Category Archives: EDU

EDU15 Schedule for Sound Editorial

An important part of pitching for a film and then hopefully negotiating and finalising a budget for the sound design is working out the schedule. Sometimes people like to talk about budgets as a total, but it’s always important to remember that we’re talking about humans. If you hoped and planned for a budget of X and the producer sets a much lower limit of Y, the reality may well mean that some people get dropped off the project, or have their scheduled hours reduced. This also impacts the scope of the work able to be achieved.

Now I don’t claim to have any great oversight of an entire industry, I can only speak from own experience working on films based in New Zealand which ranged in budget from very low/no budget up to US Studio films with total budget around US$30mill.
It’s also important to point out that (a) NZ does not adhere to Union rates – the Hobbit Law dealt a blow to that idea. And (b) my primary film sound design career occurred between 1997-2014. A lot has changed in the last decade, and talking to locals many can only dream of having the budgets for indie films that we used to have. So while the specifics of what I describe cannot be instantly transferred to your own situation, the methodology can.

Apart from the Producer & Director, there are two other people who you will be collaborating with on your schedule & budget.

POST SUPERVISOR
This role didn’t really exist in my early days and/or on lower budget projects, but it is an important role as a Post Supervisor usually brings a lot of specific experience with them. While they work for the Producer, their aim is to help make the best film they can while avoiding or minimising budget over runs. For example, lower budget projects might have a rule of “no overtime” simply as they are working with a fixed budget and cannot afford it. But even on larger projects eg where late VFX force us to work overtime, there was a rule that no overtime would be paid unless pre-approved by the Post Supervisor. So if I saw a crunch in the final days of a mix due to VFX, I would talk to each member of the team to find out what they needed, and then I’d meet with the Post Supervisor to discuss it & have it approved.

POST/MIX FACILITY
This will be very specific to where you work. In NZ, most film sound editors are freelance and are hired directly by the films production company. As Sound Editorial HOD it was my job to create a schedule & budget for all of the sound editors (FX, Dialogue, Assistant/s, Foley editor) as well as budgeting for the associated studio rental for each person. I would also budget for the time each of us will spend attending the predubs, mix and deliveries. Accordingly I would need to talk to the Mix facility to make sure we were in agreement about the amount of time required for Foley recording, predubs, final mix and deliveries. They would usually also have very accurate info about the schedule for deliveries too. Here in Wellington, the film mix facility is Peter Jacksons gorgeous Park Road Post which has two huge dub stages, a third smaller dub stage and a large foley stage.

SCHEDULE FORMAT
I’ve always used my standard calendar schedule app for creating my Film Sound Post schedules. Nowadays thats BusyCal for OSX but the main point is flexibility as schedules will change. BOY is a good example of this. I was asked if I would mind delaying my start date by two weeks, due to the cut still changing. I wasn’t too keen on this idea as I felt delaying me was not necessary – I had lots of work to start into, for example editing & cleaning up all the recording I did when I visited set. And we had Conformalizer by then, so while conforming to a new cut wasn’t fun, it was possible & relatively easily achieved. I had also turned down other work, to be available for their project. So a compromise was agreed on where I started on my original date but worked half weeks for four weeks, and this was a really fun way to ramp up to speed on a new project!
See below for an example schedule

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:

LOCKED CUT
In my early days the only cut we worked to was a locked cut, as both the technology & the cost made it a necessity. Back then, day 1 on a project meant the cut was locked. Now, many projects are not fully locked until the end of the final mix and mix fixes, just prior to deliveries. I’ll share an anecdote about my worst experience with unlocked cuts at the end of this post… But for a typical film project, a locked cut would hopefully arrive weeks before predubs start, and if not hopefully before the final mix starts. Otherwise more resources need to be budgeted for to cope, without burning people out or missing deadlines. Missing a deadline is one thing that cannot happen, if you wish to have a long and prosperous career.

DX and ADR
When discussing the schedule & budget with the Dialogue Supervising Sound Editor, it is common to also request estimated dates for when ADR recording might be scheduled. This is important as availability of actors can be a challenge, as they may be on another film, and/or in another country when we need them for ADR. Time is required to assess the production sound in detail, checking for alt takes & then checking those with the Director for performance, to provide an accurate estimate of the amount of time required for each actor, and for loop group.

