Recently I've had the opportunity to assist in correcting audio for a short film called Andy's Void. A story of Andy and his imagination. In this blog I go into detail about the film's audio; what needs correcting and why; as well as our process for how we plan to approach this task within a five week time limit.
The film is a comedy/drama that explores creativity and humanity through the eyes of Andy. Andy suffers from social anxiety and copes with this with the aid of his 'void' - a cardboard box that can create people. All Andy has to do is write down a few notes about a person he'd like to create and pop the paper into the 'void'. After a short wait, he gets to meet Carl who's "too curious for his own good" and then Bliss who "wants to answer questions with her theories".
Eventually Andy begins to struggle for ideas of people to create at which point one of his creations confronts him that he needs to try to live in the real world again. Although he doesn't like the idea he complies.
Assessing The Audio
Upon watching an edit of the film it was clear that the audio wasn't up to scratch. The biggest thing that stood out to me is that the noise floor was high and changed dramatically between shots. And it's not just that the noise floor was high but that it contained a lot of reverb, which really affected the clarity of the dialogue. This is due to the scenes being shot either outside or in small wood panelled rooms at low levels.
According to the character Carl, it's very painful being created in the void so a lot of screaming can be heard during this process. Although these screams weren't recorded badly they were not performed well as they sounded half-hearted.
The ominous sound design throughout the film was also not bad. However, I did notice that it was definitely lacking in low end frequencies as I would expect this style of sound design to be quite present. Something that the audience feels in their chest.
My only other quarrel with the film's audio is that within the final scene. It is a wide shot of two characters talking softly in a park. Unfortunately it was recorded while the park's lawn was being mowed so the brrr of the lawn mower's engine can be heard throughout the dialogue, which detracts from the dialogue and also detracts from the serenity of the other park sounds (i.e. wind, birds, etc.). This mower sound also continues on through the credits, which spoils the closure the characters had just discussed prior to the credits rolling.
Correcting The Audio
"If the audience can't understand the dialogue, then it was pointless to have dialogue in the script," Ric Viers, 2013.
There was definitely enough issues with the audio for us to consider replacing the film's audio (i.e. ADR), but it's a tricky decision to make as to whether we should correct the audio that we have or to just replace it from scratch.
Trying to correct the audio that was recorded on location is always worth considering as this contains the actors' original performance. It's also guaranteed to be in sync with the video. Not to mention that there are many amazing tools around these days that do wonders with removing noise from tracks. This is why I gave it my best shot at trying to correct the audio we were given. My process for this was removing some of the noise floor using the RX dialogue de-noise plugin. I then attacked it again with some RX, but this time with the de-reverb as I mentioned earlier that the dialogue is swimming in verb. This was a tricky process as I haven't had a need to use this plugin before and found that there was a very fine line between removing reverb and removing the actual dialogue. Due to this, I had to leave a little verb on the track after which I tried some corrective EQ. Audio examples of this can be heard below. The first is the original file prior to processing and the other is after I have applies de-noise, de-reverb and corrective EQ.
The track sounded better than it did when I started (and I will be adding audio samples of this soon!) but I still wasn't convinced and my mind started drifting towards what could be done with ADR. Although doing ADR for the entire film would be a lot of effort in a small space of time but I just wasn't confident that I could rectify the damage that had been done. The final tipping point for me was when Chris joined me in the studio and pointed out how low the levels still were. After having noise removal and being gained up the dialogue was still sitting at around -30LUFS, and would never meet the spec of -24LUFS - in accordance with TV Australia's OP-48 Audio Levels and Loudness - without raising unwanted extraneous noise.
So after careful consideration we, as a group, came to the conclusion that it would be best to replace the entire audio of the film - including dialogue, foley and sound design. We considered only doing ADR for the one or two scenes that truly needed it but it seemed a waste to bring the actors into the studio and not just have them do the entire script.
Purcell, J. (2013). Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures : A Guide to the Invisible Art (2). London, GB: Focal Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 1 March 2017.
Free TV Australia Operational Practice OP-48. (December, 2012).