Cavanaugh provides a stereo mix as split stems - narration, dialogue, music, sound effects - which go back into the Avid for various segment outputs.
CHALLENGE: INTELLIGiBLE AUDIO
Lending his talents to the more extreme side of reality programming is Terrance Dwyer, a re-recording mixer working at LA's Wild Woods (www.wwoods. com). Dwyer has mixed every episode of the Survivor franchise, netting an Emmy for the second season. He has also mixed all but the first six episodes of the Fear Factor series, which is in the middle of its fourth season.
Post Logic's Fred Howard
"We approached Survivor differently from the reality shows that had come before by doing a film-style dialogue and effects edit with full M&E," Dwyer explains.
While he is continually challenged to make the audio for Survivor beautiful, "it's a constant battle just to make it intelligible." While care is taken with the location sound, the locales are often fraught with noise: guess why the insects in Borneo were called "car-alarm bugs?"
Central to the dialogue-driven Survivor is the desire to make the audio flow. "Much of it is dialogue intercut with interviews recorded in different locales and at different times of the day," says Dwyer. "It has a dramatic feel and is mixed like a traditional drama." He spends his time ensuring that the location dialogue recorded by camera and boom mics "is as pristine and evenly mixed as possible."
Survivor: Pearl Islands is mixed at Wild Woods by Terrance Dwyer. He mixes partially in Pro Tools but runs dialogue through a Sony DMX-R100 digital board. Mixdown is to a TASCAM MX2424.
Fear Factor, with its high-intensity, high-tech competitions, is action-adventure to the core. "There are speeding cars, trucks, helicopter and speed boat stunts, extreme point-of-view effects and people taunting and rooting," Dwyer points out.
Fear Factor is now using the Fostex PD6 DVD-RAM recorder for field acquisition. "There can be as many as 28 contestants so that's a lot of lavs," Dwyer notes. Supervising dialogue editor Ryan Owens performs the dialogue edit and converts the OMF to a Pro Tools session for Dwyer.
"The OMF is transformed into six-plus channels of dialogue and more for production, host and voiceover," says Dwyer. He also receives another 30 to 40 channels of effects, eight channels of Foley, plus three or more music pairs. "The show really maxes out the Pro Tools system. It's usually at the maximum 64 channels for a Pro Tools 5.1.3 system with additional tracks unvoiced. I'm flipping back and forth to get things I can't have online at all times."
Sony Music's Sue Pelino works on a number of reality shows, including Making the Band for MTV. She uses Pro Tools 6.0.
Dwyer mixes partially in Pro Tools but mixes all the dialogue through a Sony DMX-R100 digital console. Mixdown is to a TASCAM MX2424 in "a traditional-style mix pass." He uses Digidesign's Control 24 control surface for automated effects, music and other stems, and performs clean up with Cedar's DNS-1000 and Dolby's Cat.43.
TODD-AO MEETS AVERAGE JOE
NBC's new Average Joe is no average audio post project. At Todd-AO Burbank, an Ascent Media Company (www.ascentmedia.com), Emmy Award-winning sound designer and re-recording mixer Rick Norman cuts the dialogue and music and mixes an episode in two and a half days - sometimes less. On typical one-hour primetime dramas, dialogue and effects editors will toil for a week before an episode arrives at the mixing stage. Reality programming's smaller budgets call for scaled-down approaches, which find Norman doing the work of several people in a very short time.
For Average Joe, Norman blends interview bites, many of them from the field, with audio from the group activities the female contestant stages for her pool of prospective suitors. Interviews may be stitched together from sound bites uttered during the course of a day or an event, so Norman is challenged to make different ambiances and sentence fragments flow into seamless sentences.
Working on a Pro Tools|HD system and 32-fader Pro Control, Norman begins his dialogue edit with an OMF of an episode from the Avid editors. "In the beginning, when there are a lot of contestants, they often don't get the right mic digitized into the editor's OMF," he notes. "So I have to go back and find it amongst various DA-88, DAT or DV camera sources."
Todd-AO's Rick Norman had just two and a half days to mix each Average Joe episode.
Norman relies heavily on Waves Renaissance plug-ins for dialogue processing but in extreme cases a Urei 565 notch filter and Dolby Cat.43 are used in the analog domain to reduce background noises.
