. The Sound Mixer's nightmare is running one camera wide and another tight at the same time. This means that sound will be compromised by losing 'perspective'. All the actors must then be wired because the wide camera will not allow a mic to get close enough to the tight camera size. That means that a sweet sounding overhead mic may be replaced by an inferior sounding lavalier mic. This can be resolved by the second camera only filming non-speaking actors, or not working at all during the wide master shot. Then, go to 2 cameras for all your coverage.

3. REHEARSALS - These are very important to the whole crew. It's fine to have closed rehearsals for actors only, but give one to the crew or at least let the boom operator see one. Otherwise, we can only guess where and how the sound will be delivered. The words we dread the most are "let's shoot the rehearsal". You might get lucky, but your sound will suffer and you will do extra takes as unknown problems surface.

4. AD LIBBING - Again, it's impossible to mic lines that no one knows will happen. If you want to keep an ad-lib, do another take for sound if they didn't get the line the first time.

5. AIR TRAFFIC - Probably the single most frustrating audio problem on set is being in a plane traffic pattern. It's a problem that can be avoided. You know it's no good, the actors know it, the whole crew knows the sound is no good. Yet, after awhile, you have no choice but to plow through and start printing those takes anyway. In that case, rather than looping, it's much better to get through the scene with lots of short clean pieces that can be cut together later.

6. LOUDER ACTORS - Sometimes we really need you to get the actors to project in order to save a scene. We really need extra volume when we ask for it. Also, in loud scenes (such as a crowded bar or stock exchange) it's best to make the actors to speak unnaturally loud. If not, your post background sound will be thin and your editors won't be able to add the rich background effects to create reality.

7. MOS & Q-TRACKS - Always roll on all takes. There is a misconception that recording sound on non-dialogue scenes slows you down. That's really not the case. It is best to record sound all of the time because it will make looping much easier when you have a sync reference track to work with.

Do not talk over fx shots with no dialogue (such as car drive-bys) because the scene will then have to be foleyed. Please keep quiet during all scenes in order to keep rich sound tracks from being destroyed for no good reason.

8. LOCATIONS - Impress upon them that it is important to you to have quiet locations picked out to show you. When you must use a sound unfriendly location, think about having a good reason to incorporate the offending background noise into your movie. If a highway or factory is next to it, perhaps you can establish it's proximity in order to justify some of the noise.

 

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Jean Casanova
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