FOLEY
Foley recording would usually be back timed to the predubs and mix, since the ideal is to work to a locked cut. Obviously it is important to allow enough time for the Foley Editor to inherit all of the work, compelte their work, including conforms to new cuts, before the scheduled Foley predub.

SOUND DESIGN, SOUND FX & AMB
For sound effects and ambiences, a useful task for the schedule is to identify what resources you have and what you will need to record. For example, recording vehicles or specific ambiences or sound effects.
As you do more projects you also learn how long it takes to achieve certain aspects. I really love cutting ambiences and over the years I knew I could do a basic first pass in 1 week, but it would take 2 weeks to shape and evolve them, and a total of 3 weeks to have them conformed, updated from Directors feedback and ready for predubs. Such knowledge helps me prioritise my work. For example on the Antarctic doco A YEAR ON ICE, I knew the ambiences would be very important and not straight forward, so I allocated time & budget accordingly.
It is also very useful to identify subjective elements of the sound design. As an example, if there is a particular car in a film and you record it well, and edit together all the elements, then a Director’s input is likely to be about tweaks and refining the elements. Whereas you might present version 1 of a creature vocal, and from feedback scrap that version and start over from scratch for version 2. There is a saying, I think attributed to Rany Thom, that early in the schedule is the best time to be experimenting. We know we can keep chipping away at the ambiences throughout our entire Sound Editorial schedule, but that creature vocal is going to need a lot of evolution and versions, so the sooner you can get a good version in front of the Director, they better. Regardless of any fears, never put off any difficult work as you will only make it more stressful for yourself. Week 1 the stakes are low, whereas the week before predubs the stakes are far higher.

BUDGET Format
In my early days I just used an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the budget for Sound Editorial, but at some point a Post Supervisor shared the standardised form they use which is tied into standard film accounting practices, with correct code allocations for each part of the budget. Here is a copy of my Sound Editorial Budget template (formats: xls, xlsx, ods and pdf) download link

NOTE: in the spreadsheet the yellow cells are where you fill in the rates. The green cells are where I had Excel formulas to calculate totals. I have removed all formulas, as it is critically important that you do your own maths and check it. And check it again!

Below is a screenshot of the template, so you can get an idea of its purpose and formatting:

COMPARING BUDGETS
Once I had been working in the film industry for a decade or so, I did some analysis of all the films I had worked on. I did some searches to find the total budget for each project and created a simple spreadsheet which listed:
– Film Total Budget
– Sound Editorial Total Budget
– Total Weeks Sound Edit
– Percentage: Sound Editorial Total Budget/Film Total Budget

That last figure was very interesting to compare, especially having intimate knowledge of how well the project was achieved and the final outcome. If you are working in the industry I highly recommend doing this for your own work history, as it can reveal trends but it also provides an indication of whether a budget you are proposing for a new project is within the ballpark or not. And if for example, you present a hefty budget to a Producer and they ask you to justify it, it is really reassuring to be able to sight previous work. For example in my case, if a film had a lot of VFX in it I have three projects I have worked in with major VFX, which I can refer back to. I am not guessing what a project might take, I am estimating it based on previous experience and with the proviso that some projects go better than others. If the production makes your life difficult due to late VFX delivery, then the Producer needs to know there is a cost associated with that. No one likes surprises, and the old saying of “Post production is about preventing problems before they occur” holds true here too. Providing a realistic budget, based on previous experience, with contingency for over runs that are beyond our control, is something a good Producer will respect. Even if they don’t like the news, it is far better to discuss it before it happens, as it also provides an incentive for over runs to not happen.

A useful resource for comparing different scales of projects is available via the Editors Guild website: Wages and Contracts where you can select a similar scale film to what you are budgeting, and see what the Union rates are in the US for eg a Sound Editor or a Supervising Sound Editor etc… Also documented are overtime rates. How these figures relate to your work will vary hugely. But if a US Studio film comes knocking on your door, then you can at least check what they would be paying, as a minimum, if they were completing their sound post in the US.

Another useful resource is the Blue Collar Post Collective’s annual rate survey: “A simple rates survey was conducted in October 2022. We asked 14 questions to gather basic data with the aim of helping people have a better idea of what people are getting paid to do various jobs in post production, across the U.S.A. We had 2050 responses…. The full results can be viewed on Google Drive, and from there you can download a variety of formats. We recommend the Excel format which will allow you to filter and sort the data to your specific needs.”

