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July 2014
Issue: April 1, 2003

Audio for TV Series

By: By Christine Bunish


The tendency for participants on The Bachelor (next installment shown) to whisper keeps Post Logic mixer Connor Moore on his toes.
They may be the last steps in the post production process but audio editing and mixing play key roles in creating and enhancing the drama, comedy and reality of TV series on every broadcast and cable network.

SYNC SOUND COMPLETES SUCCESSFUL STAY IN OZ

New York City's Sync Sound (www.syncsound. com) spent seven seasons performing audio post for Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana's landmark Homicide: Life On The Street, then began the team's next series, HBO's Oz. With the show's 100-minute finale a couple of months ago, Sync Sound and its new feature and TV arm, Digital Cinema LLC, wrapped six seasons of audio post on the breakthrough prison drama.

Supervising sound editor/sound designer Tony Pipitone typically spent two weeks on the sound editorial and sound design of each episode, including creating new elements and making selections from a custom sound effects library.


Sync Sound has been home for HBO's Oz since the show's inception. Grant Maxwell and Tony Pipitone (L-R) mixed the gritty prison drama on an AMS Neve DFC. console.
"We tried to change the sounds from the first season to the last so we wouldn't be repetitive," he says. "Each year we spent about a week making new sounds and weeding out what we didn't like." For the last season, however, Pipitone "brought back a lot of sounds we used the first season to bookend the series. I don't know if anybody noticed it, but the first sound - a combination of drums and sound-design hits - you heard in the series, other than the theme music, was also the last sound of the show fading into the distance."

Some sound design did re-appear episode to episode. Instead of metallic, clanking jail doors, the sound of Em City's guard-controlled cell doors were given a pneumatic air release sound. Pipitone proces-sed sounds such as whales and elephants to devise a subtle, drone-like ambiance for Em City's evening-to-morning lock down. He chopped up and filled holes in scenes with ambient background created from echoey location recordings on the Em City set.

Pipitone used Sonic Foundry's Acid and Sound Forge software, samplers, keyboards and effects processors, including Lexicon PCM 90, TC Electronic 6000 and Fireworx, and various Eventide processors. He discovered granular synthesis freeware, which expanded and altered sounds in a way "you wouldn't get with standard outboard gear."


Audio for Fox's Bernie Mac is assembled on Pro Tools and mixed on an SSL 5000 board.
Oz didn't have a lot of ADR. "Generally, the recordings were very good," Pipitone reports. "The biggest problem was The Box," the glass cell from which prisoner Hill did his narration. Early on, ADR was required because the enclosure made Hill's voice sound too hollow. Later, removing one or more of the glass plates gave Hill's location audio a more open quality, and production sound was used 75 percent of the time. Foley heightened dramatic, violent and intimate moments in the series, notes Foley artist John Hassler.

Oz episodes were conformed from the original DATs to picture, then dialogue and sound effects editing began. Pipitone and his colleagues used AMS Neve AudioFiles and Digidesign Pro Tools Mix3 systems with a large array of plug-ins.

On Sync Sound's large Digital Cinema stage, re-recording mixer Grant Maxwell used a 300-input AMS Neve DFC console for the Dolby stereo mix. He devoted one long day to the dialogue pre-mix and two days to mixing effects, music, Foley and dialogue with producer Irene Burns and music supervisor Chris Tergesen. Afterwards, Tom Fontana screened the mix with Pipitone and Maxwell and final changes were made.

NAB PLANS: Pipitone expects to skip NAB this year, but he's keeping his eye on controllers and interfaces for Pro Tools and new sound design software. Bill Marino, who's partnered with Ken Hahn in Sync Sound, plans to attend the convention where he will check out trends in 24-frame video products in both high definition and standard definition resolutions.

TODD-AO RADFORD TAKES ON BERNIE MAC

"Mixing for a half-hour, single-camera series has its own set of idiosyncrasies," declares John Cook, re-recording mixer at Todd-AO Radford (www.toddao. com) in Studio City, CA. On Stage V on the CBS lot, Cook mixes the dialogue and music while colleague Peter Nusbaum mixes sound effects and Foley for the Fox comedy Bernie Mac.


Re-creations of American Bandstand performances for American Dreams are handled carefully by the crew at Technicolor Sound Services.
"We do all half-hours, multi-camera and single-camera shows, on this stage," says Cook. "The trick is to get it all mixed, played back, signed off and laid back in a day."

According to Cook and Nusbaum, one day on the stage is sufficient time to produce a good product, especially since a lot of sound is prepped for them at Todd-AO Burbank. There, supervising sound editor Paul Tade teams with effects editor Peter Bergren, dialogue editor David Grant and music editor Thomas Bartke on a given episode of Bernie Mac four days before the mix.

