Category Archives: Post-Production

The Miraculous Sound Mix – working with George Flores

I read somewhere that in films, images convey information and sound conveys emotion. The week I’ve just spent spotting the 5.1 surround sound mix for The Devil’s Tail has brought this into sharp focus for me.

Post sound work is expensive. A feature generally costs between 25 and 50 thousand dollars. The initial sound mix on the film as it played various festivals was mine, a stereo mix. This feature was intended for DVD and we were never going to do a 5.1 surround sound mix. I’m a generalist though, I do a lot of things fairly well, which is why I had the confidence to take on the many various tasks involved in making a feature film myself. I know there are a lot of people who are much much better at all the various jobs I took on, but they were not available to work on the Devil’s Tail for the terms I was offering. So, DIY.

I’ve always been a bit of a sound geek. There are about 60 pairs of headphones in my house and I’m still not satisfied. I used to wander around when I was a teenager with a Sony Walkman Pro and a nice stereo microphone, recording conversations and ambience, which I would later listen to at home, either recreating the original scene in my head or free associating to the ambience. When shooting a movie, I take sound very seriously, and if I get a little more money for the next shoot, the first thing I’m going to do is allocate some of that to getting better location sound equipment (i.e., a decent blimp for my mics, a better mount, a four track recorder/mixer, maybe some lavs).

I did what I could with the mix of The Devil’s Tail, but I was more painfully aware of my limitations both in terms of equipment and expertise in this area than any other. Most people found the mix I did acceptable.

Those people were not professional sound mixers.

Then, Nathaniel Warsh said as part of our deal for him to act as sales agent for the movie, that he would arrange for a proper sound mix, and said he knew a guy who would do a great job. I was concerned, because I didn’t want some cut rate hack who didn’t give a damn just throwing my audio into Pro Tools, doing some auto compression and normalizing then arbitrarily splitting it all into 5.1 tracks just to make a few quick bucks. I mean, I’d already sweated over this picture for two years from pre-production through festival presentation, and I still haven’t been paid yet.

We were told that the mixer’s name was George Flores, that he’d watched the DVD and thought the movie was very good, and that he was originally from Mexico. We figured, well, he’s Mexican and has good taste. Sounds good to me.

I sent all the raw tracks over to George. I assumed that he would do whatever he felt like with the sound and that we would argue about it later. I hoped it would sound better than my mix, and that he would bring some creativity to it.

Three weeks later we got a message that he had finished the first pass on the movie, and needed to book me for a spotting session.

Thus began two of the happiest weeks of my life.

George is an acute man of boundless energy who is passionate about cinematic sound design. His studio is a large comfortable room with a terrific set of surround Tannoy speakers state of the art Macs and an additional sound proof room for ADR and Foley recording. Directly over the work surface is a 47″ flat screen TV.

Chris Comrie in foreground seated, George Flores, standing arms folded.

He welcomed us, offered us excellent coffee, and sat Samantha and I in rolling chairs. George told us he had done a lot of work on the mix and was pretty happy with it although there were still some spots where he needed my input. I worried that that meant he considered the job to be more or less finished except for a couple of questions and that my further input would not be needed. Was this the paranoia of a DIY filmmaker, that nobody cares about my movie but me? Maybe.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. George told me to listen carefully and bring up anything and everything that concerned me. It was immediately clear that George had used my mix as a template to build on. I noticed that he had replaced the coyote howl I had placed under the title card with a much more impressive one and so it went.

Over the next several sessions we went through the entire movie, frame by frame.  I was immersed in a beautifully balanced mix that enhanced the emotional impact of the movie incalculably.  I’ve probably watched the movie over a hundred times now, but the effect of George’s mix was to make it seem like a new thing to me.  He hand-sculpted every line of dialogue rather than using auto compression, so that the dialogue still breathes, has real peaks and valleys, and engages the ear rather than exhausts it.  His expert and specific use of noise reduction successfully solved many of the inevitable issues of sound acquired in many very challenging locations (windy beaches, crashing waves, noisy city streets) and made the sound of the movie much more transparent.

George paid particular attention to building environmental sound in the mix.  Our Mexican locations provide a lot of possibilities for creative mixing because there is a lot of life in them.  The Yucatan is remarkable for its profusion of bird species, and George did a beautiful job of weaving specific birdsong under scenes in a way that subtly enhanced the emotional dynamics.  It’s actually completely amazing what he accomplished in only 15 days.  I was struck over and over by details such as pieces of Foley that George had performed himself (footsteps, knocks, fabric rustling, etc) to fill in the soundtrack. Any suggestions or requests I had were acted on immediately and with great efficiency.  At one point our composer Paco wondered aloud if we could bring up the street sounds for the Merida city montage.  I had blown away all the original sound for this sequence, preferring to just hear music.  George asked me to provide the original files asap.  I burned them on a DVD and gave it to him the next day, but George had gone on a tear and created sound for the entire sequence of people partying in the streets during Carnivale from his sound library and his own Foley performances.  It was spectacular, and really made the sequence take off, far more than my original location sound.