EXAMPLE 1. Indie Feature Film – first time Director

For all the films I ever did, the absolute bare minimum schedule for a feature film was:
Sound designer ie me (including Sound FX + Ambiences) FX = 8 weeks
Dialogue + ADR editor: DX = 8 weeks
Assistant Sound Editor: 4-8 weeks
Foley Editor: 3 weeks

Predub + Mix attendance
DX = 1 week predubs + 2 weeks final mix + deliveries
FX = 1 week predubs + 2 weeks final mix + deliveries
FOLEY = 2-3 days

At this scale I did many feature films early on, and it was only as some of those directors progressed to their second film, with a larger budget, that my team could become a little larger.

A schedule for a project of this scale would look like this (it should have the Assistant listed too)

EXAMPLE 2. Indie Feature Film – Directors second film

The next step up would be:

Sound designer (including sound FX + Ambiences) FX = 8 weeks
+ Sound FX Editor: 4-8 weeks
Dialogue + ADR editor: DX = 8 weeks
+ ADR editor: 3-5 weeks
Assistant Sound Editor: 8 weeks
Foley Editor: 3 weeks

Predub + Mix attendance
DX = 1 week predubs + 2 weeks final mix + deliveries
FX = 1 week predubs + 2 weeks final mix + deliveries
FOLEY = 2-3 days

So with a bit bigger budget two more sound editors were brought on to the team, the workload is shared a little wider and deadlines like predubs become less stressful. This is a similar schedule as we had with BOY.

EXAMPLE 3. Studio Film – Mid Tier eg 30 Days of Night

Supervising Sound Editor/Sound Designer
Prep  = 4 weeks + Post = 13 weeks + Mix = 7 weeks. Total 24 weeks

Sound FX Editor 1:
Post 13 weeks + Mix 6 weeks

Sound FX Editor 2:
Post 7 weeks + Mix 6 weeks

Sound FX Editor 3 + Foley Editor:
Post 10 weeks + Mix 3 weeks

Assistant Sound FX Editor
Post 7 weeks + Mix 4 weeks

Supervising Dialogue Editor
Post 13 weeks + Mix 7 weeks. Total = 20 weeks

Dialogue Editor
Post 7 weeks + Mix 7 weeks

Dialogue/ADR Editor
Post 3 weeks

Assistant Dialogue Editor
Post 7 weeks + Mix 7 weeks

You can see how much a larger budget film escalates the resources required.

Some notes:
– when discussing the requirements for the project the requirement for Test Screenings became apparent. This is why I have extra weeks allocated to my schedule: I started early so i could provide temp FX and Ambiences for the Picture Editor, and to start development so I had time to prepare material and then cut it in to a rough cut for the Temp Mixes.

– 30 Days had significant VFX so I knew I needed to keep the team on during the final mix, to conform an prep new material as required. And to cut any fixes while I was on the dub stage.

– 30 Days involved complex locations – Antarctica, plus complex industrial interiors eg the Muffin Muncher etc

– 30 Days involved creature vocals, which the Director & Actors had developed but required lots of ADR which both myself as Sound Designer & the Supervising DX collaborated on…

EXAMPLE 4. Studio Film – God Tier eg LOTR, Blockbusters etc

No thanks.

I am always reminded of the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’ and have a dear friend who slowly worked his way up to the top job as a Supervising Sound Editor on films at this level. He expressed regret for the path his career had taken, as he described the huge amount of work supervising a team of such large scale. His dream role turned out to involve ENDLESS admin. In the teams I worked with, even 30 Days of Night I could drop in and have a five minute chat with each sound editor and soon know where they were up to etc. The management of a team of that size did not detract much from my own work, because I always insisted on my role as Sound Designer being my first priority and a sound designer makes sound, they are not middle management. So over the course of my career I was very careful to not cross over into projects where the scale impinged on my ability to design sound.
This is not a criticism of the people who do manage such teams. They have my profound respect, and like anything, as you gain experience at that thing you become more comfortable with it. But it was never a skill or role that interested me. I want to make sound & contribute directly to the soundtrack, rather than work on ever changing schedules, and budgets while managing a large team of people.

