I Dub Thee, Temp

Today is the first day of our temp dub. For all you non-movie-industry-types, a temp dub is a kind of mini-mixdown of the movie’s soundtrack at its current state.

The last thing that is done on a movie prior to sending it out to the lab to make lots and lots of copies for distribution to theaters is the final dub where all the various sound elements—dialog, adr, sound effects, backgrounds, foley and music—are mixed together in the presentation that you hear in the theater. The final dub on your typical Hollywood film usually takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete. (This includes a process called predubbing. I’ll explain that in more detail at some point in the future.)

Before a movie goes to the final dub, there are usually 2 or 3 temp dubs during the 2 months or so of sound editorial that usually last 3 to 5 days each. Often these temp dubs are done to get a mixed track that can be played against the current picture cut for an audience test screening, also known as a “preview”.

Obviously much less time is spent on a temp dub than on the final dub. Temps can definitely be described as “down and dirty”. For sound editors a temp dub always represents a delicate balance between providing enough material to give a good indication of the direction the dialog editing and sound design is going, and providing too much, making it impossible to mix it all in the alloted time.

Plus there is often a time crunch just to get all the material prepared for the temp. Usually a sound crew will have two or three weeks to cut the sound for the first temp. That means two or three weeks between seeing the movie for the very first time and having a rough cut done and on a dub stage for a temp.

During the temp dub, the mixers will create stems—usually four of them: dialog, effects 1, effects 2, and music. These are typically 8 track mixdowns of the appropriate sounds, the dialog stem includes the ADR and Group ADR, the effects 1 stem includes all hard effects and sound design, the effects 2 stem is usually backgrounds and foley, etc. These stems are then mixed together to make the printmaster that is screened with the picture in a theater.

After the first temp, the time allotted to prepare for the next one decreases. Usually a week for the second and then a few days for the third. This is because most of the work is simply conforming the stems from the first temp to the new picture and then adding in the material to fill the holes.

Of course during this whole process the picture keeps changing as the director, the picture editor, the producers, and the studio all give opinions on what should be in or out of the film. “That entire scene is too long and isn’t necessary for the story, let’s cut it.” Or “The actress is pretty good in take 4 but I think there is even more emotional impact in take 6.” Or “Let’s try putting the meeting between the characters in the restaurant before the party scene.” And on and on and on. So of course the sound crew is continually trying to stay up to date. And those conforms take time away from straight up editing.

It can be quite an involved process.