My time is squeezed very thin. I ain’t gonna lie, blogging has become difficult. I enjoy it very much but it’s become something of luxury.
I wrapped a 10-hour remix of the NUNE film with a new sound guy, Rian. I needed to do a 5.1 mix (from the final stereo version) and we had to start from scratch ‘cause I switched mixers. Although the film was finished months ago, as I prep the format for theatrical viewing, the only way to go to do it right is: 5.1 (surround sound). The mix was extremely tedious and draining and to be honest, I wasn’t all there. My head was wrapped up in the RED AS BLUE novel and I felt tremendous guilt not being able to keep with both the illustrator and the book editor. They are both doing fine work.
My book editor is a genius and so is the illustrator. Both of them are giving this project a professional and artistic scale comprised from years devoted to their practice. The work they do blows my mind and humbles me. I sometimes wonder what I did to deserve this. It sounds pretty self-deprecating but it’s true. I’m very grateful.
Remixing sound with Rian was well worth the headache because I uncovered a part of sound mixing that I never experienced before. Most sound mixers tell me things like “You can’t fix that, that’s married (or embedded) in the sound.” It turns out that Rian performs those miracles. He can take a truck that’s rolling in the background of dialogue and cleanly extract it without warping the voice.
I watched him do all this and it was very sci-fi and bizarre. He pulls up this monitor where you can see the visual aura of the sound and he’d draw around it and extracts certain pitches. When he scrubs it back and forth, it sounds like inaudible whale sounds and creepy aliens—pitches that you never hear normally. And after morphing everything extraneous out of the dialogue, he’ll do rigorous tedious work to normalize the dialogue again.
Listen, it’s hell sitting through this. I would much rather he’d do it alone and I just show up and spot check. But in the end, I’m happy that he insisted that I sit in on the session. Most sound guys don’t want the director fussing over every little thing so they don’t want you present. But Rian actually invited me. I knew he had an agenda so I just watched. I sat directly behind him as he suggested so I could properly hear the full surround-sound range (from center) and I did not say a word.
After he finished doing this thing, we’d QC a million alterations. We started when the frosted window in the room had murky sunlight flowing through—and then we ended up sitting in pitch darkness. By the time we finished, it was 11pm.
It was painful, daunting and costly to go through a mix twice. I wanted my last mixer to give me at least an LCR but he didn’t get it, and gave me a stereo mix without discreet channels. Doing so, would have save me a remix. But in the end this worked out to my advantage because I am grateful to work with Rian. He really catered to my artistic needs. In fact, he was the one that fussed over the unclean sound and chipped away at it. I had to be the one forcing him to stop. Usually, it’s the other way around!
After hours of doing this, both of us started to have insanely sharp hearing like that of a wild animal. We heard things that normal human ears can’t hear. It was great for sound editing but the only downfall was that we couldn’t resist fixing the stuff we heard.
The most amazing and fun thing about Rian was that in the middle of the sound mix he’d leave the room. Yes. He’d just grab a few random objects and leave the room then close the door behind him. I’d sit there listening to a rumbling mike and see the timeline bar on his monitor start to record. The guy was redoing foley for me! LOL! It was great. He put in some really natural sound effects that enhanced the scenes in the most subtle way but made such a huge difference. I really appreciate that he did that because I would never impose that upon him unless I offered to pay extra for it. He’s so kind.
My original sound mix was good, but he made it even more professional and even better. I had asked my last sound guy to remove a hum or buzz that ran throughout a very sensitive and dramatic end scene. He told me it couldn’t be done so I lived with it—because at least it wasn’t as bad as before. But Rian, whom I didn’t ask to fix the mix but hired only to do a 5.1 version of it, pointed out to me that that buzz is wrong. He asked, “Do you ever watch a major motion picture and hear a buzz in the background?” I said, “No, but I assume that it’s acceptable as room tone.”
He said, “It’s up to you, but if you want, I can remove it.”
When he said those words, it evoked the images of a team of adventurers in the wild asking who would dare enter the lion’s den. No one will do it because they’re afraid. And Rian was aware of this. He was not afraid. He asked me a scary question that most sound mixers will not ask: because they are afraid of the complexity of work that might be involved. Firstly, I didn’t believe he could take out the buzz, so that made me accept his dare. If anything, I was more interested to see how the hell he would fix it than about getting a better film. That was how the whole thing started.
He had granted my wish without me asking.
Isn’t strange that months ago, I had asked for something and didn’t get it and then when I stopped asking, it was offered to me. It’s lovely. It’s like falling in love (when you’re not looking for it).
Listen, I don’t want to knock my last sound mixer. He is great. Everyone has their own talents. Rian has his. I am glad I went with him to take NUNE to a higher level audio wise, and plus, I found a guy that I trust and want to build professional longevity with. He is probably one of the most patient collaborators I’ve ever worked with.
Patience seems to be the greatest gift in my life right now. People have been incredibly patient with me. I am four chapters behind my book editor’s editing process and he’s OK with me lagging behind with my notes. Editing is a very dense process. Editing of any kind.
Editing is a form of time-travel, like taking a trip except you don’t leave your home. It takes me four hours just going through Michael’s notes and marking my own notes before I actually make the edit in the document itself. The reason it takes this long is because a writer has to go into contemplation for everything that needs an edit: I usually sit and fantasize about the scene the way an actor does. I go into it, I get into the moment, the character, the mood—and only then can I make the edit—because the words have to flow out of that scene.
It gets complex because you’re contemplating the scene as a narrator, as the characters, and also have to be very analytical and technical at the same time. Truly, it’s the contemplation of re-entering a scene that’s time consuming. It’s like immersing yourself inside a movie in real time. This is why writing isn’t for everyone. It requires a great deal of patience.
If you compare film editing and writing (novel, screenplay etc.) to any art form: I’d say it’s like stitching a Persian rug by hand. I don’t know what it’s like to stitch a tapestry together—but imagine if you had to do it and keep undoing the thread to refine the final product. Moving through the forest of details while keeping a big picture of the results and maintaining the image requires a big hard drive in your mind. You have to keep track of so many things that I believe this has to make your brain grow.