Prepping your Film/TV Show for the Audio Team

This is a blog post aimed at Directors and Video Editors (or both if you’re super talented!) on how to prepare your film/TV show’s audio to be ready for the Audio Department. It’s a basic list of what you’ll need to get ready, and most importantly, why it’s useful to do.

1. Organize your Session

Organizing your session is extremely important when delivering your work to Audio. The best way to organize the audio you’ve collated in your session is by these three types: Dialogue/Sync, FX and Music.
These groups are the bread and butter of the audio dept. and you should have seperate audio tracks for each of them in your FCP/Avid timeline. For example, A1/A2 would contain solely Dial/Sync, A3/A4 would contain FX and A5/A6 would contain Music. This will save the Audio Dept. a LOT of time and they will be extremely grateful for it.

2. Mono/Stereo Audio

The difference between Mono/Stereo Audio is often mis-interpretated but quite straightforward in reality. The common misconception is that mono = 1 channel, stereo = 2 channels – right? Well, almost.

A mono channel, is a single channel of audio, and a stereo channel is two channels of audio playing simultaneously. But, what if both the channels in a stereo track are playing the same thing? This is called dual-mono and is undesirable. Having the same information on 2-channels is pointless, so, if it’s mono – it’s best to leave it that way, as a single channel. If it’s dual mono, then blow away either leg/channel (left or right) so you’re left with a single mono channel.

Deciding what is ‘true’ stereo (a stereo channel which contains different signals on the two legs), and what is dual-mono (a stereo channel which contains the same audio on both tracks) is an important task, so if you’re not sure, it’s best to leave it stereo. Blowing away the right/left leg of an actual stereo track could be disastrous.

A quick and easy method to check if both legs are the same (dual-mono), is to reverse the phase of one of them. If you’re using FCP, then you can download this AU plug for free (http://www.sonalksis.com/freeg.htm) which will flip the phase for you (Phase is represented by the symbol ø). If both the legs are the same (dual-mono), then they will cancel each other out and you will hear absolutely nothing (complete silence) – if they’re different (stereo) then you will hear the same sound but it may sound different, often described as sounding ‘hollow’ or ‘phasey’. (If you do this, remember to disengage the plug-in before continuing!)

Remember. Stereo = Good. Dual mono = Bad.

3. Don’t get too attached!

When tracklaying temp SFX/Music, it’s extremely easy to get so attached to them, that when they’re changed in the audio process, the first thought is often one of dislike. This causes a sensation of the audio not sounding ‘right’ or ‘correct’. Because of the time spent hearing the temp FX/Music in the offline edit, anything else sounds completely wrong. It’s important to remember this when tracklaying temp FX and Music and to stay objective when listening to the sound re-design. If there’s a sound that really has to be in your project, then let the audio team know – chances are it’ll go in, but there are times when the quality is not good enough so an alternative must be used.

4. Audio EDL / OMF

This is potentially the most important point. If you don’t know how to export these in your Video Editor program, then stop reading this post and go and learn as soon as possible!

EDL stands for Edit Decision List and shows the original TC (timecode) in/out points and the current timeline position TC in/out points of audio/video. When exporting for the Audio Dept. make sure you them an EDL containing only audio information, as video fades/effects aren’t useful and just clutter up the important stuff.

If you’re sending a pre-final cut of your project, then this is super important – any changes that are made need to be referenced using EDLs. Two EDLs will suffice (pre and a post edit), however, another useful thing to provide is a change-list EDL. This provides the TCs of the original location of the picture/audio followed by the new position of the picture/audio and gives the audio team the ability to perform a conform of their pre-edit session to post-edit with relative ease.

OMFs / AAFs are a way of exporting your session on a 1:1 basis. All of your regions/clips remain intact, along with their positional infomation on the timeline, automation data and fades (depending on the settings used). This will most likely be the first port of call for the audio team. It’s a quick way to see how complete the audio is, what needs doing to it and what your rough idea for the audio aesthetic is.

5. BITC

BITC (Burnt In Time Code) is audio’s best friend. It’s a supremely useful tool when spotting SFX to specific timecodes. It also gives the ability to double check the framerate of the video with the session frame rate. Nothing gives you piece of mind more than seeing the BITC on the picture and your Timecode Window running exactly in sync. It’s also extremely handy when swapping notes between the audio team and yourself, the director/editor. Saying “Can you do ‘x’ to the SFX at 10:24:04:02” is a much more efficient way of communicating than “Can you change the SFX where ‘lead character a’ opens the door in scene 4. You know, the bit where he goes into the house. No, further back, further back – no, too far…” etc.

Make sure your picture has BITC.

6. Audio Rushes

Make sure that you send all the audio rushes, not just the ones which have been used or the ones which are deemed useful. There are so many hidden gems in apparently ‘useless’ rushes that never get to be used because they’re not sent to the audio team. Extra rushes are absolutely riddled with alt takes/room tone/accidental sound fx and are just begging to be used.

This applies even more-so if you’re sending your project to someone who is editing dialogue. They really can work magic with the dialogue when given just a few alternative takes for lines, so make sure you include them all.

If you follow these steps, you’ll ensure that your audio team has more time to concentrate on making truly great audio, rather than spending the time fixing or finding bits that are vital to the process. Not only that, but a torrent of gratitude will be showered upon you for making their jobs easier and for sending well documented, easy to decipher material.

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About fredpearson
Sound Editor, Dubbing Mixer and owner of www.arrowheadaudiosfx.com

2 Responses to Prepping your Film/TV Show for the Audio Team

  1. stephenglengranum says:

    Fred, I’d like to hear your opinion on what the BITC should represent. I have so many editors send me projects that start at 00:00:00:00. No matter how much I try, I can’t get through to them that we should leave a header, and do sync pops, etc.

    My preference would be that they edit from the beginning with the deliverable (spec) in mind, which usually means first frame at 01:00:00:00, but can sometimes be another #!

    • fredpearson says:

      Hi Stephen. Personally, I also prefer picture starting at 01 or 10 hours for the same reason as you, so that there’s a header in case the picture extends before the first frame in a later revision. Keep working on them and hopefully your request will be heard!

      Cheers,
      Fred

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