The Director's Chair Issue #13 – April 23, 2001 (Letter from Your Sound Department – Part 1)
THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
Free Monthly Ezine for Film and Television Directors
April 23, 2001 Scene 2 – Take 4
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Publisher: Peter D. Marshall
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3. Back Issues of The Director’s Chair
4. Looking for Volunteers
5. Quote of the Month
6. Feature Article – Your Sound Department (Part 1)
7. Directing Tips – A List of Hard Truths
8. Film Links of Interest – Film Schools around the world.
9. And Now a Word From our Sponsors
10. Out Takes – PLOT-O-MATIC˙
11. Share This Ezine
12. Suggestions & Comments
13. Copyright Information
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Welcome to Issue #13 of The Director’s Chair (April 23, 2001).
1) FREE BONUS for Subscribers of The Director’s Chair.
If you are a subscriber to The Director’s Chair, you are entitled
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2) The Feature Article this month is Part One of “An Open Letter
from Your Sound Department”. This is a very informative letter
written by over 40 audio professionals to help directors and
producers understand how good sound can be recorded on the set.
This article discuses what the sound problems are on the set and
how each department can help the sound department get the best
sound for the Director. Because of the length of this article, I
have divided it into Three parts. Parts Two and Three will be
published in future issues.
3) The Directing Tip this month comes from Brian Dannelly – an LA
Director who gives us a “List of Hard Truths” about filmmaking.
4) Part 3 of Tony John’s series, “The Commercial Director” will
be published in the next issue. (May, 2001)
5) Check out “THE BUSY PERSON’S GUIDE TO DIRECTING” where I
review the best Film and Television Directing Websites and keep
you updated on the best Directing Websites in my weekly Directing
45-Second Newsletter. Each issue will include more filmmaking
websites, links to film and TV directing articles, and a weekly
Directing Tip. http://wz.com/arts/Directing.html
6) If you want to write reviews of your favorite movies, TV
shows, books, magazines and Websites, submit your articles to me
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3. BACK ISSUES OF “THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR”
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5. QUOTE OF THE MONTH
“I’m not the heroic type. Really, I was beaten up by Quakers.”
Woody Allen in “Sleeper”
6. FEATURE ARTICLE – An Open Letter from Your Sound Department
“An Open Letter from Your Sound Department” – Part One
This letter is being written by audio professionals to help
directors and producers understand how good sound can be recorded
on the set. We want to help you make the best film possible.
For this piece, we will not discuss the topic of mixing itself,
as this is the “hocus pocus” part that you trust us to do so
We want you to have information that will enable you to evaluate
what is interfering with good sound, before a hasty decision is
made that can harm the quality of your film’s sound. To help you
make your decision you need to know about some of the obstacles
that we sound people face, before we can even begin to get usable
production sound on the set.
This is after all, the age day of digital sound. Theaters have
wonderful THX (the audience IS listening) and SDDS with 5.1
surround. Home audio is often better than many theaters as a
sophisticated audience demands DVDs with 24 bits. Yet, today’s
sound at it’s source on set is suffering like never before.
We, the sound crew, are the ones that you depend on to create and
protect YOUR original sound tracks during production.
Unlike the work of the majority of the people who are working for
on-camera results, the mixer’s efforts can not be “seen” on the
set. Almost no one hears what the microphone picks up. Too few
are sure just what we do. Only the most obviously bad noises are
even brought up for discussion.
Included in our job is to monitor the sets for unnecessary,
accidental, ignorant and sometimes even malicious actions or lack
of actions that may compromise your sound track. To emphasize
this point: WE DO THIS SO YOU WILL HAVE THE BEST TRACKS POSSIBLE;
IT IS NOT FOR US.
We are too often frustrated by the state of conditions that now
exist on most sets. Many times we are expected to solve all sound
problems alone. Instead, this should always be a cooperative
effort with the assistant directors and other crafts.
Sound mixers are often perceived as pests or even a hindrance to
the film’s progress. We don’t like being put in this untenable
position because it is humiliating and unnecessary. We don’t like
to be considered adversarial to the rest of the production and we
certainly don’t want to be the “sound police”!
A mixer on a tough show, who fights alone to get you good sound,
stands a good chance of burning out from all the excuses and
defenses put up. It’s hard to put it all out there without
support. The temptation is to cave into the pressure and just go
with the flow, and no good can come when that happens.
