When you watch a film with temp editorial sound or read a script or look at the artwork/pre build material of an upcoming job, how do you make audio based decisions?

Do you have a structure or flow of thoughts/questions that you ask yourself or do you go with what your mind hears instinctively?

Of course, the brief will play a role in influencing your thoughts.

It would interesting to know how each of us approach the creative process.

4 Answers 4


Despite the trees not liking it I tend to print out scripts so I can scribble notes on them & tag them with small post-its, coloured coded based on content. At a glance it means I can tell how much of each element there is which can be crucial when scheduling/budgeting etc...

The first time you get to watch the cut is CRUCIAL - I can't understate how important it is. You only ever get one first impression and your instincts are often based on it. That first screening should occur with no distractions...

Once we have QTs of the first cut I tend to use ProTools markers a lot, to mark up scenes & I use the comments field of the markers to tag the critical sounds TO RECORD.... thankfully PT markers can be conformed as new cuts arrive....

The other thing I have learned is to take your first attempt at a scene seriously - some times the initial shape & ideas that go into that first attempt will make it to the final mix (refined obviously) - if your instincts are good they should be treated carefully & trusted...

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  • Interesting points Tim. Revisiting first attempts has always worked for me too.
    – ntkeep
    Commented Mar 24, 2010 at 7:35

I generally believe that creativity stems from technical mastery, so I'm always working to make sure I know how to do the things that I would like to do. I also spend a lot of time recording and cataloging, so that I can have a deep and high quality set of tools to use when it comes time to make sounds happen. Then once a project comes in the door I'll record some more.

Given all of that, here's my process:

  • If the film hasn't been bid and accepted yet, I'll watch it through first and give my input on how much sound design needs to happen. We'll agree on a bid and submit.
  • If we get the bid, I'm typically the one in charge of opening and sorting the OMFs or AAFs that come from picture editorial. The process of sorting all of the audio gets me more intimately familiar with the overall story and the location sound elements that I have available to me.
  • Once the reels are sorted I'll pre-spot the ADR and schedule a spotting session with the director
  • During the director's spotting session I'll generally take some time to discuss my ideas for how certain things should sound, and I'll get further input into any non-obvious sounds needed. At DAPG we use EdiCue to spot things, so my process is to spot regions into a protools session with a track labeled for the SFX dept. This is useful both from a process and a political standpoint because the director sees me taking notes at his suggestions, and my notes are stored in a time-matched track that I can just import into my sfx sessions later on.

(As an aside, I've found reading screenplays to be kind of hit-or-miss with regards to sussing out non-obvious context for sounds. I recently completed a film where in the screenplay the main creatures were these electrical eel kinds of worms that pre-empted their strikes with this sparking crackling sound. The director never really signed off on any concepts that I sent before seeing VFX. Once the VFX came in, I found that the creatures weren't electrical looking at all, so I ditched that aspect of the design and went straight organic. The director was very happy with the end result - which included zero electrical sounding elements.)

  • After the spotting session I'll often make a conscious effort to watch a couple of high quality films that could server as influence or inspiration for the type of sounds that I'll need to create for the project. For example: Ninja Assasin is good for gore and stylized stuff, The Cell is fun for head-trippy stuff, and No Country for Old Men is a great minimalist foly film.
  • Now that I have a good idea of what I'll need to make and a general idea of how to make those sounds, I'll tend to put a sound palette session together for the more stylized things. In this session I'll be free to go nuts with mics, plug ins, and routing craziness, and I'll often print sounds as I go along. Here its all about removing specific sync issues and being creative. The moment I do something cool sounding, it gets printed and labeled - regardless of if it will work for this specific project.
  • Time permitting, I'll also try to go through the sound rolls and find anything from the set that will be useful. If the script supervisor was good, I can just jump to the scenes with the most potential and scout those specific soundrolls for treasure. This is particularly useful with crowd scenes or remote locations.
  • With all of that in place, I'll begin the sound design in earnest.

Some general tips:

  1. Never be afraid to use your tools. If you have mics, EQs, reverbs, empty tracks and pitch shifting tools available to you, then break them out liberally to achieve the sounds that you want.
  2. Don't burn bridges for the mix. If you want to print a specific reverb, delay, or EQ to make the sound work, always keep a muted original copy of the sound close by. Your mixer will thank you.
  3. Try to isolate 3-4 hour chunks of uninterrupted time to do your work. This will allow you to get into the creative flow and to stay there.
  4. Don't make decisions out of fear. If you're worried the director won't buy it, but you know its cool, give it to him the cool way. People aren't stupid, much as we like to paint them that way. :)

There's more here, but that's enough for now.

  • 1
    Epic advice, Rene, and well said. ¡Grácias! Commented Mar 30, 2010 at 5:14
  • Thanks for tipping EdiCue, looks like some well thought out software. Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 14:53
  • yeah, I love edicue. they update and improve it pretty regularly too.
    – Rene
    Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 16:06

When I am preparing for a work, I usually watch it or read it over and over and note down "keywords".

It generally saves a lot of time to search my library with a proper list of keywords like "dark, foggy, futuristic, anxious, etc." Then I usually discuss these keywords and the project with the director. This I think is the most crucial step before you begin doing something in the wrong direction.

Some directors wants to play safe and some of them wants to push the limits and be experimental. An important part of my preparation goes to understanding this attitude of the directors so that I can shape my audio plans upon that.

  • I've done sound design for corporate vids, interactive, etc., and your technique of "keywords" is the same technique we use when creating sounds that match a corporate brand. Since "brand descriptors" are basically the emotions and impressions someone should take away after interacting with a company/product/service, that technique pays off bigtime for all sorts of uses. Commented Mar 30, 2010 at 5:17

Where I work I have yet to be given an opportunity to speak to the Director. I also have someone above me in our hierarchy who is responsible for the sound from a creative point of view. He doesn't actually do any of the work, but it is responsible and approves all the work before clients hear it.

So, today I've been beefing up some tracklay to make it all sound a bit more interesting (cooler too?). I'm the dialogue editor and mixer but am pretty much given carte blanche to do as I will as the results are usually liked during the review where the Director will be present.

I think as one progresses and gains more of a reputation you are given more freedom to do as you please.

I'm not sure about temp sound effects. They can be useful as a guide for something to be at a specific place but they are usually full of very bad sounds that are thrown in just to make the show more alive but with little thought if it's actually any good.

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