25 Things You Need to Do for Your Sound Editor to Love You
Sound Editor Vickie Sampson has one long list of credits on IMDB, spanning from Star Wars Episode VI to Donnie Darko, New York New York to The Fighter, along with a multitude of indie movies and blockbusters attached to her name.
Couple of weeks ago, Django Unchained’s sound editor and sound designer talked about how they worked on Tarantino’s western. But what does your sound editor need in order to work his/her magic? That is exactly what Vickie Sampson reveals during a 30 minute talk she gave last year.
As I have mentioned before, indie filmmakers often focus so much on the image that they tend to forget the key role sound plays in any movie and to keep it out of their budget while calculating post-production costs. To avoid hitting post-production in a state of frenzy, have a look below at Vickie Sampson’s tips to help your sound editor help you make your movie help your movie.
Below is a list of 25 points I gathered from both Sampson’s talk and a complementary document she shared. Some parts are more technical than others, and some information will particularly interest you if you are a filmmaker, others will only concern editors. If you wear both hats, you’ve just hit jackpot.
#1. Have a budget for sound.
We sound editors often work WAY too many hours trying to fix problems that could have been fixed on the set. We usually work on the sound of an independent feature film for an average of 6 to 8 weeks for a dialogue driven movie and up to 3 months on an action/adventure film. We cannot pay our bills with “but everyone on the shoot worked for free!”
#2. Hire a professional.
Don’t hire your cousin Billy to hold the boom. “If you are that cheap, shoot on your iPhone and call it a day.” A movie that looks beautiful and sounds terrible will never look professional.
#3. Beware of Overlapping Dialogs.
If you have overlapping dialogs, make sure both actors are miced, even if one of the actor is off camera.
#4. Give your sound editor a copy of a lined script.
If there is one. This really helps the sound editor to find quickly how many takes were shot and to look for alternative sounds (if any).
#5. Give your sound editor a copy of the sound reports from the production mixer.
You also want to figure out if the production mixer has shot with multiple microphones, and if so, import ALL the mics into your edit.This will save your sound editor a lot of time. As Sampson says: “Time is money and usually we don’t get pay much, so we need more time to do it.” So the more you help your sound editor by providing all the relevant information, the faster she or he will work.
#6. Give your sound editor a complete copy of ALL the original production audio files.
Put them in a folder labeled PRODUCTION AUDIO and includes any wild tracks or VO tracks shot during the production. Ideally your sound editor wants ALL the audio takes, even if they did not make the cut into your edit. Sometimes he/she will go for alternate take to give you options.
#7. Give your sound editor a list of the cast with their character names and real names.
#8. Give your sound editor a list of all the LFOAs (Last frame of action) for each reel.
#9. Tell your sound editor what the delivery requirements are sound-wise.
Know what your final export is going to be and work your way backward. You might not know it right away, but as soon as you know what is the final export (a 5.1 mix, a mono mix, a foreign mix, music and effects only, a TV/Airline version, just DVDs, for screening purposes etc.) let your sound editor know and work accordingly during the edit.
#10 . Give your sound editor a CONTINUITY list.
That is a list of what scenes are in what reels – with a brief description of each scene.
#11. Give your sound editor a post production schedule.
If there is one.
#12. Give your sound editor the contact information for the key players
That would be the director, the film editor, the assistant film editor, the composer etc.
#13. Make Sure the Frame Rates Match
#14. Ask your sound editor for any sound effects that you want to use while you’re still in the editing process.
The director will get used to their sound and will make it a lot easier for refining later.
#15. Export a Guide Track of all the production audio only.
No SFX or MX and export as an AIFF file.
#16. Export the Quicktimes for each reel with all the sound.
We later import the audio from the Quicktime to use as another guide – to see what the director’s idea of where music will be and how loud and where SFX are etc.
#17. Put Academy Standard Leaders on the head and at the tail of each reel.
An Academy Leaders is 8 seconds worth of leader. It used to be for the projectors to get up to speed when films were… on film. It is still used as a standard by sound editors and editors to stay consistent in the workflow. Sampson created a head leader (with pop 24 fps) and a tail leader (with pop 24 fps) that are available to download on YouTube. Note: the POP goes two seconds before the first frame of the picture.
#18. Put a burned-in timecode
Put it in the black (not over the image) generated from the 000 start mark of an Academy Standard Leader.
#19. Break your feature length project into 15-20 minute reels.
Don’t break your feature into scenes but into 15-20 minutes ‘reels’. Don’t forget to put Academy Leader on the head and tail of each reel and do not put any music cues bridging across reels. Timecode hour should match reel number. Reel 1 would be 01:00:00:00 timecode. Reel 2 would be 02:00:00:00 etc.
#20. Put your Sounds on Different Tracks
Before exporting the OMF, put all your production audio on the first tracks, followed by sound effects on their own tracks, followed by music. Do not mix production audio with sound effects or music. Keep them on separate tracks.
#21. Lock before Export
Export a Quicktime for each reel and label it as “NAME_Reel_vDATE_QT or OMF or GT (guide track) for example: IBE (stands for the name of the film In Between Engagements)_R1_v07_24_12_QT
The version date should match your final locked picture. If you make any changes after you’ve turned over this version to your sound editor, then you need to make new Quicktime files and new OMFs and new Guide Tracks with the NEW date.
#22. Export your OMF
When exporting your session as an OMF, check the boxes for “include levels” and “crossfade transitions.” Check with your sound company/person to see if they want 16 bit or 24 bit. 24 is preferable as is 48K.
If you’re NOT giving the sound editor all of the production audio files, then put at least 10 second handles as part of your OMF choices. If you are giving them the production audio, then two seconds is fine.
#23.Be willing to listen to new dialogue and sound effects.
We, as sound editors, are trying our best to make your film sound professional and we often may find a substitute line of dialogue to help fix a problem.
#24. Trust your sound editor.
And be available to come listen to playbacks. Better to adjust things in the editing room than on the high-priced dub stage.
#25. Give your sound editor Lots of love!
And food. And sleep time.
Keep this list in mind or share it with all the concerned players in your team. Below is Sampson’s talk, definitely worth listening, she has great humor and anecdotes to share on top of her knowledge and wisdom.
If you are a filmmaker, I would also recommend you to check ‘An Open Letter From Your Sound Department‘. It’s a letter written by a group of sound professional explaining how you can help them make your film better.
Thanks to Jonny Elwyn