Lost Creek - A Film by Colin Adams-Toomey

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Let's say it again (a discussion on ADR)

Welcome back!

So, we’ve been hard at work on audio cleanup for the film, and it’s caused us to venture into interesting territory that I thought might be good to discuss here!

While going through the audio of the film, we ran across a problem.  In one scene, one of the actors has to deliver a very crucial line that sets up the next act of the film.  For one reason or another, there was only one take of this line that we liked visually.  Unfortunately, one of the other actors in this scene stepped on the crucial line, interrupting halfway through with his own line.  Both actors were individually miced, but because they were standing next to each other, both mics picked up both actors’ voices, and there is no real way to separate their voices.  As a result, while the take LOOKS good, its sound was more or less ruined.

What to do?

Well, sometimes an audio person can technically repair the line, rebuilding it out of existing audio from the multiple takes.  Sometimes, this is not possible.  Your options are then:

  1. Re-shoot the scene.  For us, this was more or less impossible.  The location has changed too much with the seasons, and some of the actors are not available.

  2. Use a different take.  Possible, but not desirable.  The other takes are just not as good, and for such an important moment, it might hurt the film to use a subpar take.

  3. ADR.

For us, option C is the only real option.  Which leads us to the subject of…ADR.  What is it?

Depending on who you talk to, ADR stands for “Additional Dialogue Replacement” or “Automated Dialogue Replacement.”  It is also sometimes called Looping.  No matter what it’s called, this is basically what it entails.

For location dialogue that is not useable, the actor will be brought into a recording studio during post-production, in order to re-record the line or lines of dialogue, syncing as exactly as possible to the original line delivery.

As you may imagine, this is a difficult, painstaking process, but definitely a necessary evil.  I heard an estimate that between 30 and 70% of dialogue in most Hollywood films is ADR’d.  Luckily for us, we only have to do it for a couple of lines.  But odds are, you may have to do this in your film.  So how do you do it?

Well first, you want to choose what kind of ADR you want to do.  There are two basic types: visual looping and audio looping.

In visual looping, the actor listens to the line that needs to be replaced on loop (hence “looping,”) to get a feel for exactly how it is delivered, and to give them a chance to practice syncing their delivery as exactly as possible, word for word.  This is the crucial point: the new delivery must match the actor’s original lip movements, otherwise it will be out of sync and won’t work.  Generally, the actor must be within 10 milliseconds of the original take for it to work.  Once the actor feels ready, the actor will simultaneously watch themselves and a recording of the original location take, visually matching their delivery.  While some people prefer this method because the actor is more likely to match the emotion of the original take, it is slightly harder to sync this way and a bit more technically difficult, as you must set up multiple monitors or a split screen so that the actor can watch both themselves and the original take.

Audio looping is similar, but with some important differences.  In this method the actor will again listen to the original line on loop, sometimes also watching the original clip.  Once the actor is ready, they will re-record the line, sometimes while the original line plays in their headphones, while watching the original take to help them match the lip movements.  This is the method we used, and the method I recommend for first-time loopers.  While some people say the actor is more likely to get caught up in syncing the line and may deliver a more lifeless take, you are more likely to get a synced line, and we will talk about ways to get the actor to deliver the looped line well.

So, how do you set up?

If you’re not using a professional recording studio, there are some considerations you want to take into account.  I would recommend working with your sound designer on this for a number of reasons.  They will often know how to ADR and will be able to help set up the equipment and position the mic correctly in order to catch the line properly.  Plus, if they recorded the original location sound, they will have the original mic, which you will want to use while looping if you can.  Each mic is slightly different, so you want to match the audio as exactly as possible.

If you’re not in a studio, take the same consideration you would while recording location sound, and then some.  Turn off air conditioners, fridges, anything that might corrupt the audio.  Deaden the sound in the room as much as possible.  Blankets over walls, towel under the actor (unless you have wall-to-wall carpeting), blanket over the music stand, basically over any surface that could reflect sound.  Get a hold of a pop filter if you can (small mesh screen that goes between the mic and the actor’s mouth to help deaden the “pops” from plosives like p’s and t’s).

ONCE THE ACTOR IS READY TO START:

This is where you tackle the “dead delivery” problem.  Often, first time actors will become more concerned with syncing their lip movements than line delivery, and will give dead performances.  You’re the director, so treat this almost like another take of the scene.  Get the actor into the moment, get them back into the scene.  Have them deliver the line for emotion first, before you worry about syncing.

Then…

Play the clip for them, with the audio in the actor’s headphones, as many times as the actor wants.  Have them practice.  A good tip here: pre-record a series of three beeps before the line starts, each beep at 1 second intervals, so the actor becomes used to exactly when the line will start playing, and when they need to start speaking.  They will come to recognize they have 1 second after the last beep before the line starts.  Like this: “BEEP…BEEP…BEEP…We’ve got to fight it, don’t we?

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Yes, this is a tedious process that no one wants to extend any more than they have to.  But remember: just because an actor STARTS in sync, does not mean they will END in sync.  If they are out of sync by the end of the line, it probably means the line is too long for them to do all in one sitting.  This will be especially true for first-time loopers.  Break the line up as much as necessary.  Look for natural breaks first: pauses, breaths, end of sentence, etc.  Break it up as small as needs be, so that the actor is working with chunks they can manage, and stays in sync.  You can always stitch the line back together in editing. 

Do it multiple times.  Same principal as multiple takes.  The more times you record the line, the more times you’re likely to get it right.  Since the clip should be on continuous loop, just keep recording.  Even if the actor messes up once, don’t worry.  It’s coming right back around again!  And again!  And again…the more the actor hears it, the more they’ll get into rhythm.  The more natural the lip-syncing becomes for them through habit, the less they need to think about that aspect, and the more they can focus on their emotional delivery.  Plus, multiple recordings give you plenty to choose from, to get it as absolutely close to the mark as possible!  But, don’t wear your actor out.  Once you have what you think are one or two great takes, that’s probably the best you’ll get.  I have heard audio professionals say that actors will often have one “golden” moment where they get it perfectly, and often will get worse and worse from then on.  Make doubly sure the take you like works exactly before you dismiss your actor (you don’t want to have to go through looping more times than you have to), and if it works, and you like the delivery, you’re good to go!

Thanks guys, more next time!

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