I can honestly say that about 50% of the post production sound work that comes our way is second hand. That is to say that the producers had some sort of blowup with the original sound guy/gal and are now looking to us to finish the job. Many times they only have a hard drive with the DAW session saved on it and their first question to me is: Do you have this version of Protools, Sonar, Cubase, Reaper, FL Studio etc.? Many times they only have a stereo file and any engineer can tell you how much of a pain it is to try to balance background noise between takes without access to the individual clip handles.
SALVAGE WORK IS THANKLESS WORK
If you think of it from the point of view of an engineer it truly is a thankless task. The producer already paid one engineer so the pay is likely minimal. The source audio is likely sub-par so you know, no matter how much work you do, the resulting audio will never be reel worthy. When you rely on word of mouth like we do, you know that every project with your name on it needs to advertise your abilities. The sad truth is that people who watch the film never hear the horrendous audio tracks you started with. They can't listen to the before and after and realize: You made 'this' sound like 'that' for five dollars and a Starbucks coffee??? Instead, they compare it to other films and judge your skill set accordingly. So as much as no one wants to turn down work in this economy, sometimes we have to say 'no' to work.
SOUND SETS THE STAGE
Production sound is one of the most overlooked aspects of film making, yet look at any independent film that rises to the top and chances are that one of the things that sets it apart from its peers is its sound quality. The visual elements of a film tell the story. The immersive qualities of sound make you feel like a part of the story. Sound, much like smell, taste and touch, can bypass our conscious mind and play directly on our subconscious. Psycho-acoustics are used all the time for dramatic effect. From the thunderous footsteps of a T-Rex, to the chalkboard-like screech of an alien horror, to the relaxing ambiance of a woodland stream, sound is used to play on our emotions and immerse us into the world of the film. Likewise, bad audio constantly pulls us out of the story and never lets us forget that we are watching a film.
What makes this unforgivable is that sound is one of the least expensive aspects of film making. When you consider the money spent on sets, lighting and camera equipment it is mind boggling that a producer would undermine the entire project with a minimal (or non-existent) sound budget.
The purpose of this series is two fold. For the producer we will provide tips and strategies you can use at every stage of production to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above. For the engineer we will share some of the skills we have picked up along the way that will hopefully make salvage work a little easier. Perhaps together we can end this ugly cycle once and for all and finally start doing what we all trained and sweated for: Telling amazing stories as passionately and as artistically as possible!