Essential Mix Screening Tool

When we finish the first pass mixing a film soundtrack we have what is known as a double head screening. Its called double head because the picture & sound elements are still seperate entities; the image is often an HD output or if we’re really lucky a work print, while the sound will be coming from a seperate hard drive playback mechanism. The film is screened in a continuous run, so for everyone involved it is the first time the film is seen & heard in a form that is getting close to its final form. Accordingly it is a critical time to make notes, as the screening is usually followed by 2+ days of making mix changes. Usually these changes are not radical but sometimes there are conceptual shifts involved in terms of music, sometimes production audio is reverted to instead of ADR that is not working, and sometimes FX are rebuilt/augmented. But there are ALWAYS a lot of mix balance changes, some subtle (eg I miss the foley at a certain moment) or radical; basically remixing a whole scene from scratch…
So the notes you scribble in these screenings are very important, as the screening is usually followed by an intensive discussion where we talk through the film, scene by scene, and everyone voices their concerns & changes. Firstly the director & producer speak their mind, then the mixers, picture editor, composer, sound supervisors, sound editors & foley team. For sound supervisors it is often a case of listening to the opinions & assessing what is involved. Usually the need for big changes are something everyone notices & some of the small changes are not worth raising in the meeting, as they can be dealt with as each scene is revisited, but again the notes taken are critical – you cannot rely on memory as there may be 20 or 50 or more specific comments and the bigger issues tend to erase the significance or memory of the smaller change requirements. But how do you take notes in the dark? Up until now I have always scribbled incoherently in a notebook & then attempt to decipher them later, but one screening I went to was attended by an american picture editor who pulled out the ultimate screening tool: a light pen!

Of course!!!! I quizzed him where he got his & he mumbled something about it being from the editors guild or something… So we are still 4 weeks away from starting predubs for UNDER THE MOUNTAIN & I suddenly remembered the infamous light pen & went searching around the interweb for an affordable model and found this site. So I ordered a 3 pack & will report back as to how well they worked, but I have a feeling my notes will be a LOT more coherent due to this simple pre-emptive bit of technology! I love making small changes to how you work that have a big impact and for US$8 this is one investment that is guaranteed to pay off. And I’ll have a spare pen to scribble down the crazy/inspired ideas I get at 4am!

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