Digital Production Buzz
February 5, 2015
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
(Click here to listen to this show.)
Peter Hamilton, Founder and Editor, DocumentaryTelevision.com
Philip Hodgetts, President, Lumberjack System
Terry Curren, Founder/President, Alpha Dogs Inc.
Erik Valenzuela, ReRecording Mixer, Sound Waves Post, LLC & Alpha Dogs, Inc.
Voiceover: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Blackmagic Design, creators of the world’s highest quality solutions for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries; and by shutterstock.com, a global marketplace for royalty free images and videos. With over two million royalty free HD and 4K video clips, Shutterstock helps you take your creative projects to the next level; and by Other World Computing, providing quality hardware solutions and extensive technical support to the worldwide computer industry since 1988.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the brand new studios of The Digital Production Buzz. Let me give you a tour.
Larry Jordan: We’ve spent the last four months building a brand new studio facility that will allow The Digital Production Buzz into both an audio and video podcast. What I want to do is show you the studio and the control room, the gear we selected and how we put it together.
Larry Jordan: DTS build this facility 20 years or so ago, acoustically treated it because they were working with a new concept in surround sound, which they eventually rolled out to movie theaters. Well, they moved out of this space a long time ago, but recently we took it over. I mean, how can you turn down an acoustically treated studio? Take a look.
Larry Jordan: Here is our new studio, more than 500 square feet of production space. This is a great place for doing training, newscasts, interviews and other smaller projects. We installed four new Blackmagic Design studio cameras and supported them using both Manfrotto and Libec tripods and heads. We then added prompters from Prompter People for two of the cameras. The lighting grid is all new, although we started with pipes and fasteners from Home Depot and painted them black. Then we added Leprecon lighting dimmers, Bowl Richardson lights and Leko’s and a complete lighting control system, which I’ll show you in a minute.
Larry Jordan: Where the DTS audio mixer used to be, we replaced with the set for The Digital Production Buzz. The entire environment from ceiling to floor is designed to minimize echoes and maximize audio quality.
Larry Jordan: While we use a variety of mics, depending upon the project, for The Buzz we really like the sound of these Electro-Voice RE20 mics. We chose the Behringer audio system because it allows us to put a remote snake in the studio which supports 16 audio inputs and eight audio outputs connected to the control room via a single ethernet cable; and I should also mention that we kept the 20 foot projection screen with built-in theater speakers and these sound amazing.
Larry Jordan: The goal and key benefit of our entire system is live webcasting. From here, we can stream live audio and, at the same time, live 1080p video anywhere in the world. This gives us the technical ability to respond to industry news almost immediately.
Larry Jordan: While the studio allows us to stage just about anything we want, the real power of this facility is our control room. Here, you’ll find a 42 channel audio mixer, 24 channel lighting control panel, 16 channel Blackmagic Design ATEM switcher and a rack full of support gear and about two miles of audio, video and data cabling.
Larry Jordan: We installed five Blackmagic Design hyperdeck shuttles. These digital recorders provide instantaneous playback with the ability to record each camera independently as well as the line output in the switcher. We also added a Terenex format convertor to allow us to change frame size or frame rate or even sync to any external source in real time.
Larry Jordan: This is the other half of the Behringer system, their X32 producer mixing console. This gives us multiple outputs for streaming and recording, as well as split feeds for telephone and Skype interviews, as well as studio monitors, all without giving us any feedback.
Larry Jordan: Currently, we’re using a Leprecon lighting console, but later this month we’ll be swapping that out for an iPad control system to save space while still being able to control each individual light and provide on-camera light cues.
Larry Jordan: We had a lot of debate about what to use for a video control system. We have about eight video sources, four cameras, two computers, Skype and graphics and ultimately we picked the ATEM switcher from Blackmagic Design and then we supplemented it with Wirecast to provide online graphics and streaming.
Larry Jordan: Because our control room is very small – it’s about 70 square feet – we needed to be efficient with our monitors, so we used a large multi-image monitor for all of our video sources, then specific monitors for videoscopes, cameras and program.
Larry Jordan: These are some amazing new facilities and a dream come true for me, because finally I’ve got the tools that I need to be able to create some exciting new programs, which I can’t wait to share with you.
Voiceover: Welcome to the brand new studios of The Digital Production Buzz.
Voiceover: Rolling. Action!
Voiceover: Since the dawn of digital film making…
Voiceover: …one show served a worldwide network of media professionals…
Voiceover: …uniting industry experts…
Voiceover: …film makers…
Voiceover: Post production.
Voiceover: …and content creators around the planet.
Voiceover: From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: And welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for creative content producers covering media production, post production, marketing and distribution around the world. My name is Larry Jordan and joining us, as ever, our ever handsome co-host, Mr. Mike Horton.
Mike Horton: Hi, Larry. I’m sorry, I’m in the chat room in the back chat and there’s a lot of interesting people in there.
Larry Jordan: You know, the interesting thing is not only can you be in the chat right now, but you can also be watching the show and chatting at the same time.
Mike Horton: I know. Well, we just saw the opening. That’s the first time I’ve seen it. Great job.
Larry Jordan: Isn’t it fabulous?
