Live Action TV Tracklay and Sound Design

I’ve recently been employed by Gorilla, a post-production company in Cardiff. I’ve had a brilliant time here and have worked on some cracking TV. One project in particular has compelled me to write this post. Parch.

It’s an 8 part drama made for S4C and premiered on the 31st May 2015. My job was threefold; Dialogue Editor, Sound Editor (Tracklay) and Sound Designer. This is  fairly new territory for me as one area I’ve had the least experience is in live action drama sound editing.


Dialogue Editing

The first job was to edit the dialogue and production sound. If you can nail this then you’re most of the way there as everything else is now icing on a metaphorical cake. I found it quite a challenge as I hadn’t done anything like this before but for one exception. A year ago Shaun Farley employed me to edit the dialogue on a feature film called Mandorla (it’s still not released yet), he did an amazing teaching me as I worked for him, especially as he was in San Francisco and here’s me in Cardiff, Wales, over 5,000 miles away. I was able to employ all the things Shaun taught me to my work on Parch and the Dubbing Mixer (Re-recording Mixer to you crazy Yanks), Andy Powell, and I came out with a pretty good dialogue track.

[EDIT] I am outraged that my dyslexia meant I missed a who couple of sentences here! Grr. Well, I meant to add that I also had a fair bit of guidance from Andy who’s advice has been invaluable throughout the whole process. He’s been doing this sort of work for a lot longer than I and I learned a great deal over our work on Parch.

I don’t speak a word of Welsh, well I do know a few now. Anyway I’ve actually worked in Welsh a few times before and also spent 4 years recording, editing and mixing Irish language programmes when I worked for Telegael. I actually find it easy to work in a foreign language, mainly as I can’t be distracted by the narrative and focus on the work. It doesn’t take long to get used to the sound of a language to be able to edit it either, even ADR gets quite simple.


Sound Editing

Little did I know that you have to cover a lot of things that I never knew would need covered in live action drama. Car doors being a good example. Always add one in case the Mixer/Producer/Director want it louder for example. There’s a certain satisfaction in editing sounds in live action that comes from hearing the mix and seeing that the sounds have totally embedded themselves in the diegesis. There’s also a lot more detail that I was expecting. Having done a LOT of animation it didn’t impact my work as such, it was just a little surprising. There’s LOTS of car passes that will need covering.


Sound Design

There’s as aspect of sound editing that blends with design. For example, lets take the atmosphere of the church. For the day time scenes I used two general countryside, windy, birdy atmospheres. One would hear the outside world from inside such a building. Then I created the low rumble windy sound that an underfloor heating system might be like. The mixer can then play with the balance of these three sounds and add meaning to the events going on. They could raise the relative level of the heating vent to make the viewer get a sense of emptiness.

One aspect of sound design is to ensure all sounds follow the narrative from start to finish and can give clues or reference things happening later. This isn’t always possible in Television due to tight schedules, while was on Ep1, Ep8 hadn’t been edited for example.

The final part of sound design is creating actual sounds. The protagonist in Parch, Myfanwy, has had an aneurism and is hallucinating (or is she?) and we hear what she is experiencing. The first thing I thought when discussing the sound design with Rhys, the Director, was the sound of blood rushing through veins. I ended up sort of using the cliche of pulse sounds, but without actually using those sounds. I used a lot of wind, running water and breathing that I used to create the desired effect. It all gets quite surreal and I wont reveal any spoilers for those who’ve not seen it. Which judging that most people who read this wont A) live in Wales and B) be able to speak Welsh to understand what the heck is going on anyway.

Recent Work

I recently spent 10 days editing dialogue on a feature film. I’ve worked on a couple of features in the past but this was a bit different. I spent some time with Savalas doing some training and assisted on Red Road. I’ve mixed a feature length documentary (The Art of Time) but not for theatrical release, the same applies to the additional mixing work I did on Girlfriend 19. These forays into the world of film were fun but were fairly standard sort of work for me. Mandorla was very different. Firstly I was a Dialogue Editor, something I have done for TV and short films numerous times. However, the main difference was that before I have nearly always just worked on my own and was responsible for all the sound. To that end I found the process fairly simple as I was able to edit and clean the production sound knowing what other sounds would be in there. I was also able to work around noise issues by adding in sounds to cover issues like wind.

Mandorla was a whole different process and workflow. To start with I was working alongside Shaun Farley. I have known Shaun for many years now and have collaborated on a few online endeavours, mainly articles and online panel discussions with Designing Sound. I jumped at the chance to do some proper work with him, partly as he’s a friend and partly as I respect him as a peer. He’s a talented chap. I will confess now that I felt slightly like a fraud as this was highly focused work, the likes of which I have touched on but never actually done in full. That’s one thing I wish I could do more of, working with others as part of a team and to focus on one part of post-production sound.

