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!

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