Over the years I felt I found the sweet spot, where a film had the budget & resources to be achieved to an excellent standard. But without burning myself & my team out. I can only think of a very few situations requiring an ‘all nighter’ or where we had to work seven days a week. But in that God Tier of film making I know plenty of people who did 100 hour weeks for months on end. 100 hour weeks = 14 hours a day! Get to work & start at 8am, finish work to head home at 10pm. Every day. No days off. For months. People can lose their health, sanity and their relationships working such hours. But working at that level often means no is not a viable option. And yet no amount of overtime payment will overcome regrets. Most of all, it is not sustainable. So be careful what you wish for, because you might get it!

Sound Design Challenge 02


Five Pressure Sounds – Spectrum of the Sanken CUX100K output 24bit 192k

With an interesting new UNIT FX Library just released UFX032 PRESSURE STOP RELEASE we figured it would be fun material to experiment with. Based on restricting flow with negative/vacuum pressure and positive pressure from an air compressor, the sounds have a very fast, sharp attack and as the spectrums show contain a lot of high frequencies, right up to 96kHz.

If you would like a free copy of the new UFX032 PRESSURE STOP RELEASE library, then I have a challenge for you. I’ve chosen five sounds from the new library, and your challenge is to make something interesting with them. I am not going to dictate what you should make, I’d like to be surprised by your creativity… Surprise me! The only rule is that no other source material can be used. Only the five sounds in the provided 24bit 192k WAV files.

Direct download link: expired
56MB as a 3 x 24bit 192kHz WAV files

To be crystal clear: each file contains the 5 sounds as per the FFT.
And I have provided all three sets of mics, hence the three files.
Do whatever you like to the sounds. Process with plugins, apps, outboard, anything!
I’m doing the challenge too, so far been playing in Metasynth
its a good opportunity to try out some ideas!

Submissions: send an email with a link to your work to: edu@hissandaroar.com

Please do not send attachments! Upload to youtube or soundcloud or somewhere, private or not – thats your choice. I am not doing this to make you spam social media- it is solely to encourage interesting work! And to provide the opportunity to experience working with 192k audio from the Sanken CUX100K mics.

An anecdote about this sound:
As I’ve mentioned many times before I grew up on a farm, and my Dad had a workshop for doing any repairs to farm equipment. One of the sheds had an electric air compressor mainly used for inflating tyres, but there was a sonic phenomena associate with it that I have never forgotten. Whenever he finished using the air compressor and turned it off, it would make a very loud pop sound, much like what I have captured for this UFX library. And every single time that occurred, the sheep dogs outside in their kennels would all instantly bark in reaction.

Many decades later I am working on the film World’s Fastest Indian (IMDB + Trailer) which is about local legend Burt Munro who tinkered with his Indian V Twin motorbike until he eventually managed to set a land speed record in 1967, as a 68-year-old: a new official land speed record – 184.087 mph with unofficial top speed of 205.67 mph.

In the film the first Act is about his early years experimenting. At one point Burt goes into his workshop, and uses a compressor. So what do I do? I get some appropriately reactive dog barks and add them, as though his neighbours dogs react the same way my Dads dogs did.

You might wonder, who cares? But think about it. Not only am I adding something authentic & truthful from my own personal history to the sound design of the film, I am also reinforcing that the film exists in a real world, with real neighbours, who probably complain every time Burt sets their dogs barking. Small details like this contribute psychological elements without anyone really noticing consciously. This is also why as a sound designer it is so important to be observant of your environment. Wearing headphones listening to a podcast or music is fair enough at times, but it should not be your default.
You must listen to the world, observe it and remember it.

 

 


Five Pressure Sounds – Spectrum of the Sennheiser MKH8040 output 24bit 192k

EDU14 Analysing a Script for Sound

So here is my approach to analysing a script, prior to meeting with a Director to discuss their project.
Having to improvise makes me nervous, so I like to be very well prepared & have lots of specific ideas to discuss.
Having been sent a PDF copy of the script, print out a copy. Yes. Print out a copy on paper.
We do not want to be looking at screens when reading it. A paper copy will also serve another purpose.
Print it out.


Pass 1:
Read the script in one pass, full immersion, no distractions.
Phone off. Read it in real time.

There is a saying which I will be repeating more than a few times:
You only ever get one first impression.
A lot of your instincts and feelings about the project are formed on that first pass.
So it is important to place a lot of value on that experience.
Don’t write notes, just read it.

