So I am in a situation in which I agreed to do "sound design" for a short film a year ago. It came to my desk and they had me rush a pre dub out in one week to send off to sun dance 2010. Well now they have made many many edit changes and it is back to me as of 2 weeks ago. The production audio is fubared in many scenes, I have tried everything I know but no luck. They only recorded audio into the RED and I do not have access to the audio of any additional takes. I am now in this predicament in which I am going to recommend ADR. Personally I do not really have the facilities at the current time to even do ADR, and I know their budget does not have any room in it. I'm getting paid 600 maybe 1000 do to the whole 30 min movie.

If they don't have ADR done, I really do not want my name attached to the movie in an audio manner because its really really terrible production audio. Other than horrid signal to noise ratios many scenes have people talking in them( director/dp) and BGs and other noise can only cover that up so much. I know with design I can add a lot to the movie, but the average person looking to hire me for their next project will just hear horrid dialogue.

How do you deal with your hands being tied from the start and because of that, your name would suffer if you actually did the project and was credited for it?

I have been working awhile at building up my name and am now moving from the free work on student projects to some free projects with exceptional design potential and the occasional paying gig.

I don't know, I am just in a situation where I almost feel morally obligated to do the project, but the director is just clueless and movie itself is pretty terrible. I'm leaning towards the side of doing what I can with what I have and then adding a bit to each scene. It is not worth my time to design and mix the film to my standard, but I would like the money haha, so I may request to not be credited.

Can only polish a turd so much, so at what point can I demand to stop playing with poop?

Any thoughts/Guidance/Similar experiences

sorry /rant off

  • I can't say I envy you. I've polished some real turds in my short time, but I've never had anything that bad. Will a hug help? #Hug#
    – g.a.harry
    Jun 2, 2011 at 21:04
  • The RED's Audio is notorious for complete and utter suckage. I really hate that company. I can't even recall the amount of times I've been told there's no budget for audio because they just spent $17,000. on a camera. Maybe I'm a little biased though. I still don't care. Jun 3, 2011 at 10:32
  • If you're cinematographer needs a RED to take beautiful pictures, you should probably save the money and get a new cinematographer instead.
    – g.a.harry
    Jun 4, 2011 at 0:22
  • @Syndicated Recent upgrades should have changed that. Used to be a huge problem. Now I recommend at least strapping something on to the RED to help with syncing sound... but if you're going to spend that much on a camera package, why wouldn't you at least rent SOMETHING to get off camera sound.
    – VCProd
    Jun 6, 2011 at 16:12
  • @Syndicate I also love how every RED owner will say how good the pre's are in the red, I always just smile and do my thing. Jun 6, 2011 at 19:04

12 Answers 12


This is a tough situation, and i don't think there's any totally safe way to navigate the minefield. A few things though:

  • If there's not a huge amount of dialogue, and if they can get the actors back in for ADR, then you could probably pull it off in a relatively quiet house/apartment. I don't know how equip rental is in NOLA, but in NYC i can get a shotgun and mic stand for something like $40 for a weekend. The downside to this is, if the director is inexperienced, it's likely you'll get crappy ADR performances.

  • One thing that's still jangling around in my head from film school is the idea that a film's soundtrack should match its production values. A beautifully shot drama will be let down by noise pumping up and down with the dialogue but, conversely, a gritty, off-the-shoulder docudrama doesn't need clear sound. The audience will accept a reasonable amount of noise. It may not be ideal from a sound designer's point of view, but if the other production values aren't that great, you'll have more leeway with regards to what you can and can't use from the production. You could even get creative with some "technical mistakes". I love throwing in some wind on the mic (when it works).

  • If it's as sub standard as you say, then you may not have to worry too much about your name being dragged down with it. It's probably against most sound designers' philosophies, and a dirty thing to say, but with this one, maybe you can aim to just satisfy the director and let go of some of your own standards. This would be the alternative to turning it down or handballing it to someone else.

I worked on a short once, in which the location recordist had managed to horribly distort the signal, yet still record so low that it was buried in the noise floor. I ended up ADR'ing the whole thing in my apartment. The performances were pretty wooden, but i managed to satisfy the director and go on to work with her on a few other, better, projects.

Also, with shorts, not that many people see them. I'd guess that your future clients will only see what you show them. And you never know, if you handle this well, the director might know people, who know people, who know people.

I hope that helps. Best of luck!

  • @Roger I have the equipment to do adr, 416, mic stands etc, but all the rooms in my home are extremely live rooms, it would really only work for 1, maybe 2 of 5 or 6 scenes that need it. Jun 3, 2011 at 1:36
  • @Michael When i did my home-made ADR, i was lucky enough to have a fairly large room and a whole bunch of sound foam. Maybe you can fill the room with stuff (couches, mattresses, blankets, etc.) to absorb some reflections. Or maybe the director or producer can organise a place that's better suited (maybe even the actual locations if you have a mobile power supply!). Having said that, i can virtually guarantee that the performance will be the hardest aspect of the ADR, which is down to the director. Jun 3, 2011 at 2:18
  • @Michael, Blankets! Towels! Old sweaters! Throw rugs! Tea towels! Paper towels (full rolls)! Anything to cut down some of the reflections. Won't be perfect and will probably be ugly as sin, but it's more important that it works.
    – g.a.harry
    Jun 3, 2011 at 10:20

I think I would certainly recommend ADR, I think since you're getting paid for the job it's probably part of your job to let them know the audio isn't good enough. It can be so difficult with films like this, depending on the director and your relationship with them perhaps try to be honest, voice your opinions and tell them the sound is awful! It's easy for me to say this as im not the one in the situation but I think they will know the audio is awful and may be looking for you to say it.

