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Hello forum,

I am new here. I would like to have some opinions on the followoing issue. I have just done the sound design for a short film here in London. I work freelance and have my own little facilities. But nothing big enough to do a proper theather mix. Just a stereo workplace. The director decided to book a mixing session in comercial post production facility.

Now, since I am only startig my career this was the first time that I was not responsible for the final mix. I didn't even had any influence on it. Now I got back the final mix and was a bit shocked. It sounds like a TV series now. The dialouge is heavily at the front, all sound design elements have been pushed back. I feel like most of the sound design got lost. Now of course I also had the dialogue in the front and tried not to put anything too distrackting in the ambience. But it is a war scene, were soldiers in a camp go mad while they are being attacked. I played a lot with dynamic so that for example gun shots peak out a little bit, so that they sound more dramatic. This is all gone. The sound is now flat in order to make it louder. I feel like the tention is taken out of the film.

Is this normal? Did you ever felt like your sound design got lost in the mix? I would like to have some opinions on this. Thanks

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Yes, this is quite normal - you are not the first sound person to feel like their original vision for a given project became distorted in the final mix and lost its focus and shape. (If I had a dollar for every time this has happened to me, well…) Let me explain from my own experiences:

The job of the sound designer is not always the same. Sometimes you are hired to fulfill a specific vision, say, that of a producer or director; other times you are hired to create the design with very little guidance, only broad stroke concepts or ideas are given. (I find the latter to be most common in feature films.) Either way, the time you spend creating the track in your editing suite is mostly under your own control and you can shape it any way you like, always keeping the film's best interests in mind. But once it leaves your hands and moves on to the final mix, all bets are off. You must be prepared to abandon your work and create something new if a note is given by the director, or a producer or picture editor. I'm not saying to dump it immediately - unless that is the note - sometimes all it takes is a little explanation of why you prepped a certain sound for a certain moment for everyone to sign off on it and your vision remains intact.

The critical thing to remember is this: This is NOT YOUR MOVIE. It is the Director's movie (or TV show, or documentary, or webisode, etc). The Director's vision for the film has to be kept front-and-center, overshadowing everyone else's idea of what it should sound like. And a contented director is a happy director, and a happy director is hopefully a repeat client.

Again, welcome. I trust you will find this forum helpful, educational & fun.

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Jay hit the nail on the Head. It's not just Sound Designers - Composers usually feel their music is under mixed, and I even had a Production Sound Mixer who felt that the track should JUST be his production Dialog and all the Music and FX were detracting from it. :)

Remember that your sound design is only one part of the final product. Dialog, Music, and FX must all share space. And while you may feel that you've done the best work of the lot (which is not unusual for craftspeople passionate about their work), the Director/Producer becomes the ultimate arbiter of how they fit together.

If you feel that maybe the Director's vision (as explained to you) wasn't being served by the mix, a POLITE conversation about the mix, may be in order. You don't want to start of with "Why did my stuff get buried" or "What the @#$% happened to my Sound Design!", but discussing what the director DID and DIDN'T like in the final mix, will help you prep material the next time that will survive the mixing process better, or let you know you were on the right path.

  • Thanks. In this case I think it is not a good idea to say anything. The director was not open was suggestions. He once said that he wanted to have some dialogue in the ambience, because there were people talking. And I said that I would not recoment putting dialogue in the ambience because it is very distracting from the main actions. I would rather add some mumbling sound, so something that does not have audible words in it. Also he did see the point, he was very upset and didn't like me very much after that. – Sound1844 Sep 27 '10 at 12:09
  • omg... that is scary man! i got scarred just thinking of it! – Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis Jan 11 '11 at 12:18
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Thank you for your answers! I know it is the director who is in charge. And I didn't say anything to him about the mix, that is why I am posting here. That pill is not easy to swallow though, because of cause I am passinate about my work. I think that is the big difference between doing sound for film and doing music production. In film there are always so many more people involved and you can only hope that your work will be appreciated in the end.

In the end it is a job, you are right. The thing is that payment is not the only thing you get out of it. You will also get the credit. So your name is associated with this film even though the final version is very different from what you have done. And I am still at the beginning, so I am not sure if this film is very good for my reputation.

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Basically I agree fully with Jay's and Sonsey's point...

BUT

...not having nearly as much experience in the field as most of you guys do, I have recognized one serious problem when working with directors, cinematographers etc.: sound design, sound mixing, scoring, dialogue mixing etc. etc. is almost always postponed into post-production, and quasi banished out of production, let alone having ONE SINGLE thought about sound in pre-production.

I think that this over-emphasis of the visual domain (yes, I'm talking about movies, but, as David Lynch put it "Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound. Sometimes sound even overplays the visual.") is a huge problem, and one symptom is that in almost every (feature) movie sound designer, mixers and composers/music editors end up frustrated.

This could easily be done away with if sound people were more integrated in the (pre-)production process in the first place...

Personally I encourage students to think about sound in their video/film projects as early as possible in the whole process.

well, just my €0.02...

best, Julian

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This is why I ask for permission to create a demo reel to put up on my website out of my work. That way, I can rather point an interested client or a potential one, to look at a demo reel, because I can mix it myself and I remove all the dialogue and music and cut the film to show only parts I did the sound for(no point wasting their time with empty slots and people kissing.)

After I did this, it didn't bother me so much. Ask if you can, though it might be harder on feature films because that's a lot of red tape. Though I recently got asked to do Behind the scenes mix of just my sound design for films so that also works.

But yes, don't bite the hand that pays AND you can always re-use the sounds later where the mix might be more considered.

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