The general rule for a shooting script is a page a minute.
So a 120 page script equates to a 120 minute, 2 hour film.
A 90 page script equals a 90 minute film.

It’s good to allow some time to think about what you have read.
So maybe it makes sense to open a nice bottle of wine in the evening.
Read the script & then go for a walk or sleep on it.
The next morning reflect on how the script & story made you feel.
How did the arc of the story affect you?


Pass 2:
Ok so this time you will re-read the script and get very specific.
You’ll need a pack of coloured post-it notes.
I prefer to use the narrow Page Marker post-it notes, like these ones:

You’ll want lots of different colours as we’re going to use each colour as a ‘food group’
Step 1 is to stick one of each colour on the front of the script.
Let’s say we start off by assigning blue to AMBIENCES, so I’d write AMBIENCE on the blue page marker on the front of the script. And I’d turn to page 1, and I’d put a blue post-it by the Scene 1 description:

SCENE 1 EXT. CORN FIELD – DOPE PATCH – DAY

I’d then re-read that scene and if there was a specific sound event, I’d tag it with a colour coded post-it.
In BOY, a few scenes later the kids push start the Aunties old Humber 80 car.
I decide to assign vehicles to green, and go back to the front of the script and write VEHICLES on the green post-it. And I stick a green post-it beside the part of the scene where they describe the car action. A while later Boys Dad turns up in his V8, so every time it occurs in a scene, I stick a green post-it beside the action.

If you have watched the film, at one point Boy makes a microwave oven break down. OK so lets assign that to general sound FX and the colour yellow. So I go back to the front of the script & write SFX on the yellow post-it. And every time there is a significant sound effect mentioned in the script it gets a yellow post-it. The scene where the Dad is trying to dig up the buried loot? yellow post-it. The scene where the Rory skateboards up to his Dad, while holding a sparkler? yellow post-it.

The number of post-it colours you will need really depends on the film. For example, there aren’t really any monsters or creatures in the film BOY.
Whereas another film I did, BLACK SHEEP, had many creatures. So when marking up the script for BLACK SHEEP I had a category assigned to CREATURE VOX. On some films you’d need a WEAPONS category etc etc…

Now some common sense is required. For example, I don’t need to tag every single ambience as some will be recurring throughout the film.
The main aim is to identify change. So maybe the first time we see BOYS house it is morning. Tag it! Maybe later in the film we see BOYS house at night – Tag it, as it’s a new occurrence.

On some projects I also tagged specific cases of foley.
For example, on the film THE ORATOR, I tagged foley so we would discuss the surfaces inside a Samoan village fale/house.
For example, on the film EMPEROR, I tagged foley in places so we would discuss the contrast between traditional Japanese footwear like gita, with the footwear that the US military would be wearing.

The aim is to quickly try to identify all of the potential for interesting sound.
I would also tag DX/CROWDS sometimes eg if there was a bar scene or a concert scene.

This process might take another 2 or 3 hours, but by the end of it you will have a script covered in post-it notes.

Before I get into how use this resource we are creating, I wanted to make a point about NOT doing this virtually.
I very strongly advise you to not be sucked into marking up a PDF with virtual post-it notes.
Yes printing out a script wastes some paper. And yes buying post-it notes costs a little.
But there is a MASSIVE benefit to doing this process in the real world.
Bear with me, you will see why.

OK so what have we achieved?
We have basically created an analog database, and now we want to extract some totals.

One by one I’d do a quick total up of how many of each tag there is in the script.
So I can now quickly skip through the script and find every vehicle.
Depending on the film I might decide to document how many occurrences of each vehicle there is.

BOY VEHICLES = 18
Humber 80 = 3
Hero V8 = 12
Second V8 = 1
School Bus = 2

See how we’ve already gone from ‘there’s some vehicles in this film’ to ‘there are exactly this many occurrences of each vehicle in this film!’ That’s a major step to being specific about working on this project.

Depending on the project, it may be worth doing an Ambience scene count. To accurately assign signifiance, how many times are we in that corn field?

