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At AES: Tom Fleischman Wants His Work to Be Invisible (on Screen)

By Katie Makal. Tom Fleischman discussed his re-recording work on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

In an Audio for Cinema presentation at AES on Thursday morning, re-recording mixer Tom Fleischman illustrated some of the differences between film and episodic television sound mixing by showing clips from his work on a single project: the Martin Scorsese television series Boardwalk Empire. The first episode of the high-profile HBO series had a two-hour runtime and a postproduction schedule similar to that of a feature film, while subsequent episodes were posted in a television-standard five days.

Fleischman summarized the role of the rerecording mixer as a bit of a magic act. He is responsible for combining all of the sound elements that make up the soundtrack—dialogue, music and sound effects—but he has to do it invisibly so that no one in the audience even knows he was there.

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“What we’re doing is telling a story,” Fleischman said. “The whole idea of preparing a final track for the film is to make it completely transparent. I do not want anyone in the audience thinking about the sound in any way.” Fleischman said of the two-hour Boardwalk Empire pilot, which was directed by Martin Scorsese and edited by Thelma Schoonmaker, “They really treated it like one of their feature films.” He continued, “Generally on a network TV show, you might have two or three days to mix a 42or 45-minute episode. On Boardwalk Empire, we took four weeks on the pilot. And then every episode after that, we had four days to mix, a fifth day for playback, and if we were lucky I would get a sixth day to do the M&E track,” a version with music and effects but no dialogue that’s used for international distribution.

The challenge, he said, stems from the fact that “you can’t use the same kind of workflow [as on a feature] on an episodic show like this where you need to turn over an episode every week. It’s got to get done. It’s going on the air, there’s a hard deadline. There’s no time for subtlety.”

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A re-recording mixer has to cut some corners to get his work done in the compressed time frame of episodic television, but he has to figure out the right corners to cut that won’t affect dialogue intelligibility or pull the audience out of the story. “The main goal is to make it seem as natural as possible to the audience. I don’t want anyone thinking about what a great job I did. I don’t want them to think that I did a job at all.”

He added, “I don’t want people saying, oh, what a great soundtrack that is. No, I want them to say, what a great movie that is!”