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SBretzke

Sound is no longer respected on set?

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After trolling JWSound and other sound-focused corners of the web (along with *gasp* real-life conversations), it seems to me nearly everyone agrees that production sound- and even sound overall- is gradually being respected less and less by those above and below the line on many productions. Many long-time production sound mixers on this forum hearken back to the "good ol' days" where the production sound team was actually given deference instead of snide remarks or just ignored altogether, a tragic degradation of the profession. Of course, every production is different and some are far worse than others, but there does seem to be a trend in most areas of the film and video industry, regardless of budget. 

What are some of the causes of this? Is there any hope for "reclaiming our honor", so to speak?

One thing that confuses me is how the most prolific, respected, and successful directors are very open about treating sound (both production and post) the way it's supposed to be treated- as inextricable from and equally important as picture- yet this mindset has not trickled down to the rest of the industry. Surely aspiring (aka the bottom 99%) filmmakers would want to emulate what the best-of-the-best are doing in ALL aspects of movie making, not just the flashy camera stuff? 

Those of you who have been in the industry for a long time, what has changed? Is it simply the faulty "anything can be fixed in post" mindset, or is there more to it?

Lastly, what can people like myself, people more recently entering the sound field, do to keep the perception of sound from degrading further? How can we improve things for future generations?

Looking forward to hearing all your thoughts!

 

-Siegen

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The main diffs come down to how a director gets a good sound track anymore: the means, the costs, the time involved.  All crafts involved in movie production have been demeaned by technologies that make the work faster, easier, simpler, so the people doing the work are considered less important than they once might have been.  In sound it is really down the change from a PSM making a mono mix on location that was the only sound the director would have going into their edit to being able to have a wire on every speaking part going to a separate unmixed channel on a multitrack recorder, followed by the ability of computer-based sound editing and mixing systems to work with those tracks in a fast and efficient manner.  This has fostered the trend of "shoot the rehearsal", having every shot a multicamera shot, and not worrying a whole lot about location BG noise or even quality of vocal performance.  This trend exists because it works, for a lot of filmmakers, well enough.  It isn't anything that a PSM can fight or even resist a whole lot if you want to work.  Some of us still make mono mixes on location (in addition to recording PF isos) because we see value in those mixes, but we pretty much don't expect the kind of rehearsals or time allowed for adjustments on a series of takes that we won't get anymore.   Sorry.  Yes, it was kind of more fun in the old days.

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Walter Murch touches on this topic a fair bit in his excellent essay Stretching Sound to Help the Mind See (http://filmsound.org/murch/stretching.htm). It's absolutely required reading in my opinion.
 

Quote

POWER on a film tends to gravitate toward those who control a bottleneck of some kind. Stars wield this kind of power, extras do not; the director of photography usually has more of it than the production designer. Film sound in its first few years was one of these bottlenecks, and so the Man Behind the Window held sway, temporarily, with a kingly power he has never had since.

 

The true nature of sound, though — its feminine fluidity and malleability — was not revealed until the perfection of the sprocketed 35-millimeter optical sound track (1929), which could be edited, rearranged and put in different synchronous relationships with the image, opening up the bottleneck created by the inflexible Vitaphone process. This opening was further enlarged by the discovery of re-recording (1929-30), where several tracks of sound could be separately controlled and then recombined.

 


The truth is that the tools of our trade have steadily become more effective and much more discrete. As I see it. it's not so much that we have lost the privilege of being able to call "cut",  but that we've been liberated from the need to. Technology has opened up the bottlenecks in our workflow allowing us a lot of flexibility compared to other departments. The problem is communicating the limits of that flexibility, and the cost of pushing it too far.

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Along with what's been mentioned, some other contributions to this:

 

1) Changes from the studio system where tradespeople were groomed and mentored as well as taught the value of the entire process (others can speak to this more than I).

 

2) Digital filmmaking and the loss of discipline that has resulted from everyone becoming an instant expert.