I could go on and on, but this post is getting out of hand. In the end, the movie now actually seems to move faster and makes its points more effectively.  What more could a filmmaker ask?

Thanks George, for your superb work!

BIFF in the New York Times

Rather interested in this piece in The New York Times; yes it’s already from back in 2006 when the festival was considerably newer, but it gives people a chance to to check the temperature of the water and read about comparisons to Sundance.

“The Beloit International Film Festival in Beloit, Wis., has a loftier goal — to return to the spirit of film festivals’ golden era, when guests talked film all night with directors and writers who were on hand and available for questions. “And I’ll bet no one else has limousine service for their guests,” joked Ron Nief, the festival’s public relations director. This year’s lineup of more than 100 films is from 26 nations, and many fall under themes like human rights, food-based films, or an international genre called neo-noir.”

To read the original article, you can follow it here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/15/travel/escapes/15ahead.html

Boston Latino International Film Festival

newest Devil's Tail poster by Craig Allen

newest Devil's Tail poster by Craig Allen

Newest version of Devil’s Tail poster by Craig Allen

While BLIFF is not yet over for the year – one more weekend to go; ends this weekend December 13th! – our part in it is over, as we screened on Sunday. And it took us this long to recover…

Cast member Arthur Pellman drove to Boston from NYC and joined us for the exhibition of the film and the Q&A!

Festival Director, Actor and Film Director

Festival Director, Actor and Film Director

Festival Director, Actor and Film Director

Actors reunite under their movie poster

Actors reunite under their movie poster

Just a couple actors reuniting under their movie poster

Big thanks to Festival Director/Founder José Barriga and Programming Director Erin Scheffler for their support of the film and for being truly gracious and generous hosts.

The best looking Festival Director and Programmer on the circuit

The best looking Festival Director and Programmer on the circuit

Best looking Festival Director and Programmer on the Festival Circuit

Thank you also to the rest of the festival staff and volunteers who worked so hard on our behalf: especially Hospitality Coordinators Yvonne Ng and Wanda Droz, and Cynthia Barnes, BLIFF’s unofficial Queen of Twitter. Thanks to her efforts, she got word of the screening out to literally thousands of people in the Boston area.

Damn cool Pellman in front of poster

Damn cool Pellman in front of poster

Damn cool Pellman in front of poster

Special thanks also go to Darren Garnick of the New England Film Junkie of the Boston Herald, who wrote a great intro to the column he asked us to write as guests; Marc Jacques of the Canadian Consulate in Boston, who promoted the film with a press release and stills that went out to thousands of members on their membership list; and Evonne Wetzner, proprietor of The Video Underground, clearly the coolest indie video store (& small summer screening venue!) in Boston, who let us come in and be-flyer and be-button her store.
And did we mention Festival sponsors José’s restaurant? Great warm casual atmosphere in Cambridge, and some of the friendliest proprietors and staff you could meet… we were flattered they placed our flyers and buttons top spot where their menus normally go… 

Audience for our screening was quite full; enthusiastic and asked intelligent questions. Sign of a good festival. Our only regret is that we’re not still there and screening there again this weekend.

Audience coming in as Festival Director Jose Barriga looks on

Audience coming in as Festival Director Jose Barriga looks on

Audience enters as Festival Director José Barriga looks on

Jose Barriga y Devil's Tail poster

Jose Barriga y Devil's Tail poster

José Barriga charming us in front of  The Devil’s Tail poster

BLIFF & the New England Film Junkie

As the countdown to BLIFF continues, perhaps the coolest thing pre-festival thus far was hearing from Darren Garnick of the New England Film Junkie, a Boston Herald film blog.

We let NE Film Junkie know we were available for coverage, and to our surprise, after checking out our website etc., he asked if we would like to contribute a guest piece about how we made a low-budget feature…

it was a great offer and we were delighted to do it.

You can read previous editions of the New England Film Junkie here, and Darren Garnick is also columnist for the Herald’s Working Stiff, as well as a contributor to Slate magazine.

BLIFF09POSTER

Lee sobre el festival de cine en TuBoston en español aquí.