The Director's Chair Issue #15 – June 18, 2001 (Letter from Your Sound Department – Part 2)
THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
Free Monthly Ezine for Film and Television Directors
June 18, 2001 Scene 2 – Take 6
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Welcome to Issue #15 of The Director’s Chair (June 18, 2001).
1) The Feature Article this month is Part Two of “An Open Letter
from Your Sound Department”. This very informative letter was
written by over 40 audio professionals to help directors and
producers understand how good sound can be recorded on the set.
2) The Directing Tip this month comes from Mike Cecotka,
“10 Easy Steps to Shooting a Feature in 65 Hours!”
3) Check out “THE BUSY PERSON’S GUIDE TO DIRECTING” where I
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7. FEATURE ARTICLE – An Open Letter from Your Sound Department
To read “An Open Letter from Your Sound Department” – Part One
“An Open Letter from Your Sound Department” – Part Two
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.
It is important to understand the gravity and consequences caused
when the words “We’ll loop it” are used.
You are obviously aware that extra ADR adds a financial burden to
your budget, but the consequences are much greater than that.
Looping is only an answer for situations where all else fails!
It’s not a quick fix later if the original set problems could
have easily have been rectified with just a little time,
knowledge or communication. Looping means that you are also
making a huge artistic compromise that damages the film in many
other ways in which you may not be so aware.
Obviously, you realize that the actor’s performance is always
better in production than in an ADR booth. Making a film is an
artistic endeavor that lives forever! You cast great actors to
bring together the collaborative efforts of film making and then
you lose the essence of the scene by looping! The voice of a
great actor totally in character, moving and interacting with
other actors in three dimensional space is a treasure. It
breathes life into the film.
Sure, ADR will have less noise than even the best set recording
made with cameras rolling, but in fact we know it lacks any
spontaneity, as well as the emotional truth of what’s captured
when you use your artists talents on the set. It can’t be
duplicated. ADR is not acting. The greatest method actors all
hate it and at best, it is only a close recreation of the
Looping also just eats into a post budget’s financial and time
constraints, which would be far better spent utilizing their
magical tools to enrich the film.
When you just have to loop, the new forward thinking by many
respected post sound professionals (such as Randy Thom from
Skywalker) is to loop it immediately on or close to the set and
as soon possible after the scene. These advocates know that the
performance will be better so soon after filming the scene and
the sound will be more natural if done in the same environment
with the offending noises locked down. There are companies that
specialize in on set looping using the video assist tapes for
picture in portable studios.
Looping at best is usually fiscally irresponsible. Be sure that
the audio problem really can’t be fixed BEFORE you make a
decision that you will regret later. Never allow the simple
impatience of the moment on set be your real reason to loop! Be
sure you have first covered all reasonable alternatives.
SOUND PROBLEMS ON THE SET
The majority of events that ruin sound tracks are totally
predictable and happen over and over, show after show, year after
These are obstacles that are clearly identifiable and
quantifiable. The difference between getting good sound or bad
sound is often determined by how many of these predictable
negative factors take place on your particular show and how they
There are few problems that don’t have solutions if proper
diligence can be taken in advance. The sound mixer is your
advocate here. Let’s try to identify the audio problems which
each craft brings to your film.
Good sound begins by anticipating the outcome well in advance.
Communicate early and often with your mixer in pre-production.
Pay the mixer to go listen to potential problem sets ahead of
time. Let them make a mock recording to see what can be dialed
out in post. Do this before the locations are locked in and
before the scouts with your key department heads. If the mixer is
still on another show, have them designate a trusted associate to
go for them. In the end, it’s cost effective.
More can be done here to save a film’s audio than any other
department. Picking sets should have consideration for sound. At
least try to weigh in environmental noise factors! We just ask
that a minimal amount of consideration be given to potential
audio problems. Often, we shoot in a place which could have
easily been substituted for another location or on a weekend.
Many times we film at a location which has construction, traffic,
schools, airplane patterns and other background noise which are
quite obvious. Only shoot those kinds of locations when it’s
absolutely necessary and essential to the film.
Lock down all the noise problems before we get to the set.
Always consider the control of the air conditioning. This is a
must! Without a/c control, the audio background will change from
shot to shot as the air goes on and off. If it is a large
building, have someone standing by with a walkie-talkie to turn
the air back on after each shot. When exterior, it can be just as
important to kill a/c units that are near the set.
Have control on all noise makers in sets such as bars, offices
and hospitals. All refrigerators, computers, ice makers, x-ray
and other machines must be able to be turned off.
Ask to schedule filming during non- work times in locations such
as bars and restaurants.
Avoid tin roofs during rainy season.
Make sure sets can be cabled by electric and still keep windows,
doors and openings closed.
Confer with the sound department when adding noisy set furniture,
computers and machinery.
Try to consider overhead mics before building low covered
ceilings, hanging lamps and cross beams.
Inject foam into constructed stairs and steps to get rid of
hollow footsteps over dialog.
Whenever possible, carpet sets to deaden echo and live rooms.
Especially consider these taking this step in rooms where the
majority of dialog takes place.
None of these implementation plans will succeed if the ADs don’t
support YOUR sound on the film. Sometimes they don’t! The crew
will take their cue to stop co-operating if it’s clear the ADs
react at the expense of getting good sound. Derogatory statements
like “waiting on sound” and “just loop it” are unproductive and
sap our spirit.