 

3) The proliferation of multi-camera shoots.  This has meant even more attention to the image by more people while our crew remains the same, or even sometimes shrinks.  Being so massively outnumbered, sound too often becomes the "bastard stepchild".

 

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I wasn't around for the "good ol days" but one thing I've learned in my so far relatively short career is how it's very important to maintain a good working relationship with the AD on set.  The smoothest sets I've been on were ones with capable and understanding AD's whom you basically get to the point where you don't even need to ask them for things, they come to you automatically (Time to wire talent / do you want to turn this noise source off etc).  You don't want a relationship with an AD where they just presume things or don't seem to care (Roll Sound!  While you are literally mic'ing the main actor right in front of their face).  That being said, there are some AD's that are just useless and they'll disregard you (just dealt with one like this recently after a string of great ones) and it just makes you and the boom op miserable and stressed the entire production.  Character flaw?  Maybe.  But often times the "above the line" are trying to shoot that feature that was originally scheduled for 30 days in 25 (without any cuts) so everyone is just running around like a mad man in general.

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AD's work for the director and producer and while they are usually highly capable and creative people their next gig comes to them because they minded the clock to a fanatical degree.  So many AD's end up being punching bags for narcissistic directors (and DPs) that they sometimes resort to demonstrating their fealty by publicly steamrollering crew people.  It's a sick situation, and results in everyone hiding who can hide.  The sound dept, esp if you are working alone, can't hide.  So, often we take the heat for everyone.  We've all had the experience of working for an AD who makes it clear that they don't really care whether or not you get usable sound on that shot/scene/job.  At that point some diplomacy well-grounded in applied psychology may help you, except on those days where nothing and no one helps you.

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I have to say, It's not just us in SOUND....

  It seems to be that most of what we now do is 20lbs of Sh*t in a 5Lb. bag....   The bottom has fallen out in 20 ways...with all departments suffering to some degree...  It's more about quantity than quality... In our world, the Commercial world, I have not seen any really creative and pretty stuff shot in years...  It's all agency driven.. mostly crap...  and nobody seems to care about anything... just getting the crap done on time and under ever shrinking budgets..  

The creative Directors and DPs want to do more of course, and are really talented, but are tied up in time and money... and poor quality boards to have to shoot.

Sad... 

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It's not universal, but I have seen a shift in the commercial world from the directors and the agency enablers being filmmakers of a particular kind to being (just) branding people, without much of any vision beyond The Brand as far as the spot goes.  The spots are way less important to them than how their logo looks on a website, the social media buzz and if they can get someone on a talk show to mention their brand...

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2 minutes ago, Philip Perkins said:

The spots are way less important to them than how their logo looks on a website, the social media buzz and if they can get someone on a talk show to mention their brand...

Anyone been on an agency shoot where they turned the camera to shoot "vertical" for smartphones / social media?  A part of my film school dreams died that day.

Friends don't let friends shoot vertical video...

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Today I think respect is the problem for all departments. In the Golden Olden Days, respect for the process, the whole process was the norm. We were all working on the same film, trying to make it the way the Director envisioned it. The crew was given the time to set it up right and then hand it over to the Actors and Director for the performance to be captured by all outside the frame. Everyone did their part as well as they could. All were involved and appreciated for their effort.  Also few of us started at the top, we came up through the ranks, learning the craft(s) from many, respectful to most. Seems like a smart way to work still. This is not to say there wasn't a "good enough for scale" mentality to some shows (mostly TV before it became what it is today) or the "Gone with the Wind" in the morning and "Dukes of Hazard" in the evening as the sun set style that was sloppy but ok for TV as we used to say. Then and now, we created "Product". Back then, our boss's were like us, they came up through the ranks and knew what was needed to make said "Product". Now days our boss's often are MBA's who run the system and have little idea of what we do and what the craft of film making is. The new tools (digital everything) plays a part as the tools are more powerful but what use is that power without vision (Story/Script/Director/Actors) who know how to bring it to life. A sad arch but the way I deal with it is to give the best quality I can under all conditions and go home knowing I did my part as well as I could. 

