Advice for beginner film sound mixers.

I've thought a lot about whether to write about this topic, because there are much more skilled and smarter professionals in this field than me, but as far as I can see, the only answers on this topic can only be found on english sites, and even there they only describe general things. On the other hand, I can take heart, as mixing is not far from my mind anyway.

Let's start with the Hungarian phenomenon. There are a lot of low-budget Hungarian films. One consequence of this is that the film has to be produced as cheaply as possible. In such cases, when it comes to sound recording, it's not the star Boom team that records the sound, but whoever is available. This can go well or badly. If you're a director, my advice is to be selective about who you choose to record the sound. Technically you may not have a good idea, but a good name or a good reference can help you make a good choice. If you neglect this, you may end up with a higher total than if you work with a good team, because then the mixing specialist has to work miracles, which, let's face it, not everyone can do.

And this brings us to the second act, when it's not the voice that's the problem, but one of the professionals. Here, too, economy prevails. An example of my own. In 2023, the film "129" will (hopefully) arrive in cinemas, which in hindsight was a real nightmare to work on. Putting together a feature film is no small job. Of course, there are excellent professionals who push it out of routine, but in this case I got a picture I couldn't believe. Because someone had already started working on the soundtrack, but halfway through the film, they decided it was done. This can happen in two cases with a film. Either the professional is unable to meet higher expectations, or there is some underlying conflict that prevents the final product from being made. The film had passed through two other professionals before it came to me. In this case, it made no difference to me, but I was confronted with the fact that nothing was right except the dialogue. To beat a movie that has robots, flying cars, drones, fights, other action sequences, but with the exception of a few location Foleys, everything has to be rebuilt, is no piece of cake. This kind of work is usually done by a team. It took two very intense months to get the film to 95 percent, which only didn't get to 100 percent because the director had to change the artwork. Then came Covid.

The basic material of the film was in a big mass on the HDD without any system. I admit I'm a bit of a slob, but with a film this long you can't make excuses for the track at random. You have to organise it so that you can easily find the sound when you need it. So if you're a mixing professional with a cluttered library, that's a big disadvantage. Force yourself to organize, it will make you faster, more efficient, and in a better mood.

The software used for post-production. In this case, the audio was created in Reaper. After I opened it, I mumbled a prayer because it seemed more like a maze than a project. 10 years ago, when it came to music, I didn't recommend Fruity or Reason. Reason music, for example, had a strong sound quality problem. Today that statement no longer holds true. The only thing that matters today is user-friendliness. For a professional, it is important to get the most out of the software as quickly as possible. And Reaper is moderately good at that. Just because you're used to it, you introduce a lot of restrictions into your life by using it. Yeah, I know, you're using Reaper and I'm talking bullshit. Now I think a DAW comparison would be worth a separate sermon. "Okay, okay, but what's it gonna be?" you ask.

FL studio, Reason, and sometimes even Logic have problems. StudioOne would be awesome if... there was 5.1 mixing capability, but there isn't. Vegas: there is 5.1, in return complicated processes are a pain. I'll add that many people use Vegas, and there's no problem until more advanced tasks need to be done. For example, time-stretch. Then there's the famous ProTools which is an industry standard, but eats the machine like it was designed for that purpose. Nuendo: It has everything you need. Maybe that would be the full achievement in software usage if it were the standard.

It's clear from these comments that there is no software that is right for every task, but there are pointers that may be important. Even if you don't want to, sometimes ProTools is mandatory. The director doesn't want software compatibility problems, and that's what recording studios use most. You can be sure that StudioOne will not be in their toolkit, even though it is the fastest editing software. But Cubase and Nuendo do seem to be very good choices, because Pro Tools is now increasingly shunned by professionals.

But now what? As a stop-gap, work in a program where you can move quickly, during the part of the workflow when you're not mixing, but building up or assembling sounds. And use ProTools when you have them and you need to mix and effect them. This is unfortunately extra work, you have to do the transfer manually and it complicates life. If you know that all the work is going to be done by you then you don't have to worry, you work with what you have, what you like. But the basic principle is that you have to learn to use the Nuendo/ProTools pair. What if you get a job in a studio and you don't know how to use these software?