Norman has extensive reality TV credits, including Anything for Love for Fox, Scare Tactics for the SciFi Channel, Project Greenlight for HBO and the Emmy-winning American High for Fox/PBS. He met with the producers of Average Joe to discuss possible improvements in the audio process for next season. "A lot of dialogue gets unnecessarily clipped, which may be inexperience or improper monitoring," he notes. "The transfer from DV to media also needs to be watched.
"I often get dialogue through scenes in reality television that would easily qualify for ADR in any film," Norman continues. "With that not being an option here, extra precautions should be taken in the field in order to capture the best sound possible. By the time it gets to me, the damage has already been done."
RAPPING ON THE NEXT
Interscope Presents The Next Episode made its debut on Showtime in November. The battle-rapping competition combines an on-the-streets, urban perspective with performance elements. The series follows a pair of up-and-coming rappers in five different cities. Each show ends with one winner emerging from a head-to-head rap battle. The last show will feature the five semi-finalists in a showdown in LA.
The Next Episode poses distinctive challenges for freelance post production supervisor Jared Bushansky whose reality programming credits include MTV's Fraternity Life and Sorority Life, and the first season of HBO's Project Greenlight.
"Being gritty, raw and down-and-dirty is part of the show's appeal," Bushansky concedes. "You never know what you're going to get. They shoot 80 to 100 hours of tape in a week to get a one-hour show, and it's hard to gauge in the field what's going to work or not."
The four audio tracks of Sony's IMX format come in handy for the all-location-based show. "We record the lav on one track, the boom on another, and the camera mic on another just in case we need to use it with filters to get rid of extraneous noise," Bushansky explains. "The camera mic has saved us on a couple of occasions, including one impromptu shot with no lav and no boom."
In the first part of each episode the rap contestants, on lavalier mics, are followed through their city with their friends whose audio is captured by boom mics. Hearing what they're saying can be difficult as they talk over each other and compete with background noise. Re-recording mixer Mark Anderson at Wild Woods often needs to use noise reduction, EQ and filtration to make the conversation audible.
"Sometimes you lose sources in the field, you get ambiance as loud as the dialogue, or people are talking in the street in such close proximity to the boom mic that you lose the talent," Anderson reports. "You try to smooth things as well as you can but may still get hammered by a noisy clip."
The show is done "98 percent in the box," a Pro Tools 5.1.3 with a Pro Control surface. Anderson re-records anything that needs noise reduction back into Pro Tools but he finds that "if you push Waves' Restoration bundle enough to get good results you also get artifacts. So I run through the plug-in and then into Dolby's old Cat.43 film NR unit and that eases off a bit on the artifacts."
The showdown portion of each episode takes place at an outdoor location - an Atlanta intersection, a Detroit junkyard, overlooking New York's Brooklyn Bridge. The rappers are joined by a drummer, DJ and live audience, and are recorded onto TASCAM DA-88s so there's split audio for every element. Anderson delivers a full 5.1 discrete mix, then folds it down to stereo keeping the impact of the music strong in the stereo field.
SONY MUSIC: REALITY, TALK SHOWs & MORE
Sony Music Studios' recording arts complex combines audio, video, TV and film production capabilities at its West Side Manhattan location. It has been home to a number of reality, games and talk shows, including Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn, which airs on Comedy Central. In addition, Sony Music Studios (www.sonymusic.com) handles audio post for MTV's Cribs and VH1's Driven.
Senior director of audio post Sue Pelino did complete audio post for the first two seasons of MTV's Making The Band, which mixes music and slice-of-life elements. The first season found P. Diddy auditioning talent nationwide and forming "Da Band." The second season had them come together at a New York City brownstone to work with music producers and record an album. The next season will pick up after the CD's release.
"In the first season every show was different; the locations were all over the place," Pelino recalls. "This year they were more in the recording studio so there was a lot more control. They gave me a lot of tracks to work with: vocals isolated from music, underscored music minus vocals. On a lot of shows, the DV cameras are the source audio but members of 'Da Band' had individual lavs, so I was starting with decent tracks."
Pelino opened the Avid OMF from MTV in Pro Tools 6.0. Assisted by sound mixer Christopher Koch, she added city ambiance to some location shots, smoothed out the music and dialogue edits and did the final mix on an SSL Avant console. Pelino also mixed a DVD of the second season.