CrewC

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Who said that Sound had the respect of the crew, generally speaking", in the good old days?  I've been doing this for 30+ years and sound has always been the red-headed stepchild on the set. When I was young and asked this same question, the answer was always the same.  I'm guessing that covers a 60 to 70-year span from then to now.  Probably the only time that sound commanded respect on the set was when sound was new and there was no way to work around it and even then the camera people were bristling at the idea that some other department could come in and tell them what to do. I imagine that once looping was figured out that that became a way for the DP to tell the producer that we don't have to wait for those sound guys anymore.  And, with that, power was restored back to the camera dept.

 

Respect is always earned and rarely given for free.  It is never earned by yelling but given when others see your example.  If you help others without their asking, are courteous, choose your battles, treat your crew and the rest of the crew with respect, you will earn respect.  In short, don't be a dick and help with the hard stuff.

 

Most sets that I've worked on, our dept had the respect of the crew because of what I've mentioned above.  The few times that our dept didn't have it was because of one of two things:  Someone on our crew was a cantankerous asshole, usually a mixer that should have retired years ago, or some other bigoted dept head that should have retired years ago poisoned the pot.

 

I listen to my crew and treat them fairly as we make up the plan for each shot. My crew members always eat before me.  I do this because they work hard and I'm appreciative of them.  They don't even know that I do that, but I do it because I'm grateful for them. 

 

My 2 cents worth. YMMV

 

Mirror

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Well, at 43 years in I can say that even on smallish old time (for me) shoots there was an understanding that there would be more than one take of most shots, following a no-shoot rehearsal.  This was particularly the case if I was expected to mix two or more mics to mono as part of the action.  It wasn't a respect thing so much as an acknowledgment that it took some time and rehearsal to get the shot right.  There is hostility to this concept now, either because working that way is thought of as obstructionistic in light of the new technology or because we are interested in picking up on "real life" or "process" etc where everything is shootable and shot all the time. 

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12 hours ago, codyman said:

Anyone been on an agency shoot where they turned the camera to shoot "vertical" for smartphones / social media?  A part of my film school dreams died that day.

Friends don't let friends shoot vertical video...

No Joke, happend to me yesterday for the first time! It was a big commercial company and the short clip was for facebook. And they wanted a half of the picture headroom with sky to color it in their ci color! Have you ever boomed from the side? But after a hour they did it in 16:9 after the dp said they can crop it if they shot in 4k! But the verical test and beginning was bad and it will be vertical at the and for smartphones. That development is very sad, for the camera guys too!

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9 hours ago, afewmoreyears said:

"Always eat before me" 

That's funny...

 

On our sets, it's every person for themselves... 

Possibly less worried about food poisoning.

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I don’t see a big problem. Picture used to be 4:3 or widescreen, now it’s upright or widescreen. Big deal. They just need to be sure they are still compatible with their desired release format. If they want it on Facebook only and have found that their target audience reacts better to upright, why not? 

But if they want to release it at various different outlets, they‘ll have a problem with upright video. But this is their choice to make. 

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19 hours ago, codyman said:

Anyone been on an agency shoot where they turned the camera to shoot "vertical" for smartphones / social media?  A part of my film school dreams died that day.

Friends don't let friends shoot vertical video...

 

Did a shoot which was framed square ratio for instagram, thus the actors at the table had a tonne of headroom and I found myself in one of those rare scenarios when I simply wasn't tall enough!!

 

 

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Soooo........ there were these 3 great looking gals from the mid west who decided to hop on a bus and go to Hollywood to see if they could "break in to the biz" during their first summer before college. They got a room at the YWCA, answered an ad for 3 weeks of 100 extras in a big studio picture, and abracadabra, they were extras on the set of a blockbuster movie. At lunch towards the end of the 3rd week, one of the girls confessed to the other two that she was sleeping with the producer of the movie who had already promised her a leading role in his next project. Well, said the second gal, I'm sleeping with the director, and he has promised me the leading role in his next movie. The 3rd girl then said, well, if we're kissing and telling, I'M sleeping with the sound man. "WHAT?!" the other two said. What the hell does that get you? You obviously haven't been paying attention around here said girl three. Everywhere you go on this set, everyone is always saying, fuck sound.