Full backgrounds are built for the show, and everything is posted to a server shared by the Burbank and Studio City facilities.


Mitch Dorf of POP Sound (inset) says working with rough location audio is one of his biggest challenges on the series Crime & Punishment.
"After the editing process is done, we log onto the server and download the material we need to start the session," Cook explains. He and Nusbaum have separate Digidesign Pro Tools 5.1 and Fairlight MFX-3plus workstations so they can pull up exactly what they need. Bernie Mac is built on Pro Tools and mixed to Dolby Stereo on an SSL 5000 console with a Flying Fader retrofit.

Bernie Mac is a single-camera, half-hour show. Other sitcoms are usually shot multi-camera and have less elaborate editorial preparation.

On mix day, Cook's primary challenge is to make the sometimes "idiosyncratic cadence" of Bernie Mac's speech as intelligible as possible. "I ride his levels closely so viewers can hear and appreciate the hilarious stuff Bernie says under his breath," he explains. Cook uses a lot of EQ on the console and sometimes has to split a dialogue line off to a different track so he can get the gain out of it for a cleaner sound. Certain lines also require compression, but Cook works hard to make sure they don't sound compressed or processed.


Laser Pacific's Ed Fassl (inset) says 7th Heaven's location near a freeway and airport requires the use of Cedar's DNS-1000 to suppress background sounds.
Cook also mixes the music editor's first choices for songs and cues. Then Emmy Award-winning show creator/executive producer Larry Wilmore comes in with music supervisor Nancy Severinson to watch the playback and make additional music selections. "Most episodes have a picture montage which feature a song with a topical theme. Nancy will find every song related to the topic, lay them in and let Larry choose," says Cook, who will then change the overall mix to accommodate the new choice.

Wilmore often tweaks Nusbaum's sound effects as well. "He'll think of something creative that no one has considered, and we'll go to the library or do on-the-spot sound design to give the client what he wants," Nusbaum says. Sound effects often punctuate the comedy and are played "bigger than life to enhance a joke."

NAB PLANS: Cook and Nusbaum will probably not attend NAB, which takes place in the middle of pilot season: early April. But they are always looking for Pro Tools upgrades and are interested in seeing "if Flying Faders will be running on hipper, new computers," says Cook.


Bernie Mac mixers: Todd-AO Radford's John Cooke and Peter Nusbaum (L-R) behind their SSL 5000.
TECHNICOLOr: MAKING DREAMS SOUND AUTHENTIC
Using the music of Dick Clark's American Bandstand as a springboard to tell the story of a Philadelphia family in 1964 poses numerous challenges for the editors and mixers at Hollywood's Technicolor Sound Services (www.technicolor.com), formerly Complete Post, who work on the new NBC series American Dreams. The show was created by Jonathan Prince, who co-executive produces with Dick Clark. The show's co-executive producer is David Semel. He directed the pilot and also directs multiple episodes.

"This is the first time a series has used so much period music - as many as 25 songs per episode," notes Emmy-winning sound supervisor Fred Judkins.

Vintage clips from American Bandstand and musical re-creations of Bandstand performances with new artists are woven throughout each episode. The music from American Bandstand bounces to multiple locations - coming out of TVs in the father's appliance shop, throbbing from car radios, entertaining families at home - requiring different audio treatments for each source. "Kids may be dancing to the music, then we'll cut to a boy and girl in conversation and the music has to hit a different emotional beat," Judkins explains. "It's all very fast moving, but you can never lose the thread of what's going on with the characters as the music flows unbroken through various locations."


Tips
"Once we had a song play over 13 different locations with 13 different treatments," reports lead re-recording mixer Elmo Ponsdomenech. "We work digitally, but we try not to save pre-set sources. We deal with them on a case-by-case basis." Depending on the source, EQs, filters, reverbs and outboard gear are used to manipulate the sound. Ponsdomenech does the music and dialogue mix for American Dreams with colleague Joe Earle handling the sound effects and Foley mix.

Dick Clark often records new dialogue to advance the plot, which Ponsdomenech processes and seamlessly integrates into vintage clips. "The face that never ages has a voice that never ages," Ponsdomenech observes. "Forty years later and I just need a little manipulation to match Dick Clark with Dick Clark."

Great care is made so new artists recording '60s tunes capture the sound of that era while producing a clean, modern recording. "Our goal is to make it as authentic-sounding as American Bandstand," says Ponsdomenech.

