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Art of the Film Score

October 17th, 2015

Vertigo posterDid you ever want to… Know the relationship between Pinocchio and the music in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? … Appreciate the genius of Bernard Herrmann, the composer for Vertigo and other memorable Hitchcock films? … Understand what goes into creating the music for films that so enraptures us?

Marcia BaumanFilm composer, professor, and friend Marcia Bauman will delve into the world of cinema music in the Art of the Film Score. It’s a four-week workshop that starts November 7 at CMCM (Center for Media in the County of Marin). Here’s the musically enticing trailer that Marcia and CMCM created for the class.

Marcia helped me on my latest film book, Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video 2nd Edition and I’ve been wanting to take one of her classes for a long time. I will be there and hope to see you.

Time: 1-4 PM
Dates: Saturdays, November 7-28
Place: 819 A St. San Rafael, CA (CMCM)

Click here for more info about the class and its registration page.

Announcements, History/research, Sound & music editing, User groups & meetings

Translating Old Sound to Modern Digital Formats

June 30th, 2014

Anything you can embed sound in you can scratch, crease, crumple, bend, break, tear, warp, or melt.
Alec Wilkinson, “A Voice from the Past” New Yorker May 19, 2014

Musical Notes UnearthedWhat do Mickey Hart (drummer for the Grateful Dead), a physicist name Carl Haber, and antiquated recordings of sound have in common?

On March 24, 2012 I wrote about digital preservation of images. In the May 19 issue of The New Yorker, Alec Wilkinson in his Annals of Sound column wrote “A Voice from the Past: How a physicist resurrected the earliest recordings.” It’s a fascinating account which recounts the unearthing of all types of sounds that audio preservationists have loving watched over for years but been unable to hear.

New Yorker Magazine coverThese preservationists, sometimes referred to as archeophonists, were ecstatic when experimental physicist Carl Haber (a member of the part of the ATLAS team that identified the Higgs boson particle in 2012) invented IRENE (Image Reconstruction Eliminating Noise, Etc.). A $200K machine (of which there are five so far), it scans wax cylinders, records, piano rolls, aluminum disks, and other old recording mediums of music, voices, and other sounds in 3D so they can be played in a digital format.

To learn more about Haber as well as about a French proofreader who recorded sound in soot on paper in the 1800, and others who made recordings they were never able to hear in their lifetimes as well as outsdated formats like , read the complete article.

History/research, Sound & music editing, Technical & process

Editor’s Eye: Visualizing Your Film from the
Postproduction POV – Part 2

November 3rd, 2012

Here’s the second part of this four-part series on the magical, imagineering aspects and grounded bust engineering requirements of envisioning your film from an editorial standpoint. MovieMaker magazine will publish part of this series as an article in their December 4 issue as part of their annual filmmaking guide.

IMAGINEERING

2) Visualize your audio – and plan

One misconception that many people in the film business have…is that if you want great sound in your movie you don’t really need to think about sound early on.

Randy Thom, sound designer and mixer, How to Train Your Dragon, The Incredibles, The Right Stuff, and Return of the Jedi.

To produce the best-sounding film or video, anticipate how your show will sound, budget for sound, and record your desired audio during the shoot. This way you’ve got the sound you want for when your picture comes together audio wise during sound editing in sound editing and the mix.

Create a sound vision. Imagine what your viewer will hear. Think about the different scenes or parts of your show and how you want them to sound: light and sprightly, cheery with a sinister threat in the air, painful but upbeat, etc. You might start by imagining each character or subject as an instrument or a theme: What would they sound like? What tune would they play? Next, envision how scenes or sections will sound as purely musical themes. The goal is to get an idea of the subtle and grand tones of your film and consider how sonics can support them.

…if you encourage the sounds of the characters, the things, and the places in your film to inform your decisions in all the other film crafts, then your movie may just grow to have a voice beyond anything you might have dreamed.