For some projects you might end up with a quick list:
EXT SUPERMARKET – 10 scenes
INT SUPERMARKET – 12 scenes
INT PRISON – 32 scenes

By noting such specific examples, we can start to think about how we will approach the ambiences. Which ambiences will be easy, which do we already have great material for? Which ambiences do we need to record? Also, which ambiences are purely functional & which play an emotive role or are critical for story telling.

The same applies to the sound effects. Some sound effects are played as real and some are imaginary eg Rockys magic. Subjective sound effects might get their own category.

As a final step, sometimes I will tag moments as SOUND DESIGN eg a scene or moment where the script motivates us to consider the entire approach to the soundtrack including score. As an example, in many films I have been sound designer on, I like to find a moment of silence. This has to be motivated by story & character, and sometimes it’s not applicable at all. But I want to show I am thinking about the entire soundtrack, so I might tag a bunch of scenes in the film which will be serious fun to mix, and think about their significance..

So now we have

– a script that is colourfully marked up for sound.
– a list of categories weighted by their occurrences.

Now why do I insist on doing all of this in the real world & not on your laptop?
I can only write this from the benefit of hindsight, having completed this process many, many times and observed the reaction.

So let’s say the day comes to meet up with the director & producer to discuss the possibility of you working on their film. Usually, after polite introductions and some small talk, the Director may like to outline their vision for the project. This may or may not get into specifics.. but sooner or later, the question will be presented to you: “You’ve read the script? What did you think of it?”

So all of this time I’ve had my marked up script with me, out of sight in my carry bag. I’d usually talk generally about how much I enjoyed the script and its themes, the characters and story arc etc… Then I’d start to discuss the specific elements of the soundtrack, by saying I made some notes… And I would pull out my marked up script and put it down on the table in front of me. Every single time the reaction was palpable.

When you think about it from their perspective, a director has spent years working on that script. They poured their heart & soul into it. They have revised it, had it critiqued, and workshopped it. They have done read-throughs with the cast. And they have some ideas about sound. But OMFG when someone turns up to a meeting and drops an analog database on them, they almost explode with joy!
I used this method when pitching for a US horror film years ago, which the very experienced producer & newish directors were hoping to shoot & post in NZ. When they asked what I thought of the script, I said something like ‘OMG this script is a sound designers dream job! There is SO MUCH potential for awesome sound!!” And I pulled out their script covered in post-its and dropped it on the table. They laughed for like five minutes! It was beautiful! The director insisted on taking a photo of my script and the producer said to me ‘No one has ever done this, on any project I’ve ever worked on!’ All for the price of some post-its and some time & thought invested.

Now this might seem like silly theatrics or smoke & mirrors, but it isn’t. It is genuine as all hell. I am not only showing them that I care about their film and want to work on it. It shows them I have a creative process and I have already started working on it!

And once the reaction subsides I get to show them what I have identified, and I can ask specific questions. It’s important to remember Directors like to direct. So it’s important to not overstate your ideas. It’s not that I have the solution, it’s that I have the details so we can discuss how the director wants to play a certain moment or scene. Hopefully your ideas align, but if they don’t then those are specific mental notes you want to make for future reference. Hopefully for when you are on the project.

By this stage I will have created some lists on my laptop, but compare the reaction to the reveal of my homework. Pulling out a colourfully marked up script that is covered in scribbled notes has an instant effect. Every film maker knows what that means with one glance. Now compare that with having done the same process all virtually. Even if printed out, it would be like handing over some financial documents or something. Despite conveying the same information, the analog method creates a beautiful visual artefact, which is evidence of your creative process.

So depending on the project, discussion about specific sound elements & the overall sound design of the film might continue for half an hour. Without my marked-up script I might feel nervous about remembering everything I want to discuss, but because I’ve done my homework I can confidently discuss every aspect of the soundtrack, and often in ways the director may not have even considered yet. It’s important to be humble & friendly, because this is also a test run for you & the director collaborating for the very first time. Its almost like a first date – is this someone I want to spend a lot of high-quality time with?

There is a aying by Maya Angelou “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” and I think this also speaks to what our aim of pitching for the film is. We want to shake hands with that director at the end of the meeting and them leave excited! Excited for what you can achieve together, and what that means for the film.

What else is important to discuss when pitching for a film?

– Incase it turns out you only have five minutes to discuss the film, you still want to get across the essential information about your approach. So it’s worth prioritising what you consider is most important about the film and how you work.

