A remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 horror classic, “The Last House on the Left” hit theaters March 13th. The film was mixed at Widget Post in West Hollywood with Rick Ash and Gary Gegan at the helm. Sound editorial and design was handled by the LA based company “Fury and Grace” headed up by supervising sound editors Jon Johnson and Sandy Gendler. Production sound mixer Simon Rice nabbed dialog on set, which was located “left” of the Indian Ocean in Cape Town, South Africa. Composer John Murphy scored the film and also composed one of my favorite soundtracks of the past couple years on the Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine”.
I tapped dialog and ADR editor Miguel Rivera for this week’s Q and A. I want to thank him for taking the time out to do it and hope you enjoy a steadier stream of weekly posts from here on out.
DS: While what goes into your dialog tracks seems obvious, what material is cut out of them before they hit the stage?
MR: Any extraneous noises that are distracting to the ear; lip smacks, tongue clicks, stomach gurgles are big culprits. Also, off camera crew noises and camera dolly creaks. Depending on where the scenes were shot, any sound that is not relevant to the story is taken out if possible and those that are relevant are split off into separate tracks so they can be used as part of the M&E. These would include all doors, vehicles, footsteps, hand shakes, pats – anything characteristic that has no dialogue but can be effectively used. In the opening scene of the film, there were intermittent frog peeps that had to be taken out but the pick up truck doors were great, those were left in but split off.
DS: With all the rain and other external factors on location, how much of the production dialog was able to be salvaged? What was the worst scene to cut environment wise?
MR: As in most films, the first choice is always production dialogue whenever possible. In this film, the production mixer did a great job recording the audio. We were able to use a large percentage of production dialogue. Sometimes due to performance preferences, ADR will be used even though there is nothing technically wrong with the tracks. The toughest scenes to cut were in the rain – the wind machines were difficult to deal with because the pitch of an incoming angle would not easily match that of an outgoing one and a lot of time was spent finding pieces that matched or were close enough in pitch and timbre to be made to match in order to make fill. In cases like this one, long handles for each cut are necessary to make smooth transitions from angle to angle, in most cases fill had to be made for each cut since hardly any one of them matched. In the forest scenes, the location was close to an actual working lumber mill and many of the takes had back up beeps and machinery that had to be cleaned out. All of the swimming was cut from production and wild tracks recorded by the production mixer with a stunt double.
DS: What I believe is most satisfying about dialog editorial is saving lines in the cut by cheating words or even syllables from other takes. Were there any lines in the film you were excited to save?
MR: There were too many to name one in particular, but the scene in the kitchen when Krug and the others show up at the house was full of ugly clunks that cleaned out well with out-takes.
DS: Since a dialog editor’s work is so reliant on that of the production mixer’s, what could they do to make the process of preparing dialog for the dub stage easier? Do you converse with any of them during the course of editorial?
MR: There are many things that they can do and sometimes are limited by time. Whenever possible I like to talk to the production mixer while the film is being shot in order to maximize the recording possibilities, especially when a film has elements in it that will be very hard to duplicate in Post like crowds, vehicles, animals, etc.; as you can see the possibilities are numerous. A production mixer is dedicated primarily to record Dialogue and anything else is a bonus. By being in contact with mixers during shoots, I have been able to obtain very good tracks on some projects that I would not have been able to get had I not made contact. Often, we will get the material long after the shoot with no recourse but to use it the way it was recorded. In some cases like this film, the quality was very good and the mixer was able to provide us with a number of wild recordings that were very useful. With the advances in recording technology most features are recorded in a multi-track format, enabling us to use various combinations of boom and radio mics. Good habits such as consistent track layouts and good sound reports with intelligible writing are always appreciated. Dialogue editors are always looking for “Fill” and when a production mixer is able to provide it, it is like gold. I worked on a film two years ago and the directors were very well aware of sound issues and allowed for the production mixer to record fill in almost all locations, making the dialogue editing much easier. I’ve worked on other films were the track layouts were different not only from scene to scene but take to take, and all 8 tracks for the most part unusable.
DS: In some ways it seems advantageous for the same person cut dialog and supervise ADR, so why doesn’t happen on more films?
MR: Actually, that is the way I have mostly been working for the last 6 years. But it really depends on the size of the film and the time you have to work on it. A film with 150 lines of ADR is very different than one with 800, and sometimes you have to put many editors on the project in order to finish it on time. These days, the crews on most films are small, making it necessary for one editor to do all the work, which was the way it used to be done.
DS: What was your first gig like?
MR: It was a lot of fun even though the work was hard; I cut dialogue on “MacGyver” for several seasons. There were a lot of exteriors in Canada with all kinds of weather and machinery. Richard Dean Anderson was not very fond of looping so we had to make production work. I learned a lot fixing those tracks.