Five days of editorial prep by dialogue supervisor Jane Boegel and lead effects editor John Edwards-Younger precede the two-day mix on the Technicolor stage at Sunset Gower Studios. Sound effects and music are cut on Pro Tools 5.1 systems and dialogue and ADR are edited on Fairlight MFX-3plus workstations.

"It would be impossible for us to mix in time without that prep," Ponsdomenech notes. "Some episodes are as complicated as a feature film, but Elmo and Joe don't have the luxury of a pre-mix," Judkins adds.

Ponsdomenech and Earle work on a stage outfitted with a 196-input SSL Avant digital film console and record to a Fairlight MFX-3 in 20-bit sound. They mix in 5.1 for archival purposes, but the show airs in Dolby Stereo.

"We have an arsenal of equipment for voice and music processing," among them Focusrite EQs and compressors, and TC Electronic M6000 processor for pitch shifting and other effects, says Ponsdomenech.

NAB PLANS: The mixer expects to be too busy working on American Dreams, HBO's Six Feet Under and NBC's Kingpin to attend NAB. But Ponsdomenech maintains a deep interest in new equipment. "I'm a major gearhead. I look at every innovation, period. We've got tools here coming out of our ears, but you always need to look at innovations in technology to further what you do."

POP SOUND UNDERGOES CRIME & PUNISHMENT

With a show-opening disclaimer that says its stories are real and nothing has been re-created, Crime & Punishment, one of the Law & Order family of programs, doesn't operate by the same rules as most television shows, notes mixer Mitch Dorf of Santa Monica's POP Sound (www.popsound. com). "There are no retakes, no ADR, no Foley in order to maintain the integrity of the stories. All we have to work with is production audio. There's really no 'fix it in post.' There's only 'deal with it in post.'"

Now in its second season, the one-hour, non-scripted, "drama-mentary" series has "inherent challenges you won't find on a soundstage," says Dorf. It shoots in San Diego courtrooms, corridors, DA's offices and throughout the community for an eyewitness view of the criminal justice system. Remote-controlled three-camera rigs are set up in the courtroom where lead courtroom mixer Scott Harber works with the production team.

"We all met before this season to devise a game plan for recording the sound," says Dorf. Last season audio tracks were recorded to the DV cameras; sound was often hard to capture with defense attorneys often opting not to wear lavalier mics and the bailiff, court reporter and jury out of mic range.

Now a TASCAM DA-98, with six discrete dedicated channels and two mix channels, runs along with the courtroom cameras to provide more coverage of witness testimony, the judge's comments, DA and defense lawyers and other live sound. Spot mics scattered throughout the courtroom are mixed live by Harber.

Once an episode is recorded and digitized, Jed Dodge uses Pro Tools in the Crime & Punishment offices to edit and separate dialogue from production-effects tracks and weed out the tracks Dorf won't need. Phil Marshall supplies the show's original music on a 24-bit DA-98.

Dorf, named West Coast Mixer of the Year by the Association of Music Producers, works in POP Sound's Studio H on an AMS Neve Logic 2 console with 32-track AudioFile.

"We do an OMF file transfer from Pro Tools to AudioFile, and I start to mix. I hold the edited show in the AudioFile and can drag Pro Tools in tandem with all the raw tracks. If I need to find something, it's all right there."

He takes one or two days to do his pass, then meets with co-executive producer Lisa Engel, associate producer Kathryn Lekan and an offline editor to review and tweak the stereo mix before the final playback. Quick edits, swaps and alternate music cues required by the producers on playback day are "seamless and easy" with the Logic console and AudioFile.

An assortment of outboard gear by vendors such as Lexicon and TC Electronic allow Dorf to even out the close mic-ing of lavaliers and the spot room mics. Assistant Tim West mans a standalone PC with numerous plug-ins for sound restoration and clean up work, which he feeds back to Dorf.

NAB PLANS: Although Dorf will be too busy mixing Crime & Punishment to attend NAB, he's interested in "any gear to aid us in the production recording of this show. In the post world you don't deal with production equipment a lot, but it's important for a post mixer to be up to speed with that gear."

LASER PACIFIC DIGITAL SOUND'S IN 7th HEAVEN

Hollywood's Laser Pacific Digital Sound Services (www.laserpacific.com) has been handling audio post for the dialogue-driven 7th Heaven, now in its seventh season, since the pilot. The Aaron Spelling series has long been the WB Network's highest-rated show.

"It has as tight a turnaround as most TV productions," reports manager of digital sound services Ed Fassl. "An episode will air 48 to 72 hours after we finish the mix.

"All the people we work with on the production side have been with the show since it began," he continues. "They record on the set to 1/4-inch with a DAT back-up. They've been talking about recording to digital hard drives but haven't done it yet. Maybe next season."