– When you think about film making, it is very important to think of the relationships involved. The most important relationship is between yourself and the director, producer & picture editor. And of course all of your other important relationships – with the production sound recordist, rerecording mixers, the composer & dialogue/ADR, foley and all the members of the sound team.

– It’s very important to make sure that you get across that you love collaboration and are totally open to input and direction – from the first spotting session, through all the run throughs, through the predubs and final mix and throughout final changes. Explain how you like to evolve the soundtrack under direction, to find the voice of the film, via receiving feedback of work in progress. I have always believed that by the time predubs start, the director has heard and signed off on all content for the soundtrack. So they are then focusing on how they want the material to play, scene by scene and they don’t have to worry about individual elements of the content itself.

– It can be invaluable to offer temp FX and ambiences to the director, during picture editing… It depends on the style of the film but eg a horror film will want stings and tones etc while cutting picture. Identifying such needs and offering them unprompted shows you understand their process. And it can also help avoid the use of tired old sound effects that the editor might have on a hard drive somewhere.

– They may want to see a show reel, in which case you will want to select a number of scenes from projects you have done, that illustrate your best work. Context matters. If it’s a sensitive drama that you are pitching for, they won’t appreciate seeing scenes from a horror film. So its on a case by case basis, and I ended up with multiple versions of my show reel, so I could provide one that is appropriate.

– I usually print out a copy of my CV with each film listed with director, producer and film studio listed. While indie films often have autonomy and can make whatever choices they like, studio films will often have someone verify all roles. But if you are 100% convincing on the main pitch, this shouldn’t be the main focus: they wouldn’t ask you to pitch if they didn’t consider you a contender. So if you really want this project, it is your job to do more homework & put more thought into pitching than anyone else that they might be considering….

– Remember, you aren’t pitching for just this film. You want to do ALL their films. You want to become the first person they think of, when it comes to sound design for their films.

Inevitably some of the homework you do, you won’t need or get the chance to show them (eg they probably don’t need to see your ambience list breakdown) but by having made it and thought about it, you have a deeper insight as to whats involved….

So have I ruined it by sharing this methodology? I doubt it.

Most people won’t bother doing all this work. Every so often I see people state ‘you should never work for free’ and I always think to myself ‘bullshit!’. No one is paying me to read the script (2-3 hours) No one is paying me to mark up the script & make notes (2-3 hours). It’s part of my creative process that transcends mere money. It’s also an investment that may or may not pay off (eg that US horror film I mentioned never got funding) But all I know is that when I am given an opportunity like this, I am going to work as hard as I can to make it happen.

It’s a discussion for another day, but towards the end of my film career I also came up with three criteria for taking a project on. I think most professional working sound designers have had an occasional ‘less satisfying’ experience on a film. And sometimes the hardest learned lessons are the ones you never forget. Over the 40 feature films that I worked on, there were only a couple which in hindsight I would now have turned down. From such experiences, my decision making considerations required meeting three criteria:
1. They have to be nice people.
2. The film must have good ideas with the potential for great sound.
3. They must have a realistic budget, scaled for the project.

1. No amount of income is worth losing your mental health over. So that first criteria is crucial. Despite the power imbalance, when you meet with a Director & Producer, you are also auditioning them. If they are toxic or denigrating towards other people, then they will likely also treat you that way, sooner or later.

2. A film is a major creative commitment. If the story doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter how great your sound is… Having said that, I have worked on a few failed films where the sound was complimented most. So even if a project does not succeed by usual standards, it may still help your work by being seen & heard. And one thing is true: directors watch other directors work. And they notice what people contribute.

3. Budget I discussed in EDU12. Getting burnt or burning yourself out, trying to achieve great work without enough budget can be a frustrating experience. And under-achieved work can reflect badly on you. No audience looks up the budget for a film before they see it. But some projects are worth investing your time in, and my only advice in such circumstances is to gently make sure the director & producer know what you are contributing, beyond what they can afford, and why it is important. It is a chance to educate them and to hopefully increase their standards, expectations and future budgets. If they under-budget once, that sucks. But if they do it repeatedly then it shows a pattern of behaviour.

Finally, please appreciate any of the more philosophical attitudes I have come from having spent 25 years working on films. When I first started I would have crawled over broken glass to get the opportunity to work on a film, any film. But being keen is only part of the equation. The real work occurs on the job, and there is no shortcut to gaining experience. But I hope these articles help you form ways of thinking about such work.

