Mixing Stop/Eject

Mixing Stop/Eject at Alchemea College in Islington
Mixing Stop/Eject at Alchemea College in Islington

Yesterday I travelled down to London to sit in on the final mix for Stop/Eject. This is the last part of the filmmaking process as far as the audio is concerned. All of the disparate elements – dialogue recorded on set, dubbed dialogue (ADR), ambience, footsteps, effects and music – must be combined into one seamless whole.

Guiding the audience’s ears through the soundtrack of Stop/Eject was Jose Pereira, re-recording mixer. Alchemea, the college in north London where he works, very kindly gave us the use of their postproduction room, a very nice little studio with a big screen, cinema seating, surround sound monitoring and more knobs than Nobby the Nobber’s Knob Emporium.

The film sounded great already, thanks to the talents of sound designer Henning Knoepfel and Jose’s diligent pre-mixing. It was a very painless process to do the necessary surround sound positioning, adjust a few levels here and there and arrive at a final mix.

It was a world away from Soul Searcher, my first real mixing experience. Yes, Soul Searcher was a feature and yes, it had a lot of action, but looking back I can’t help but think it would have been much easier to mix if I knew then what I know now. Back then I was doing my own sound design, and I was convinced that quantity was quality, creating layer upon layer of noise which took an age to sort through and balance in the mix. I obstinately foleyed every footstep even when it had no hope of being heard under the music and gunfire. I believed logic was the key to every decision, that the same location had to have the same ambience every time we returned to it, even if the story and emotions would have been better served by something a little different. And I was determined to make as much use of the rear speakers as possible, even at the risk of confusing or distracting the viewer.

Now I know that less is more, that a few well-chosen sounds trump fifteen tracks of poor ones, that the rear speakers should be use sparingly and that you don’t always need to hear every clothing rustle and every footstep.

Anyway, with Stop/Eject’s sound mix in the bag, it only remains to grade the images, and I hope to have a date set up for that soon.

Mixing Stop/Eject

ADR Podcast

Here is a video podcast from the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement / Additional Dialogue Recording) session on March 15th, in which the actors explain some of the challenges of recreating their performances in a studio.

This is a belated public reward for passing the £1,400 mark in Stop/Eject‘s crowd-funding campaign (over two months ago!). See my earlier blog for more info about how the session went.

Thanks to Gerard Giorgi-Coll for filming this and Soundtree Music for the use of their studio.

ADR Podcast

Adiabatic Demagnetisation Refridgeration

Adiabatic Demagnetisation Refridgeration, or ADR, is a cooling technology based on the magnetocaloric effect. I don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Automated Dialogue Replacement, which is what ADR stands for in the film industry.

Georgina does some ADR
Alternative Democratic Reform

Last Friday, Georgina Sherrington, Oliver Park, Therese Collins and I all got together for the first time since we shot Stop/Eject – almost a year ago. Along with sound designer Henning Knoepfel and behind-the-scenes camera operator Gerard Giorgi-Coll, alumni of The Dark Side of the Earth, we descended on Soundtree in East London to re-record some of Stop/Eject’s dialogue.

Henning looks on as Ollie takes to the mic.
Applied Data Research

Recreating a performance in the sterile environment of a studio can be difficult for an actor. I remember struggling with a line of Kate Burdette’s on Dark Side where she was crawling backwards along the floor while a seven-foot-tall wooden robot with a massive sword bore down on her. Standing still and alone in an empty, soundproof room, it’s hard to summon up the same energy.

If I’ve learnt anything about ADR it’s that – as with any aspect of directing – you have to figure out what conditions each actor requires to do their best work and then try your best to provide those conditions. So while Georgie’s years of ADR experience on The Worst Witch meant she was quite happy acting and lip-syncing at the same time, Therese’s performance was best when delivering the lines wild, straight after hearing the production audio. Your sound crew has to be up for this, though. Kudos to Henning, who recognised and accepted that this was the best way for Therese to work, even though it would mean extra graft for him manipulating the audio to match the picture.