The problems that we face may lead you to believe that good sound
cannot be achieved without set disruptions and added costs. This
would not be necessary if reasonable measures are anticipated and
endorsed by you both in pre-production and during production.
We know the limitations of our equipment. For example,
microphones are just tools, they don’t make miracles happen. If
on-set audio problems are not dealt with immediately, they will
only be back to haunt you again in postproduction.
You can help us do a better job for you. Good sound can most
often be achieved by using reasonable preparation to avoid
We need your understanding and your backing.
THEN AND NOW
To understand the sorry state of audio affairs today, you must go
back in time.
There once existed a major studio system where an assembly line
of crafts worked together to churn out film products. No matter
which studio we worked at, all crafts understood they were
expected to take reasonable measures within their purview to
allow for good sound recordings. It was instilled as part of
their job description. These duties were passed on to the young
apprentices. Grips cut microphone shadows sharply with flags. The
electric department would change out a noisy light that buzzed.
Camera assistants would try everything possible to quiet camera
noise and many is the time that an operator had blankets and
pillows over them and the noisy camera. Every other craft would
do whatever was deemed reasonable to help get good sound, because
it was considered to be part of their job. No one had to try to
persuade them to do it. It was an era where reasonable
co-operation with the Sound Department was the normal way to make
Today’s crafts still have pride in their jobs but it seems they
NO LONGER consider sound assistance to be a part of their job
description. The problems began when the in-house studio training
system broke down as non-union independent films proliferated.
Along the way, the process of learning what their jobs entailed
changed the way they perceived sound. The other crafts now don’t
think they should do anything to help YOU get good sound for YOUR
movie. There is no longer an apprenticeship system to pass along
this knowledge. They now learn on the job under fire through
They must now be requested in each instance to do reasonable
things, which are necessary to protect YOUR sound tracks, because
they just don’t consider it to be a part of their job anymore.
The Sound Department would gladly cut the shadow on the back wall
of the set ourselves or cover the noisy camera, but that’s not
how the game is played. Instead, we have to convince, cajole,
coerce, plead and use every other psychological persuasion
technique to get the other crafts to help us prevent sound
That last second, scrambling time on set should only be used to
fix the unexpected problems which will inevitably occur. Instead,
that last second is the first time that the sound mixer finds out
about changes in dialog, staging or unwanted noises from on or
off of the set.
All of the other departments work for what is seen and not heard.
Every single person on the production from make up and wardrobe
to grips and props concentrates only on what’s seen in the
Because the other production crafts work only for picture, no one
knows or cares what’s happening to YOUR audio.
You are the only person on set with the power to allow us to get
you good sound. It is always tempting for sound to give in and
not go against the grain when circumstances impose impossible
Film schools are going to need to add psychology courses to their
sound mixing curriculum soon. The situation is often that bad.
That is why we want you to know as much as possible about the
audio minefield lurking on every set.
What may often seem to you to be a lot of complaining, is in fact
simply communicating negative factors to you, so that you will
know what you are getting on your sound tracks, and what sound
problems can be fixed NOW. For bottom line, these are YOUR
choices. Just because we hear a noise does not make it a sound
problem. It is your problem too. After all, we turn over the
tracks to you at the end of the day.
After reading this, hopefully it will be much easier for you to
make the informed decision about when it’s really the time to
loop. It’s far too late to reverse a sound calamity later in
Even though this topic is last in the chain of events, we should
start first by talking about why ADR is not a fix.
PART TWO TOPICS – Looping, Sound Problems on the Set, Locations
Preproduction, Art Department, Assistant Directors, Production
Managers, Camera Department
PART THREE TOPICS – Special Effects, Wardrobe, Props, Grips,
Electrics, Craft Service, Transportation, Actors, Directors,
An Open Letter from your Sound Department. Written by John Coffey
<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>, with help from Randy Thom,
Jeff Wexler, Noah Timan, Mike Hall, John Garrett, Scott Smith,
Rob Young, Mike Filosa, Wolf Seeberg, Darren Brisker, Charles
Wilborn, Todd Russell, Brydon Baker, Larry Long, Glen Trew, Dave
Schaaf, Charles Tomaras, Klay Anderson, Brian Shennan, Hans
Hansen, David Marks, Bob Gravenor, Von Varga, Mark Steinbeck,
Carl Cardin, Eric Toline, Joseph Cancila, Stu Fox, Peter Devlin,
Matt Nicolay and many others.