Randy Thom

Like picture images, sound and music elements contribute to the story. Sound augments POV sequences, helps put the noir in noir, and is the backbone of many a dream and fantasy sequence. Sounds, words, and music can inform a character, prompting an action or reaction or revealing overt or underlying emotions.

Ensure that each piece of sound and music enhances and supports your story. It’s not always a matter of “see a bird, hear a chirp effect.” Sound can represent something or someone unseen – off screen – and comment on or deepen a scene. Yes! Routinely, sound and music bound from the backseat to drive the story. Think of the ways the off screen kaboom of a bomb or swoosh of an advancing tsunami affects a town of people or recall how Rick reacts to hearing “As Time Goes Byin Casablanca.

Hitchcock believed that “To describe a sound accurately, one has to imagine its equivalent in dialogue” Hitchcockand gave this illustration from a scene in The Birds: The flock gathers, surveys, and attacks, saying, “Now we’ve got you where we want you. Here we come. We don’t have to scream in triumph or in anger. This is going to be a silent murder.” The Birds is noteworthy because it relied heavily on sounds – there was no score – to make its farfetched plot plausible.

The buzz words today for sound are “organic,” “real,” Hurt Locker poster and “natural.” The Hurt Locker, which won the 2009 Academy awards for sound editing and sound mixing exemplifies this trend. A memorable scene of GIs on a night-search in Iraq depended entirely on the bed of sound the editors built. Avatar, the runner-up for the Oscar that year, embodies the other end of the sonic spectrum: Its audio palette paints an imaginary planet where the synthesized sounds are anything but real. What these two sound styles have in common, however, is crucial: They both aurally plant the audience in the movie’s environment.

Whether you have many layers of sound or minimal sound, sonics are pivotal to the audience’s perception and reception of your show. They transport viewers away from the filming on the soundstage and into the characters’ world. Sound sustains and is an integral part of a film’s voice and vision. Bear this in mind when you design sound; every sound effect and piece of dialogue should strengthen your show’s purpose.

And don’t overlook the power of silence. Sound design can include planned sections of silence or minimal sound. (No show is entirely silent as there is always ambient sound. If you drop out all sound, you risk viewers’ hostile glares at the projection booth or channel surfing.) Silence, especially during a gripping scene or after a cacophony of sounds, can put the audience on the edge of their seats until they’re literally living and breathing with the movie.

3) Visualize your music – and plan

Music can strongly influence how the audience feels about a show’s subject, characters, themes, and plot. Well thought-out music sets the appropriate tone for the picture, clueing viewers in as to what to expect: a comedy, a romance, or a chance to rock and roll. Music, like sound, affects our hearts and senses and seals the movie in our memories: John Williams’ music in Schindler’s List, played by the incomparable violinist Yitzhak Perlman evokes the suffering and loss of Jews during WWII.

Music anticipates and foreshadows action, often warning that a villain is just around the corner, or, as in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, hinting that this is no ordinary hamlet. It can also conjure a time or place. Scott Joplin’s upbeat piano tunes peppered The Sting, rooting the movie in the 1930s and paralleling the characters’ optimism. The musical theme in Somewhere in Time sustained its time travel plot. Regularly, music accents key and not-so-key points: entrances, exits, scene transitions, and act outs.

Music can counter what’s on screen to convey a larger truth. Composer Toru Kurosawa posterTakemitsu delivered a renowned score for writer-director-editor Akira Kurosawa’s epic movie Ran. Here’s what one scene in the script called for: “A terrible scroll of Hell is shown depicting the fall of the castle. There are no real sounds as the scroll unfolds like a daytime nightmare. It is a scene of human evildoing…The music superimposed on these pictures is, like the Buddha’s heart, measured in beats of profound anguish, the chanting of a melody full of sorrow that begins like sobbing and rises gradually as it is repeated, like karmic cycles, then finally sounds like the wailing of countless Buddhas.”

