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Open letter to production managers about on-set sound mixing principles
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To understand the sorry state of audio affairs today, you must go back in time. There once existed a major studio system where an assembly line of crafts worked together to churn out film products. No matter which studio we worked at, all crafts understood that they were expected to take reasonable measures within their purview to allow for good sound recordings. It was instilled as part of their job description. These duties were passed on to the young apprentices. Grips cut microphone shadows sharply with flags. The electric department would change out a noisy light that buzzed. Camera assistants would try everything possible to quiet camera noise, and there were many times that an operator quickly put blankets and pillows over themselves and a really noisy camera.

Every other craft would do whatever was deemed reasonable to help get good sound, because it was considered to be part of their job. No one had to try to persuade them to do it. It was an era where reasonable co-operation with the Sound Department was the normal way to make good movies.

Today's crafts still have pride in their jobs but it seems they NO LONGER consider sound assistance to be a part of their job description. The problems began when the in-house studio training system broke down and non-union independent films proliferated. Along the way, the process of learning what their jobs entailed changed the way they perceived production sound.

The other crafts now don't think they should do anything to help YOU get good sound for YOUR movie. There is no longer an apprenticeship system to pass along this knowledge. Newcomers to the technical crafts now learn on the job under fire through a kind of osmosis process.

Those same crafts must now be requested in each instance to do reasonable things necessary to protect YOUR sound tracks because they just don't consider it to be a part of their job any more.

The Sound Department would gladly cut the shadow on the back wall of the set ourselves or cover the noisy camera, but that's not how the game is played. Instead, we have to convince, cajole, coerce, plead, and use every other psychological persuasion technique to get the other crafts to help us prevent sound problems.

Last-second, scrambling time on set should only be used to fix the unexpected problems which will inevitably occur. Instead, that last second is too often the first time that the sound mixer finds out about changes in dialog, staging, or discovers unwanted noises from on or off of the set.

All of the other departments work for what is seen and not heard. Every single person on the production from make-up and wardrobe to grip and props concentrates only on what's seen in the viewfinder.

Because of the tunnel vision of the other production crafts who work only for picture, no one knows or cares what's happening to YOUR audio. You are the only person on set with the power to allow us to get you good sound. It is always tempting for sound to give in and not go against the grain when circumstances impose impossible barriers to unappreciated efforts. Film schools are going to need to add child psychology courses to their sound mixing curriculum.

We want you to know as much as possible about the audio minefield lurking on every set. What may often seem to you to be a lot of complaining is, in fact, simply communicating information about what you are getting on your sound tracks and what sound problems can be fixed now. The bottom line is that these are YOUR choices. Just because we hear a noise does not only make it our problem. It is your problem too! After all, we turn the tracks over to you at the end of the day.

After reading this, we hope it will be easier for you to make an informed decision about when it's really the time to loop a scene. It's far too late to reverse a sound calamity later in post.

Even though this topic is last in the chain of events, we should start first by talking about why ADR is not a fix.


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