"Any good?"
Artificial Disc Replacement

Breaking further with convention, I had the actors feed each other lines sometimes. You have to be careful; at one point they started to overlap each other, which is exactly why we were ADRing the scene in the first place. (You want each character’s voice to be on a clean, separate track when you come to mix.) But even just rehearsing the scene a few times before recording can help recreate the performance. That’s why it’s always good to have all your principal actors present at the same time for ADR, if at all possible.

After wrapping the ADR we recorded the People’s Choice Reward, which you have probably seen already, followed by the cast commentary for the DVD and Blu-ray. With the music written, many of the VFX complete and now the ADR done, it is really starting to feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel for Stop/Eject.

Adiabatic Demagnetisation Refridgeration

More Random Updates from the World of Stop/Eject

Here are some more disjointed updates from the post-production of Stop/Eject:

Scott Benzie has written all of the score now. A few cues just need tweaking before we start to think about the logistics of recording it with live players.

The ADR session has been organised for next week. Standing variously for Automated Dialogue Replacement or Additional Dialogue Recording, ADR is the process of dubbing lines because of intrusive background noise or to adjust a performance, or even to add entirely new lines to clarify story points. This will be the first time the principal cast have been reunited since the shoot almost a year ago, and we’ll be taking the opportunity to record some extra bits and pieces for podcasts, DVD extras and sponsor rewards. Lots more news on that to come in the near future.

A VFX shot in progress by Mary Lapena
A VFX shot in progress by Mary Lapena

Work is well underway on visual effects. As expected, there has been a certain amount of attrition amongst the VFX artists, as paying projects understandably take priority. Nonetheless, several key shots involving frozen time and cloned cassette tapes are finished or nearly finished.

The opening and closing titles are being designed by Andy Roberts of speakersfive, who recently laid out the lovely illustrated script books for sponsors.

Two of the main extra features for the DVD and Bluray are near completion, with work on the menus underway and some commentaries to record in the coming weeks. Sophie Black and Chris Newman will soon be shooting another featurette in their part of the world, along with a last couple of pick-ups for Stop/Eject itself.

On Sunday I gave a talk about the whole process of making the film to the lovely folks at CEMRIAC in Worcester, and next Monday The Courtyard in Hereford will screen the trailer as part of Borderlines Film Festival.

In a nutshell, it’s all happening.

More Random Updates from the World of Stop/Eject

Random Events on Stop/Eject

Mystery grave
Mystery grave

Here are some of the assorted things I’ve been doing on Stop/Eject lately.

On Wednesday I returned to the Hereford cemetery where, almost a decade ago, in the small hours of a cold and rainy October night, I shot a scene from Soul Searcher. This time I was just there to photograph gravestones for a VFX shot.

On the same day compositing/rotoscoping artist David Robinson delivered the first offical VFX shot, a run-of-the-mill wire removal but extremely well done.

On Friday I recorded this thank you message for everyone who sponsored the project:

Apologies to anyone whose name I’ve mispronounced.

Yesterday Scott Benzie delivered a demo of his beautiful theme for Kate. Much as I liked the first piece he wrote – listen to it here – I felt it emphasised the film’s fantasy aspects too much, and this new piece instead concentrates solely on drama and emotions.

This morning I filmed the tape recorder for probably the last time – not for Stop/Eject itself, but for the DVD/Bluray menus. Tomorrow the recorder gets sent off to Henning Knoepfel so he can record some new foley effects with it (that’s with it, not on it). Henning and I had a great conversation about the direction the sound should take and I’m very excited about how it will turn out. More on that on this blog in due course.

Random Events on Stop/Eject

Free Music, Stock Footage and Sound Effects

A clip from epicslowmo.com
A clip from epicslowmo.com

For low-to-no-budget filmmakers, it wasn’t so long ago that stock footage and sound effects were out of our price range, and the only way to get music legally was to have someone compose it specially. Today the situation is very different, with plenty of sites out there offering material that’s not only free to download but royalty-free too. (This is an important distinction. Always read the license carefully to ensure that no further fees are due when the material is used in the territories, media and manner you wish to use it.)