Mike Horton: I mean, I’ve been here a few times, but that was an absolutely wonderful walkthrough of this place and there’s a lot of stuff I’ve still got to learn about.
Larry Jordan: Well, the video was shot by Megan Paulos and edited by Brianna Murphy and…
Mike Horton: It’s really cool. I mean, this whole place is really cool. Now we’ve got backdrops and you’ve got your red shirt.
Larry Jordan: Well, you and I needed all the help we could get, actually.
Mike Horton: Hey, when do I get one of those red shirts with the DP logo on it or whatever it is?
Larry Jordan: You missed the lunch meeting where they were passed out.
Mike Horton: I do have one of the old blue ones.
Larry Jordan: Mhmm? Well, I think that with this wall, we’re going to keep it a little bit warmer.
Mike Horton: It was an extra extra large. I have lost weight.
Larry Jordan: Mhmm. Avoid yellow, however. My team does not like yellow shirts, so just red or plum.
Mike Horton: But it’s cool. This place is awesome. I can’t wait ‘til we have live guests.
Larry Jordan: Oh, oh, oh, oh! We have a new toy coming that we’re going to premiere next week.
Mike Horton: Oh!
Larry Jordan: It was just shipped this week by NewTek. It’s called their TalkShow. It’s a way of putting Skype on broadcast television.
Mike Horton: Without the sync problems?
Larry Jordan: Without the sync problems, and we have, like, serial number one. It’s going to be installed tomorrow and it’s going to allow us to have virtual guests sittings next to us so we can have a Skype and we see their face and our face. It’s just as though everybody is in the same room at the same time.
Mike Horton: Really? We ought to put a robot here and put a face on the robot.
Larry Jordan: We’re going to have a little stuffed teddy bear. It’s going to sit here.
Mike Horton: Yes, put that. Put its face on. It’ll be really cool.
Larry Jordan: Called Guest.
Mike Horton: No sync problem.
Larry Jordan: And thinking of our guests, we’re going to start with Peter…
Mike Horton: …
Larry Jordan: Just hush. We’re going to start with Peter Hamilton, who is the world’s preeminent expert on documentary finance and distribution. He’s here tonight to talk about the film business in Africa, new rating systems, the recent Realscreen summit, where he ran a panel, and his take on Tivo Research’s new systems that they’re launching now.
Larry Jordan: Also tonight we’re going to take a closer look at audio for our projects and we’re going to start with Philip Hodgetts. He’s the CEO of Intelligent Systems and Lumberjack Systems. He’ll join us tonight to talk about audio production in the field and what we can do to improve the quality of our on-set audio.
Larry Jordan: Then we’re going to shift over to post production. Terry Curren is the Founder and President of Alpha Dogs and Erik Valenzuela is an Audio Mixer who’s also at Alpha Dogs. This is a post production house in Burbank, but Terry also hosts the popular Editors’ Lounges. He’s here to give us some tips on how to get the very best results when working with post production sound.
Larry Jordan: By the way, we are providing text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcription, and now you can quickly scan or print the contents of each show, as well as listen to it. Transcripts are located on each show page. You can learn more at take1.tv and thanks, Take 1, for making it possible.
Larry Jordan: You know, Mike, this studio gives us so many toys to play with and…
Mike Horton: I know. There are a lot of cables, there’s a lot of equipment. It’s a lot of fun.
Larry Jordan: And we’re going to be doing a lot more. If you haven’t had a chance to join us on the live chat, visit us at digitalproductionbuzz.com. We’re also on Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com; Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and just all kinds of great stuff happening for this show. Mike and I are going to be back with Peter Hamilton right after this.
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Larry Jordan: Peter Hamilton is a Senior Marketing and Distribution Consultant who works with the non-fiction industry on marketing and business development. He’s a former CBS executive and his clients include A&E Networks, the BBC, National Geographic and many other media groups, governments and non-profits. Hello, Peter, welcome back.
Peter Hamilton: Ah, it’s great to be here. Thanks very much for having me.
Larry Jordan: Well, you know, it’s always a delight having you on the show and recently you hosted a panel at the Realscreen summit. What was your panel about?
Peter Hamilton: The panel was titled ‘Formula For A Hit’ and the content related to how networks use audience research to develop programs and what the role is of the audience researcher in the program development and renewal process.
Larry Jordan: What was the takeaway from the panel? What did people learn?
Peter Hamilton: It was a really fascinating panel. We had on representatives from Scripps Networks, which includes HDTV and Food and other channels, and they’ve had relatively steady performance of viewing over the last year or so, whereas most of the other unscripted networks have been suffering a decline in viewing. Anyway, for the Scripps Networks, they reported that it’s very much about the story, that they don’t use research heavily to test and to develop program. It’s really more about the program as a gut.
Peter Hamilton: The other networks, NatGeo, Scripps and Discovery, all rely heavily as well on their audience research teams, but really as filters in the development process and not as real deciders. I guess the final takeaway is that there’s just so much talk about these new online strategies for measuring content and how much they’re going to appeal to viewers and all of the research has reported that, although they’re a really a important part of the process, they’re not the deciders and that there’s no magic wand or silver bullet coming out of Silicon Valley that is going to predict whether a show is going to hit or not.
