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RPSharman

Sound Quality - Then and Now

29 posts in this topic

I was on a plane Friday, and decided to watch a couple of movies.

I know that headphone listening is what it is, but I watched one movie that had such poor quality production sound that it was painful. It was a big budget movie. A terrible one. But really just should have been better.

Then I watched "Fight Club" again. Beautiful.

I'll add that the other movie was mixed by an accomplished and experienced sound mixer. It could have been shooting style or lack of available crew, or any number of things other than being his fault. My point is that things have changed.

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This is a topic that I often find myself debating. 

Microphone technology has advanced, as has recording equipment (I'm going to leave pre amps out of the equation) from what my sound brothers and sisters were using in the past.

Shooting style and the work flow has become more (unnecessarily) complicated. Some days it feels more like management.

 

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Since this is such a wide open and subjective topic, I doubt we can find an answer in that one size never fits all. I will throw this out though, "Time".   Back in the day as they say, there was time to do things right. 60 day shooting schedules were the norm. One camera was the norm as was interdepartmental cooperation that was expected and a part of every set up and shot to complete a film. On top of that, actors who used the tools of the craft, their voices. Directors were seldom "first time" and usually he usually had one producer guiding the "story" they set out to make together. Add to that a reasonable post production schedule that allowed the director and producer to find the film they set out to make. And technically the dialog was one track and only the on camera actor recorded per shot. Re recording was not 196 tracks of ProTool files jammed and compressed into an over loud listening experience mixed with an unrealistic schedule where finesse is not an option. Not that we are ever going back, but something has been lost IMO. 

CrewC

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Well said, Crew, something has been lost, your comment has made me reflect again on the "good old days" and the effort and joy that went into practicing our craft. On many of the wonderful projects we were on, the level of engagement and involvement amongst ALL crew members was totally different than it is today --- there was a real sense of cooperation and mutual respect and a shared acknowledgment and satisfaction when we achieved, together, something truly magical.

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I will add one more parameter here: Background noise. Over the years, noise level has been increased dramatically. "Style" (the way, the director shoot) and "time" has been decreased, IMHO. I don't think the majority of directors, know how to handle today multi-track and multi-channel sound. Also, you can't always record "one track"; a good example is Jim Webb with Robert Altman movies.

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I put considerable effort anymore into trying to not mourn the passing of how we used to make not just movies but any sort of motion-picture project, because doing so makes me feel old and useless.  (OK, oldER and MORE useless.)   The way we used to work reflected the culture and technology of those times, ditto for today.  There used to be a Hollywood trope about how theatrical actors, writers, and producers mourned the displacement of live theatre by movies as the primary narrative medium.  That's kind of what's happened to movies now with the rise of web-based video and the ascendance of the attitudes, values, methods and technology involved, which have been brought into movies by people who started in online videos.  A lot of what we got to do on-set back in the day was a by-product of the technology in play, not the desire of producers for a better product, or at least not totally so.  Many of them would have moved faster if they could have gotten away with it!  So, I'm glad to have been there back then, but I gotta keep moving forward (ie keep up).  A recordist in the 1960s who wanted to rig set mics from ropes the way they did on the early Vitaphone etc shoots would have had a tough time getting work, today we are expected to deal with increased BG noise, track count, weird multi-camera and sync BS, no rehearsal and so on to stay employed.  What will the drill be 5 years from now?  10?  If I can afford the gear and my body holds up, it's going to be interesting!

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2 hours ago, old school said:

Since this is such a wide open and subjective topic, I doubt we can find an answer in that one size never fits all. I will throw this out though, "Time".   Back in the day as they say, there was time to do things right. 60 day shooting schedules were the norm. One camera was the norm as was interdepartmental cooperation that was expected and a part of every set up and shot to complete a film. On top of that, actors who used the tools of the craft, their voices. Directors were seldom "first time" and usually he usually had one producer guiding the "story" they set out to make together. Add to that a reasonable post production schedule that allowed the director and producer to find the film they set out to make. And technically the dialog was one track and only the on camera actor recorded per shot. Re recording was not 196 tracks of ProTool files jammed and compressed into an over loud listening experience mixed with an unrealistic schedule where finesse is not an option. Not that we are ever going back, but something has been lost IMO. 

CrewC

Well. Well said.

-Richard

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Well if I was a producer I'd want Crew and Phil on set if only for their articulate rapport! Even Sidney Lumet would approve, well said! (Read his excellent chapter on rerecording, with its great chapter title, in his book to understand).

Jez

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Well said, to all the sage gentlemen above.

Yes our equipment is better, lighter but more complex.

Two cameras, less money therefore time has propelled us into recording sound

without the usual politesse of decent rehearsals so often.

So many films and great tv series are shot wide and tight so the only solution

is lavs in ties and frocks, with the occasional inclusion of a boom (only one boom op though)

I wonder what post mixers feel about this change of quality and deal with such sound proximity?

but the results are very good as I guess with ISO tracks eq and cleaning are the way.

As for being a "sound mixer" well I guess the term is slightly old hat like "clapper loader".

