A Q&A with Bill Braun
by Sam Mestman
The followiing is courtesy of Bill Braun at www.braunpost.com, a working sound editor/mixer in Lost angeles. The goal here is to save everyone time, effort, and aggravation when it comes to making your movie sound good. And, if you’re looking for someone to take care of you on the sound design side of things, drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill: I’m mainly a Protools guy, but can operate in Soundtrack if need be. I’d like to add some info that may help an independent filmmaker from a sound editors perspective:
Admittedly I am a hardcore sound nerd, but when I get a project to do, there are several things I need to do the job properly. Here are a few things I always ask for, regardless of the budget:
-Is the picture locked? Will I have to do conforms? Either way is fine, But it greatly affects the amount of time it takes to edit the show.
-Is the picture split into reels or is it one large file? Can Protools read the format? While h264 usually works fine, if you lower the size to qvga and limit the data stream to 2500k/sec it stands a much better chance of working.
-Have you (or the picture editor if you aren’t that person) sent an email with frame rate as well as the audio bit and sample rate?
-We always need the audio for every take. It can be mono or polyphonic (lave and boom are the most common). Very often we will find issues with the production dialog used in the OMF. The files are usually labeled by scene & take. It can take weeks to identify every scene and take if its not labeled.
-Did someone make sound notes during production? If so its a great benefit while we’re editing the show.
-Is there a timecode burn? When its small and out of the way, its a great benefit! When Im cutting foley – having the timecode as far out of the frame as possible lets me see every footstep, hand pat, etc…
-Is there a head and tail pop? This is always 1,000Hz and exactly 1 frame in length. They are placed exactly 2 seconds before the first frame of action (normally starting 00:59:58;00) and exactly 2 seconds after the last frame of the reel or film (depending on how the show is delivered). It ensures that the show is synced all the way through, and eliminates the chance for sync drift.
I hope I haven’t reiterated anything that falls under he category of “painfully obvious”.
Sam: What mics (from what manufacturers) should you expect your prod. sound guy to have in their kit when you hire them?
Bill: Depends VERY much on the environment. I’m not much of a production sound guy, but you should have a minimum of one lav per character and a shotgun mic. Also, if you have any shots in a very small location (like in a car) or or a loud situation like a club you need microphones with more noise rejection.
Sam: What kind of DAT should they have?
Bill: While there are still DAT recorders out there, most people are using a digital medium exclusively with an on-site backup system. My personal favorite is the Sound Devices 744t, but the Fostex FM-4 is very good as well. Either can be rented for a very reasonable rate.
Sam: How do you know whether the sound guy you’re hiring is any good (what kind of questions should you ask/ how should they answer)?
Bill: There’s a saying I was taught: there are enough people that work in this industry that you don’t have to work with someone you don’t like.
Ask for recommendations, absolutely, but make sure you get along with the people. Money wise, most mid level production guys will charge about $200/day plus equipment costs as I understand it. Ask them what equipment they will need & what they charge for it. If you think its a bit over the top just call a rental house and compare notes.
Sam: How can you put your sound guy in a position to succeed on set (as in, what are the basics you need to provide for them to do their job well)?
Bill: The toughest thing for an on-set sound guy is to feel free to tell the director that the sound wasn’t good enough. Encourage the sound guy, AFTER a take to confirm that the sound is acceptable. Also, allow the sound guy to be a part of the rehearsal(s). It allows them the chance to get proper levels as well as ensure the shotgun mic is in the optimal location.
After the take, if the director got a good performance but a bad audio take, then right then and there allow the actors and the sound guy to go to a quiet place similar to the set and re-record the scene. It will save you TONS of time and money by not needing as much ADR, which is almost always a separate and significant cost.
*****THE FIVE SECOND ROOM TONE TRICK*****
Dialogue editors need room tone. They need room tone to cover spaces in the scene when no one’s talking, but something has to fill in the space. You cant have a total lack of sound, so Room Tone is used.
Room Tone is the audio recorded when no one is talking or moving. Indoors it’s often the sound of air conditioning. Outdoors its often the wind, cars and /or birds and whatever else is making sound – but it’s NEVER that of the crew moving around, cell phones going off, and the like.
If you want to get great room tone, as a director, try this:
A) QUIET ON SET
C) wait five seconds (its the one time EVERYONE knows to be completely quiet)
We can make those 5 seconds last indefinitely, and moreover, will get you on our Xams list.
Sam: at what point do you actually need to bump up to a sample rate of 96 khz? Or, to put it differently, at what point is 48 khz no longer good enough?
Bill: There is rarely a need to record above 48k/24 bit (usually 16 is fine).
