Guest Contribution by Victor Zottmann
“You are fired!” – says your client. “Well, why would he? – you think. I’ve done what they asked for and delivered it on time.” Your client won’t tell you what you did wrong. Rather, he/she will simply fire you and look for someone else. There’s more involved than delivering on time.
When I got out of sound school, I debuted as a sound editor intern at a post production studio. I was so anxious about impressing the client that I blinded myself towards what I needed to do prior to anything else: read the project’s guidelines. The instructions consisted of key considerations, such as where to include sound effects or how the music should be edited. At the end of the day, I delivered the project for approval and thought I did a hell of a good job…until their feedback came along. It turned out that they hated it. They had several complaints regarding the quality of the show, so I went on to fix it and, on the next day, sent it again for approval. And guess what? It was denied once more.
This process kept on being reiterated for about a week, and my supervisor was getting wrathful. That was the trigger that made me realize I had to change something fast. For the past six months, I’ve been developing strategies that would improve the following aspects: communication, spotting and project management.
After going through the project’s instructions, the next step is to watch the piece. Doing so will give you an overall idea of what the show is about and you’ll be able to identify any opportunities and problems beforehand.
Second, speak to your supervisor and learn about his work with the client (i.e. have they already worked together, how is their relationship, what is the main goal towards the project, etc). If possible, reach out to the video editor as well. As sound passionates, we tend to get attached to our work and, unintentionally, disregard the video editor’s approach. Such an attitude is rude, so it’s always a good idea to learn her/his vision in order to efficiently achieve great results as a team.
Third, let’s say that you come across information that seems wrong. Instead of jumping to conclusions and passing the buck to someone else, it’s crucial to research and double check the facts. Developing communication habits is probably the main ingredient to a healthy workflow.
2. Spotting a project
For this subject, I’m going to give one of my own experiences as an example. I’ve been working on a series of institutional short documentaries about safety in working environments. These documentaries are similar to television news and, therefore, dialogue prevails. What’s more, the show is comprised of motion graphics that illustrates details mentioned by the reporter and has got music all throughout. For the motion graphics, there is a predefined sound effects palette and the same is applied for the latter.
That said, since editing dialogue takes more time than syncing the sound effects and editing the music, I start out by playing an episode and marking sync points for all the motion graphics pieces, as well as for music ins and outs. While It may seem cumbersome, this approach saved me a lot of time in the long run and, consequently, became a habit. So let’s say I receive 3 projects to edit and deliver within the next 5 days. A good plan would be to spot and sync the M&E and leave the dialogue as the last part.
Of course, if your higher skills lie in the opposite direction, then by all means work on that prior to moving on. The point being is to work smarter, not harder. Doing so will both save you time and improve your productivity.
3. Creating a spreadsheet
Just as creating an asset list for a game audio project, possessing a document detailing data about your projects, such as alternative editing sessions, fixes and received/ delivered/ modified dates is vital. Why? Well, it saves loads of time. For instance, imagine that you are required by your supervisor to hand in a specific Pro Tools session, which contains only your foley editorial and which you’ve worked on, say, two weeks ago. You reply like this: “Ok, sure thing! Let me just run through my HD here… Just a sec.” That second ends up lasting, however, about 15 minutes considering that you have no idea which day it was that you last worked on that session. In order to avoid such delay, a spreadsheet is tremendously useful.
By notating which was the last date of modification, you’re provided with the flexibility of finding your files quicker, taking into account that you’ve organized both your folder hierarchy and your spreadsheet accordingly.
The example below illustrates it clearly:
The spreadsheet is divided by two blocks: left and right. As shown below, the left block is designated for your project name and the date in which you were supplied with the .OMF, as well as the time and delivery date. The light blue section is meant for notes and observations.
The right block is meant to address the alternative sessions derived from the main session, and in which date and time did you last modify them.
It’s good to organize your spreadsheet similar to how OS X Finder or Windows Explorer displays your files in order to maintain simplicity.
In these illustrations above, I followed OS X layout as it is my operating system and; as Finder allows you to choose which data is shown on the right side of your files, such as “Date Modified”, “Tags”, “Comments” and the like. As mentioned in the “Creating a Spreadsheet” paragraph, organizing both your sheet and your project folder hierarchy similarly, will be beneficial to your workflow.
All in all, troublesome situations can be eluded with the right preparation. School is but an introduction to the professional experience and committing deliverables mistakes out there will be damaging to your career. The way I see it, communication plays a critical role within and across post-production departments, as do having a spotting plan and a thorough project management document.
Since these strategies have assisted me well so far, I would like to share an Excel template with the community. The template contains the spreadsheet demonstrated in this article, as well as four more blocks (color coded) as a bonus.
If you have any thoughts that you would like to share, then, by all means, leave a comment below.
Victor Zottmann is a sound editor based in Brazil, currently working with short documentaries. In spite of being devoted to film, he has been developing an enormous passion for game audio. He is also interested in theatre sound design and acoustics. You can find him at on Twitter, his personal site or on LinkedIn.
charles maynes says
nice article- though I did take some issue with the first situation-
if you come into a facility as a sound intern, you are a trainee, and should be mentored by the more experienced staff members of your department- The idea that you could submit mixes without your supervisors review and approval to a client, who is likely being charged the full price of the services is insanity.
The supervisor was at fault in that instance, at least in my opinion…..
Victor Zottmann says
Hi Charles, I’m glad you liked it!
You made a good point and found a gaping hole in my writing as it lacked more detail on how the mixes were delivered. Within the first couple of weeks the supervisor worked close with me into getting every detail right. Once the pattern was established he allowed me to deliver without consulting him first. Indeed, he was at fault in that instance, but I also made the mistake of thinking I could do things my way just because I though it was right.
Thank you for adding that observation to the article.