Perhaps it would be possible to do ADR, to dig some money from somewhere-it seems pointless to me to spend any money on a film if you're not going to have it perfect.

Hope this helps and good luck!

  • They know that it is terrible sounding and they blame the loc recordist solely for the problem, which it was not just his fault. I would want to ADR the entire movie from my standpoint and standards, but realistically I know that would be me doing it for little money in comparison to the time required. And the movie in my opinion is not worth it to really be a charity project any more than it is. I am probably going to charge them/hour additional for time spent doing the adr sessions but then have everything else in the original settled amount. Jun 3, 2011 at 1:46
  • @Kyle - Yes, please, that way I can charge them as much as possible and make them regret/rethink their decision. Jun 3, 2011 at 11:32

Whenever I finish a project I'm not too happy with, what I do is get the director/producer to credit me for "Audio Post-Production". I really just wanna say please credit me for "Audio Clean-Up" but my common sense preludes me. Never burn bridges. If you're happy with an aspect of the process for example, he mix, why not get them to credit you as a mixer? Choose a title that showcases your contributions to the film and use a generic one if it's just bad. At any rate, don't ask for your credits to be removed unless you have to. Like g.a.harry pointed out in another thread, doing so just ends the project on a bitter note and you won't be hearing from them or their friends in the future.

I reckon that your good reputation will prevail. People who know you will probably be able to guess your circumstance, and people who don't well won't judge you too badly. There are so many worse films being made and we all have the memory of goldfishes these days. And do make sure the filmmakers know how bad their audio is and how much you've done. It's a good calling card for yourself. You might find a lot more work pop up from their recommendations.

  • @Tak I like that idea of changing the credit to something that is strong or just very general, rather than removal completely good way to cover myself and keep good relations. The design side that I have going on is pretty solid, but its just trumped by terrible dialogue. Thanks Jun 3, 2011 at 1:55

"We will fix it in the post"...if this is done, hopefully, don`t forget to send them this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c38CekaAtfI&feature=player_embedded

good luck!

  • Ha Ha! I saw this 2 months after finishing audio school. This has been my life for the last 3 years.
    – g.a.harry
    Jun 3, 2011 at 1:38

Just be honest. Explain the situation, what is needed and tell them it wont be free. If they say no, then just get out.

Do not waste your time, these people will never make it.


I love the combination on this one: a low budget picture, shot on a freakin' RED camera. Chalk this one up to poor planning on the side of the producers/directors and just get it done.

Remember, your reel only has on it what YOU WANT TO PUT ON IT! If the dialogue is horrid, and it's condition is not something you were responsible for (which it's not, you didn't record it), just don't highlight it on your reel. Mute the dialogue, and bounce out a version that's your sound design and effects editing and put that on your reel.

Also, as Roger mentioned, you may not have to worry about it tarnishing your name. If the piece is as crappy as you say, and the director as clueless, no one's going to see it anyways. And if the director ever does get his/her act together, and get any good, they won't want people to see this one either.


I once took out my name out of the credits because I was so unhappy with the audio and regretted it some weeks later (when I realized that many people actually liked that shortmovie). So my advice: even if you are confident that the audio is horrible take it as a chance to work with horrible audio (and make the best out of it). Maybe it won't sound good, but learning how to fail is as important as learning how to win....ok, that might sound precocious I know =)


In my experience, reputation has more to do with whether people like working with you than with the quality of your work. Not that quality isn't important, but most directors don't care about the same things you as an engineer care about. Set up expectations first. Give them all the bad news upfront, then come to the rescue. I have never got a gig from someone seeing my work and looking me up. It's always a referral based on a working relationship.


Totally agree with Kyle: ADR and a few knocks in the head for the director is a must. He must learn sound is the other half of the work. Regards and good luck!!


Hi Michael

Obviously, if you can get the ADR approved that is first prize. Otherwise, think of it as a challenge and use the opportunity to gain experience in dealing with sub-standard production audio. In other words, try to make the most out of a bad situation.


Here's my addition to the fray: Recommend ADR. When they say they have no money, then just clean up what you can. As far as it reflecting poorly on you, I wouldn't worry. Don't put it in your reel and if you do, show some before and afters where you've worked miracles on crappy sound! Honestly if they do agree to ADR, it will probably be the cheapest they can find and more trouble than it is worth.

And if you really don't want to do this, tell them you're not going to, sit through the "I'll ruin you in this business" speech, and get on with your career.

As Roger said, nobody is going to see this. It's nice to get another line on your resume, but don't sweat it. Put in $600 worth of work, and turn the project over.


I was in a similar situation where all I had was absolutely horrible stems (that weren't even in sync...) I was asked to "touch up" the mix. This thing needed 100% foley and ADR and even then it wasn't very good.

Recently a director/ editor layered in sound effects from Alien into my sound design. I told him I didn't want people to mistake me for being the person that tried to call someone else's work my own.

In both situations I took a "special thanks" credit. Not what I wanted but I did not want my name associated with either scenario.

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