Tuesday, December 2, 2014

144 Hours

Having just finished John Purcell's wonderful book on dialog editing I've come to a thinking. Suchwise:

I think the fundamental difference between the way dialog is edited on big features and the way we have to do it is that on big movies the M & E's come second, with the English-language mix coming first.
We really can't afford to work that way. Our M & E's have to really and truly sound just like the English language full mix -- just without any actual dialog in them. And they are a first deliverable, not something we can wait on if and when more money mysteriously arrives.
So for us doing a dialog edit is really doing the prepping for the Music and Effects mix.
What this basically means is that the dialog tracks themselves get stripped and noise-reduced down to their barest elements. Ruthlessly so.
See, normally a dialog editor works on making a smooth dialog track by fading in and out of each microphone, and leaving the tone up between pieces of dialog so the scene has no jarring cuts of background tone coming in and out.
Big crossfades between dialog tracks are fine, but how do you build an M & E out of this?

Then they fill the spots in-between with room tone.
This doesn't work for me. Why? Because what happens when you mute those dialog tracks?
The scene's audio disappears. All you have left is your Foley and any sound effects you've cut in.
Now, there's a thing called the P-FX track. That's where you put all your production sound effects which the mixer may or may not use.
But the fact is we can't deal with waiting around to try to figure out how to make the mix work without the dialog after the fact.
So what I say is:
1. Strip that dialog clean with dead-on noise reduction and then add room tone to the entire scene.
2. Those "PFX" tracks? turn them into actual effects tracks. Make a decision then and there (during the dialog edit) what production sounds are going to be sound effects in the movie. Drag those production effects down to one of your sound effects tracks.
3. If you're going to use room tone from the actual scene and loop it, that's fine. Just deal with it right then.
4. Now, during the dialog edit, you need to decide on sound effects during the scene in order to make the scene work. Why? Because some of those sound effects will have to sit on top of the dialog. In order to know if your M & E's will actually work you have to deal with that immediately.
5. The PFX track gets a new function -- it (or they) is/are muted while running off the full English mix. This is because the only thing on the PFX track are sound effects which take place right on top of dialog where the dialog track already has the effect on it.
For instance, if you're happy with a line of dialog where the actor says his line but also scuffs his shoe at the same time, you'll need to put another "clean" shoe scuff at the same place on the PFX track. This way when you mute the dialog tracks and unmute the PFX track, the scuff will appear in the same place, just without any dialog over it.
Obviously this isn't the ideal way to handle dialog tracks so I try not to use any of these kinds of PFX tracks if I can help it.
As unbelievable as it may sound to someone who has no idea what I'm talking about, the above system actually does make sense. But what it means is that the person doing the dialog edit on a reel is also making sound effects decisions on that same reel. Because every edit in the dialog requires a careful consideration of the Music and Effects tracks (well, really just the Effects tracks).
This means that a "dialog editor" has to have a bank of sound effects available. They have to have a sampler and a keyboard available. They probably need to have a recording booth available. All to do the "dialog" edit.
Are there effects that can be done as a "second pass" or by another person at another time? Yes. Yes there are.
For instance, any noises created by a CG element like a dinosaur or robot can be presumed to not exist on the dialog tracks so one need not worry about them while preparing the dialog tracks.
Footsteps which don't exist in the production tracks (especially in scenes which were shot MOS.)
So, how many hours should this take? I'm glad you asked. The answer is 144 hours.
That's three days for all the dialog editing (including ADR), all the sound effects (including Foley), on each 10-minute reel for a 90-minute movie. Some reels will take a bit longer, some a bit shorter. And of course you'll schedule your ADR to happen in chunks so you will be spreading the ADR recording over a few weeks. But basically? 144 hours.
Me? I'm gonna write all of this up and put it in our Wiki.

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