Sound Stems 2: the art of not screwing up sound

Forum member Abbie Allen attended the Producers' Forum Sound Stems 2 event in June. Here's her thoughts on the event:

Neil Hillman, who has worked on sound in various projects, like Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Peaky Blinders, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge and Spielberg’s Lincoln to name a few, was guest speaker at the Producers' Forum’s event at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on 19th June 2018. In his talk, entitled, ‘Can the Sound Department Have a Word’, he especially emphasised how different departments can work with the sound department to achieve amazing sound on our projects we lovingly make. 

Those that have been in the industry a while know the pressures there can be on set to stick to the timetable and budget. Nothing is allowed to come between the deadlines you have, not even if there is an easily resolved issue that you believe you don’t have time to deal with ‒ the sound recorded from your scenes. 

Advice and examples from the talk:
•    A big no no:  don’t leave everything to ADR (automated dialogue replacement) to recover sound that is messed up on set. Why? Your budget will increase by thousands of pounds. It would cost relatively little and barely any time to fix the issue if you record the sound as best you can on location. From Neil’s figures if you had to do ADR for a feature film, you’d better be prepared to say goodbye to an extra £5,600. That’s just for ADR, nothing else. So if you get to that point of believing you can rescue everything in ADR, you might want to just rethink that and turn to your sound department on location.

•    Do a recce of where your location is because you really don’t want to end up getting to a location and only finding out then that you have to sacrifice lines of dialogue being heard due to traffic or other sounds completely taking over.

•    Work with the costume department. Neil spoke of hiding radio mics in the costumes and how he despises the use of silk, because even if someone isn’t moving in the fabric, it makes them rustle like mad.

•    The Sound department love being allowed to put their boom poles as close to the actors as possible, as they are the best devices to get sound picked up. There have been instances where the director has said to put the boom poles anywhere you like and they would get easily painted out in the edit, especially when it’s against a wall that would be easily replicated in its colour scheme and simple pattern to cover the boom.
Listening to a few students after the talk on what they learned about it, the feedback was wonderful. They were really interested to learn from Neil, and they said how they wished he had gone into their university classes and taught them about sound before they had to film a project as part of their dissertations.

So everyone in our industry, even those just starting out or have been in for years, was able to recognise that sound is crucial to productions. Don’t just leave the sound to chance. It may just make your project unwatchable and unable to succeed. As Neil said, “When the sound is bad, you notice the sound. When the sound is good, you notice the pictures.” 

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