Hi folks,

I’m gonna ask something quite naiv. I finished the sound design for a documentary (my first doc as a director), I worked on pro-tools where I reached the step called “pre-mix” (for me it is already a mix, it sounds good), but I know that usually it must go into a studio to be passed and filtered into a mixer (maybe just to respect some standards like peaks?). Now I am worry because the documentary has been selected from an important international filmfestival: is this going to sound good? What should I do? In my home studio it works perfectly. Do I really need to rent a studio to have a satisfying mixing? What’s gonna happen if I make a bounce on pro-tools and import it into FinalCut and burn a dvd or a Beta sp?

The current audio of the doc is: stereo (pan left-right), the peak is around -8db and sometime reaches -4db (when there’s a thunder, an elicopter very close or a party with people playing djambè....dialogues sometime reach -6db). Is the Master fader of pro-tools fine enough to measure the peaks? Is it trustworthy?

Sorry for my ignorance, but I had never reached this professional level in my lifetime? Thank you very much. Gio

2 Answers 2


A friend (a picture editor) went through a similar experience recently, where he ended up doing the mix, and everyone agreed it sounded fine in his edit room on near field speakers, but when it screened in a theatre it sounded terrible & he took a lot of flack for it. I had warned him about assuming responsibility for things outside his expertise & he didnt listen, but I suspect he will next time.

There are a bunch of seperate issues, some technical, some creative...

The very least a mix studio will do is get the technical specs right - how you describe your levels does not sound right, mixing for layback to BetaSP usually requires mixing to -18dB as O VU with nothing peaking over -12dB, this is because BetaSP has little headroom and when they layback & line up -18db to 0VU on BetaSP, anything over +6 will distort (hence the -12dB limit) Creating a master for DVD is a seperate spec

What format will the doco playback off at the festival? What are the tech requirements for the festival? If it requires Dolby soundtrack then you'll need to go to a Dolby authorised mix facility....

Creatively, I think working with an experienced mixer is a very valuable process - they may suggest things that you didnt think of, and finesse things in ways that werent possible other than being in a proper theatre type monitoring environment. They may also discover some issues that you werent aware of eg low level dialogue or bg noise... its better you discover that some piece of vital plot/content dialogue is not rating at the mix stage and fix it, rather than discover it at a screening... There are technical specs that mixers aim to keep dialogue rating at, and thats relative to technical levels and listening in a calibrated environment...

At the very least I would strongly suggest you approach a studio to evaluate your existing mix - you may only end up needing to do a printmaster pass to adjust overall level to match tech specs, but regardless everything you do will make the end result better & give you confidence it will replay correctly!

  • an additional note: theatres can & will fck up the playback! If I am in the same city as an important screening I usually arrange to go to the theatre & check playback before the screening eg play ten minutes of reel 1... Considering how much work goes into making a soundtrack its tragic if one mistake at the end ruins everyones work...
    – user49
    Commented Oct 18, 2010 at 2:38
  • Great! About the playback format requested from the festival..it's a beta sp. Even if the theater has a dolby they don't request a dolby..it's confusing. Anyway i will go for sure into a studio to measure and contain the peaks (with a limiter I suppose). Can you tell me the technical specs for master (dvd and beta sp)? I would really appriciate. Anyway You've been already very helpful. Thanx Tim
    – Gio
    Commented Oct 18, 2010 at 13:39
  • sorry i'm not a mixer & dont deal with that side of projects, so am not a reliable source of tech delivery specs...
    – user49
    Commented Oct 18, 2010 at 18:33

Don't feel bad about asking for advice in this situation; it's a good question to ask. Years ago, I had a very similar experience. I would suggest you go into a better studio to finalize the mix, make that a much better studio.

I had done the majority of my mix at home, and then did a final pass in a mediocre studio (but it was still better than my personal system). Everyone was happy with how it sounded in that "slightly better" studio.

I wish we had gone to a better studio. I really do. When I heard my mix at the premiere screening, I wanted to run out of the room...it sounded awful.

If it's going to play in a theatre anywhere, you should definitely get into a room that has a high quality monitoring system. If you can't do that, you're not going to have any indication of what it will actually sound like in a different environment. A high quality listening environment won't necessarily eliminate all of those gross variables, but it will definitely mitigate them.

You can only feel better about the mix if you do.

  • That you said "I wanted to run out of the room" is exactly my fear...what I want to avoid doing! Thank you for the rapidity of your answer Shaun. Ciao
    – Gio
    Commented Oct 17, 2010 at 23:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.