Here are some of my favourite sites for free stuff. Again, please check the FAQs and licenses on these sites to make sure your intended useage is approved. If you’re serious about filmmaking, you’ll want to commission a composer, sound designer and second unit to generate original material for you, but we all have times when we need a quicker, off-the-shelf solution, and these are the places that help me out in those times.

Stock Footage

  • Detonation Films have a large number of explosions, smoke, debris and fire effects shot against blue, green or black for compositing into your own FX shots. Many are free, though there is a small charge for some. One downside is that, due to the site being quite old, the material is all in standard definition.
  • Epic Slow Mo have 20 HD clips for download, including money burning, TVs being smashed up, insects flying and even a wet dog shaking itself off – all in super-slow motion.
  • The official Hubble Space Telescope website has a number of “Hubblecasts” and other videos which you can download and use bits of in your own productions. It’s a great place to get CG animations of the sun and other heavenly bodies for your micro-budget sci-fi epic.
  • The Prelinger Archives are a collection of vintage corporate and amateur films, including such gems as Joan Avoids a Cold: A Health Film for Children (1947). These might be useful to a documentary maker looking for footage to illustrate a period or just for comic punctuation. There are even some clips from old movies.


  • Incompetech is the home of composer Kevin MacLeod (not to be confused with Kevin McCloud from off of Grand Designs, or anyone from off of Highlander). Throw a stone on YouTube and you’ll hit six hundred videos that have his music on, because he gives it away completely free. All the music on the Stop/Eject pre-production podcasts and on my comedy documentary Video8 is from Incompetech.
  • CC Mixter is a site where musicians can remix each other’s work in an endless creative dialogue. It’s also very handy for filmmakers, since the Creative Commons agreement allows you to use the tracks in your productions (though beware that some tracks prohibit commercial use). I recently edited a film set at a party and we got all the background music from CC Mixter.
  • Jewel Beat‘s music isn’t free, but at 99 cents per track it’s as near as damn. It’s surprisingly high quality too, with many orchestral tracks (albeit using samples) that wouldn’t be out of place in a big movie. This is where I got the music for Stop/Eject’s trailer from.

Sound Effects

  • Free SFX has a wide range of noises and is always my first port of call when I’m hunting for a sound.
  • Partners in Rhyme has a collection of royalty free and public domain sound effects including animals, instruments, and human sounds and phrases.
  • Sound Jay is another handy library of free sounds.
  • All Music Library has a small collection of free sound effects.
  • Sweet Sound Effects has plenty of epic action sounds like helicopters, gunshots and even Star Trek-style transporter beams. Nowhere on the site does it specifically say these aren’t actual Star Trek sounds that have been ripped off though…

Do you know of any more sites I could add to this list? If so, leave a comment.

Free Music, Stock Footage and Sound Effects

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Operating camera, directing and even monitoring sound on The Beacon. Photo: Mark Evans
Operating camera, directing and even monitoring sound on The Beacon. Photo: Mark Evans

Cooking MCs like a pound of bacon, and so on and so forth.

This week’s FilmWorks session was called “How to Succeed at Not Doing Everything” – i.e. how to collaborate. This session really chimed with me. Like many low budget filmmakers, I suspect, I can be something of a control freak and have only recently been letting go of certain key roles within my productions.

On my 2002 action movie The Beacon I was writer, director, producer, director of photography, camera operator, focus puller, editor, visual effects artist, sound designer, sound mixer and colourist. Since then I’ve been gradually letting go of roles and almost without exception the results have been good. Giving someone a job to do and getting results that exceed my expectations is one of the most enjoyable aspects of filmmaking for me now. Neil Douek’s sound mix of Soul Searcher was light years beyond my efforts on The Beacon, and on The Dark Side of the Earth when I turned over both sound design and mixing to Henning Knoepfel, I was rewarded with a soundtrack beyond anything I could have imagined.