Music can let the audience know something before a character does – that good or bad news is on the other side of the door. It can also do the opposite – set the audience up – as the melody at the end of Carrie does, lulling the audience so the movie can deliver its final jolt of fright. Music often conveys characters’ inner thoughts and emotions. Bernard Hermann’s score for Vertigo heightened its characters’ nightmares, dreams, and schemes right from the opening carousel music which mirrored the circular camera movement and the spiraling mystery plot. Sometimes characters even have themes e.g. Lara’s theme in Dr. Zhivago or the shark’s theme in Jaws.
Once you’ve got your music plan, be sure to allow enough time to obtain rights, hire a composer and allow time for their work, record that band you’re dying to use, or create it yourself. Skywalker Sound Ltd., George Lucas’s sound company, states that, “Music provides an emotional bedrock for a film.” Lay out your conception of it ahead of time to once again craft the best sounding, most efficient-running project.

This concludes the Imagineering part of visualizing your film. My next post will alert you to the more mundane engineering requirements that are part of envisioning your film.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Sound & music editing, Technical & process

Editor’s Eye: Visualizing Your Film from the
Postproduction POV – Part 1

October 17th, 2012

Many people believe that if a show is well shot it’s just a matter of bust removing the bad bits and the show automagically comes together in the cutting room. Not true. Editing, a.k.a. postproduction, like any other phase of filmmaking, has a mission, and, like a military operation, requires vision and much groundwork.

When you really think about it, a script (fiction shows) or outline (non-fiction shows) are merely of words on paper which may or may not lead to an outstanding film. Films are made of images – still and moving – along with sound: words, SFX, and music. It is editing that brings all these elements together.

Here’s how Alexander Payne, director of The Descendants, Sideways, and Election, expressed it in a recent article in CinemaEditor, “Of the three areas of filmmaking – writing, directing, and editing – editing is by far my favorite. I call it the Promised Land…Writing is hideously painful, directing is exhilarating but physically taxing and demands a lot of constant ego massaging of others. As [director Akira] Kurosawa used to say, ‘The only reason you write and direct is to get material to edit.’ And that’s exactly true. Editing is where you make the film. It’s a very beautiful thing.”

So let’s look at how you can envision your film with an editorial eye and anticipate both its magical, imagineering aspects and grounded engineering requirements.

IMAGINEERING
Harold and Maude poster

1) Visualize your images – and plan

The opening shot of the 1971 film Harold and Maude shows Harold attempting to hang himself from a homemade scaffold. I once heard screenwriter Colin Higgins explain how this shot initiated the film’s plot. As a UCLA student working on his thesis film, Higgins wanted to drop the camera vertically as fast and far as possible and had to motivate this technical move. Voila! The cult film’s death/life plot.

The point here is to visualize your movie as you read the script or create the outline if it’s a non-fiction piece. What set-ups will work best? What objects, images, or VFX will tell your story most effectively? Especially if you need animation or VFX, start drafting, storyboarding, and budgeting right away.

That’s all for today, folks. Next post will delve into visualizing sound and music – and making a sound plan (yes, I can never resist a pun) for both.

Editing & screenwriting, Editing practices, Editor’s role, Sound & music editing, Technical & process, Visual FX editing

May the footage be with you! Or, at last! A Star Wars book for Editors

August 20th, 2012

Editing Star Wars  Book Cover I received an email from Linton Davies and an invitation to download his book for free for review purposes. Glad I took this UK editor up on his offer. The Editing of Star Wars: How Cutting Created a Classic offers insights to Star Wars fan boys and girls as well as professional editors. I learned a few things myself and was impressed by Davies’ astute diagnosis of the editing in this classic, game-changing film as well as editing in general. Before I talk about what I learned, to make a short story short – the book is a pithy 86 pages here’s a bit from the author himself.

Davies reasons to write the book

Davies emailed me:

“As a long suffering editor in the trenches I became frustrated about how little this side of filmmaking is discussed in relation to actual ‘cuts’, not just in purely technical (‘my RAM’s bigger than yours’) or philosophical (‘you just have to feel it!’) terms. The book seeks to address that, using one of the most popular films of all time as a peg to go into the practical cause and effects of the choices editors make.”