I did enjoy my days of mixing a boom and several radios to a one track 4.2!

Oh well!

mike

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2 Boom ops for me if it's multi camera drama, but I don't work as much as I used to LOL

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7 hours ago, VAS said:

I will add one more parameter here: Background noise. Over the years, noise level has been increased dramatically. "Style" (the way, the director shoot) and "time" has been decreased, IMHO. I don't think the majority of directors, know how to handle today multi-track and multi-channel sound. Also, you can't always record "one track"; a good example is Jim Webb with Robert Altman movies.

The world is definitely a louder place than even 10 years VAS.  But I'd like to add a little history to your comment about Jim Webb. I did 4 or 5 films w Jim and I can absolutely tell you he hated multitrack and thought it was the wrong way to make film. He made many great points about that work flow when we talked about it because I pumped him for info many times because I liked Altman Films. He really didn't like being associated with multitrack but was proud that he and his team pulled it off with Altman, but left that camp after "A Wedding". He never looked back. I'd like to add that I think Altman was an artist who knew the craft well, so well he could push the "rules". He made many films his way, and while I liked a lot of them,  some were.....     For the record, I love the tools we have today. Coupled with a good director and story worth telling, many do great work and there is hope some will carry on. Jeff and Don and I had the fleeting good fortune to do some good work. He and Don continued to do it well and fight the good fight to do it right, but sadly, that is not an option all that often these days. Almost all of what we considered "good sound" is not wanted or recognized as such. It'd be interesting to see "An Officer and a Gentelman" mixed and posted in today's workflow world. I have a good idea what that would sound like. Not as good.;~)

Sharman's OP is a good starter for the state of sound for picture. I, like Phillip and others don't want to come off as cranky old farts bemoaning the new kids and what not, it really isn't that. I feel the product made these days is more rollercoaster ride than stories I have love since I was a 5 year old watching movies at the Fox Fullerton Theater full of kids, teen, and adults. I do see/hear good work in some of the small and independent films and that keeps my hopes alive. 

CrewC

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When HD took over, professionalism went out the window...it just snowballed into all the pinpoints everbody has mentioned.

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Hi Crew,

Thanks for the reply!

I will add this to the conversation; recent interview with Michel Chion from Designing Sound.

On long plane trips, I sometimes watch an action movie without putting the earplugs (the ones they offer sound really bad and you still have the noise of the airplane disturbing your perception). I can still follow the action thanks to the subtitles. The film is still enjoyable, even if we “lose” a lot of its expressive intentions. I think that today those who work in the film industry know that a film should be “audio-viewed” in very different contexts and therefore it should be compatible with all of them.

http://designingsound.org/2017/05/finding-the-right-words-an-interview-with-michel-chion/

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Watching film without sound allows me to focus on the truthfulness of the acting

and the camera operation/shots plus the editing!

I'm not just a sound guy!

mike

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1 hour ago, mikewest said:

Watching film without sound allows me to focus on the truthfulness of the acting

and the camera operation/shots plus the editing!

I'm not just a sound guy!

mike

This is my main problem watching movies.
I can't enjoy a movie anymore; as I am paying attention to those details.
For me, a good movie is when I am absorded into the story; which happens when technical parts are good or perfect.
Of course this a personal subject, I think.

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I was referring to watching a movie without listening on an aircraft

with hi ambient and cheap headphones.

I enjoy going to watching a good  movie at a cinema an great UK tv drama

on my 7.1 home cinema and I get absorbed by great script / casting / acting and photography

BUT I make judgements on the sound approach / focus and rogue hairs on closeups !!!

Maybe I should have been a director ???????

mike

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As Mark Ulano said: Be a filmmaker who specializes in sound, rather than a sound person who specializes in filmmaking.

 

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3 hours ago, VAS said:

As Mark Ulano said: Be a filmmaker who specializes in sound, rather than a sound person who specializes in filmmaking.

 

Excellent advice. That is the POV that the best sound people I've worked with all shared.

CrewC

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Hmm, as far as I'm concerned, I have always been a filmmaker who happens to have been lucky enough to move into a technical area I enjoy doing - whilst making films.

Not quite sure what Mark was alluding to. I'm also proud to be a sound engineer who specialises in film!

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+1 for Mr. Ulano.  Having this attitude is very helpful to feeling good about what you do.

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17 hours ago, Philip Perkins said:

+1 for Mr. Ulano.  Having this attitude is very helpful to feeling good about what you do.

Except when you're the only filmmaker on set, and then you just feel like shit. 

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I just went to a bug budget movie,and the dialog sounded like crap througout. But I could tell it was the fault of the re-recording mixer,  amd too much rx-noise reduction.

 

Godawful.

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As the legend Jim Webb said to me on a job in the 1980's sometime, "Doug, they just don't make movies like they used to."  Nothing new to out complaints.

D.

 

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A few UK movies are well cast and shot against a good script.

Meanwhile there is good TV drama from the UK and USA that are worthwhile.

IMHO

mike

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