About Film Sound & Mixing Tracks“Audience appeal” is attracting viewers’ attention and getting them involved in your film, visually and emotionally engaged with the plot. You can have the best script ever written, but without visual and sound impact, it will fall flat! To combine the various factors, or tracks, into a dynamic package that will capture an audience, you need to mould the influences together, known in the filmmaking business as “mixing.”

There are different tracks to take into account.  You can go from possibly one specific dialogue track to a complex of mixes that can run into fourteen tracks, which is a common occurrence today in feature films. It could involve a variety of cutting into separate dialogue tracks, echo filters, and changing close and distant perspectives. Then you have the various music tracks that may overlap and require cross-fading, or special tracks that require particular filtering attention and equalization (EQ).

In the “olden, golden days” of Hollywood filmmaking, it was not possible to change these factors during the filming process. Such changes involved almost starting from scratch.  Any mistake was a frustrating, time consuming, and financially costly experience. There were usually three technicians involved in the processes of dialogue, music, and sound effects.

The advanced technology in the present world of filmmaking and, in particular, the sound making aspect and digital editing, means that one technician is able to control the complete procedure. The previous 16mm magnetic tracks are left out of the mixing and are transferred to a digital medium. Coordinated with the other tracks, the digital technology takes over, with the mixer fluctuating with the sound and equalizing where necessary. Whether needing to back up, go forward, or switch tracks, it is all done with ease, speed, and without any loss in quality.

A Sound Environment

During the mixing process, a director must stay on top of the game, as the mixer frequently backs up, to re-filter a sound effect or add a continuous track. This is a track usually available in sound studios, or it’s created by editors and consists of general background sounds such as, birds, traffic, and other everyday sounds. The technical demands can seem endless, with the fluctuation of the mixer creating the need for eyes and ears to be attuned to this frequently changing environment.

This can be a difficult task, and one that requires technical ability and sustained concentration.  The significantly large speakers can distort the sounds on a mixed track and make the effects either too high-pitched or too loud. This causes interruptions, with a filmmaker sometimes requiring adjustments if there is a perceived and distracting sound distortion. Although the introduction of the latest technology has increased the efficiency, performance, and quality of the mixing process, it has not entirely prevented occasions when getting it right seems like a never ending process!

Likewise, with the advances made in the video-edging consoles, various filmmakers prefer this method to the mix and its inherent cost factor. Mixing on video can, however, involve a significant difference in the amount of time necessary to complete the process, versus mixing on film.  It could mean allocating two days for a one hour documentary, one and a half days for a half-hour television film, or several days for a feature film. There are also varieties of affects that may need to be rectified in the process, which could include separating part of a track onto another for equalizing purposes (cut-over). In addition, you could be faced with decisions related to suitable tone variations, music types, sequences, and various other refining procedures. A “cut-over” is a relatively simple change; however, there are others that could mean delays of several hours, such as re-equalizing tracks to conform to the latest mixes, among others.