Larry Jordan: We’ve been looking for that magic bullet for the better part of 150 years.
Mike Horton: Yes, that’s the way it’s been for 150 years. All the research in the world.
Peter Hamilton: Yes, and they don’t seem to feel that they’re any closer to it, although they do have a wonderful array of tools to test programs. One point that came out really strongly is that the research is more helpful when it comes to renewal time as distinct from developing a new programming concept.
Larry Jordan: It’s always easy to find something that doesn’t work once you’ve seen it. It’s almost impossible to predict something that doesn’t work when nobody’s had a chance to see it, it seems to me. Would you agree?
Peter Hamilton: Yes. Luckily, I don’t have to make those risky decisions day in, day out, but I do agree with you.
Larry Jordan: What was or is the Realscreen summit?
Peter Hamilton: The Realscreen summit is a phenomenally successful conference dedicated to factual or unscripted or documentary programming. It was launched by a Canadian company called Brunico in 1999, when about 500 delegates turned up, and at the time they were mainly focused on documentaries and factual series – wildlife, history, science and those genres – but with the explosion of reality TV earlier on this century, the market itself exploded and it became the key marketplace for the understanding and pitching of ideas in this reality TV area.
Peter Hamilton: I mentioned that in 1999 they had about 500 delegates; there were 2500 delegates in Washington last week and each of them paid around about $1500 plus whatever it costs for accommodation and travel and the rest, so it’s a really big successful venture. And then finally, it’s been franchised out to LA and London, where there are other Realscreen conferences.
Larry Jordan: All right, well, let’s shift gears because one of the things that you’ve spent a lot of time paying attention to is distribution and let’s think about international distribution. You’ve spent a lot of time in South Africa working with an association called ATFT. What was your trip about and tell me about the organization.
Peter Hamilton: It’s fascinating and it’s been a wonderful experience for me. I was engaged by the Association for Transformation in Film and Television. It’s a South African professional group that’s dedicated towards empowering mainly young producers who are either black or Indian. They are members of the overwhelming majority of the population which was, of course, incredibly disfranchised under apartheid. The ATFT has engaged me to work with these producers to prepare them to enter the international marketplace, and that means going to South Africa, which I did three times last year, and it’s a fantastic country and I really recommend anybody who has the ability to put it high on their list of wish destinations.
Peter Hamilton: I went down there three times and I organized workshops and presented workshops – actually the ATFT organized them. I arrived, presented the workshops in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town and then met the producers who were going to these big international conferences and markets, whether it was the Science Producers’ Congress in Hong Kong or Sunny Side of the Doc in France, and I mentored them, is probably the best use of the word, but really enjoyed their company enormously at these markets. Fantastic experience.
Larry Jordan: What are they doing that you think is the most important aspect of their work?
Peter Hamilton: It’s an incredible country to be in, because it’s youthful and it’s positive and, of course, the countryside, the landscape is staggering. Also, it’s got the feeling that even though it’s politically very, very challenged and there are still tremendous divisions between communities, there’s a feeling of optimism and newness in South Africa and I’m finding the producers there just really open to learn, really open to contribute and yet full of confidence that they can make it on the bigger stage.
Larry Jordan: Is there something we can do here to help the guys at ATFT?
Peter Hamilton: I think watch this space, read my newsletter – documentarytelevision.com – where I will be reporting on and tracking developments down there. I’m trying to organize an internship program for young South Africans from the ATFT family in the States, but I’m not ready to actually press the starter motor on that, but we’re getting close to it. I want South Africa and this particular program to be a big part of my life because it really gives me a lot back and so that’s really the secret.
Peter Hamilton: I guess there’s one other thing I should mention, and that is that the South African government is ultimately funding this initiative and there are very significant resources and tax benefits available to producers who shoot in South Africa, who hire crew down there and who develop intellectual properties in South Africa. So I strongly recommend that your listeners who are looking for locations for either their scripted or unscripted work, check out the benefits of South Africa.
Mike Horton: Yes, I want to remind everybody that the HBO series Homeland is filmed in South Africa, primarily because of the tax credits.
Peter Hamilton: Yes, and the same applies to my category of television, which is factual or unscripted.
Larry Jordan: All right. We’ve got a whole list of subjects I want to cover with you. Going to a different subject, ratings are generating a lot of news recently. What’s new on the ratings front?
Peter Hamilton: There’s been a very significant falling off of viewing of the major unscripted or reality programming channels. In some cases, the falloff is very severe, as in A&E Network. With most of the other channels, it’s been troubling. Holding water, holding ground is considered to be a real accomplishment and the question is why? Why is there this sudden fairly universal cross genre falling away of viewing? That’s what we’ve been looking at. I’m not inside the networks, so I don’t have the data that they have, but clearly there is viewer exhaustion with the reality genre.
Peter Hamilton: The structure of these programs is becoming predictable, the formats are known to the viewers. When they ask themselves the question, “What’s coming next?” they pretty well have the answers, so they’re not sticking around. I think there’s a certain exhaustion of the genres that nearly all of these networks flooded to with this reality me too-ism over the last ten years or so, so that’s an important factor.