After a chat with Shaun, I started my work piecing together a coherent dialogue track. It took a while to get into a good flow, mainly as this was a totally new way of working. Instead of removing as much noise as possible and covering the production sound with atmos tracks, I have to make the noise work. That meant more fades than I’ve ever created before. A trick I learned a long time ago is to take random small snippets of the production track with just the location’s atmosphere on and use that to cover gaps and noises in the dialogue. Again, this took that technique to whole new level that I’ve never done before. Using alt takes is another example of how I have only merely touched on dialogue editing in the past. All of this made me slightly like a fraud and was worried that my work wouldn’t be up to the job. Thankfully Shaun is a good teacher and gave me some great feedback, I’ve learned so much in the last week, it’s really stretched my sound editing skills.

The film starts the mix today (Tuesday the 22nd June) and I’m really looking forward to watching the film. Mainly to hear the results of my work and Zach Martin has transformed our work into a cohesive whole. I’ve never heard of Zach before but he must be damn good, mainly as he’s working as a mixer in Skywalker Sound! I will confess that I am bloody terrified of how my first attempt at proper dialogue editing will go down there. Hopefully it’ll be okay.

It’s actually been a busy time for me recently, a nice change after about 6 months of almost no work. A couple of recent projects have been my first collaboration with Dreambase Studios in Wootton Bassett. Again, I’ve known Alex Hudd for many years now but never had the opportunity to work with him. I was his Dubbing Editor on a cookery series that I’ve worked on before. Series 3 took Tales From The Bush Larder out of Kenya and into other parts of Africa. I’ve loved working on this show (Series 1 and 2 were done by Red Six Mix and Andrew Wilson is someone else I’m extremely fortunate to have worked with) as it’s full of really interesting things. Unlike other cookery shows, it shows food production and the culture in Africa, two things I love learning about. It’s almost more about anthropology than actually cookery.

Between these two projects I managed to squeeze in the post sound for an online sitcom called Staff Room. Thanks to a quick reply from me on twitter I did the post sound on the trailer and pilot last autumn and thought the show could do well as it was really good. Good writing, nicely shot and full of almost surreal moments of humour, not far removed from the likes of Spaced at times. The series got it’s commission from Wildseed Studios in Bristol. The series has lost the surreal nature and opted for a straight sitcom style. I love weird and unusual but the show is definitely stronger and will be far more (and deservedly) successful because of the change. The characters remain the same which is great as they are all well written and well acted. Ry McDermott (writer, lead actor and director) is someone who will definitely do well in the world of tv/film. I really appreciate that I got to work on the commissioned series as it’s 5 excellent episodes of good comedy. It says something when you have to stop work for a break as you’re laughing too much to continue.

I think that’s enough waffle for now.

Being Creative and coping with mental illness

In the spirit of the Coen Brothers, I’m writing about my current creative block. Today I am supposed to be writing music for a short film for an old friend. Alas I have given up as nothing is flowing from me. But why?

I make no secret that I suffer from depression and have been on medication for it for many years now. My depression is managed by using an SSRI which stops any serotonin being reabsorbed back into the brain. However, some of my symptoms are never far away, the main one at the moment is a general feeling of fatigue. This is manifesting physically and mentally at the moment. There’s only so much one can do to lift your own spirits and sometimes it’s impossible. This is particularly tough when we work in the creative industries and we need to have that creativity on tap.

Today is one of those days where nothing is working and I’ve given up. I feel bad, I want to get this music written and the film finished. Thankfully this is a freebie and there’s no delivery date or deadline to meet. It’s incredibly frustrating. Is there any I can do? That’s a genuine question as I don’t know of any technique beyond the usual ones books and doctors will suggest to people with depression.

This Wikipedia page looks at the link between being creative and having a mental illness. It’s something that I’ve wondered for a long time as all the people that I know with any form of mental illness appear to be of a creative temperament. This is, of course, anecdotal. However, it does look like some serious research is being done to explore this link.

As Winston Churchill said, I need to KBO (Keep Buggering On).

Grouping tracks for display only

This post isn’t about the groups function in ProTools, but rather a workaround from someone new to ProTools, coming from Pyramix. My friend wanted to use his Pyramix control surface with ProTools via HUI, all was fine until it came to selecting tracks not displayed on his 24 faders. Cue, crashes and hanging.
His work around is rather simple and has shown me a new feature in ProTools that I think is rather useful. Firstly, you select the tracks you want in your display group so they are the only ones displayed on the Edit screen. Then you add a marker. The clever bit is removing all time properties, then it wont be shown on your timeline. Do this by selecting “none” from the Time Properties section.


Under the General Properties section, make sure that “Track Show/Hide” is selected and click OK. Now on your memory locations window you can select tracks to display on your Edit, Mix screens and also on your control surface. This is rather handy for large track counts where you might want to quickly access your Foley, ADR or Atmos tracks for example.


