We begin with a joke.
Three actresses sit in their dressing room. One is a brunette, the second a redhead, and the third is the requisite blonde. They discuss the best way to advance their careers and become the movie starlet they all believe they should be. ‘Fuck Sound! Fuck Sound!”
The brunette says: “I hear that you should fuck the director because he is the creative genius and the one everyone listens to.” The redhead nods in agreement.
“That’s a good point, but… I was told that you should fuck the producer because he is the one with the money and we all know that
men with money are men with power.” The brunette nods in agreement.
“Well… I hear that you should fuck the sound guy,” the blonde blurts out. “The sound guy!” the others gasp. “Well, yeah,” says the blonde. “I mean… when we’re on set it seems like everyone is running around yelling
Yes… it is true. The audio professional has become the punchline of a blonde joke. We tell women at parties that we are in “movies” knowing full well that no woman has ever swooned over the size of our reverb unit. We feel shame when we stand in a beautifully decorated room and admire the acoustic qualities of the ceiling before we see the Monet hanging on the wall. If anything, the Monet is just an expensive absorber of standing sound waves.
Yes… we are the geeks of the film world. The last step of an obscenely long process that is filmmaking. By the time the film enters our hands, the directors are either sick of the film or will be shooting their next film in a week. The actors have already been in 4 other movies, 2 plays, and an infomercial for wrinkle cream. The producers… well, no one really knows what producers do but they sure talk a good game.
Yes… I am a post production audio professional. And I must tell you… it sure beats directing… and acting… and producing.
For examples why, I present these conversations in which I have reluctantly participated during my year and a half as a sound editor, mixer, and engineer. (I’d hate to hear what the guys who have been doing this for 30 years have to say.)
So… from the beginning (and your pity is welcome.)
Scene 1: Getting the job or “I have this friend with Pro Tools in his basement.”
(I use filmmaker rather than director because those I have worked with have tended to be the director, writer, producer, editor, cinematographer, star, and only fan of the movie in question.)
So… how much is this going to run me.
For us to take care of everything, editing, Foley’s, ADR, and mixing, it’ll be 40,000 dollars.
40,000!!!! I have this friend with Pro Tools in his basement and the Sound Ideas library and he's willing to do it for five.
Well… if it means getting your business we can do it for 30.
No… I’m going to go with my friend.
(3 weeks pass)
Well… There’s five grand out the window. Look, I need someone who knows what they’re doing. Can you do it for 20.
Scene 2: The Spotting Session or “It only needs some birds here and crickets there.”
I made a list of all the sounds I think the film needs. It’s a really easy job. It only needs some birds here and crickets there. How long will this take? A week or two. I’ve got this guy who really likes the film and says it’s a shoo-in for Sundance and that deadline is in three weeks.
It’ll take 4 to 6 weeks to finish editing and two weeks to mix.
Well, that won’t do. A friend of a friend has a friend on the selection committee for Sundace and he says that we’re a shoo-in. I need the film finished in three weeks.
SOUND DESIGNER grumbles as he remembers what his mother always said. "If you're going to let children sleep with you... expect to get peed on.").
Scene 3: The Effects Edit or “I hear pigs squealing…”
I’m not sure how to treat the running montage.
I hear… pigs squealing. And… a dentist drill. Maybe a tire screech and some laughing. Like a hyena laugh.
A hyena laugh?
Yes… he’s got a migraine. We’ll put it all in echo. All of these sounds are in his head as he tunes out his nagging wife.
And don’t forget the crickets.
Scene 4: The Dialogue Edit or “Who the fuck recorded this?”
Half the dialogue in the climax distorts. I mean, who the fuck recorded this?
Did they use two microphones?
Yes but they both distort.
Not surprising. When people use more then one microphone they stop listening to either one.
Scene 5: Automatic Dialogue Replacement or “I have to do the whole scene over again?”
Oh my GOD! We have, like, three pages of lines to do? Why so much?
The scene takes place in a car and we can’t hear anything you say.
I have to do the whole scene over again. But I never had to do this much for any of the sit-coms I worked on!
Scene 6: The Foley Session or “The Germans love to hear everything.”
Okay… at 12:27, Kris Kristofferson rubs his fingers through her hair.
But you’ll never hear that!
The Germans will.
The Germans love to hear everything.
(Pause to record the sound of a man rubbing fingers through a woman’s hair)
Let’s try it again.
What was wrong with that take?
I didn’t hear it.
Scene 7: The Mix or “What kind of drugs were you on?”
What the hell is that?
That sound? Is… is that a fire?
What kind of drugs were you on? We don’t see the fireplace. Why would you put fire in this scene?
It’s winter. They’re in a mountain cabin. It’s the prelude to a love scene. I would imagine they’d have the fire going.
I hate it. Lose it.
Scene plays sans fireplace sound.
You know what. It feels kind of empty. Can you put the fireplace back in?
Scene plays with fire.
Well… I’m not sure. Can we watch it without the fire?… Now with the fire… now without… now with… Keep the fire.
3 days later while working on the climactic chase scene
I changed my mind. Lose the fireplace.
And so it ends… for now. Soon we’ll be back at work on the same film, editing out the foul language, re-mixing the film for the new 20.1 sound system with speakers on the ceiling, and in 20 years we may have the honor of remastering the film for the anniversary re-release.
So much suffering to see our names at the end of credits no one watches hoping to win Oscars that are only there to give audiences a much needed bathroom break. But hey… it sure beats directing.