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I've just seen a question regarding sound conform for films, but it mostly seems to relate to people who have the budget for fancy software, and who are dealing with editors nice enough to provide fancy things like EDLs!

I'm still pretty new to the field but I've done quite a few short films now and directors seem to be constantly changing the "final cut". I use Nuendo, and I have been manually re-syncing the sound edit to each new "final cut" of the film. This is a very lengthy process, especially as they never tell me the list of edits that have been made. I was wondering if there was an easier way to do this for low-budget shorts where the team is tiny and things like a nice list of the cuts and changes to the edits are unheard of?

As a bit of an example, here's a recent situation:

I recently did the sound edit for a 30min film, and the director gave me 4 different cuts a couple of weeks ago (Directors Cut, Rights Free Cut, Festival Cut, Shorter Cut) and I hurridly did my best to sync everything back up as neatly as possible.

The original sync was fine, but he's concerned the dialogue might be slightly out of sync in a couple of places now. In all honesty it might well be slightly off by now, because everything has been shifted and tweaked at least 15 times... Every cut has apparently been "final", so I've had to conform it 15 times, and each time I've been manually syncing dialogue back to picture. It's also an unpaid gig. If I've learnt anything from unpaid work, it's that it is about 10,000 times more work than anything I've been paid to do.

Essentially what I'm asking is: Was there anything I could have done to prevent sync issues whilst they were recutting the film, or is it just a pain in the arse that we have to grin and bear for low-budget productions?

  • Hey guys, bit of a blanket "thank-you" for the responses so far! It's quite affirming to know that others have been in the same boat with extreme amounts of "final" edits, and I'll definitely have a look into the Nuendo shortcut. I keep coming across new ones and after a couple of days I wonder how I ever got by without them! – Captain_Dan Oct 6 '11 at 1:12
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First off, the director doesn't know what he/she is doing if they're providing you 4 "final" edits. The most any director should provide is 2 (i.e. festival/feature cut and television/broadcast cut), and those are never simultaneous. In my experience, one is always completed and output before the other.

You've also been exposed to the oxymoronic term "final"...nothing ever is until it's actually due.

The big thing that could have affected your workflow is an EDL. Whatever they cut on should be able to output an EDL...unless they're using something like iMovie. Even software designed to deal with issues like this (Conformalizer, Virtual Katy, etc.) require EDLs to work their magic. Doing it by hand is a time consuming process. That's why those pieces of software were created. At least with an EDL for each version that you're conforming between, you can more accurately identify what changes were made (note that I didn't say "easily" there).

One possible EDL-less approach would have been to use omf's for each respective version. You can load the revised omf into your existing session and use that as your conforming reference, moving your existing audio to match the new cuts. At least then you have waveform reference and can get closer to sample resolution matching.

  • Hey Shaun, thanks for the response it's much appreciated and great to hear from people who have experience of how things SHOULD be working in an ideal world :) I've started checking out Designing Sound too, slightly annoyed that I missed out on the monster sound design comp, but I'll try to get something awesome in for the next one... – Captain_Dan Oct 6 '11 at 1:55
  • Oh awesome, timezone differences might mean I can still get something in... – Captain_Dan Oct 6 '11 at 2:12
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Definitely don't grin and bear it. I think this is where managing clients' expectations comes in. The client needs to understand that reconforming takes up your time, especially when they don't even want to provide an edit change list! If it's an unpaid gig, it might be an idea to tell them that they can only submit one cut to you for work, and can't change the picture afterwards. If there is some pay, make sure they understand that reconforms will cost extra.

If you do end up reconforming (because you like the client, or they're willing to pay you) and you don't want to fork out for Virtual Katy or something, i have a quick and dirty method. Get them to lay the last mix you gave them under the picture, and make all their cut changes to your mix as they go. That way, when they give you an omf of the track that had your mix, you'll see all the cut points.

Shaun's idea sounds good too, i might try that next time. Also, EDLs do help a lot; but for shorts where there aren't that many cut changes, i find the method i mentioned above to be quick and reliable enough.

My sympathy goes out to you for that gig! Only 4 versions though? They didn't want a "For my parents" cut? Or a "director's girlfriend's cut"?

  • Hey Rogar, I like your quick and dirty method - I think that'll be the way forward the next time I come across something like this. I was sent an OMF at the start of the project but the editors audio sync was far from pretty to the point that I went through all the raw production sound and dropped & synced it from scratch myself. If I'd been insistent that they cut each new version using the previous versions audio that might have been a far quicker way of doing things! I'm doing my next short film with friends and trusted people, I'm looking forward to a good experience for once ;) – Captain_Dan Oct 6 '11 at 1:03
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On a side-note to Shaun's post, if you're using Nuendo and cannot go the EDL route, there is a very useful alignment tool which will align any region to another. If you get the omf for the new cut, manually re-syncing becomes much, much easier. As Shaun said, you can load the new omf into your existing session and re-align the regions.

To re-align, highlight the region that is in the correct position, then hover the mouse over the region that you want to move and "command" + click (mac)/ "ctrl" + click (PC). The region you want to move will automatically align with the region that was selected. This is also a really useful trick when building sound effects with multiple sounds.

  • Hehe OMFs and EDLs seem like a luxury at the moment, at least for shorts. I've just been handed a film with one single track of audio for me to work with, the vast majority of which is garbage. The film LOOKS good, but almost all the dialogue seems to be from the camera (with a LOT of noise) and apparently there's no external production sound. I haven't just dumped a project yet, but unless they ADR the whole thing it's going to sound pretty dire! Paid work has never been as tough as some of these short unpaid films :P – Captain_Dan Oct 6 '11 at 1:27
  • @Captain Dan, I hear you there (about the pay contra seriosity...) :-( @Colin, but that takes that both clips are beginning at the same point in the region, right? Or can it analyze the waveforms and match 'em up that way?? Well, doesn't really matter for me right now, the last project I had to re-sync was all unedited ADR and near completed sound design (took forever), but good to know for the next time :-) – Christian van Caine Oct 6 '11 at 10:09
  • @Christian It will align the beginning of the regions, which may not necessarily be the beginning of the waveform. It's an awesome tool, but, as with many other tools, is not always the solution. – Colin Hunter Oct 6 '11 at 11:01
  • @Captain Dan, regarding the single audio file, you really should ask for an OMF. Even if the audio is poor, it will be much easier to try to salvage something if you have the separate tracks. Be diplomatic and polite but firm. It's just not professional to give a sound editor one single audio file. – Colin Hunter Oct 6 '11 at 11:04

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