7. DIRECTING TIPS – Hard Truths from Brian Dannelly
a) Clean your mess up. Get high too much? Hate your parents?
Irresponsible? Can‚t let go of your last relationship? Get a
handle on these things. They will not serve you or your career
well and you need every ounce of your being to do your best work.
b) Don‚t hide behind the camera. Knowing everything about the
camera and processing film is great but the most important part
of your job as a director is working with actors. Take classes
and be an actor.
c) Start writing your feature NOW: Just made an awesome short and
you are in all the best festivals? It won‚t mean a thing if you
don‚t have a feature project ready to go. So:
– Write two minutes a day and write badly.
– Don‚t try to write a blockbuster. Write about what you know,
then lie like crazy.
– Always write the kind of film that you want to see.
– REMEMBER: Your first draft is going to suck. Your first script
will probably suck. You will spend more than double the time you
spent writing the script on rewriting the script.
– Don‚t talk about your script; write it. The more people who
know all your cool ideas the less of a reason you have to write
d) Your short should convey your ability to direct actors, tell
a story and reflect your visual style. It does not have to be
the best short ever made.
e) You make films – you‚re a filmmaker. The faster you believe
this, the easier it will be to take all the risks and do all the
work you need to do in the future. Become part of the greater
f) Help your fellow filmmakers anyway you can. You‚ll need their
help when you make your film and the bigger the project, the more
you‚ll have to get used to collaboration and working with people
you don‚t know or like. MAKE YOUR PRODUCTION AS PROFESSIONAL AS
POSSIBLE AND EXPECT THE SAME FROM YOUR TEAM. Show up on time,
don‚t bitch about your head cold or your f*cked up relationship,
and support the director.
g) Get used to technology. It‚s the future, don‚t bore people
with your love of the flatbed editing system or how you‚ll never
have a cell phone or a computer. There are enough things working
against you make these tools work for you.
h) How do I know if I want to be a filmmaker? Don‚t worry, if
you‚re not a filmmaker you won‚t be able to do all the things you
need to do to sustain a career. It’s brutal, humiliating, and
impossible and there are no guarantees, not many people are that
passionate about the work to face up to these assaults.
i) Know the business of filmmaking. I would suggest subscribing
to Variety.com or Showbizdata.com to keep yourself updated. Know
how to handle yourself in a room, what to wear and the art of
being discreet. I highly recommend reading, “The Hollywood
Rules” by Anonymous (available through Barnesandnoble.com).
About the Author: Brian Dannelly is a writer/director living in
Los Angles. He graduated from the American Film Institute in
1999 and is currently directing his first feature with Single
Cell Pictures. In addition, he and his writing partner, Michael
Urban are about to go out and pitch two new screenplays,
“Runner-Up” and “Phresh Start.” Dannelly can be reached via
email at mailto:email@example.com
8. FILM LINKS OF INTEREST – Film schools around the world.
I was asked by a subscriber to include a list of film schools
from around the world. Here is the link to a website that
includes 100’s of world film schools to choose from.
1) The RML Page of Film Schools
9. AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS…
“The Filmmaker’s Handbook : A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital
Age” by Steven Ascher, Edward Pincus, Carol Keller
If film has a language, The Filmmaker’s Handbook is your translation
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chapters, and nine appendices, the authors detail virtually
everything you need to know about filmmaking.
There is probably more information here than anyone needs to
know, from which lens to choose all the way through final editing
and sound mixing. But too much information is not a bad thing.
This is the kind of book that a blossoming filmmaker will surely
EZINES – EZINES – EZINES
10. OUT TAKES – PLOT-O-MATIC
Have you ever sat in the movie theater and thought, “Hey, I can
write a better movie than this!”? Well, it’s true. And it’s
easier than you think!
Now, thanks to the brand new PLOT-O-MATIC˙, you can come up with
plots just like the big boys do. And make the same easy money!
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want to include in your movie. When you’re happy with your
choices, hit LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! and voila! A plot pitch you
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