Today we’re excited to be with veteran musician, composer, and post supervisor Alan Lorden. In this interview we’re going to learn about Post Production Solutions, the best way to get hired and a good dose of what gear works and doesn’t in the real world of production and post.
Cinema Sound: Alan, thanks for taking the time to be with us.
Alan Lorden: I’m excited!
CS: You’ve been walking around the virtual halls of Cinema Sound for a while. Let everyone know what you do.
AL: I started my company, Rusted Gate Music, over 15 years ago as a publishing and music services business. Originally, I did a lot of arranging, producing and studio work in the Raleigh area but it was mainly in the music recording realm and did a lot of performance work. A few years back I got my master’s certificate in orchestration and arranging for Film & TV from Berklee and that’s when I started my switch to film scoring and post-production services.
So lately I’ve worked on a documentary (Robeson Rises – http://robesonrises.com) and a feature film (Parallel Parking – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6772586/), both of which were featured in the 2018 Carrboro Film festival. I also wrote a full orchestral score for a short subject film (Orion V) that was entered in a NASA film competition. Right now, I’m finishing up the re-mix on a short subject art film (Between Dreams) and have wrapped location shooting on another feature film (The Marriage Plot.) I’ve also started composing the score for that film. So yeah, staying pretty busy.
CS: What’s the most important aspect of Cinema Sound for you?
AL: I think both technologically and creatively the film/video/TV support industry – and I’m talking about things like location sound/post-production: dialog/Foley/SFX/score development – is one the most dynamic artistic fields out there. It’s constantly changing with incredible new gear, amazing software, and complex methods and techniques coming out weekly, if not daily. Trying to develop a structured and consistent workflow with all this stuff being thrown at you can make your head explode. Cinema Sound provides an extremely well thought out series of instruction that breaks down the many areas of audio development for film into a logical progression of course study. I see it as a reference book that allows me to go directly to an area I need to learn (or brush up on) and get the information I need. The level of granularity in the course material is amazing. You walk away with a full understanding of any of the subjects covered.
CS: That’s very kind. Someone asked Mark during the Sound Advice tour “what’s new in audio? What’s the next big breakthrough coming?” and he said, “well, nothing. There’s only one really good way to record sound – and that’s with a technology that’s about 170 years old. Software and workflows, however, that’s changing every minute.” And we’re glad you can find value in our articles and media.
AL: Totally. Being able to jump to a subject and get what you need is critical when you’re in a tight spot, however, working your way linearly through the courses is important as there is a wealth of information that even a seasoned audio expert can learn something from.
CS: It’s the main reason Jeff Medford (MZed) and Mark methodically created Cinema Sound’s educational course to be a step-by-step guide – and sometimes people get lost when they just jump in the middle. Extremely well said! Different question: tell us about the gear you use. What do you like or dislike about it?
AL: I use Adobe Premiere Pro for picture editing, Audition for audio editing and Pro Tools for re-mixing/mastering. Virtually all of the film directors/producers I work with use Premiere Pro for their video editing so it was obviously in my best interest to learn and use it. Part of my work is submitting a lot of edit approvals both for demonstrating score segments and audio test mixes. Working with Premiere Pro to consolidate and export the test takes to Vimeo or Dropbox -or whatever way the execs want to view them- is fast and intuitive.
The ability to seamlessly transfer Premiere audio data to Audition, especially with the dynamic update feature, makes using Audition as my audio editing DAW a no-brainer. Both products are extremely stable and deliver high quality results. The Audition user interface is attractive, well laid out and on par with any DAW I’ve ever used. Audition also includes a very robust set of plugins that can cover pretty much any editing task so even if you’re on a tight budget you can get great results right out of the box. It’s also very easy to export tracks and stems from Audition for use in Pro Tools and other DAWs to meet any downstream mix studio’s demands.
I use 3-series JBL monitors [LSR 305 MKii] in both my composing studio and in the “big” surround mix/ADR studio. Personally, the quality of sound I get from the JBL’s feels good to me. That’s non-technical, but everyone hears differently so you have to really listen to a variety of speakers and see if one in particular hits you the right way. The JBLs are also decently priced which is important when you have to outfit a 7.1 studio.