Online Mixing Webinar

I’ve been asked to be part of a panel discussion about mixing for online only distribution by Shaun Farley (AKA Dynamic Interference). As readers of my blog will know I recently did two episodes of an online comedy series called The Clandestine. Hopefully I’ll get to talk about my experience on that series and also learn more about this new platform for mixing from the illustrious company I’m with .


I’ve copied this from the Designing Sound website.

We’ve got a new Film Sound Discussion Group lined up for you. I thought it was time we started having some in-depth discussions centered around the growing omnipresence of internet streaming as a distribution medium and how it impacts our jobs as audio professionals. This one is going to be set up as a virtual panel, and there are some great participants lined up. We’ve got:

  • Michael Coleman of Soundworks Collection
  • Paul Fonarev of Miso Sound
  • Lew Goldstein of Parabolic
  • Cheryl Ottenritter of Ott House Audio
  • Ian Palmer (Freelancer)

The panel will take place on Saturday, June 23rd, at 1PM (U.S. Eastern Time). The discussion is scheduled to last one hour, including some time for Q&A. You can register for the panel here.

Yes, the discussion will be recorded. A link will be posted here on Designing Sound once it is available.




Workflows – sending work for review as a QuickTime

Working remotely is something that I’ve had a few discussions with other people recently. I also wrote a post here.

I said that I have been sending my clients an mp3 for them to review. This is under the presumption that they are either editing the project themselves or at least working in the same building as the Editor. It’s easy as an mp3 is quickly uploaded, copied and imported into the edit suite. I have been wondering if there’s any other easy way to review work, especially if a client isn’t in the office or working away and needs to listen to my work. I used to upload work as a QuickTime, it has the drawback of being much larger than an mp3 but the benefit of including the video. I just did a play and below is some specs I worked out that will give me a 30Mb file for a 6:15 duration video.

It gives a pretty small screen size but the image is still quite crisp and certainly enough for people to view with regards to the sound, which is after all the reason for the video’s existence.

I like to use QuickTime Pro as it is very easy to add it onto the end of my workflow, especially as I re-record my work within Pro Tools. You can simply copy an audio file and paste it onto a video and export. Much simpler than using editing software. I know that QTPro isn’t easily available these days and wont be around too much longer as it’s been replaced by QT Player, but it’s worth the small cost (£20/$29) to have this speedy workflow. Still, whatever your weapon of choice these specs should give you a nice balance between picture/sound quality and file size.

The Clandestine

I thought I’d write a post about my experience on an online series called The Clandestine. It’s the first online only project I have worked on and I have to say I had a huge amount of fun doing the sound on the project. I had a simple remit, to make the sound exaggerated and over the top. This is clear cue to have some fun.

However, the first job to do is to create a nice clean dialogue track to work with. Out came iZotope’s RX2 to remove or at least reduce the background noise and atmospheres. I will admit that editing and cleaning up dialogue is one of the most satisfying things in post-production sound. While there’s some parts that I was unable to clean to my own satisfaction I am quite proud of what I done. I appreciate that a “bad workman blames his tools” but however amazing RX is, it cannot do all the work. I would love to buy Waves’ WNS or even Cedar’s DNSOne but like any freelancer I need to be careful about spending my money. The dialogue was nicely recorded and the clean up was fairly easy so please don’t infer anything negative from my thoughts.

So, with a nice clean dialogue track, the first thing I like to do is to put in all the atmospheres. The story takes place in Belfast, although it’s not referenced in the dialogue, but the accents of the characters. I used some generic city atmospheres and nothing specific to Belfast. I spent four years living there and it sounds like any other city. Please correct me but I can’t think of anything to separate Belfast from any other city in the UK. The atmospheres were picked for two reasons; 1) to create the background noises from the locations seen and 2) to help cover up some of the dialogue cleanup. The trickiest part was in Episode 2 where the two central characters have a conversation in the harbour in Carrickfergus. Not only was there the traffic and the waves but it was quite a windy day. Ironically I removed most of those noises but then put them back in with the atmospheres. That said, it really worked as the dialogue balanced much better than the original recordings.

The next phase was to add in all the spot sound effects. Most of these are often mundane but thanks to the nicely recorded location sound I didn’t have to add in too much in the way of Foley. The main job here was to liven up the soundtrack with some phone and motorbike effects. What I love about post sound is the ability to do new things. I’ve (sadly) never had the opportunity to do animated titles before so this was a real treat.

The final phase is obviously the mix. I mixed this project like it was being done for TV. The only change to that was I allowed peaks to hit -6 on the meters. I think it would be a great idea to have some form of standards for online mixing. Perhaps ones that mean any mixes done for online playback will easily translate to either cinema or Television. I do wonder if this unification of media will become a reality? Especially considering the already emergence of online television playback with the likes of LoveFilm and BBC’s iPlayer.

Joseph has created a Kickstarter page as he is hoping to be able to make further episodes. Please visit it, check out the clip of the series and (hopefully) contribute. Click HERE.