CULVER CITY, CA—“These are very exciting times to be involved in our craft, on every level,” said re-recording mixer Gary Bourgeois, CAS, during his keynote address at Mix Magazine’s third annual Sound for Film event at the Sony Pictures Studios in mid-September. Billed as “The Merging of Art, Technique and Tools,” the one-day conference included the participation of the Motion Pictures Sound Editors (MPSE) and the Cinema Audio Society (CAS), and was sponsored by Avid, Dolby Labs, Harman, JBL, Lectrosonics, Meyer Sound and Yamaha Commercial Audio.
Mixers and sound editors should be cognizant of the talent they are able to bring to help stretch the limits of storytelling, said Bourgeois. He pointed to the dramatic changes in the industry over recent years, including the fact that, in the new broadcast and streaming landscape, writers are often also the showrunners and wield as much power as film directors.
Bourgeois acknowledged Sony Pictures’ Brian Vessa, chair of the SMPTE 25CSS standard committee, for his efforts to ensure that content is able to play consistently on all platforms. The Sony family is developing a VR room, he reported, to address the future, but there are no serious standards in VR yet. “Everything is a big experiment,” he said. “Standards will make it easier for crosstalk in the future and for everybody to get a better final product.”
The CAS brought its annual Parade of Carts to the event for the first time this year, with over a dozen production sound mixers from film and television displaying their location sound carts and bags on the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage. Each mixer had an opportunity during a show and-tell session to offer insights into his respective solutions and choices of microphones, mixers, recorders, wireless systems and other equipment.
On the day’s first panel, “Sound Inspiration Within the Storytelling Process,” mixers and supervising sound editors revealed their secret research tool. “YouTube,” said sound designer and re-recording mixer Will Files, who used it to discover what baby chimps sound like for the Planet of the Apes series reboot.
Moderator Carolyn Giardino asked the panel how they addressed having a different vision from the director. “What we do is art,” said sound designer Harry Cohen, “but it’s art in the service of somebody else’s vision. If it doesn’t jive with what the director wants you to do, then you have to throw it out.”
Answering a question about whether panelists get the equivalent of writer’s block, sound designer Paula Fairfield said, “The scariest moment is sitting in front of your Pro Tools screen with a new session.”
“There’s almost no wrong way to start,” added Cohen. “If you put a wrong sound to picture, you can ask yourself, why is that the wrong sound? What should it be?”
The panel revealed some of their go-to tools. “For me, it’s probably [Serato] Pitch ‘n Time,” said Files.
“I’m a plug-in junkie,” admitted Cohen, adding that Native Instrument’s Kontakt is a modern-day equivalent to the Synclavier sampler that he once used. Cohen has also been investigating Reaper as an alternative to Pro Tools.
The “Workflow for Musicals” panel revealed that mixers experience the gamut of workflows on set, from actors miming to playback to fully live performances and recording, and any combination in between. Phillip Palmer, CAS, who was involved with 750 live music segments during the six-year run of TV series Glee, observed that there are two keys to selling viewers on the idea that playback of pre-recorded vocal tracks is actually live: “The breath before they sing, and the exhale after,” he said. “Everything that happens in the middle, you can mess with.”
At the other extreme, everything was recorded live on-set on Jersey Boys, reported production sound mixer Tim Boot. It was a 39-day shoot with three music scenes per day, all live recording with live instruments, he reported. “We pulled it off because Clint Eastwood can do that. And the singers were all from the Broadway show, so they had the vocal abilities to sing all day long.”
Dolby demonstrated Dolby Atmos in a room in the bowels of the Thalberg Building that has been outfitted for immersive screenings by Tom McCarthy, EVP of Post-Production Facilities at Sony Pictures Entertainment and president of MPSE. Dolby’s Gary Epstein revealed that the company would shortly be releasing specifications for a Dell computer-based nearfield renderer, enabling mixers to build a system and output immersive mixes without the need for a Dolby Atmos Rendering and Mastering Unit (RMU).
“Building an Immersive Room” panelists related their experiences with rooms of all sizes. Editor and mixer Mark Binder, who formerly worked on Community, recently completed four Dolby Atmos rooms with Jerry Steckling of JSX Audio. “Translation is about how much time you have behind that board or that computer system,” Binder said.
Binder installed JBL 700 Series speakers at his IMN Creative facility. “Don’t be misled about it being a music speaker or a cinema speaker. If it fits and it works for your ears, it’s the right speaker,” he said.
The event closed this year with another first, a “Sound Reel Showcase”—a presentation of excerpts from current and upcoming features with the participation of the relevant sound teams. As McCarthy explained to a reporter earlier in the day, the idea of the showcase was to reference the “bake-off” format once used to decide the sound Oscar nomination list.
Motion Picture Sound Editors
Cinema Audio Society