MPSE Wavelength

Fall 2020

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Page 27 of 81

28 I M PS E . O R G every day. The shelf-life of your successes, and your failures, is short. In long-form, everyone's been living with the sound problems of the project for months before it gets to you, so often you're fixing as you go. You don't get the immediate gratification when you do it right, to know it's right. You're often getting it good enough to move on, and for me, that's not as satisfying." Commercials have been around for many years, and all too often the sound work involved isn't as lauded as on studio feature films. Sound editing a 30-second commercial from top to bottom in a couple hours is uniquely challenging. Like with films, creative expectations are through the roof for all facets of post-production. You had to do all those jobs yourself. "I started near the end of linear and the introduction of digital, even before Fairlights came out. Everybody was on a version of Pro Tools called 'Sound Designer 2.' As an assistant, my job was to sit in the back of the room and spot SFX into a timecode playlist. You could pre-screen your sounds from a dedicated library attached to your workstation. Eventually, the mixer would get a couple hours into the session and say, 'I'm going to put the sound effects track online,' and you'd just surrender your sync while they recorded the SFX stem onto their multitrack tape. It was set up to be really conducive to doing the sound design, and it was digital, nonlinear. Everything was linked—you didn't have to pull tape while you built the sound effects pass. It was magic! That was the coolest part of my job. The running around, making the dubs, getting the sync, editing the 24-track tapes with a leader and a grease pencil, and aligning the 24-track deck. Actually, that last part wasn't fun. But the sound design was fun, I really enjoyed that." Despite the technical hurdles of the era, what made sound editing for commercials unique was already abundantly clear. "You had to do all those jobs yourself." Commercial sound editing is, above all, a jack of all trades position. You are responsible for everything—music edits and cutdowns, dialogue cleanup, Foley editorial, sound design, backgrounds, voiceover and ADR recording, and often even mixing. If you're not experienced at all in these roles, it's a good opportunity to quickly build up your skill set, often by necessity. "In commercials, you're the whole team. You're handling all the aspects that are elsewhere handled by many different people. So you get to wear a lot of different hats, and you get to learn a lot of different techniques. Personally, I usually dislike getting somebody else's sound effect prelay. How many times, during the length of your career, will somebody give you a full- speed sound on a slow-motion shot?! That doesn't sound right to me. A super slow-motion door slam can be anything! It can be an explosion. It could be a bomb. It could be some sort of powder-puff, something that's in sync with the music. It could even sound musical. When you're doing short-form, you are in charge of that. That's what I like best." A commercial sound editor wears many hats, but perhaps the biggest challenge of all is the speed required to turn around projects on time. "In general, the way you should work is left to right, not top to bottom. At any minute, somebody can come in and say, 'I need this right now, we're going to air it immediately.' If you've spent two days getting every sound effect right for the first 10 seconds, but then the next 20 seconds are empty or not mixed because you haven't gotten to them yet, then you are in for a world of hurt. If you cover the basics, making sure the voiceover and nat/sound bites are clean and balanced over the music, and nobody comes looking for you, well now you've got the time to put in that city ambience, that graphics sweetener, or that crowd reaction that makes that cut-off sound bite not sound so cut off." The principles Jay has picked up over the years can apply to all facets of sound editorial. He has been around long enough to learn all the tricks. "Always go to the end of every sentence, or every word, and make sure the last consonant is audible. Your VO talent often runs out of breath. If you have to varispeed any part of the VO because the speed of the take isn't right against the video cut, only do it after the first syllable and before the last syllable. This way it won't sound so artificial, and it'll still sound like a normal sentence. Ring out your sound effects, ring out reverbs on music across quiet moments. Reverse music, and play it back as a self-sting leading up to the actual cue. Fix stops and starts, or any weird problems that you find in a temp mix. It's all about working fast and prioritzing what to correct. I'm not usually a fan of moments where everything stops on one frame and then the next sound starts a frame later. I always let them go a little bit longer, and start the incomings a little bit earlier, and have a small crossfade between the two. Without that, it often seems too staccato and clipped, and the hard cuts don't work for me. So I fix those edits wherever possible. If someone has handed you a temp mix where all the sounds are happening at the exact same time, there are ways you can help it. If you could move whole pieces of VO three or four frames one way or another to let one sound breathe, or one part of the music sting in the clear, you're making the spot all of the sudden seem like it's moving

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