One of my favourite sayings ever is by haiku poet Matsuo Basho.

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise.
Seek what they sought.”

Matsuo Basho

I had many heroes as a young sound designer but I did not seek to follow them. I relentlessly challenged myself to learn and apply their ideas and techniques and attitudes, filtered through my own psyche, experiences, taste and aesthetics. That’s the aim. To bring your own sensibilities to the beautifully profound, collaborative art of film making!

EDU13 Field recording for BOY

Some photos & sounds from my recording trip to Waihau Bay, in late April 2009.

This bridge & riverbed were a location in the film, so I did quite a bit of recording here, from many different perspectives & also walked up the riverbed to get near rapids… Later when I edited the ambiences for these scenes I of course used recordings from a dozen different rivers, but one wide recording I did at this river I really liked for its ‘thin-ness’ and used it in wide shots & as layers in the surrounds. Back in 2009 my field recording setup consisted of a Sound Devices 722 and a Sanken CSS5 stereo mic.

I also did some recording close up by this small stream in the river…

Way further up the river I came cross this stand of Toetoes which is a native plant, so I recorded a lovely ambience of rustles & crickets

Ah the corn! It was unreal to walk 100m into this corn paddock – the corn was 8 foot high, and when there was a wind gust you could hear it travelling through the corn….. I must have spent an hour or two in this paddock – it was like an ocean of rustles & this recording doesn’t do it justice…

This was a location in the film where the kids play and it was close to the corn paddock, so I did record some nice roof iron rattling in the wind but didn’t end up using it in the film as the scene played as a montage driven by music….

This beautiful old church wasn’t in the film but I just had to take this photo as it was so beautiful as the sun set…

What do you do for a living? Me? I record the sound of empty paddocks, the sound of one cricket chirping, well maybe not one…

Another roadside paddock recording:

Midday recording near the pub in Waihau Bay

Now the above car, a Ford Fairlane 500, was one of the meanest sounding V8s I have recorded & I would have liked to record for hours with it & get complete coverage for future use, but this car only featured in one shot in the film and it had over heating problems so the vehicle wrangler wasn’t keen for us to use it too much before they got the scene shot…. but just listen to it:

This Valiant Charger V8 did appear in the film a lot, so I did quite a bit of recording with it – you can see my exhaust mic gaffer taped to the rear bumper…. It was a far more ‘normal’ sounding V8…

And this is the kids Nans Humber 80, a classic 4 cylinder car in great condition. It made me smile to hop in & drive it after roaring around in those two V8s!

These are the two dynamic mics I wrapped in cloth and gaffer taped to the rear bumper for exhaust & in the engine bay.

As so many of the locations in the film are coastal, I also did some recording of beaches – close up:

And also wide & diffuse for more general ambience use…

A week or two after I got home from this trip, I spent a weekend staying in Ngawi (2 hours from Wellington) to do more beach recording as I knew it would be useful, especially a range of wide diffuse ambiences

I love doing specific field recording for a film, as it is such a pleasure to edit sounds you recorded specifically for locations… And it makes it easier in many ways, for example with ambiences you have a real reference and can build up layers for surround etc while still retaining authenticity. It also reinforces what material is useful when cutting ambiences for a film, and has been the prime motivator for each HISSandaROAR library.

The only difficult part with recording vehicles before you have a cut of the film is that you have to capture enough coverage to hopefully cope with everything that happens onscreen in the film. But it saves a lot of hassle trying to find a car that matches the make & model of each vehicle later.

Of course all of these recordings become part of my own personal sound library, and are an invaluable resource for future use. Whenever possible I would always do new recording for local films, which was easier when it was a local film shot in or near Wellington but having learnt to appreciate the positive impact it has on the end result I also began to budget for such work on other film projects.

Field recording trips for films that I have done include:
2010 SAMOA for the film THE ORATOR – IMDB
2010 PAPUA NEW GUINEA for the film MR PIP – IMDB
2011 JAPAN for the film EMPEROR – IMDB

Of course overseas travel with gear takes a bit more planning & refinement, as you can’t just load up your car with everything you might need. Excess baggage costs and the need for constant travel within a foreign country mean you have to plan accordingly.