Peter Hamilton: But another really big factor is that the structural changes in the industry are finally catching up with cable and satellite and there is a statistically significant but still at this stage small group of viewers who are switching from cable and satellite viewing to SVOD or subscription video on demand, which principally means Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime at this stage, but overwhelmingly Netflix.
Mike Horton: Yes, I’m in the middle of trying to talk my family into that.
Peter Hamilton: These decisions are draining viewers from the cable/satellite ecosystem and, more importantly and scarily, they’re draining money, they’re draining finance, cash flow, financial flows out of the system because, as you know, a Netflix subscription is under $10, whereas I’m paying $125 for my cable and satellite package here in Brooklyn. That’s a huge falling away of revenues, around the margin at this stage but growing and anybody who’s looking at the model is very concerned right now.
Mike Horton: Are you considering cutting the cable?
Peter Hamilton: I’ve become addicted to the English Premier League and I don’t have another way of getting to it, but other than that I would. But, you know, my choice is pretty irrelevant – I’m over 60 – but my son, who is in his 20s, is not a cable subscriber and neither are so many in his generation, and that’s a really significant factor.
Larry Jordan: Peter, before we run out of time, your main area of interest is distribution, marketing and distribution and helping program creators create money for their programs and you’ve recently published a buyers’ guide, where you profile hundreds of buyers in dozens of countries and networks. What’s changed in the last year for the documentary side of the business?
Peter Hamilton: That’s a really good question and thanks for mentioning my guide, which listeners can read about on my website. It’s co-produced with a French conference organizer, Sunny Side of the Doc. What has changed, what we’re sensing but we can’t quite pin it down, is that with the exhaustion of viewers for these over-formatted and predictable and over-managed reality formats, there is a new look being taken at ways of telling content rich, more factual, documentary programs and series, that there is a swing back to these in the States, or at least a focus on how to renew the genre in the States, and at the same time in Europe, particularly in France and Germany but also in the Netherlands and the UK, the unscripted documentary, the more content rich genre, is still very strong.
Peter Hamilton: Lots of producers are looking to do co-productions in Europe for their programs, where there is still a strong audience and very robust government financing programs.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like the market for documentaries is stronger internationally than it is domestically.
Peter Hamilton: It is, definitely. The strongest markets would be Germany, France and the UK, to a lesser extent Japan; Australia would be shrinking, the States is struggling but, as I said, hopefully a return of some kind. Canada is fairly stagnant right now, the CBC has been defunded by the Conservative government up there and they were an important buyer of docs. You’re really looking at France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and then other smaller markets in Northern Europe, Scandinavia and so on.
Mike Horton: You need international stories. You can’t do American stories if you want to go international, right?
Larry Jordan: Really quickly, because we are going to run out of time, what genre is the hot genre? What subjects do we need to think about?
Mike Horton: Rock and roll.
Peter Hamilton: Listen, I really don’t have the answers. I would say to listeners, go to one of these big international markets and find out. You’ve just got to get out of Dodge and find out for yourselves.
Mike Horton: Well, you did that blog on Independent Lens and mussel shoals was the big ratings winner for Independent Lens, so rock and roll, people.
Larry Jordan: Peter, what website can people go to who want to learn more about your report?
Peter Hamilton: My weekly newsletter is called documentarytelevision.com and we welcome readers.
Larry Jordan: That’s documentarytelevision.com. Peter Hamilton is the Founder of the website and Editor of documentarytelevision.com. Peter, thanks for joining us today.
Peter Hamilton: Oh, it’s my honor. Thank you so much.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: Philip Hodgetts is the CEO of Intelligent Assistance and Lumberjack Systems and is involved in the technology of virtually every area of digital production and post production. He’s also a regular contributor to The Buzz, knows just about everything that’s got blinking lights attached to it and, as always, I’m delighted to say welcome back, Philip.
Mike Horton: Yes, that’s for sure. Hello, Philip. All right.
Larry Jordan: All right, Philip is there somewhere. Hang on a second.
Mike Horton: Hello?
Philip Hodgetts: I’m here.
Mike Horton: There we go.
Larry Jordan: There you are. We knew we’d find you.
Mike Horton: I was going to have to put on my headphones here.
Larry Jordan: Philip, tonight we want to take a closer look at audio, both in production and post, and a couple of weeks ago we talked with you about the gear you were taking on location and how small it’s become. But tonight, I wanted to look at the same concept of production but from an audio point of view. What gear are you using these days and what are you doing to get great sound on location?
Philip Hodgetts: Because I mostly do interview based material, I’m very much focused on getting a good interview source.
Larry Jordan: Ok.
Mike Horton: And?
Larry Jordan: Are you still with us?
Philip Hodgetts: I’m still here.
Larry Jordan: Ok. So what gear are you using to get great source audio in production? Mike and I are ready to take notes.
Philip Hodgetts: Well, because I’m doing interviews that have a very specific function…
Mike Horton: Oh, it’s the Burbank audio on Philip right now. Philip, I think you need to go out on your balcony.
Larry Jordan: You are cutting in and out and we are hearing every third sentence.
Philip Hodgetts: Oh, that’s not good. How about now?
Larry Jordan: Much better.
Mike Horton: Yes, well, kind of, yes.
