Film is a collaborative medium. We all know this. However, when it comes down to the day to day grind of sound editorial it's very easy to get caught up in the time crunch or creative rabbit holes, ignoring where the work is heading; the mix stage. This is a major mistake. As a sound supervisor, I value collaboration just as much as I do the creative output of my team. And there's a lot that can be done every step of the way to support collaboration in the post sound world. That's why I preach one simple philosophy; think like a mixer.
Re-recording mixers are the final gate keepers in post production sound. At their discretion (for the most part), a sound build that took days to design can be scratched from the session with a press of a button. Frightening right? That said, in the 'want it yesterday' world we work in, the biggest factors for a successful mix have to revolve around organization. The easier your work is to mix, the more likely it's going to live in the final product. Make a mess of things and, well you might as well roll the dice with all of your hard work.
Thinking like a mixer means asking yourself two questions:
- How can I lay out my sound effects for the most efficient mix?
- How can I communicate what I believe to be important within my session?
With experience as both a sound editor and mixer, I've come across some techniques I like to utilize to streamline the post sound workflow. Work in some of these tips and you'll not only make your mixer happy, but you'll make your supervising sound editor's workflow much smoother (and they are likely the ones to hire you again).
Clip gain vs Automation:
Editors that leave all sounds at unity are a thing of the past. Premixing your work before it leaves your rig is a necessity and clip gain couldn't make it easier. This was a game changer for me. Personally, I use clip gain for all of my leveling as I cut and choose to use volume automation only for premixing longer persistent sounds (steadys). This is a quick shorthand between myself and the mixer, communicating the sides to focus on for any given scene.
While we're on the subject of steadys, cutting these for perspective is a must. As soon as the camera moves significantly close to or far away from a steady sound, you need to cut this and crossfade it for easy mixing. I like to jump between two tracks for this. Simply follow the lead of the camera. Beyond the cutting, you'll definitely want to premix these for different volume levels. A buzzing neon light is a great effect when the camera is two inches away (and sure the client wants to have it throughout the scene) but eventually it's going to start to feel like water torture. Keep the elements as requested, but make good use of automation and get them out of the way.
Using the color window in Pro Tools should be second nature to any editor. There are lots of occasions where a group of regions on general sound effects tracks are all part of a single build. Of course, these elements should be blocked together in a small group of tracks, but in a dense session coloring these the same is the most efficient way to communicates this to the mixer. This visual cue is invaluable for a mixer when in a time crunch and trying to dig through elements to see where things live. As the show goes along, keeping these colors consistent for repetitive elements is also a huge help.
If you have any repetitive sounds, try your best to leave these on the same track(s) throughout the session. This isn't just for a single instance of a few repetitive sounds but more a motif that persists across the show. It's more than likely your mixer will want to add the same set of automation to all of these, and keeping them clear across an entire scene to automate in one fell swoop makes this a snap.
Tracks within a certain category grouped together (food groups) are another great way to make life easy on a mixer. Keeping all whooshes, or explosions on a specific set of tracks makes mixing a breeze, but breaking an edit down into subgroups gives the mixer a huge leg up. Basically, you're thinking ahead in the best way by building your session so that the mixer has global control over each type of sound. The mixer can choose to add a VCA to each group and easily predub a whole swath of similar sounds. This can be customized on a project by project or even episode by episode basis. Of course each show has specific needs and limitations so you'll want to check with your supervisor to make sure the track count allows it.
Thinking along these lines truly puts an editor on the next tier. Here's a dream scenario for me as a supervisor. An editor says "There are a lot of off screen spaceships throughout this episode. I was thinking it might be smart to group them out so they can easily be panned and mixed down into the overall ambience of the scene." You may be amazing at designing spaceships, but now I know you're also thinking about how to make it easy for your designs to work in the mix.
Ultimately, it takes time and experience for an editor to think beyond themselves in the post sound workflow. Trying to make everything as smooth as possible for those next steps down the line allows a level of maturity to shine through in your work. Believe me when I say that thinking downstream to help make everyone's lives easier will most definitely increase your chances of being hired on future jobs. After all, film is a collaborative medium.
Question: What tips do you have to make for a smooth downstream workflow? Let us know in the comments below.
photo by Phil Houston