In Defence of Temp Mixes

For a number of years I presumed temp mixes only existed for one reason: to make life as difficult as possible for the sound editors on a film! Even budget is not a disincentive, many times I have forewarned a producer of the overtime costs involved in not locking picture for a test screening until the weekend before the temp mix and in those cases do I get my weekends off? Hell no… I know more sound supervisors than I can count on both hands who have clocked up 100+ hour weeks prior to temp mixes… its a LOT like trying to sprint a marathon…

To explain, films produced by studios tend to undergo extensive testing with real audiences during their post production, so for example during post of 30 Days of Night, Sony held two test screenings with audiences basically to gain some objectivity with the films target market. How they select that audience & more importantly what of the feedback they choose to follow is beyond me, but whats important is that the film is presented to that audience in its best possible state. So of course the director & picture editor work up until their last available minute, hand the cut over to their assistant who does an all nighter to get the locked cut to the sound team…. we start conforming… with an awful lot riding on presenting coherent material to the mix just 48 hours later… and a week later its in front of an audience!

At least with multiple temp mixes the second (& third) temp mix become easier, not only because we are further down the track of preparing the film for final mix but also because we carry & conform the stems (seperate dialogue/ADR/FX/Ambience/Foley 5.1 stems) from previous temp mixes. This is a HUGE timesaver, as it means wherever the stems can be patched/salvaged presuming everyone was happy with the content we can print straight through until we hit new material…

The issue with temp mixes (& test screenings) is they cost money, serious money… accordingly their merits come up for debate on some projects and on observing the start of a trend, a feature film mixer by the name of Gary Bourgeois took the opportunity of putting pen to paper & expressing what it is, creatively, that we gain through temp mixes. And a welcome bit of objectivity it is, have a read here

In my humble opinion, the most important benefit is collaborative: to begin involving the mixer in the process of making the film as soon as possible. Presuming there are no temp mixes, often the first time a mixer will see the film is immediately prior to starting premixes and that means they have a lot of catching up to do. All the team of sound editors has been working for many months & know every frame of the film backwards & inside out, so while a fresh perspective & some objectivity is always welcome, its always MORE welcome when there still plenty of time to assimilate it. Relatedly there is also a theory that the cheapest time to experiment is early in a project, so if you want to creatively try stuff (eg music/sound design/mix) that is unorthodox, then best do it when the stakes aren’t too high – if the test audience hate it then its up for discussion, rather than in a critics diatribe.

But if the budget is tight and I mean really tight, I would still argue that a double head screening AFTER the final mix (plus some time to make mix changes) is WAY more important than a temp mix/test screening…. but we tend to want both… how longs a bit of string again?

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