My World Of Film Sound

Yesterday I started working again with the fine folks at Universal Studios. Yes, those damn trams full of tourists are once again driving by my window every 5 minutes.

The nature of the movie business is such nowadays that studios are extremely reluctant to release movies without screening them for several test audiences and focus groups to make sure that there will be a market for the movies. After watching a test screening, every member of the audience is handed a piece of paper with lots of questions. Some of them are simple, “On a scale of 1 to 5, how much did you enjoy the film?” Others are ask for more information, “Who was your favorite character?” or “What was your favorite scene?” And still others are directed at that ever important “word-of-mouth” advertising, “Would you recommend this movie to your friends?” or “What reasons would you give a friend to see the movie?”

In general I feel that this kind of thing tends to dumb-down movies. You’re playing up to the lowest common denominator instead of asking the audience to elevate themselves. And don’t get me started on the fact that Hollywood can’t seem to make a single original film anymore. Go pick up a copy of the Hollywood Reporter or Variety and you’ll see that every single movie that’s in production at Paramount right now is either a sequel or a remake of on old movie.

Be that as it may, working on movies pays my rent and post-production sound, even though sorely ignored in the budgetting-realm, is a fun job. So stepping into the assisting chair yesterday was an interesting one for me. I didn’t start this movie. Someone else did, but it was on hiatus for a while while the studio worked on it.

That’s another fact of life of the film business now. And the fact that a film goes on hiatus shouldn’t be taken as a positive or a negative thing. It simply is. Under normal circumstances, post-production sound usually takes three-and-a-half to fourth months to complete. But I should be hesitant to use the word “normal” because often that is no longer the case. Since studios want to maximize their return on investment many shows today have longer post schedules while the studio tries to make a movie that will appeal to the largest audience. The sound department will often go on hiatus. If studios had to ok the final budget on movies prior to giving them the greenlight, they would never get made. We have to turn in budgets with 12 to 16 weeks for post-production sound even though the reality often turns into 20 to 26 or more.

This flexible scheduling also makes it difficult because shows often overlap now. Being a good supervising sound editor you line up your next three shows. But then the schedules start pushing and everything starts falling on top of each other. Now you need to scramble and hire second crews and figure out how you’ll be on two dub stages at the same time. One possibility of course would be to not look for shows until after you’ve completed the previous one. But that can mean a lot of downtime. There is no easy solution so every tries to make do.

And that’s why I’m here. I’m taking over the assisting on a show so that the assistant who actually started it can continue on another show that began during the hiatus. Of course the fact that I can’t really talk about specifics on any of this makes things a little more difficult.

After starting up this weblog I imagined that I might talk about what it’s like making movies from the post-production side of things. I still want to do that, but now that I’m sitting down to actually work on (nearly) an entire show, I’m finding myself hard-pressed to find interesting things to say—interesting things that I can actually talk about.

For example I can say that while I’m typing this I’m taking some files (about 5GB of digital picture) and copying them to another drive. Oooo! I can already see that you’re enthralled. And now, I’m going to delete those files from the original drive. Aaaah! I know, I know. You can hardly contain yourself.

I will come up with something. You’re welcome to ask questions and I’ll answer as best I can. But now I must go… there’s more copying to do.