I have to thank Cinema Sound for introducing me to Saramonic products. I was doing some post work on a project, and I “commented” to the director that the sound quality of the lav’s *ahem* could have been a little better. Because of that I wound up being hired to do the location sound on his next film.
CS: That’s pretty much how a bunch of us got our biggest work: “Hey man, what you’re doing there, well, sucks.” “Okay, you think you can do better?” – and so we get hired. Good for you!
AL: Confidence. The most effective way to get hired. Well I had a couple of wireless mics and transmitters from my performance work but it was too much of a setup nightmare to use for a film shoot. After watching the course vids on location recording I thought I’d give the Saramonic 5.8Ghz Wireless Lav System [the Vmic Link5] a try. These were great because it had 3 transmitters that fed to a single receiver and this meant I only had to give up 1 channel on my F4 field recorder. Long story short, they worked great and the sound quality impressed the director – thus guaranteeing me more work. So that is now my go to lav system.
CS: You have any issues with the 15-odd ms delay on that system?
AL: Since the delay is under the 42 ms/frame timeline, and we didn’t use an on-camera solution for reference, it was no problem.
AL: But the real lifesaver and my favorite Saramonic device is the SR_VRM1 Linear PCM recorder. This is a tiny 24bit/48kHz battery powered recorder that you can stick any kind of XLR mic onto thereby giving you an independent recording system that you can hide anywhere – like in plants, under tables or chairs, etc. They’re great to have when there are boom visibility or wireless range/interference issues. This recorder has resolved several impossible mic placement situations and I always make sure I have a few in my sound cart.
CS: We tell folks that it’s the cheapest solution for never having an RF hit or dropout. Zaxxcom has that kind of thing – a recorder on each transmitter channel too. It works amazingly well: you always have a backup if the receiver craps out. But the Zaxxcom is $2,900/channel. The Saramonic solution starts at $99 with the 200 Mhz version.
AL: I’m kind of new to MOTU products but I really like what I’m seeing. My composing studio was stereo, mainly because that’s all that used to be required in the music recording world. I decided to make it a 5.1/7.1 surround environment because composing for VR and games requires it. I now do all music mixing in 5.1 and just do a mixdown to other formats. I picked up a MOTU UltraLitemk3 hybrid and absolutely love it. The sound is crystal clear and surround mapping is a breeze to set up. I especially like being able to set up 4 different monitor mixes with zero latency.
CS: We’re so excited to hear this. We’ve been recommending the MOTU ULs for years. Mark has a MK 3 in his composing rig as well as his 1248.
AL: I’ve been using Waves plugins since day one. What better way is there to get accurate digital representations of all the great analog audio equipment without having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and build walls of rack space? I know we’re living in the best of times recording-wise when I can carry around a virtual duplicate of the Beatles-era Abbey Road Studios on my laptop. Additionally, their plugin documentation is clear and detailed. I can safely say that there hasn’t been one thing I’ve recorded in the past 15 years that doesn’t utilize at least 1 Waves plugin. My personal favorite for post-production is the Dorrough Model 240-D loudness monitor and the M360 Sound Manager. The monitor gives me a quick and accurate read that I can absorb with a quick glance when I’m balancing a track or stem without taking up too much screen real estate and the Surround Manager is great for setting the room environment for 5.1 mixes.
CS: Give us an example of how any of this kit saved you on a gig.
AL: We were shooting a tight garden scene involving rotating and following camera shots which made it impossible to use a boom mic without a crane – which was out of budget. We couldn’t use lavs because it was summer and the transmitters or recording devices would be visible. So I gaffer taped a couple of Saramonic SR_VRM1’s with shotgun mics in overhead tree branches at points any dialog would be taking place. So, in effect, the trees became the boom operators.
CS: Biological stick mic holders!
AL: Exactly. And no union fringe benefits!