I only ever record audio above that rate to play with it in sound design. It allows me to stretch the audio out without it breaking up. Long story short, don’t worry about it exceeding 48k.
Sam: How do you know your sound editor/mixer is any good? What kind of questions should you ask/ how should they respond?
Bill: We’re all human and we edit with varying levels of detail and acumen. Many editors specialize in one of the disciplines involved with moviemaking (Dial, Foley, SFX, Music, Sound Design, Backgrounds & Mixing) most editors can do all of them to one level or another. Normally, this is not the Directors responsibility. The Producer normally uses a Supervising Sound Editor to hire individual editors under them.
If you want to hire a sound editor individually, then the answer is a similar answer to the production sound guy question, but here you have a chance to test them. Give them a 2 minute section of the film. Let them cut it for you. At the end of the day, if there’s ANY sound in their cut that takes you out of the scene, then they have to fix it. This gives you a chance to see how you work with them as well.
Sam: What is your sound editor going to want from your production sound person? Should you get them in touch with each other before the shoot and why?
Bill: You normally need several things from a production sound person: -A sound report, which notes the date, the scenes and takes done during that date, the bit/sample rate they were recording at, any notes for each take (tell you if the take was clear of any unwanted noises like a plane or car passing by), and occasionally what the microphones used were in case we have to try to duplicate them for ADR.
-All sound takes to have the data incorporated into the file name. If its scene 1 take 2 it could look like s1t2.wav or 1/2.wav. Something quick and easy that lets me know where to look for alternate takes of a scene. This is totally independent of the OMF.
-A lined script (if one was done), or at bare minimum a copy of the shooting script.
Sam: Is it worth having your video editor do any sound work in Soundtrack Pro before passing it off to the sound editor/ is Soundtrack Pro a worthwhile tool? Do you need Pro Tools to get a professional mix done? How effective is Logic/Soundtrack Pro workflow? (I specifically really want an answer to this, as I know that you always seem to take a couple steps back when you deliver an omf for pro tools when you can keep so much more information going to a soundtrack pro/Logic workflow… but I also know Pro Tools is the industry standard… I’m just curious whether it’s still that much better of a program than the soundtrack/logic combo, or whether it’s just because this is the way it’s always been done, so that’s why people still do it that way).
Bill: The video editors sound tools are limited – plus quite frankly it simply isn’t their job to edit sound. However when I work on TV shows, I often get temporary sound effects and of course the score is already there. The video editor has already done this for me – but they are often just a place marker. Its the producers way of saying “I want a sound effect here”. Sometimes the network has already approved the sound effects, so I actually am not even allowed to touch or improve on them.
There are several things that soundtrack simply cant do. The vast majority of the plugins we use don’t work in Soundtrack. It also wont edit at the sample level. Its really a prosumer product, and not quite at the professional level.
Sam: What is the best way to lay out your audio tracks to deliver an .omf to a sound mixer (as in, the order of dialogue, music, effects, etc)?
Bill: Usually an OMF only has dialogue, some temporary effects and sometimes music in it from the picture editor. The Sound Supervisor takes care of the rest of it.
In a perfect world we are hoping to get one kind of audio per track: only dialogue on dialogue tracks, only sound effects on sound effects tracks and only music on music tracks, etc. That’s it! And don’t forget the head and tail pop!
Sam: Bottom line… what I’d love to be able to post is a blueprint/checklist to make sure that once a project gets into a sound designer’s hands, they have everything they need to do a good job, and to take out as much of the busywork/ aggravation as possible.
Bill: If you want a blueprint, just be sure that the Sound Supervisor is involved from preproduction to the final mix. You’re paying them to assume the responsibility of making sure the sound is on time, on budget and sounds the way you need it to sound. Plus, the aforementioned blueprint may well change depending on certain circumstances like budget, studio schedules and editor availability.
An average 5 reel (about 100 minutes) show takes 1 editor 1.5 to 2 months per discipline (meaning 2 months for dialogue/adr, 2 months for sound effects, 2 for foley, 2 for music editing, and 2 for backgrounds) to do, about a week to predub, and about a week absolute minimum to mix.
This is assuming you have the budget to do make this happen. If you’re prepping the film for tv or internet release then you don’t need an ultra high end studio to mix in. You usually don’t need 5.1 either – just stereo. Studios vary wildly in price, and bear in that you don’t need a studio until you are in the predub/final mix stage. A modest facility will charge anywhere from $500 to $2k/day, unless someone owes you a pretty good favor. Similar charges will apply for ADR if you choose to go that route.
I’ve done whole films in half that time, and for a fraction of that money, but when you remove time, cost or manpower you stand a chance to sacrifice a degree of detail from the sound. It’s that classic triangle: cost, speed and quality…pick two.