This is the last part in a 3-part series on ten things which will kill your film.
#8: You Have No Idea How to Speak to a Composer.
Many directors fashion themselves as masters of all things in the filmmaking process. Successful directors know
that having department heads who are masters of all things from within their discipline is a superior way of making a film. And nowhere is having such a department head more important than in the role of composer. Cease from thinking of your composer as having anything to do with music. She doesn’t. Instead, think of her as the “architect of the emotional path your audience follows.” If you can grab on to this, then you can also realize that your communication with them will immediately change from one of a musical vocabulary to one of emotion. And if you know the most important question to ask yourself about each beat in your film, you’ll be able to easily navigate the sometimes etherial waters of the musical content of your film – not to mention communication with your composer if you have little experience in music.
How do you get the best musical score into your film? It has much more to do with you, the filmmaker, understanding where you want the emotional current of your film to be from moment to moment than it does knowing what kind of music should go where. Leave that up to the composer. If you can speak in the common language that exists between director and composer, then you’ll have a successful collaboration with her. If you don’t, you’ll suffer the standard, substandard lack of communication or partnership that is present on most independent films. Yuck.
#9: You Believe Dialogue is For Moving People Emotionally.
So many talented directors these days are also writing their own scripts which I think is wonderful. The ability to have a single creative vision from start to finish, I believe, really enhances the ability of a film to avoid “media by committee” which is ruining so many wonderful projects these days. The trouble is, many of these directors also fall in love with their dialogue…which is the death of every project. Dialogue’s main purpose is to convey story. That’s what it does best. Not character development. Not Immersion. Not emotion. Only story and plot.
When we try to have the dialogue “amped up” to try to motive audiences to be emotionally changed, things turn into melodrama really fast. It’s the same in audio. Dialogue should never be mixed in such a way that it attempts to push people to another place emotionally – unless it’s an effect or something specific and seldom. If we mix dialogue as though it were the primary audio function of a movie, our audiences may have a great understanding of the story, but they’ll have been checking their phones and talking to each other throughout. You must know the other two aspects of audio and be able to interleave them deftly with the dialogue to have audiences suspend their disbelief, immerse themselves in the story, and be led emotionally where you want them to go.
#10: You Commit False Economy.
You’ve cast Sigourney Weaver as your lead. You play golf with her, so you got her for $10,000/day.
Congratulations. Really. She’s amazing. You have a 20 day shoot which means you’re spending $200,000 on her. You need to record audio for 20 days. You want to hire Frank Serafine who (and I’m making this up) is $1,250/day with a $750/day kit fee for a total of $2,000/day or $40,000 total. Now the problem is you just don’t want to spend that on audio. Instead, you know your wife’s aunt’s dog’s cousin’s boyfriend has an iPhone 6+ and is $50/day with no kit fee. You hire him. Naturally, you get crap audio and you have to re-record all of Sig’s dialogue in a studio in Automatic Dialogue Replacement. This is usually a ten day process, but Sigourney is great at ADR (and she is) and she can get it done in 5 days – or another $50,000. BUT. You also have to factor in your $2,000/day ADR studio and the $750/day ADR engineer. How did you do financially? Very poorly. This is “false economy” and it is the death of far too many independent productions. Unfortunately, it’s steely claws of doom are only discovered when the film hits post production, and it’s why I’m always screaming for filmmakers to start post production in preproduction. This kind of false economy, along with hundreds of other FE traps in production and post, ruin and destroy films just before they get to the finish line. Tweet: Do your best to route the seeds of false economy in preproduction by finding and employing the best people you can even if it costs a little more. It may save you from spending thousands of dollars you never had in the first place, and it may save you from losing irreplaceable performances that only occurred on set.
If any of these 10 items seems oddly familiar or resonates with you, my strong suggestion is to hang around Cinema Sound a lot more. Don’t be left behind. Get the tools you need. Get inspired. Jump on top of the competitive heap. Remember, “Tweet: Reverse Engineering the Audio of the Masters is the Quickest Way to Become a Better Filmmaker.”