For me, ProTools sucks for composing music. It's slow, its programming is kind of junk, it produces a lot of junk in the computer, but for sound editing in a film environment it's inevitable. These disadvantages can be improved with a combo machine with fast SSD drives. After that, it's just a matter of getting used to the stupidity of the software.

SSD-HDD! Data loss is a regular topic on film and photography forums. I had a lot of it in my early years, I didn't have the money for a secondary HDD and didn't spend on that. Today I don't leave it to chance. My system and main storage drives are SSD drives. these are more prone to die when there is too much data traffic on these. But I don't put a Foley sound bank here and there, I always call up a sound from one place, on my backup storage I store everything and when I work on a sub-process they are always saved. Don't skimp on that!

You need to create or get Foley voices. For smaller films, there won't be a dedicated team to record local noises or produce sounds to suit the film in studio conditions, in which case you'll have to make up the stuff. Clothes noise, leather clothes, cloth clothes, footsteps on concrete, gravel, room, parquet, carpet, grass, puddle. If you don't have one, you can record them yourself with a normal portable recorder. You need to organise these sounds just like anything else. It's also worth making field recordings, forest, wind, city noises, other atmospheres.

Okay. Have good computer, proper software, sound bank. What else do you need? Actual knowledge, routine. The truth is that most of the mixing schools, while giving you a strong theoretical knowledge, are bleeding you dry of practical experience. I mean, even if you've got what you need in the curriculum, even if you've learned how to use the ProTools software, the digital mixer, you still might not have enough knowledge to make the end result sound really good. I'll give you a very simple example. You know in theory how to mix a dialogue track to fit the environment. But they certainly don't talk in a school about how an adult hears the sound of a film and how a young person hears it. This is probably discussed at a general level, because a young person can still hear high frequencies well, but a 40-50 year old can't. It's almost a basic fact. But how this translates into the dialogue track of the film is not an issue. I've heard countless movies where the dialogue track was muffled and hidden among the other sounds. A young person can understand this, but an adult with relatively duller hearing simply can't understand certain words. so if you're a younger professional, you're almost certainly going to adjust the high frequency to what you feel is right, not what it should be. And in the case of a routine, you're already doing them right in your sleep. Or another example. Although it has almost no practical use and makes almost no sense, did you know that you can mix 5.1 with two studio monitors? Unfortunately I don't know what the quality of education is in Europe or America, but I suspect it's significantly higher than in Hungary,

Studio monitors: Most cinemas, at least in this country, have JBL speakers. So the director blanched when he saw I wasn't using that. I explained to him in vain that the JBL was only important in the final phase, but it was a source of problems for him. In a way I understand the point, but I don't. For example, there is the Mackie HR series, which is officially accompanied by the fact that it is an industry ISO standard and excels for film work, but is a bit average in a music environment. If you want to be seen as professional, then some percentage of your clients will care what you work with. So be prepared to have an expensive career because you need a monitor you enjoy working with and you need one you can check back with.

Get back to the routine! The test of pudding is eating it, you have to learn to work into it somehow. But I'd suggest starting with short films with sound first, don't jump straight into full-length films, because that's always a big mouthful. It's also often terribly monotonous. For one person, a feature film, if you don't have enough experience or someone to coordinate your work, is too much. I'm reminded again of the film "129", where I had to put in all the footsteps and costume noises afterwards. It's nerve-wracking and has nothing to do with mixing. If you are placed somewhere where you are told what to do, that is also a reference/skill builder. With these references you can get your own work and later on you can even do big budget films, then not alone but in a team.

However, if you want to be really good, the key is dedication. I'm rooting for you and actually for myself, as my film credentials are nowhere near as stellar as my musical ones, but if you believe in yourself, you will be unstoppable