FIND ANSWERS: PETE HORNER ON POST-PRODUCTION SOUND
Skywalker Sound sound designer and re-recording mixer Pete Horner recently shared the knowledge he’s culled from working on such films as Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure, Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro and Lauren Greenfield’s LA Film Fest 2012 selection Queen of Versailles in our Ask a Pro series.
The questions kept coming and Pete took some time to provide great answers for filmmakers working on their film’s post-production.
At what point in a film should the post-production sound process start?
Ideally, the sound crew starts as soon as there are scenes to work on. But from a practical financial standpoint, it makes sense to start the crew after picture lock, since conforming to new cuts of the picture wastes a good bit of time.
A good compromise is to start a discussion with the sound designer quite early, perhaps in preproduction, and then start the crew as the picture approaches a fine cut. This way, there is room for discoveries in the sound department to have some effect on the picture cut, but there are not too many conforms to deal with.
What does the director do at this stage? How involved should he/she be?
If the sound designer has been consulted early, then it may not require a lot of involvement to get a team up to speed, since they will already have begun developing a sonic language. If not, it’s important to have a spotting session at the start so you can communicate what you are looking for. Regardless, it’s important to give feedback on the work as it progresses.
Ideally this is done in person, but it can also be accomplished over distance by bouncing QuickTime files. You should identify the critical scenes and focus on these. The more time you can give to the sound as the work is being prepared, the smoother the final mix will be. The mix is the most expensive part of the process; so early involvement not only translates into better sound, but also saves money.
What is the ideal time to bring a sound designer into the project?
Ideally, the sound designer should be in dialogue with the director beginning in pre-production. This doesn’t mean that they are on full-time, but beginning early has many benefits. First, there may be opportunities to write something into the script that will allow sound to play a more integrated role in the storytelling. Also, the sound designer will know many months in advance what sort of sounds they will need and can begin collecting them.
During the shoot there may be opportunities to make recordings that may not have been considered if the discussion about sound hadn’t already started. Then as picture editorial gets underway, the sound designer can provide sounds for the picture editor to use as needed. This way the OMF track is already populated with good sounds that are part of the sonic vocabulary the sound designer is creating. So much of that work can be preserved.
What should the initial conversation between director and sound team be like?
The director should spot the film with the sound team, highlighting moments that are important and what tone or character they should have. It’s not necessary to point out every action on the screen – “there’s a door closing, there’s a car passing by”. It’s more important to give a sense of what the scene is trying to accomplish, where you want to direct the attention and what you want the audience to feel.
What tips can you give directors to help them communicate to the sound team and the composer what they want (in terms of style, tone, mood, etc.)?
I would encourage directors to think of sound design as another kind of music. As such, you can use much the same terminology – beats, rhythm, lush, stark, etc. Use emotional words to describe what’s going on.
Sound can be used to link ideas in a film. So, just as you might ask the composer to use the same theme in two places to connect them, you can ask the sound designer to use the same sound or palette of sounds to draw a connection between two moments. And just as you might have a melody for a certain character, you could also connect certain kinds of sounds with them.
What is the director and producer’s job at the mixing stage?
Typically, the director’s job is to make creative decisions and the producer’s job is to make sure the resources are there to accomplish the work. This varies of course. Sometimes the producer is a very close creative collaborator and other times they are not even present at the mix. I feel like the job of everyone in the room is to figure out what the film wants. This helps keep the ego out of the equation.
Ideas can come from anywhere and it is everyone’s job to recognize which ideas resonate with what the film is becoming. Of course, the director has spent the most time with the film and is most likely the best person to answer the question, “what does the film want?” A good director is open to ideas but ready to make a decision.
May 3rd, 2012 • No Comments