Larry Jordan: He has an Australian accent, you’ve got to make allowances.
Mike Horton: People in the chat are starting to make fun of the sound.
Philip Hodgetts: You’ve got to allow for that.
Mike Horton: And here we are talking about audio.
Larry Jordan: All right, yes, but this is…
Philip Hodgetts: Yes, how ironic.
Larry Jordan: This is on location audio, so it’s a perfect opportunity. Let’s just try this one from the top again, Philip. When you’re on location, what are you using to gather your sound?
Philip Hodgetts: I always carry two or three options because not everything will work every time. I carry with me a fairly directional microphone, a short shotgun I think you would describe that as, and I also carry a lapel, a radio mic pair for the situations where I can’t run cables or for some other reason. My go to, my fallback position, is always a lapel microphone on the person recording to a Zoom H1 digital recorder in their pocket and so that’s closely miked, the mics are not too intrusive on camera and, as long as you run the cable carefully, then that’s a fairly easy solution. The biggest advantage for my minimalist production crew is that it doesn’t require an extra person.
Larry Jordan: Are you finding yourself principally recording double system or are you just keeping the H1 in your pocket for protection?
Philip Hodgetts: I am always recording double systems these days. You can record into an iPad using a… cable and recording uncompressed audio there, but I find the lack of cables, the ability to put a microphone on each person feeding into the recorder on those and then using any of the modern NLEs, pretty much, to synchronize that audio and any video shot angles into a multicam gives me the most flexible audio combination I can get. Really, the ability to synchronize by sound rather than having to synchronize by timecode opens up this whole world to another way of working where we don’t have to either run cables to the video recorder, as it was back in the earlier days of production, or set up… a separate camera.
Larry Jordan: So we’ve got the Zoom H1, which is your double system.
Mike Horton: That’s the one you always use when you go off and do…
Larry Jordan: I use the H4. It’s the big brother.
Mike Horton: H4? Oh, what does that do? What’s the difference?
Larry Jordan: It’s three numbers larger.
Mike Horton: Well, yes.
Philip Hodgetts: You really wouldn’t put an H4 into your pocket.
Mike Horton: Ok. Oh, really?
Larry Jordan: No, the H1 is a really small thin device and the H4 is a little bit thicker. For me, it gives me more channels to record. It gives me two XLR inputs and allows me to record either using the onboard microphones, which I never use, or plug in Lavalier microphones or short shotguns into the H4 and I can record a stereo…
Mike Horton: So the H4 isn’t something you just put in their face and…
Larry Jordan: You could if you were a news reporter and you didn’t care a lot about quality, you just wanted to get the audio, you’d put the microphones directly in their face. But I will put microphones on the talent and run the microphones into the back of the H4 and use it just as a digital recorder.
Mike Horton: So you get what you pay for.
Larry Jordan: I have never used the H1, so I say nothing good or bad about it, but the H4 gives me really pretty sound. But Philip, recording it is one thing and synching it is something else, but the real quality of your audio is based on your microphones. What are you going to use for mics?
Philip Hodgetts: I have not considered myself an audio expert ever, so I went to a friend of mine, David Lawrence, who has extensive expertise in the subject and he recommended, for the purposes that I had planned, a relatively inexpensive Audio-Technica lapel microphone – the exact model number eludes me right now but it was about $50 on Amazon. It’s not a Sony or Tram microphone by any means, but for the purpose of recording decent quality voice audio speech, it has proved to be very functional and that’s $150 a unit that I can put on a person. I’m capable of putting out four of those simultaneously to individually mic up to four people.
Larry Jordan: We’re going to be talking with Terry Curren in the next segment about post production audio, but when you’re in production, in addition to getting the interviews that you’re shooting, do you worry about getting room tone or atmosphere?
Philip Hodgetts: Absolutely, room tone every time. You need to get at least a minute of clean room tone that doesn’t have any obvious sounds in it. If you loop a minute of room tone and it’s got an obvious sound in it, you’ll hear the repeat. Longer is better, if you’ve got the time in your schedule, and general atmospheric sound is also useful as well. For example, I’ve done a lot of this recording interviews in one location with my family reunion. Recording some background noise of just the ambient family reunion going on was something that I would possibly try and use in post production.
Larry Jordan: Are you recording with the same mic, you just tell the talent to stand there and you’ll record noise with everybody holding still? Or do you do a separate audio set-up to get the room tone?
Philip Hodgetts: I use the same mic, but I separate it from the talent and just clip it when they’re out of the room to something handy.
Mike Horton: By the way, Philip, when are we going to see a little bit of this family reunion? Is this a ten year in the making process? I know you want to go back and do some more.
Philip Hodgetts: Yes, circumstances dictated that I didn’t get quite through the interviews that I wanted in this trip, so I am going to have to go back for the next family reunion, if not before. It’s primarily a family project. I’ve come to realize that once we get stuck in our own little world where we’re not that careful about what we put on Facebook, that we’re not the only valid view in the world and a lot of my family takes their privacy a lot more seriously than I do, so it is at this point going to be a purely family project.
Mike Horton: So maybe this could be a boyhood thing.
