Hi there,

I'm producing and directing a documentary (for the first time!) and I'm currently filling out a profile of our film that will be seen by a number of industry executives (including possible buyers of our film). As well as asking for the technical basics of the film (run time, shooting format etc.), the application form has a field for "Soundtrack" with a drop down menu that gives me an option of Mono or Stereo or Dolby or Ultra-Stereo. This is the first time I've been asked this, and given that I'm only just starting to figure out post stuff, I'm not quite sure yet which we're going to do!

I know the definitions of Dolby and Ultra-Stereo, i.e. 4-channel optical surround format, both of which I understand require a license fee (although that is about the full extent of my knowledge!). But what I'm curious about is what the norm would be for a low-budget independent documentary, that may (if we're super lucky) end up in theaters. It's the kind of question that is apparently so basic that it isn't easy to find an answer online, so I've come to y'all for some help. So to make things clearer, here are my questions:

1) Am I right in understanding that Dolby and Ultra-Stereo are basically surround sound, and Mono and Stereo are not? (obvious question, I know)

2) What is the most common soundtrack option for a low-budget independent film?

3) And the answer might be the same here, but if we can wangle the budget/find a post house willing to help us out with low costs, what might be the IDEAL soundtrack option for a low-budget independent film? (Bearing in mind that the answer to this question is something that will be seen by industry reps that we want to impress (without being unrealistic) as they may be considering buying the film for broadcast and/or theatrical release if we're really, really lucky!)

4) About how much is the license fee for Dolby and Ultra-Stereo?

Any help you folks could offer (as soon as possible as I need to submit this tomorrow!) would be much appreciated.

Thanks, mzw

p.s. If it helps to know, the film was shot in HD, sound was recorded on an H4N Zoom, with a wireless mic and a shotgun, as well as the Zoom's internal mics.

  • Actually, I'm pretty interested in this answer as well. It would be great for the community archives.
    – Mercy
    Jul 20, 2011 at 22:48

3 Answers 3


Is it for a film festival?

I've noticed that the sound spec checkboxes in film festival entry forms are pretty old fashioned. One festival had nothing even remotely related to what our mix was, so the producer had to write in "Digital Stereo" and tick it.

  1. Dolby is a company. Some delivery formats include Dolby Stereo, Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital and Dolby E. Most Dolby formats involve some kind of surround, but it's not that helpful if they don't specify. I googled "Ultrastereo", and it seems that it's a long-dead Dolby competitor, so i wouldn't select that option.

  2. For a low budget indie, it's probably best to go with stereo. If you can get a surround mix + LtRt (Dolby Stereo) or LoRo (regular stereo) with your budget, then great! Just make sure that they know what they're doing. Another option is to mix it in stereo, then try to get some post production funding to create a surround mix and M&E (for overseas sales).

  3. See above. The value of a 5.1 mix depends on your film. It may add a LOT to an action film, but perhaps not so much to a romantic comedy. However, there are many factors specific to your film that can change this. A well produced stereo mix beats a 5.1 mix that's been compromised by a low budget, IMHO. And remember, if anyone wants to buy your film, you can factor the upmix to 5.1 into your sales deals.

  4. Sorry, i'm not totally sure about Dolby licence costs. What i can tell you is that it depends on where you are. It will involve you taking your film to a Dolby approved mix theatre (or dubbing stage, as 'mericans say), and having a Dolby rep check it out, maybe make some tweaks, and (hopefully) sign off on it. I believe that's the process in Australia, at least. I can't say with 100% certainty that it's that way everywhere, but there are some big dogs in this forum who probably can.

Best of luck!

  • Thank you @Roger. A super helpful answer. Appreciate it!
    – MZW
    Jul 22, 2011 at 1:17

Stereo is a safe bet for a low budget documentary. It is easy to work with, and will playback without complications almost everywhere.


Which Dolby? :)


  • @georgi.m sadly they don't specify. It's just a drop down menu with a choice of mono, stereo, dolby or ultra-stereo.
    – MZW
    Jul 20, 2011 at 20:41

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