The roles I’ve clung onto the longest are (co-)writing, (co-)producing, DPing and editing. The writing and producing are down to the necessities of unpaid filmmaking; I’ve always hated both of these roles. I kid myself that the same is true of DPing, but it’s probably more due to an over-inflated opinion of my own abilities. Yes, I’m fairly certain that I’m a better DP than I am a director, but to think that no-one else could have DPed Stop/Eject to a good standard with limited time and equipment was somewhat egotistical.

Filming Stop/Eject with a minimal rig
Stop/Eject, and I still haven’t learnt my lesson. Photo: Paul Bednall

This year, for the first time ever, I’ve handed over the editing of a project to someone else – Miguel Ferros is now working on a cut of Stop/Eject. Although I was initially resistant to the idea, I now feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I eagerly anticipate Miguel’s cut.

Gratifyingly, I’ve recently been hired by a couple of different writer-producers to direct their shorts. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to direct and only direct. (More on these projects on the blog in due course.)

To close with, here’s a simple example of the perils of not collaborating. This week I recorded a line of ADR on my Zoom H1. Coming from a technical background, when faced with a technical task and an artistic task to do simultaneously, the former gets priority unless I make a conscious effort otherwise. So I was focused on the technical quality of the recording, and only noticed on playing back the material at home that I had failed to give the actress an important piece of direction. Had someone else been operating the recorder for me, I would have caught this mistake.

Fortunately the main ADR session is yet to come. At which someone else will be pressing the buttons.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

The Power of Post

Ray Bullock Jnr. as Joe
Ray Bullock Jnr. as Joe, preparing to fight the marauding demon

As we search for an editor for Stop/Eject, here’s a demonstration of the power an editor wields.

A few weeks before the premiere of Soul Searcher, my fantasy-action feature about a trainee Grim Reaper, I showed the film to my flatmates of the time. One comment concerned a scene in which the trainee reaper, Joe (Ray Bullock Jnr.), fights a demon (Shane Styen) while drunken revellers cheer him on.

As scripted, the scene covers only the start of the fight – enough to show how cocky Joe has become in his new role. (On the day of shooting we decided to extend the scene to show Joe killing the demon, but after a couple of shots Shane injured himself, forcing us to revert to the shorter version.) My flatmate wanted to see Joe kill the demon, and I decided he was right.

I certainly wasn’t going to do a reshoot at that stage in the game, but nonetheless I was able to alter the scene to have the demon die. I did it in three steps, and these conveniently illustrate the three prongs of attack you can use in post-production to change and improve your story.

  1. Re-purpose existing footage. The demon knocks Joe’s scythe from his hand early in the scene, so my first challenge was to get the hero his blade back so he could strike the fatal blow. Fortunately I had left the camera running while shooting a series of takes of Joe’s scythe hitting the ground. Therefore I had also caught the scythe being picked up on camera. This was never intended to be used, but it worked a treat.
  2. Visual effects. I’m no fan of digital fixes, but there’s no denying they can get you out of a tight spot. The existing cut of the scene had a shot of Joe walking up to the demon, but now I needed to put the scythe into his hand, so I cut out the scythe from a freeze-frame of another shot and motion-tracked it to Joe’s movements.
  3. Sound. This is the most commonly-used tool for changing things in post. Any time in a movie that a line of exposition is delivered without the speaker’s mouth being clearly seen, chances are that it’s Additional Dialogue Recording (ADR). It’s far easier to get the actor into a recording studio to perform a new line than to go back to a location or a long-struck set and reshoot. But in this case all I needed to do was put in some slicing, crunching sounds and a grunt, which I ran over a handy shot of the drunken revellers.

Here is the original scene followed by the bits I changed and then the final version:

Remember that with great power comes great responsibility. I’ve heard of actors who’ve found themselves edited into scenes they’d never shot. If you’ve substantially changed the character with your tinkerings, or placed an actor into a sensitive or controversial scene, be sure to discuss it with them just as you would have done beforehand if it had been shot conventionally. The same goes for the writer if you’ve made a big change to their script.

Some might look at all this as cheating, and I confess I have mixed feelings about it myself. I believe in getting things right in-camera, but the reality is that all films are prototypes, and you’re often well into post-production – at least – before you really figure out what the best way is to make this particular movie.

The Power of Post