“21” went all in-to theaters on march 29th. Wagering that the audience will hear the sound effects under all that music(I kid, I kid) was sound supervisor Michael D. Wilhoit. A 28-year sound veteran, Wilhoit cut on one of my favorite guilty pleasure tv show’s, the helicopter extravaganza known only as “Airwolf”. Mixing took place at Sony studios with Gary C. Bourgeois and Greg Orloff working the tables, er mixing console. Bourgeois recently mixed the next David Mamet movie(which I am excited to see), “Redbelt”. While Orloff ears might be burning after he finishes work on the Coen bros next, “Burn After Reading”. Trying to keep those loud casino floors from affecting the location dialog’s noise floor was Production mixer Nelson Stoll. Stoll mixed on one of my favorite passed over gems, Ben Stiller’s “The Cable Guy”. Scoring “21″ was bestowed upon David Sardy. An established rock producer, Sardy tracked his contributions to the film at his personal studio in LA.
THANKS TO RE-RECORDING MIXER GARY BOURGEOIS FOR THIS Q AND A!
DS: Las Vegas is such a great local for sound; gambling’s aural presence is so recognizable. Where there any Vegas style sound cliché’s you guys got to play with on this film?
GB: Obviously in the backgrounds there are excellent recordings of the usual machines you find in any casino, so that the ambience is recognizable to everyone. Those sounds we tried to keep to a minimum so as to let the stylized sounds come to the fore. The soundtrack to this film is extremely stylized and one would get tired of the clichéd sounds quickly. Greg Orloff took the recordings made by Scott Wolf and interweaved them with the music beautifully. The locations cross between MIT and Vegas so the contrasts are very striking. The backgrounds convey the coldness of the MIT campus and the casinos, in a very stark manner.
Our Picture Editor, Elliot Graham, did a great amount of directing the mix and he liked a very bold track. We played the FX and MUS strongly in many instances and although most people might think of this as a “talking” picture, I can assure you the track is extremely dynamic.
DS: Temp mixes are more and more frequent in post and with any luck the final mixers are involved from the first one. During 21’s schedule how many temps were there and how important were they in defining what happened in the final.
GB: Firstly, I would like to take issue with the beginning statement that temps are more frequent. Temp mixes were, for all the years I know, done on every film and in the last few years we’ve seen a serious drop off in the number of temps on all projects large and small. Few temps are done by the final mixers let alone any mixers at all. Technology has made it possible for Avid owners and Protools owners to do the temps and I have written a paper on this issue which I shall attach.
As for “21” there were three temps done all by the “final” mixers. The film is so stylized that it was extremely important for us to work out a lot of direction during those times, so that the predubbing would be efficient and also so that the style was tested with an audience. Music was also tested as the music track is very fresh and time sensitive.
DS: With so many productions shooting wide and tight limiting the ability for the boom, how much work is needed to match acoustic characteristic?
GB: Right up front I would like to say that my praise goes out to all production mixers who work so hard under impossible situations to get anything that is half decent at all. My definition of good production sound is “no matter what I have to do to get there, if it turns out good in the end, then the production mixer did a good job”.
As for matching, the issue is less tight or wide than simply working really hard to match every actor, angle or situation change that is always occurring! I’ve been mixing dialogue for more years than I care to mention, but I can assure you that there isn’t a line of dialogue that has ever NOT been addressed in many ways. Noise suppression, de-essing, eq (sometimes a lot), light compression (if necessary) and many other tricks are applied at all times in various degrees. I hear a lot of inexperienced dialogue mixers say that some lines sound terrible because they were recorded that way. When I hear that, it makes me feel like they’re not trying hard enough or don’t know their full range of tools. It takes many years to develop the skills necessary to be a really good mixer and one is (hopefully) learning all the time. A good mixing team uses many years of experience, to be able to manipulate the material given, in a way that helps the director communicate his/her intent to the audience. Strong, clean, well matched dialogue allows the music and fx to find their “pocket” more easily.
DS: I am a huge advocate for communication between us sound folk (and there ain’t enough of it). What is the most important topic you would want to talk about to make post sound better?
GB: All the various problems thrown at us dialogue mixers have solutions that range from light manipulation all the way to ADR. We try very hard to save the production sound and are constantly encouraged by the directors to “make the production work”. The one truly difficult situation for us is if an actor goes “off mic”. There is not really any tool to fix this situation and so I would say that the one thing I would recommend to my fellow sound people is to try hard to keep things “on mic”. BTW if anyone knows a solution to this dilemma please let me know.
DS: Why isn’t music predubbed generally? How does the introduction of music at final mix change the way the dub goes? Whats the best way to avoid surprises?
GB: I’ll tackle the last part first. I like surprises – it creates challenges and if we didn’t like surprises then I could be working for the gov’t! As for predubbing the music, most of the time the tracks come in a form of a predub from the scoring stage or music studio. Stems are usually delivered in some combination of rhythm, strings, synth, guitars, full 5.1 orch etc. As long as the stems are broken out we can control the internal balances along with the overall mix, in a way that permits us to weave around dial. or feature
certain instruments according to the directors’ vision.
My biggest concern now is that a lot of music is being delivered in 2 track format (L/R stereo), and therefore does not take advantage of the 5.1 format. I plan on writing a paper on this subject in the near future to further explain the advantages of 5.1 music stems.
DS: What was your first gig like?
GB: I started in the sound dept at Crawley Films /Ottawa/Canada, an industrial/documentary film company that also dabbled in the odd feature film. I was sent out as a prod. mixer and then trained by the in-house mixer Bob Leclair. My background is in music and my first feature film was mixing music on “Janis” (the story of Janis Joplin). My second effort was to record all the FX and mix “The Man Who Skied Down Everest”, which won an Academy Award for best feature documentary. I then spent a few years mixing music for Bob Dylan and others. I feel that I received great training from almost everyone I’ve had contact with over the years and I still have a great passion for my craft. I look forward to coming to work every day.
LETTING IT RIDE:
Gary authored a great editorial on the importance of temp dubs, available HERE!