Philip Hodgetts: …technology. And, of course, we’ll use it to test out some technology that we have ideas for, just to see if it works.
Larry Jordan: What’s been the biggest challenge to you in terms of getting decent sound in the field?
Philip Hodgetts: Trying to get decent sound without having somebody there dedicated to getting decent sound. In an ideal world, you would always have somebody with a nice chopped down microphone, with all of the boom arm on it, recording one or more radio mics on multiple recorders for different talent. That would be the ideal world; if you’ve got the time and budget for that, then I support that entirely. If you’re like me and trying to get things done on a minimal budget, mostly because it’s a personal project and because I like to test the limits of what I can do, then not having that dedicated person becomes a challenge and…
Larry Jordan: Take a breath. I need a quick website before we wrap up. Where can people learn more about what you’re writing, very fast?
Philip Hodgetts: Philiphodgetts.com and, of course, if you sneak over to metadata.guru, you’ll see the beginnings of my new site.
Mike Horton: Oooh! Dot guru.
Larry Jordan: Philip, thanks for joining us. President of Lumberjack Systems, talk to you soon. Bye bye.
Mike Horton: Thanks, Philip.
Philip Hodgetts: Thank you.
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Larry Jordan: Terry Curren is the Founder and President of Alpha Dogs. It’s a Burbank based post production facility founded in 2002. But he’s not the only one at Alpha Dogs. Another gentleman there is Erik Valenzuela, who’s an audio mixer. As we talked with Philip last segment about the process of creating production sound, this segment we want to talk with Terry and Erik about the process of post production sound. Hello, Terry, welcome back.
Terry Curren: Hey, Larry. Hi, Michael.
Mike Horton: Hi Terry.
Larry Jordan: We’ve been talking about production sound with Mr. Philip and that got us thinking about post production sound and, while you may not be out in the field shooting all the time, you are… a lot about doing post production audio, One of the things that you had recently at the Editors’ Lounge was a panel where audio mixers all got together to talk about post production sound. What was the takeaway that you got from that panel?
Terry Curren: Actually, with a lot of things that I was surprised, about how to prep projects properly, what things to put in there, what kind of things don’t actually come across – I was surprised to hear some of that. Erik was actually one of the guys on the panel, so he could probably answer that better than me.
Larry Jordan: I know, but I’m going to talk to you first and then we’ll get Erik in. What was your takeaway?
Mike Horton: We want to get at least five minutes of Terry before we get into everything else.
Terry Curren: Yes, ok.
Larry Jordan: I would love to get a sense of what your take is on audio, then we’re going to bring Erik in.
Terry Curren: Ok. It was interesting, hearing Philip talk about it, because we record a show together also and our audio’s not the level of audio I would do for a feature presentation, let’s say. But we work on a lot of reality shows and that audio leaves a lot to be desired. That’s more like what Philip’s talking about, and trying to get it all evened out from a bunch of different sources is challenging to say the least. Fortunately, our mixers like Erik can work miracles, but I’m not supposed to say that because they’ll get mad because they get more bad audio.
Mike Horton: I know the mixers don’t want to work miracles, they want an easy job. What is our job? What do we need to do? Or is that a question you’re going to ask five minutes from now?
Larry Jordan: Yes, because you know as well as I do that Terry is the boss and doesn’t really know what’s going on, so we’re going to invite Erik…
Mike Horton: And Terry has opinions.
Larry Jordan: I want to invite Erik Valenzuela into the conversation. Erik is an audio mixer at Alpha Dogs. Erik, good to have you with us.
Erik Valenzuela: Good to be here. Thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: Help Terry out here. What do editors need to know about getting audio ready for a post mix?
Erik Valenzuela: There are actually a lot of things that can really help to expediate the process. I would say the most important thing is using the best audio available and, for the most part, that would be like using a Lav instead of a boom, because there’s more flexibility in addressing the audio to match certain situations from using a Lav.
Larry Jordan: Now wait a minute, wait, wait, wait, wait. That goes against everything I have ever heard.
Mike Horton: Absolutely. I was kind of flabbergasted at that.
Larry Jordan: The Lav picks up clothing rustle, the Lav picks up somebody hitting their chest and the boom at least isolates you from that. Back up that statement.
Mike Horton: Yes, we could put a windsock on a boom.
Larry Jordan: Explain this to me.
Erik Valenzuela: Like Terry has said, we work on a lot of reality TV and so sometimes we have multiple contestants and they sometimes don’t want to use other people’s responses or they want to stick to a certain storyline, so they only want to use one contestant’s audio to keep the story going, so we need to cut everybody else out. That gives us more flexibility. If we have a boom, then everybody’s in there, it’s all married together and we have no flexibility on who we want to hear and who we don’t want to hear.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so what you’re saying is you don’t want to use the Lavalier in place of a boom, you’re using a Lavalier on each one of the actors so you can isolate each channel and then pull up just the actor that you need for that particular moment, so it’s not that the Lav has got better audio, it’s just that it’s isolated. Is that what I’m hearing?
