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I have a general question but I think it's easiest if I ask it in the context of an example. So say you have a scene where someone is talking and opening a bag of chips at the same time. The location recordist did a good job and the two sounds are balanced nicely. I like it (sfx editor), the mixer likes it, and the clients like it. We all want to work with the production audio as-is except for the fact that we're delivering this movie as M&E for international distribution.
Two questions really - what's done about this in a big budget situation and what's the low budget trying to be as efficient as possible approach?

Do people really ADR and Foley every single instance of Dialog and SFX overlap? That seems excessive. The other option I can think of would be to Foley everything and mix the Foley in under the PFX. Seems like this would mean overlapping Foley would get mixed in real low where the PFX were already loud. Do movies get re-mixed when they're dubbed?

One more example. A guy is running through the forest breathing heavily. Once again the production recordings sound awesome and everyone loves them. For M&E purposes do you put this on a PFX track or a dialog track? Or does it need to be recreated even though everyone loves it so all the elements can be dealt with separately?

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"what's done about this in a big budget situation and what's the low budget trying to be as efficient as possible approach?"

From my experience, these events are always covered in foley for the M&E, even if the pfx sound great. Most foley supervisors will spot a majority of the props/feet they see on screen just to cover their bases. If foley feet are used for a character in a scene, they will cover all of the feet in that scene for consistency and let the mixer decide whether to kill them. Often a cloth pass is done and never used in the mix with the production sound, only in the M&E to give the dubbing a less canned feel with some movement and life.

"One more example. A guy is running through the forest breathing heavily. Once again the production recordings sound awesome and everyone loves them. For M&E purposes do you put this on a PFX track or a dialog track? Or does it need to be recreated even though everyone loves it so all the elements can be dealt with separately?"

This is more of a legal/SAG union question. It depends on the agreement/contract between the actor and the producers. Often all breaths are done again in dubbing to keep this issue cut and dry. Of course, many of the breaths you hear in films are actually the breaths of the dialog editor or some group ADR actor, which is a whole other story.

Foreign versions are definitely remixed, as the dialog in other languages may need to be rebalanced over music and effects.

  • Thanks Justin! So if cloth is thrown out for the domestic version is it delivered on separate international only tracks or something? – Brendan Dec 5 '11 at 20:15
  • Yes. Cloth is certainly used over production sound, but often the boom, and especially lavs, pick up enough cloth already. Technically the M&E is considered the international version, as the domestic typically gets broken out into separate mx, fx, and dx stems. – Justin P Dec 5 '11 at 20:23
  • Cloth is very useful with ADR – user49 Dec 5 '11 at 23:41
  • Thanks. I guess I didn't phrase my question well. I would of course normally fill in any gaps like ADR with cloth Foley but for purposes of the M&E what do you do with sections where the cloth on the dialog tracks sound good? Mix in Foley anyway? Put M&E only Foley on a separate set of tracks? – Brendan Dec 5 '11 at 23:55
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    Yes, cloth is used often over ADR. Just to clarify, the M&E is usually done after the domestic mix and involves some tweaking/remixing. When prepping the M&E, yes the cloth track is often pulled up to help the dubbing. It is also common to do what is called a "flip and fill" where production sound room tone is added to the center channel of all scenes to help the dubbing not sound so canned. In some countries (German TV for instance) it is also essential that you remove all intelligible english words from the walla/group ADR tracks, editing and reversing walla is often done. – Justin P Dec 6 '11 at 1:10
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The location recordist did a good job and the two sounds are balanced nicely. I like it (sfx editor)

In my opinion, herein lies the root of the problem - particularly the last sentence.

M&Es are oddly enough a great example of instant karma - race through your edits and the M&E is likely going to take a lot of time to build. Take time and properly build your tracks strategically up front, the M&E is going to be a breeze. in a perfect world, we would all take our time up front. But we're not in that perfect world, and budget/time constraints sometimes result in needing to brute-forcing our way through an M&E.

That being said, as sound effects editors and foley artists/mixers/editors, we're obligated to do wall-to-wall coverage on everything. No matter how cool or full-bodied something may sound in production (and 9 times out of 10 the PFX is lacking in some way and at least needs to be sweetened), especially if there's an overlap, when I cut sound effects I always give the stage my own version of a full build (or if it's something Foley covers, they do full coverage) - that way it plays in the mix, and subsequently, it will match for the M&E (or if it was mixed against the cool PFX overlapping dialogue, it sounds incredibly close for a match in the M&E when the PFX blend goes away).

From a dialogue side, this is one of the main reasons I'm quite anal about cleaning out ticks, pops, etc, splitting out all free-and-clear PFX, and addressing all overlaps with clean alt takes or ADR if necessary - getting the dialogue track as clean as possible up front, so that you can more or less mute it for the M&E over 50% of the work is already done. Failing the ability to eradicate the overlap issue, I make sure sound effects and/or Foley coverage takes care of that section too, knowing we're going to have to blend any residual PFX with the cut FX version for a blend.

As Justin pointed out, there can be issues of legality with residual dialogue, and this is can be why QC houses are strict. And I actually know a colleague who had an M&E bounce one time in Germany for that EXACT reason - even though he couldn't figure out what English they were hearing. Either way, it had to be re-filled. Usually QC houses will never want any sort of breath, grunt, moan, or other non-linguistic vocalization present - and they expect every little single detail (down to the hand pats) to match - this part is exactly why I get my dialogue tracks as clean as possible. The less oddities there are sitting in the dialogue track, the less there is which has to be filled/re-built/remixed for a sync match. And by having full coverage on your FX and Foley, then you can find what you need by playing the faders.

And again Justin is correct, backfilling is a must - but hopefully by properly preparing the dialogue track, most of the work's already done for you (and even more so if the dialogue premix turned out really clean and the dailies were clean too)

It can be nice to provide an Optional track for Group ADR and related cut FX elements (e.g. dispatch radio edits, callouts edited to blend with the BG, speaker pages like Hospitals, etc). That way its not part of the M&E itself, but when the M&E gets remixed with the overdub, they have the option if they want it - especially for something like radios which play so low they're more of texture, but nonetheless, if it has English, it will need to be maintained separately otherwise it will likely bounce QC and be problematic down the road - the Optional track is great for this kind of thing.

Hope this helps! M&Es can be a very strict and disciplined process to learn, but it's a fantastic opportunity to learn how to think '2-steps-ahead' about organization and editorial to result in a smooth printmastering process.

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Just to add a little something to what @Justin has already said:

I've usually found that it depends on the type of programme you are working on. In my experience international versions of drama and 'movie-like' material will be distributed with an original full-mix, and M&E which is just without dialogue, the effects being purely Foley etc. Again, as Justin said, this will be remixed with the foreign dialogue.

However, other forms of programming, eg. reality shows, wildlife shows etc will not ship with M&E but rather Mix Minus Narration, which is just as it says, a full mix just without narration. These will either be pre-dipped or undipped (for dubbing) depending on the supplier and will simply be dubbed over with new foreign narration, and translation over any speech. From what you've described in the question I'm pretty sure this is irrelevant for your current situation but I thought I'd add it in case you're interested!

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