CS: [laughs] How did you get started in the biz?
AL: Well, I was born in a log cabin that I built myself…
CS: Child Lumberjack Prodigy! [laughs]
AL: But seriously, I started playing piano when I was around 8 year old but my parents didn’t want to buy a piano until they were sure I would “take” to it. So, I went to a piano teacher, and then went practiced at home on the keyboard from a broken toy piano. The black keys were actually painted on. This thing didn’t make a sound so I had to hear what I was practicing in my head. Now – when I compose – I can hear an entire orchestration in my head so it’s pretty easy to transcribe what I imagine to the actual instruments. I attribute that to those early days on that broken keyboard.
CS: That’s basically the musical equivalent of “When I was your age, I walked to school in 9 inches of snow, uphill. Both ways!” But in your case, it’s true. That’s incredible.
AL: How I got started in post-production was more accidental. I had completed my Berklee studies and was trying to get my first job as a film composer. I saw an ad on a local film community Facebook page advertising for extras for director Aby Rao’s feature film “Parallel Parking” and the location happened to be down the street from where I lived. So, I responded to the ad and mentioned in the email that I was a film composer and wondered if they had hired a composer. Aby responded and said he would talk to me at the shoot. So, I wound up being an extra as a stowaway with a group of people in the back of a tractor-trailer where the temperature was around 120 degrees. During a break I was able to talk to Aby and he told me they had a composer – but he was looking for a sound engineer. Of course I told him I could do it, and he said he would send me a scene to work up as a test when he was done with the video edits. It needed the whole works. Dialog cleanup, ambience, Foley and SFX. I had done decades of mixing as a recording engineer so I thought, “No problem!”. I then set out on a 3-month crash course to learn everything I needed to know about post-production and discovered it was an entirely different animal when compared to music mixing. I bought a bunch of books, hit YouTube and other online information and got such a diverse information overload that I had a hard time determining the “right” way to proceed. That’s where Cinema Sound rescued me. I was able to get a solid education in “real world” post-production from Mark. The work I did on the test scene got me the job and I even wound up writing all of the source music for the film. I’m still a member of Aby’s film development team.
CS: That’s an incredible success story! And even a success for the Cinema Sound education! In 5 years your plan is to be…?
AL: I’d be happy if I was doing the same thing I’m doing right now. I love working with young and upcoming indie film directors and the challenges and amazing creativity that they bring to their projects. It’s always a learning experience both ways. My original intent was to write scores for film, but I seem to be in bigger demand as a post-production and effects engineer. I love doing that kind of work, but I would like to get more composing contracts.
CS: If you had to give one piece of advice to the membership of Cinema Sound – who are doing their best to create powerfully immersive content for their audience – what would it be?
AL: I have 3 pieces of advice – keep learning, stay open minded and be respectful to everyone you work with. With everything that is out there today and the changes that are happening there is no way you’ll ever reach the point where you know everything. Also – keep experimenting. Respect and honor the basics, but strive to develop techniques and quality sound design constructs that will make you stand out as an asset to the people who hire you.
CS: Is there something about what you do that you wish people knew – but don’t?
AL: I love building things.
CS: Just like that Log Cabin when you were 3 months old.
AL: Yep. Still have the splinters! [laughs] Every studio that I’ve had I’ve designed and constructed from scratch including the consoles. I try to get a unique and comfortable feel for each room and always use unique materials. For example: the console and some of the wall panels in my surround studio is made from eco-harvested redwood that I had shipped from Mendocino. These trees were cut down in the late 1800’s and floated down the Big River to Mendocino Bay during the monsoon season where the wood was loaded onto ships. A lot of the logs were pushed into the cold mud at the bottom of the river where they were discovered and retrieved in the late 1990’s. The most interesting thing is that this wood is from the same logging operation that provided the wood to rebuild San Francisco after the great earthquake.
CS: Wow. You’re incredibly talented. Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us and share with us your incredible journey and creativity – and of course, for supporting Cinema Sound!
AL: Absolutely. All the best!
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