Erik Valenzuela: Correct and, for the most part, on reality shows there’s a lot of moving around. It’s not like a set where people are standing in a certain place and there’s a controlled environment where there are no air conditioners on or there are no cars passing by. Sometimes they film on the street, so if there was a boom on a street scene, then there would be way too much traffic. Let’s say they need to make an edit and there’s a car passing by, that could get a little tricky sometimes on the boom.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so we’ve got a bunch of isolated microphones in our video edit. What do we need to hand off to the audio editor? There are really two sides to this question. The first is what do you want and then what problems do we cause audio that we should start to avoid? But first tell me what you want.
Erik Valenzuela: I would say what I want, and I usually request when I talk to the editors, is give us the best audio possible. If there was a boom and a Lav going on at the same time, I’ll take both of them and use the best one sometimes. For the edit, if I see that there’s a better chunk of the boom that sounds better, then I’ll use that. But, like I said, sometimes on reality shows there’s so much moving around and there are so many people talking at the same time, we just really want to hear what that person’s saying, the one that they have on camera and they’re focusing on, so that’s why I said using the Lav is the best option in that scenario.
Terry Curren: So basically you’re saying you want more, you want all the audio tracks if possible?
Erik Valenzuela: No, not all of them. Let’s say there are four contestants and they have a boom going. In that case, I would pretty much only use the contestants from the Lavs because I know for the most part that people are always trying to get camera time, so they try to respond to everything or have an opinion about everything, but when they’re telling the story, we need to stick to whoever’s talking and that way the Lav will give us just that pertinent person’s answer, perspective or opinion and it doesn’t marry that other extra audio that maybe people will try to focus on, where the producer might not want them to focus on. What really helps us is if editors would delete any audio that is not necessary, because when we get a show and it’s full of thousands of audio files, we have to dig through there to make sure that we’re getting what we need to hear and what is necessary for the actual show we’re working on. Sometimes if there are a lot of extra mics or extra audio in there, it can turn into a long process to split the show out.
Larry Jordan: So first you want all the different audio sources that we’ve got available and…
Erik Valenzuela: Not all of them.
Larry Jordan: What else can we give you that makes your life easier?
Terry Curren: Eric, one of the things that you pointed out was having the audio on the proper track, in other words all of the dialogue on one track etcetera.
Mike Horton: Do people give you tracks all over the place? What do they give you, that you would have to educate them to give you the proper track?
Erik Valenzuela: It happens all the time.
Mike Horton: Really?
Erik Valenzuela: I’m actually looking at a session right now where the music is all over the top tracks and the middle tracks and bottom tracks, it’s just all over the place, and that makes it pretty difficult for us to grab it, because to make networks pay for the splits, we need to make sure that all the music is on the music tracks, all the dialogue’s on the dialogue tracks and the effects are on the effects tracks, so that way when we split the show up for the splits, everything is isolated outside of the mix track.
Larry Jordan: Wait a second. Why is that so important? Explain to me why track assignments are such a big deal to you.
Erik Valenzuela: What I try to tell the editors is, if they can, just have the primary talkers on top, responders just below it and effects below that and then the music below that, so when I open up the output when I’m going to start working on the show, I can look at it and just start grabbing the music, putting the music on the music track. I have a template that has all the track labels so, like I said, everything gets routed to the right stems necessary for the network splits. An hour’s show can take me anywhere from four hours on an organized show to up to 12 to 16 hours on a very unorganized one hour show, because I have to listen to almost every audio file to make sure that I’m not missing anything. I’d rather spend that time being creative or fixing edits and stuff instead of splitting out the show, just because it was kind of messy or sloppy in the set-up.
Mike Horton: So what you’re saying, though, is it’s the same thing that we should be sending to every post production sound house, right? Not just you, not just the way that you work, but every place, right?
Erik Valenzuela: I would say the mixer or whoever’s splitting out the show would really appreciate a very organized session when they get it. Like I said, I’m looking at a session right now where stuff is just all over the place and now I have to dig through it. The music is easy to recognize and the effects are easy to recognize, but you just have to pull it from different tracks and stuff. It would just be nice if it was just all on the bottom and you could just grab it, put it all on your music track and so on and so forth. But it doesn’t always happen that way and, like I said, every minute saved…
Mike Horton: Oh sure, yes
Erik Valenzuela: …just helps.
Mike Horton: And every time you open your mouth, it saves a lot of people a lot of money.
Erik Valenzuela: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Do we need to make special arrangements if we’re going to send something to ProTools? Does ProTools have functions that video editors need to pay attention to when they’re getting ready to prep their projects?
Terry Curren: I would say one of the most important things is handles on all the audio files.
Mike Horton: Oh yes.
Terry Curren: And when outputting for QuickTime, if you don’t have the Avid hardware for the video, if you’re just going to use the internal output from Pro Tools, it only takes MOVs. Sometimes people will send me M4Vs or different video compression settings. That kind of makes things a little difficult for Pro Tools, so for the most part what I do is, when I know there’s an output is coming, I’ll just send a little output procedure to the editor so that way he matches all the necessary parameters to help Pro Tools ingest everything quickly and correctly.
Larry Jordan: Now, define handles from an audio point of view. What does that word mean?
