It’s perhaps surprising how often sound management is overlooked during independent and low-budget productions. Of course, if the funding and/or head count is limited, then a designated director of sound (DS)—the audio equivalent of the more familiar director of photography or cinematographer, who oversees lighting and camera—seems like an inevitable casualty. But, in the long term, a DS can prove extremely beneficial to the creation of a video-based production.
In essence, a DS can plan and oversee the efficient workflow from shoot to finalizing. By making it the responsibility of one or more individuals to follow the audio from preproduction through final delivery, each and every step in the process can be planned from a sound perspective. Even if the picture editing and audio assembly/mixing will take place on the same platform, having someone focus on sound design and overall shaping of the soundtrack can deliver a more polished result.
And, of course, if the audio material follows a separate path through postproduction, then a DS can prove extremely beneficial in bringing together the various sound effects, Foley, ADR and music elements that give a professional sheen to any video project. During preproduction planning, the DS can establish important technical parameters, including sample frequencies and bit depths, for the sound files being secured by the various microphones selected to capture the best results.
While working on location or within a staged set, the DS can ensure that the best dialogue tracks are secured from the actor by choosing appropriate lavaliere, plant and/or boom microphones, and possibly using wireless belt packs to provide additional creative freedom. Appropriate choices of analog/digital mixers and field recorders also are important to assure a trouble-free shoot.
By ensuring that each take is going to secure the best-quality audio track, directors can focus their attention on the in-moment performance, safe in the knowledge that the sound dimensions are fully covered. At the end of each setup, the DS can ask time on a quieted set to record just a few minutes of room tone, which can be so handy to fill gaps between edited dialogue, for example, and to provide a seamless, convincing soundtrack.
During editing and post, the DS can oversee the development of an enveloping soundtrack that draws the viewer further into the images. Sound design and music choices, in particular, can enhance the visual experience; a DS can help assemble various music and effects tracks, as well as organizing Foley and ADR sessions.
Once picture editing is complete, the DS can bring his or her focus to mixing and blending together the various dialogue, music and effects elements to prepare a soundtrack that does full justice to the visuals. With so many available options, the DS can bring a wealth of in-use experience of the ways in which the full features of a chosen NLE or separate digital audio workstation can enhance a project.
What we’re addressing here is the primary challenge faced by any videographer: balancing competence with creativity. The team of specialists needs to be at the top of their respective games to ensure that the final product is of outstanding quality. That community spirit, by necessity, involves a number of specialists—just consider the various tasks undertaken within the visual frame, ranging from picture editors through graphics to finishing and colorists. Sound is no different and requires a talented individual to oversee the multidimensional workflow.
Mel Lambert has been intimately involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic.
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