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One of the "classic" sound jokes Ed. Well played.

mirror makes a legit point about respect being earned. Always been that way. What bothers me most is the lack of respect for the process. When people talk, walk, work while we are rolling should be unacceptable for obvious reasons to the producer, actors, directors and on down the line. It's not these days as you can't keep a modern set quite, (especially commercials). Crazy. Long ago I saw a director have a crew member fired for his walkie going off during a take, now I'm sure that the offender would answer back on the walkie.

CrewC

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1 hour ago, old school said:

One of the "classic" sound jokes Ed. Well played.

mirror makes a legit point about respect being earned. Always been that way. What bothers me most is the lack of respect for the process. When people talk, walk, work while we are rolling should be unacceptable for obvious reasons to the producer, actors, directors and on down the line. It's not these days as you can't keep a modern set quite, (especially commercials). Crazy. Long ago I saw a director have a crew member fired for his walkie going off during a take, now I'm sure that the offender would answer back on the walkie.

CrewC

I always tell people.."It's not (YOU).... It's you and 20 other people... NOW we have a serious problem every take...

  It was the ONLY thing I liked about being on a TV Show... When the bell rang, people stopped where they were standing and stayed quiet and did not move until the 2 bells rang....   On our shows, it's the wild west....

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Six years ago, Randy Thom and I developed an idea for a book called Half the Movie.

 

Aside from the in-joke of the title, it was to be about practical--as opposed to film-theory--sound design: what a director / producer / sound designer should be considering, at each step of the process; techniques for thinking creatively about sound; and examples from big and little films.

 

We wrote a seven page proposal and outline. My publisher liked the idea and gave us a contract. Unfortunately neither Randy nor I had time to actually write the thing, so we bagged the project. I think now its moment may have passed.

 

--

 

On the other hand, I've been really impressed with the creative design in a few of this year's awards screeners. Some people are still doing good work, even if it's an uphill battle.

 

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18 hours ago, old school said:

mirror makes a legit point about respect being earned. Always been that way. What bothers me most is the lack of respect for the process. When people talk, walk, work while we are rolling should be unacceptable for obvious reasons to the producer, actors, directors and on down the line. It's not these days as you can't keep a modern set quite, (especially commercials). Crazy. Long ago I saw a director have a crew member fired for his walkie going off during a take, now I'm sure that the offender would answer back on the walkie.

 


Why does he even need a walkie talkie? Clearly his ears are only painted on, he isn't using them.

 

15 hours ago, Jay Rose said:

We wrote a seven page proposal and outline. My publisher liked the idea and gave us a contract. Unfortunately neither Randy nor I had time to actually write the thing, so we bagged the project. I think now its moment may have passed.

 


Never too late! Do it. (either that, or these "talkies" are just a passing fad which are going to end any moment now)

If anything, that kind of advice is more timeless than say technical books are. 

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About the 'moment passing' for Randy's and my book:


I'd love to pick it up again. But it needs a big time slice from both of us. I can't think of anyone else with Randy's combination of practical experience, creative and tech chops, historic perspective, and writing/explaining ability.

 

 

Besides, he owns half the proposal. 

 

I'm semi-retired now, doing only the things that come in over the transom, and a few low-budget indies for small money when the film and filmmaker interest me. Plus some contract writing -- mostly manuals for high-end broadcast gear -- which pays pretty well (the way I do it). So I could conceivably work on a book now. But Randy's still very busy with film commitments. And I wouldn't do this project without him.

 

I don't even want to waste his time asking about it now. But if you're in the SF area and see him regularly, you might drop a few hints...

 

--

I think it's Larry Niven who said something like "A book collaboration is a partnership where each party does 75% of the work." So it takes a real commitment.

 

 

 

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