In the book’s preface Davies writes, “My goal is to demonstrate how ‘cutting’ is at the very heart of everything we love and remember about Star Wars, hiding in plain sight since its initial release. I believe there to be tremendous value in spending time thinking about editing in this way, not just from a purely theoretical perspective, but through the lens of a real world example, where cuts take on a life of their own. Editing is ultimately and essentially the art of storytelling, so how can it be rationally discussed if separated from the story itself?

Davies succeeds at his task and more.

A few of the interesting things I liked and/or learned

1. Rhythm section

Davies devotes the second most space (19 pages) to discussing the pace and duration of cuts and relating Star Wars graphicto the overall rhythm of scenes, evoking Eisenstein, Hirsch, and other illustrious editors. He includes a graph of ASLs (Average Shot Lengths) that covers all the scenes of Star Wars and another of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace to compare the first and last movies in the series.

2. Editing Section (22 pages) and the meatiest section

a. Droids and the Cold War
Davies relates, “Lucas viewed the droids as key to his Cold War message, cultivating the idea that seemingly ‘disposable’ civilians can have a huge impact if they have the right spirit, that they can take down the seemingly all powerful evil Empire.”

b. Cheating Dialog
Obi Wan Kenobi’s famous line “May the force be with you” was neither scripted by George Lucas nor uttered by actor Alec Guinness who made himself unavailable after production. Editor Paul Hirsch wrestled the sentence, sans light saber from several sentences Guinness voice during production.

c. Movie Roots
Davies digs at the roots of the Star Wars saga and uncovers just how derivative the time honored movie is. For instance, the opening credits are taken in 1940 from Flash Gordon, an early space series.

  • Flash Gordon text
  • Star Wars text

Last word

Davies has put his love of a film as a kid together with his time in the cutting room as an adult to put forth a book well worth reading. The force of editing – and love – is with him in The Editing of Star Wars: How Cutting Created a Classic.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Sound & music editing

A Veteran Sound Editor Sounds Off and
Imparts a Terabyte of Filmmaking Knowledge from Development to the Mix

August 6th, 2012

Sound editor Vickie Sampson was the featured speaker at LAFPUG* recently which has posted her edited talk. This 34-minute video is a must see for anyone entering the biz, wishing to make their own film, or wanting to learn more about planning for sound and editing it. Vickie is a long time sound editor on many illustrious films, starting with New York, New York and continuing through both Sex in the City movies. (How’s that for getting caught between the moon and NYC!)

What Vickie knows about sound and filmmaking is worth listening to.

She’s human, entertaining, and instructional as she’s done it all: Directed and written her own films, commercials, and shorts in addition to her sound work. She also is a consummate teacher, giving regular sources at Video Symphony in Burbank. But this lecture is free. And worth your time.

The last thing I want to say before turning you over to the video: Vickie has been a long time friend and resource for both editions of Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video books. She kindly wrote the Foreword to the current (second) edition.

So I am very happy to introduce you the intrepid, inimitable Vickie!

*Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group

Editing & life, Editing & screenwriting, Editing practices, Editor’s role, Sound & music editing, User groups & meetings, Visual FX editing

Imagine there’s one button…

July 25th, 2012

Enjoy this droll tutorial by Cooper Kingston who demonstrates how easy it would be to cut if there if there was one all-purpose edit button. His tutorial also demonstrates how imagining a renderless system should be made a reality in the future.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Fun & games, Sound & music editing, Visual FX editing

Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video, 2nd Edition is here!

May 26th, 2012

There’s nothing like the smell (and look and feel) of a new book in the morning
(to steal from that famous phrase in Apocalypse Now).

Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video

For over a year now, I’ve been mentioning why I felt it important and necessary to re-write my first book, Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video and excerpting parts here. Now the result of my year of labor – 477 pages of newly minted book – has arrived on my doorstep and I can share it with you and the world.

Learn all the details about the Cut by Cut 2 here . Or tour the book’s highlights below.

