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Marc Wielage

BBC Viewers Complain About 'Mumbling Actors'

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Fascinating story:

 

Jamaica Inn: Viewers complain over 'mumbling actors'

 

Monday's launch episode of new BBC period drama Jamaica Inn sparked more than 100 complaints, after sound issues left viewers struggling to understand what was being said on screen.
 
The BBC later apologised to viewers, claiming the "issues with the sound levels" could not be altered while the drama was on air.
 
"We are adjusting the dialogue levels in episode two and three to address audience concerns so they can enjoy the rest of the drama and would like to apologise to those viewers who were affected," said a statement, ahead of Tuesday's second instalment.
 
"It sounded like listening through mud... Complaints were relentless - quite rightly. None of (the) production team know what happened with the TX (transmission) sound. It was fine before."
 

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-27116881

 

 

And in a follow-up story, the British BECTU union points out that any problems in the show were deliberate decisions by the director:

 

Ian Sands, vice chair of the Sound Branch of BECTU’s London Production Division, told The Independent: “Low level mumbled lines are not a technical issue they are an artistic issue. Many directors, and it may not be the case here, are very reluctant to tackle actors about their performance. That is their job but too often they will leave it to other colleagues to point out the challenges of ineligibility. If the director accepts it, that's where the buck stops.
 
"The final sound balance for transmission is ‘signed off’ by the director and any adjustments and balance are done to the directors requirements, whether they happen to be right or not.”

 

http://www.audioprointernational.com/news/read/sound-crew-not-to-blame-for-jamaica-inn-s-audio-problems-says-bectu/07034

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My Dad brought up this story with me the other day and my response was almost to the word what Ian Sands is quoted as saying here. All down to the director and thus also the producer.

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There have only been a handful of times when I have pulled a director aside and had this awkward conversation. I always prefaced the conversation with "I want to be the last person to tell you how to direct your actors...". A point I usually make is that I am critically listening, hanging on every word with the dialog coming through really expensive gear and high quality headphones. If I can't understand them, the viewer at home doesn't have a chance. Every time I have brought it up this way, the directors addressed my concern with the actor and things improved.

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There have only been a handful of times when I have pulled a director aside and had this awkward conversation. I always prefaced the conversation with "I want to be the last person to tell you how to direct your actors...". A point I usually make is that I am critically listening, hanging on every word with the dialog coming through really expensive gear and high quality headphones. If I can't understand them, the viewer at home doesn't have a chance. Every time I have brought it up this way, the directors addressed my concern with the actor and things improved.

I have given this note a number if times. I usually say something to the effect of, "I think we might be losing the line - cxxxxx xxxxxxx ccxxxx - it's not a level thing. It's loud enough. But a diction thing. I know we all know what he/she is saying, because we've read it and heard it a lot, but I'm not sure the audience will catch it, because they only get one chance." It is always well received. The director doesn't always pass it on, but that's their choice.

This article... Spread widely across the UK and many US Facebook threads, might make that note easier to give in the future.

I'll add that the note is a delicate one, and I only give it for dialog containing key plot points. I'll often talk to script super about if she agrees with the diction issue before bringing it to the director.

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part of the problem is the producers & director all know the lines; the audience doesn't.

That is exactly the case ! also,all the male actors want to sound like Batman.

 

                       J.D.

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It's always the men! Women are quiet, but usually have no diction issues.

It's the illusion that quiet and mumbly equals intense and sexy. But nobody talks that way in real life. If they do, the other person says, "What?" - Other actors not hearing their cues and speaking up about it is always my favorite! We had one director on my old show who would cup his ear and lean in on rehearsals when we got mumbly day-players. They always spoke up after that.

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I find myself telling the director that the lines are being mumbled too low all too often, and in many cases the lines peak just barely clearing the noise floor. A film I worked on in January had the problem of ultra low talkers, and when combined with noisy clothing, locations, and a noisy camera, it was hell. I told the director, and his response was "what do you want me to do, tell them to speak up? I can't do that!" My thought was "then what are you here for?" lol, isn't that what the director is for? To direct the actors?

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I can usually tell if an actor has had stage training and experience. They project their voice and can whisper across a room. Often the mumblers are exclusively tv and film actors, never having had to "speak to the back row".

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Again... It's the ego of prioritizing image over substance, and the lack of training, both with actors and directors. Directors forget that their job is storytelling, not just making the day and having everyone like them.

Why is it that everyone has forgotten we are in the storytelling business. The story is told by seeing AND hearing performances. We also shouldn't forget the importance of costumes and hair/makeup (continuity and reality) and set dressing and props, all if which play their part in telling the story. One should never need to distract from or compromise the quality of the other.

And now I'll step back into reality. Sigh.

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Picture Fever.... Happens every time.. All the talk about wanting good sound flies out the window the minute the first image comes up on the monitors..

BTW.... I hate the Red Epic...

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I have not seen or heard Jamaica Inn, so I can't comment about this particular series, which obviously, has struck a nerve amongst a large swath of people.  Clearly, the people have spoken.

 

But at the risk of being the lone stick in the mud on this issue, I would like to shift the context slightly, and generically defend the choice being made of a "low talking mumbling" actor.  The actors job is to serve the story. My job is to not be in the way of that job. And that includes trying to interpret his job.

 

As the production sound mixer I feel it's my role to record, as truthfully as possible, the dialogue and action during each scene. It's a delicate balance, and obviously, we, the sound department, have a lot at stake. Quite literally, our next job perhaps. With that in mind I have to be careful, that in my quest for "proper levels and intelligibility" that my ego, and my role as only one component of a larger story telling collective, doesn't take over.