Special attention is given to the show's child actors whose voices may be changing as they grow up onscreen. "More takes may be needed during production if their voices break," Fassl points out.

Sound editorial rebuilds dialogue from original production elements and records ADR, Foley and sound effects. ADR usually consists of wild lines to advance the story or walla group sessions for locations like malls and libraries. Foley can be a challenge for the family-oriented series. "There can be quite a lot of activity in the house," Fassl says. "We do full M&E here. And we have to cover everything that moves for the foreign mix. We do the foreign mix right after the US mix but the turnaround time isn't as urgent."

The mix, on Laser Pacific's main Stage C, requires a team of three working two nine-hour days. Lead mixer Josh Schneider does dialogue and effects, Bruce Michaels handles effects and backgrounds, and Kevin Valentine works on music and Foley. On day one they lay down all the tracks; day two is reserved for playback for the producers, fixes and layback.

Stage C has an SSL 5000 console for the stereo mix. The mixers have 24-track Pro Tools and WaveFrame workstations. Music comes in on the Pro Tools format with dialogue, ADR and effects on WaveFrame.

7th Heaven's Santa Monica studio location near the freeway and airport has introduced some unwanted sounds to production audio that the mixers must deal with. "We use various pieces of hardware on our stage to suppress freeway and airport noise," says Fassl. "Cedar's DNS-1000 is particularly useful. It employs various degrees of harmonics to suppress these background sounds."

NAB PLANS: At Laser Pacific, the "pilot crunch" arrives after NAB, so Fassl is able to attend the convention, although he says, "I never have as much time as I'd like." This year he intends to look at new digital hard drive recorders that might soon play a role in 7th Heaven's production sound. "Fostex is debuting a new one," says Fassl. "We have to find out what people are using on the set so we can be prepared to deal with it."

POST LOGIC GETS PERSONAL WITH BACHELOR, BACHELORETTE

The Bachelor and The Bachelorette may be different genders but their audio post processes are more alike than different. "The executive producer doesn't want to stray from what works," says Conner Moore, audio mixer at Hollywood's Post Logic (www.postlogic.com).

Like Crime & Punishment, both reality series are entirely location based with "in the moment" interviews. "There are no second takes. Everything just happens," notes Moore. That means he sometimes has to deal with "horrendous audio" from the field. "Dialogue is king: It drives the story. It can't be jarring. By the time we post, people are no longer available for ADR, they're untrained for ADR anyway, and the turnaround is quick. So ADR would really be impossible. I have to use the production sound."

Moore often assembles dialogue from fragments recorded at various locations, making seamless sentences that tell the participants' stories. "A lot of people like to whisper, especially during the rose ceremonies. I've suggested for the next show we select people who speak up," he quips. He plays the entire rose ceremony "delicately, with music carefully mixed so it swells in the right places and with light ambiance to smooth it all out."

Dialogue comes to Moore as OMF sequences from the video editor who cuts and finishes on Avid. He also supplies the mixer with DATs of the rose ceremony. "I can dig into the offline tracks and rebuild completely because the line mix may not be what I want," says Moore.

He works in Post Logic's Audio C and favors an Avid AudioVision for editorial and mixing "because it's extremely fast and easy, especially for revisions. A lot of times I'm working to picture I know will be recut; being able to conform things quickly [after revisions] is crucial." The suite's SSL 6000 console is used primarily for monitoring, not mixing, he reports.

Moore tends to rely heavily on EQ in the AudioVision. "It's clip based, not track based, which is important because every single dialogue clip gets EQ'd," he explains. "I dig into everything and never run out of DSP."

He generally prefers EQ to noise reduction devices to remove unwanted sounds. In the second series of The Bachelor, a quiet conversation at Niagara Falls posed a challenge. "I had pieces of the conversation from far away from the falls, up close, in the parking lot, from another scenic point," he recalls. "I EQ'd the voices to poke out through the noise as much as possible, then laid down another bed of waterfall sounds to blend them together, some from a library of ambiances."

Moore is also fond of TC Electronic's DBMax multi-band compressor/limiter. "ABC has tight delivery requirements as far as levels," he says. "DBMax makes leveling out things - from soft talk to 20 people in a room yelling - much easier."

One thing has changed for Moore during his time with The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. "The video editor used to deliver the OMF on Jaz drives but now uses FireWire. So what once took 40 minutes to transfer now takes about six minutes," he reports.

NAB PLANS: Moore usually goes to the NAB show, but with a newborn in his family, he's going to skip this year's convention. Nevertheless, he always has his eyes on "the Pro Tools upgrade path" and is interested in what's available in medium-sized digital mixing consoles.