What’s new in Cut by Cut 2:

  • Workflow charts and explanations for film, tape, and file-based shows HD and 3D practices throughout the book.
    • Updated music and sound editing workflows as well as the disk authoring and DI (digital intermediate) workflows.
  • HD and 3-D content and VFX editing process and types of edits.
  • Up-to-date info for finishing on film via DI or traditional negative cut process.
  • An in-depth look at modern, “MTV” style editing vs. traditional, Hollywood style that employs current research and a chart detailing the differences.
  • Advice from 15 experienced editors working in all film genres from comedy to corporate videos to news to music videos to reality shows.

Like the first edition, Cut by Cut 2:

  • Clearly and completely lays out the editing journey from the first frame of the shoot to the final show exhibited on tube, theater, disk, or Web. Editing System
  • Concentrates on the why and what to do next, delineating how editors perform their job on Avid, Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and other digital editing systems.
  • Details the post production process from dailies to finishing via online, negative cut, disk authoring, and the DI process.
  • De-mystifies codecs, telecine and reverse telecine, aspect ratio, time code standards, and a multitude of other video, film, and digital editing concepts.
  • Explains how to approach cutting the footage: Make your first edits, deal with mismatches, and conquer action and dialogue scenes and more.
  • Spends two chapters describing how sound and music are designed, recorded, and mixed.
  • Defines and explains the terms, apps, and practices that working picture, sound, and music editors use.


Cut by Cut 2
contains:

  • Editing exercises and over 150 tables, charts, photos, and illustrations.
  • A meaty section on how to find an editing job whether you’re starting out or looking for that next job or career move.
  • An extensive glossary and an editor’s resource guide.

I wrote the book for:

  • Editors of all stripes: Indies, students, and professionals.
  • Aspiring editors: Assistant editors, apprentice editors, and career changers.
  • Filmmakers: Directors, producers, writers, and everyone who want to understand editing.
  • Professors and teachers of editing.
  • Prosumers who want to make the leap to professional.

I sincerely hope Cut by Cut 2 helps you with your projects.

Check the book out and let Joy know what you think.

Announcements, Editing & life, Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Jobs, Sound & music editing, Technical & process, Television, Visual FX editing

Ease the Software Blues

January 7th, 2012

Need to select the right editing software for your project and not sure what fits the bill and how much you need to spend? Find the Best, has a free, online comparison tool for you.

Find the Best Editing System objectively compares no cost systems (Blender, Lightworks) to low Find the Best graphiccost systems (FORScene, FCP X) to high end babies (FCP, Premiere Pro, Avid). In addition to list price, you can compare operating systems by nine easily clickable, filterable, and sortable criteria including category, (consumer, prosumer, professional, or high end movie production), features (VFX, 3-D, color correction, storyboarding, etc.), and hard drive space required.

James Resetco, in business development for Find The Best, emailed me regarding their new tool: “All of our information is completely objective and human-curated to ensure accuracy as well as relevance.” Their writer, Thomas Samph added, “Between the brand name big hitters and the lesser known software sets, you’ll need to decide what features are best for your needs. With video editing software, quantity doesn’t always mean quality: expensive doesn’t always mean better.“

Find the Best graphic Find the Best also offers other free comparison tools – all in the form of database charts – for sound editing systems, digital cameras, cloud computing, and more.

Check out their tools and tell them and/or Joy what you think. FYI: This is not a paid advertisement. If Joy ever decides to takemoney for advertising, you’ll be the first to know.

Sound & music editing, Technical & process, Visual FX editing

Halloween Contest

October 26th, 2011

skeleton

Photo courtesy of director-editor Vickie Rose Sampson

Make up your own caption.

Here’s a few to get you started.

You know you’ve been dubbing too long when….

Great! Now let’s try it one more time.

Needs more cowbell.

No, more cobwebs.

He had so much potentiometer.

ADR and alcohol just don’t mix.

They really were running a skeleton crew.

Fun & games, Sound & music editing