Working with Sound Designers: How to Get the Best Audio for Your Film
Updated: Aug 10
Here at 344 Audio we love to spread knowledge and provide guidance on current industry workflows and practices, so we have decided to make our first blog post about how you can work best with a Sound Designer and Audio Post team to achieve a great soundtrack for your project.
Start Planning for Sound in Pre-Production
When speaking with new clients about their film, the sentence I hear too often is "We have just shot and edited our movie, it is now ready for a Sound Designer to make it sound great."
While this is great optimism on the Producer and/or Directors part, the fact that they didn't hire us earlier during pre-production means that we aren't utilising every opportunity in the budget to make the film sound great, here's why:
1. The Sound Designer should be reading the script in pre-production, looking for opportunities and sound cues to formulate ideas and plans that match with the Director’s vision (both while filming and in post). In some cases we may need to start creating sounds before post-production.
2. The Sound Designer should be liaising with the Location Sound Team and Music Composers in pre-production to collaborate on solving potential sound problems on certain locations, or starting to build creative ideas alongside the script that may be enhanced greatly by three or more minds instead of one. Building this relationship early on will mean that by the time production and post-production arrive, the workflow will be established and less money and time will be spent on potential issues.
3. In some cases, it won't cost you much (or anything) to have a meeting with Sound and Music departments, even if it is over video chat.
4. The Sound Team should be speaking with the Location Manager about being 'sound conscious' when choosing shooting locations as well as your Producers and Directors about allotting shoot time to sound related activities such as: gathering wild tracks of dialogue, recording specific sound effects and recording room tones. This means we can save money on expensive sound libraries in addition to the cost of Dialogue Editing and Restoration.
Be Realistic with Your Expectations
As the entry level cost for making films decreases, a low budget mindset can alter the expectations of the Producer and/or Director when it comes to Sound.
You should be considering sound when deciding whether your budget can cover the entire script you have. To give you some perspective, imagine you want a drone shot for the opening scene but can't afford to hire the drone and operator. You would likely decide on a less elaborate shot for financial reasons. A comparable scenario to consider in sound might be when you are making a film full of action packed fights and complex moving parts. You should be prepared for the Sound Designer and Foley Artist to spend more time and require a higher sound effects budget than on a dialogue heavy, minimalist film.
If you are working with limited time, you must also consider how this affects the Sound Designer. Audio Post often comes last in the post production process, so adequate time must be left for the department to complete their duties. Under time pressure, artistic input is often limited. We want your film to sound good, but we can't effectively enhance your story if we don't have time to do so.
Learning more about our basic workflow and equipment costs will help manage your budget vs. time vs. quality expectations. There are many tasks and job roles that come under Audio Post Production, and if the budget only allows for one person to do all of the Sound Design/Editorial, Foley, Dialogue Editing and Mixing on a large Feature Film project, your sound budget is too low. Splitting the tasks between two or more people removes a lot of pressure and can lead to a more collaborative and exciting final product.
Leave No Weak Links in the Chain
Even If you have a world class Location Sound Mixer, Sound Designer or Composer it won't be enough to hide weaknesses in each respective department. A great way to ensure consistency is to spread the budget you have across people who work at a similar level of expertise, resulting in a more rounded soundtrack that compliments the project.
Sound needs to be recorded correctly on set, which means you'll need a great Location Sound Mixer, great Boom Operators and a really helpful and involved team in every department that will support each other to get the best result. You will then need an Editor with attention to detail who understands Audio Post workflows so that the relevant files will be delivered to the Sound Designer in a tidy and compatible way. The full Audio Post team will need to have experience and understanding of their respective roles, this way they not only work well together, but their work shines the best light on your project.
Audio quality, just like video quality, should be retained from the moment it is recorded until the final delivery. The Industry standard format for sound is
24 Bit, 48 kHz WAV file, which means it should all be recorded in this format or higher and should not face any type of file conversion until it reaches the Sound Designer.
Never underestimate the role of the Re-recording Mixer/Dubbing Mixer. This person is crucial in taking all of the Dialogue, Sound Effects/Design, Foley and Music and performing a final mix that moves with your picture and story line while feeling natural to your audience. It is wise to budget for a separate Mixer to your Sound Designer on larger projects because the objectivity required can be difficult once the Sound Designer has been working on the same project for several weeks.
Always Work with the Final Video Edit
One of the biggest considerations when working with a Sound Designer should be allowing them to work with the final locked edit of your film (this can be before visual effects and colour grading if required). When working to your edit, they have created a tapestry of Sound Design and Editing which will be time consuming, expensive and could be compromised in order to match a new cut of the film.
Asking your Sound Designer for his file requirements to get started is essential, as he may be working in an alternative software, or your project may have special requirements that you don't know about yet. These should be mentioned to your Editor too, so that he can deliver them.
Ensuring the above will leave the Sound Designer time to work on things your project really needs which means the first sound mix you receive will be much closer to your creative vision.
Make Your Feedback Clear and Concise
Sound Design can be a very mysterious and misunderstood art form by both the audience and the crew. Sound is often said to be at least "50% of a movie" by various Directors and audiences but many are still not confident in understanding the process, which leads to some miscommunication in the feedback stage.
When reviewing a Sound Designer’s work, you should be looking for things that are distracting or not aligning with your creative vision as a Director. However, you should also consider how you communicate these ideas to the Sound Designer. Here are some tips:
1. Structure your feedback in a document which numbers each point and provides a time code reference of the start and end point of the film which needs some work.
2. Find a way in which both you and the Sound Designer communicate best. This can be in person, over the phone, video chat or just through notes.
3. Speak with each other in a language which you both understand. Working with a Sound Designer repeatedly will help you establish this.
4. Try not to go off on tangents with each point, and be sure to give the Sound Designer time to write up notes from your feedback.
5. Sometimes being specific can help guide a Sound Designer more efficiently. Try to compare the sound you desire to a real object and offer a section of a film for the Sound Designer to study.
Proper communication is the difference between a good project and a great film. You will definitely benefit from keeping your Sound Designer and Audio Post team in the forefront of your planning throughout each stage of your project. If you enjoyed this article please check out our ultimate guide to audio post- production: https://www.344audio.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-audio-post-production-sound-design