Erik Valenzuela: When we get an audio file, let’s just say they cut in dialogue and there’s a dialogue edit or something on there where they want them to say a certain thing in a sentence. It really helps if we can pull out the ends of the audio files so we can maybe get room tone or maybe we can get the end of a cut off word. If there’s no handles, then we’re stuck there with that cut off word, or maybe we won’t be able to get room ambience to fill up little holes, natural room ambience from that day that was recorded, which would sound a lot better instead of putting some generic background white noise. It just helps towards the ambience to have it all matched that way. There’s a nice good flow to the mix and there’s not these weird sounding, nothing should ever sound weird. If it’s weird, we’re not doing our job right. I just try to make everything sound as smooth and non-jarring or just sound good and smooth throughout.
Larry Jordan: One of the terms we’ve been hearing a lot about recently in terms of audio levels and final output is the CALM Act. What is the CALM Act and what does it mean…
Mike Horton: It doesn’t work.
Larry Jordan: Hush.
Mike Horton: It doesn’t, though.
Larry Jordan: What’s the relationship with the CALM Act to what you’re creating and how do we need to worry about our levels when we’re feeding it to you? In other words, do video editors need to care?
Erik Valenzuela: Oh Terry, can you help me with that?
Terry Curren: Absolutely. As a video editor, it’s not my problem, it’s the audio guy.
Mike Horton: We should tell everybody what the CALM Act is, right?
Larry Jordan: Good point.
Terry Curren: Yes, ok.
Mike Horton: Yes, it’s the commercials, they have a set limit of volume on it where it used to be, if you go from the television show to the commercial, the commercial volume would go [MAKES NOISE]. Well, it’s not supposed to be that way any more, but it’s baloney.
Terry Curren: Well, the idea is that traditionally we had a spec of, say it’s minus 20, wherever your point is, that that’s the peak that you can have. The problem is that even though you’re looking at a VU meter and you go, “Oh, it looks like everything is right there,” it can sound different. How the human ear hears is different than how a VU meter actually works, so you could be legal within the VU meter, but the sound sounds really loud. They do that by mixing a lot of sound into that same space, like a bright color, let’s say, versus a dim color but still within… to video, say, on the video side. So commercials are always mixed as hot as possible so that they really pop out, whereas a television show isn’t mixed that way. What happens is you go from a TV show to a commercial and the commercials sound like they’re really loud. If you look on a VU meter, they’re not any hotter than the television show. The CALM Act is designed to get around that and Dolby came out with their LM100 first, which they claim that they can analyze more as the human ear hears it, so that’s the loudness level as opposed to the actual volume, if that makes sense.
Erik Valenzuela: Yes, on my mix I use the Dolby Medium Meter and actually all networks that I’m working with now, they’re asking for minus 24 for your dialogue as an average, so you have to be within 2 dB of minus 24, so you just have to mix your dialog using that Dolby Medium Meter and it all has, like I said, an average of about minus 24. So you’re always keeping an eye as you’re mixing your show to make sure that you’re within the legal limits for the specs, and that really helps.
Larry Jordan: Erik, I should mention that the minus 24 is actually an average level not a peak level, so for editors that don’t have average audio levels on their systems, setting the peaks to minus 24 is going to be really, really way too quiet. There’s a difference in measuring stuff.
Larry Jordan: I could talk about audio for probably the next five or six days.
Mike Horton: Michael Kammes just posted. There’s a plug-in for Avid and Pro Tools.
Terry Curren: There is one, yes.
Larry Jordan: It’s by Nugen Audio, according to what Michael tells us, and another one is TC Electronics, which is the one that’s bundled with Premiere and there’s another one that works with Final Cut X which allows you to monitor average levels. But we’re going to be out of time. Terry Curren is the Founder and President of Alpha Dogs. His website is alphadogs.tv.
Mike Horton: This was fun.
Larry Jordan: And Erik Valenzuela is an audio mixer with Alpha Dogs and, Erik and Terry, thanks so very much for joining us. It’s been a fun discussion.
Mike Horton: And we didn’t get to hear Terry’s strong opinions.
Larry Jordan: Bye, guys.
Terry Curren: Thank you. Good night.
Erik Valenzuela: Bye.
Larry Jordan: Mike, I want to thank our guests this week – it’s been an amazing conversation – starting with Peter Hamilton. He is an Executive Producer and a Consultant specializing in distribution and marketing for documentary and non-fiction projects around the world. Then we shifted into a discussion about audio, starting with Philip Hodgetts. He’s the CEO of Intelligent Assistance and Lumberjack Systems, taking a look at what he does to create high quality audio on production on location. Then we went to post production, talking with both Terry Curren, the Founder and CEO of Alpha Dogs, and Erik Valenzuela, the audio mixer also for Alpha Dogs, looking at ways that we can improve sending files to audio mixing for post production.
Larry Jordan: By the way, thinking of things to learn, our industry changes on a daily basis and, if you have a chance, visit our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. There you’ll find hundreds of shows and thousands of interviews documenting every facet of our industry. You can also talk with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Doogie Turner. Additional music on The Buzz is provided Smartsound; text transcripts by Take 1 Transcription; and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Cirina Catania, our engineering team is led by Megan Paulos, and is joined by Ed Goyler, Lindsay Luebbert and Brianna Murphy. On behalf of Mike Horton, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
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