Get police traffic lock downs when possible.
Get quiet lock ups on set. Do not allow any walking. Station your
PA’s at key locations outside, and most especially under windows.
(Keep the PA’s from talking too) “Lock It Up” means that we
should not hear any work noise from our crews. No engines,
talking, etc. Have your walkie set up with priority override
function so as to announce the roll across all walkie-talkie
channels being used by all departments.
Allow the sound department to make quick corrections that are
Enforce pantomiming from the background extras.
Allocate a reasonable time and place for an actor to get wired.
It won’t help go faster if you push the sound crew to wire faster
if the actor insists on getting wired at the last second on the
set. Conversely, don’t make the boom operator sit outside a
star’s dressing room just wasting valuable time that could be
used to work out other sound problems on set.
When there are closed rehearsals, make sure the boom operator
gets to see at least one rehearsal before the actors leave the
Honor wild line requests before releasing the actors.
Honor room tone requests before breaking the set up, and stop all
talk and movement. Room tones are very important to get before
the ambient sound changes.
In plane infested locations, roll as soon as the engine noise
tails out before another plane comes in. Keep the set quiet
enough to determine the status of the incoming and outgoing
Be sure to inform Sound Department at least two days ahead of
playback days. Have the office send a post approved tape with
sync. Don’t expect that a CD or cassette will suffice.
Have all walkie-talkies, cell phones and pagers turned off during
takes and final rehearsals. They can wreck havoc on wireless
An Open Letter from your Sound Department. Written by John Coffey
<mailto:email@example.com>, 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.
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8. DIRECTING TIP – Shooting a Feature in 65 Hours!
DIRECTOR PROVES THEORY:
“10 EASY STEPS TO SHOOTING A FEATURE IN 65 HOURS!”
January 29, 2001 – Toronto, Ontario – Producer/Director Mike
Slawomir Cecotka’s perfect formula for first time filmmakers with
an ultra low budget has proven successful. It took 5 months of
pre-production and almost six days to shoot the Hollywood Sunrise
Studio feature “Schizophrenia”.
The concept “From script to screen in 60 days” was born in August
2000, when he started the adaptation to screenplay. His
objective: to finish entire feature in 60 days. “That’s (both)
the shooting and editing with custom sound FX and original music
score,” says Cecotka.
“I have 7 more projects, which I want to direct, and I don’t want
to spend next 14 years doing that,” he illustrates. Instead of 4
weekends as planned in August, he was able to finish the feature
in 2 and a half, averaging 12-13 pages of script per 12-hour day.
He attests his success thus far to following his “10 easy steps
to shoot your film in 65 hours!”:
A Simple Script & Sticking to Schedule
1. Your script has to be simple – up to 5 speaking parts,
2 locations max. Shoot your movie in sequence.
2. Stick to your schedule for pre-production, shooting and
editing. In August I made a decision to start principal
photography on Jan 5, 2001 and I did. This also builds great
credibility for your future project with investors. The only
time you break this rule is when somebody gets sick.
3. The “Two Take Only” Rule. You must have good actors to pull
next rule – “Two takes only”. This will apply for long scenes, so
you will start with Over the Shoulder and Close Up and Reverse on
the next actor. Remember, typically the best takes are the first
and last ones anyway.
4. The Blue Screen & Making Use of All Technologies. If you have
any special FX like blue screen footage, shoot it on first day,
so animators can start work right away.
5. Save live footage directly from your set to your hard drive.
This will give you the security of having a master on your hard
drive plus a back up on the DV tape. Also use 100 feet firewire
cable…yes, I know that every web site about firewire cables
tell you the maximum length you should use is 15-20 feet,and that
you have to use replicators. I’ve done it with 100 feet – single
cable no problems. Have an assistant capture scenes with page
numbers and characters, as this will speed up your editing later.
It took 12 Mini DV tapes for raw footage.
6. Use clamp-on lights from Home Depot. I became big fan of this
lights during my last short movie. They stick to almost
anything, they are cheap, and with professional black aluminum
foil you can create the most flexible barndoors in the world. Use
the 100 watts bulbs (also from Home Depot) called “Director”.
After the manual white balance, I didn’t see any problems with
7. The Trailer, the Web Site, & Cinematography. Shoot trailer and
design web site for your movie (with title as domain name). It’s
a great test for equipment and actors who will meet for the first
time. Things will go much smoother during real shoot. With the
website you can attract more actors and crew or even sponsors.
8. The director has to be his or her own cinematographer.
You know already what you want on the screen.
9. Organization, Strategy, & Good Relations On Set. Organization
and strategy is a key to successful shooting and finishing in
time, however remember it’s not worth it to end up with heart
attack, go easy: 12 hours per day with breaks.
10. The last rule applies to the relationships between you and
the actors and crew. Quite simply – don’t be a jerk.
Cecotka fully anticipates postproduction on “Schizophrenia” to be
completed on March 6, 2001 – on schedule; 60 days from the
January 5 start date.
Copyright 2001, Hollywood Sunrise Studio, Mike Slawomir Cecotka,
9. OUT TAKES – Bloopers, Outtakes and Cut Scenes
Outtakes, Bloopers and Cut Scenes – the funniest TV and Movie
clips you’ve never seen. http://bloopers.monsterserve.com/
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