 

Having said that, it is also my role to inform the director if his or her audio levels are in the mud. With that information, they can then do whatever they choose to do.  I hate that conversation, and there are many varied, all valid in my opinion, responses to it.

 

Cheers,

 

Sean O'Neil

Brooklyn NYC

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I find myself telling the director that the lines are being mumbled too low all too often, and in many cases the lines peak just barely clearing the noise floor. A film I worked on in January had the problem of ultra low talkers, and when combined with noisy clothing, locations, and a noisy camera, it was hell. I told the director, and his response was "what do you want me to do, tell them to speak up? I can't do that!" 

 

Hey, that was my last feature! The thing that makes me crazy is that they speak normally in real life, and then when it comes to do just do the scene, they talk way down here. The actors get confused with "subtlety" vs. "too soft." What was weird on that feature was there was just one actress who was always low, and pretty much everybody else was fine. I don't know what they're going to do in the final mix; I wish them luck. I did speak to the director about it, but the actress would start out speaking reasonably loud and then slowly start getting low again. 

 

An awful trend.

 

 

I can usually tell if an actor has had stage training and experience. They project their voice and can whisper across a room. Often the mumblers are exclusively tv and film actors, never having had to "speak to the back row".

 
Those people are brilliant. I consider those to be the real actors. The others have no clue as to what a "stage whisper" is.

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As the quality of all the crafts is diminished, (directors, actors, writers, us), so goes the product, followed by the audience IMO.

CrewC

 

BTW,

This is the 3rd mumble core topic we've had by my count. Of course I'm to lazy to search that out and it really doesn't matter. What does matter is the craft of storytelling by whatever medium. Long live a well told story be it in words, song, theater, films, and more importantly, Life......

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I'll often talk to script super about if she agrees with the diction issue before bringing it to the director.

+1.

 

It's always the men! Women are quiet, but usually have no diction issues.

It's the illusion that quiet and mumbly equals intense and sexy. But nobody talks that way in real life. If they do, the other person says, "What?" - Other actors not hearing their cues and speaking up about it is always my favorite! We had one director on my old show who would cup his ear and lean in on rehearsals when we got mumbly day-players. They always spoke up after that.

It seems also to be an issue of aiming for "realism". Some directors, and some actors, don't want it to sound "like acting". They seem to think "acting" always means "stage acting for row 20".

Actors knowing their craft (yes - craft) know how to make it sound like mumbled but still every word is understood by the TV audience.

But at the risk of being the lone stick in the mud on this issue, I would like to shift the context slightly, and generically defend the choice being made of a "low talking mumbling" actor.  The actors job is to serve the story. My job is to not be in the way of that job. And that includes trying to interpret his job.

 

As the production sound mixer I feel it's my role to record, as truthfully as possible, the dialogue and action during each scene. It's a delicate balance, and obviously, we, the sound department, have a lot at stake. Quite literally, our next job perhaps. With that in mind I have to be careful, that in my quest for "proper levels and intelligibility" that my ego, and my role as only one component of a larger story telling collective, doesn't take over.

 

While I fully see your point about actors' serving the story, I think that's all departments' job, and I don't think mumbling (or ADR'ing mumbled dialog later) does serve the story - except if the script says that a line is not to be intelligible.

I will never tell an actor directly to speak up. It's not my job to direct actors - that's what the director is for. So it's the director I'll be informing. In an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect the director might take me with him to talk to the actor.

The key is to create and communicate an attitude of working together, not working against each other.

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Actors will find the lens and their light in order to be seen. They'll be instructed to lean on their left foot to avoid being blocked, or hit a critical sandbag mark in order to remain in focus. Operators will talk to actors during a take, or takes will be cut if those issues aren't resolved. Why is it any different if an actor can't be heard? We're telling a story to an audience. It's the job. Actors should get their heads out of their asses and find the same compromise for their "art" as they find when they have to hit their marks or wear a costume they don't like, etc.

Nobody has ever watched TV or gone to a movie and said, "Boy, I heard those actors way to clearly. That was weird. I wish I had needed to struggle to understand them a bit more. It would have been so much more natural and real."

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I too find myself pulling the director aside all too often. Usually they understand and relay the message but rarely do they enforce it by reminding the actors when they immediately slip back into mumble territory. I usually conspire with the script sup and take turns bringing up intelligibility issues.

On a film I mixed last summer, there was an ensemble cast of 7 fairly well known and established young TV/film actors. I'd say about 4-5 of the 7 mumbled and whispered constantly (with occasional outbursts of laughter and loud lines). Drove me nuts! Most of them were fine with gentle reminders when location noise issues made projecting and "stage whispers" absolutely necessary. But one actress, perhaps the most established (in film at least) was particularly bad. She was a sweet girl but whispered every line no matter the situation. We had a driving scene with a car on a fake process trailer (rented flatbed) that was creaky and noisy, one window down for camera, etc.... I was told there was absolutely no budget for ADR and to do my best. I was really proud of the work my boom op (Ben Wong) and I did in planting mics, quieting the interior, minimizing wind. Our grip brothers and sisters did a great job quieting the crappy trailer, greasing squeaks, quieting gel frames, etc. Great team effort and our tests sounded great. All to be ruined by two actors whispering an argument scene.

Throughout the film the offending actress would often make half-joking comments like "looks like ADR time!" With a sly smile. We came to realize she either really loves ADR as a creative outlet (which I doubt) or she simply loves the extra pay!

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As one who watches lots of movies (and makes none), I can say it is hard to understand a lot of recent stuff. I find it ironic that it is easy to understand dialog from the 30's and 40's but not the 2014's. Must be that superior tube sound.

 

On the other hand, with having to turn the subtitles on all the time, maybe it will improve the U.S. reading scores.

Best,

LEF

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