Sound Chat #32 - Adam Daniels (Re-Recording Mixer)

Hey follow soundies, Matt Price from here. Today I am having a chat with Adam Daniel, Re-Recording Mixer known for V for Vendetta (2005) | Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Thanks for joining me Adam, I wanted to start off with Chuck Norris vs. Communism which is quite a title, there are two Re-Recording Mixers credited and wanted to get know how you divided work and as a follow up do you always work in a team of Re-Recording Mixers?

Chuck Norris vs. Communism was a great feature documentary to work on. It describes the huge influence that smuggled Western movies had on the Communist ruled population of 80’s Romania. I handled the Sound FX and Foley on the project. My partner looked after the Dialogue and Music. I’ve been part of a team on the majority of films I have mixed. A pair of Re Recording mixers is commonplace on larger mixing stages. Some mixes have a team of 3 Re Recording mixers. It is a luxury but dividing the workload allows for very efficient final mixes, especially when it involves large track counts. I think being a member of a mix team is also the best way to learn. I started on the stage as an Assistant Re Recording mixer. I started with a few faders of foley and over time the responsibility grew. I learnt about the art of mixing, the terminology and how to interact with clients from every department.

Getting more into your process, what is the step by step process for a project once its ready for your handywork? (dialogue then effects then foley then music)

I always listen to the production sound as soon as possible. The dialogue is usually the anchor for the mix. I like to hear what I’ve got to work with and how i can support that with Sound FX and Foley. Normally I like to premix the Foley, the Atmospheres and then the Sound FX. I find mixing in that order builds a strong foundation and I get to familiarise myself with all the sounds I’m responsible for. It also allows me to get a very tight integration between the Production Sound FX and Foley. Familiarity with the tracks then allows me to quickly locate and address very specific sounds during the final mix when the music is added.

While you are mixing who else are you interacting with in the post production team, directors, editors or even producers?

In addition to the sound supervisor and their team we get to work with the picture editor, director and producers. The mixing stage is an incredible place to learn about every aspect of film making. You get to work with another crew every few weeks. Over time you start to get returning clients. That is always nice. It can be a high pressure environment but I find working as part of a small team working towards a common goal incredibly rewarding.

Is there a specific order to processing? for instance EQ then compressing then…

I always listen first. Generally it is level and EQ on a per track basis and then some gentle compression on the stem busses. I’m constantly re-evaluating the overall sound. Quite often I get the impression that people are looking for a magic chain of processors or plugins that almost mix the film itself. I don’t believe there is a black box short cut. Good sound takes care and attention. So much can be achieved by listening, levelling and applying EQ. Sometimes there are compromises during the shoot that result in less than ideal production sound. Currently there are some incredible plug-ins available for cleaning up dialogue. Currently my personal weapon of choice is iZotope RX Advanced. I tend to use the various tools on a per case basis. The majority of the time I use Audiosuite or connect to the standalone application. I very rarely use any of the noise reduction tools live. I like to listen to what I'm actually removing and reference the original to check that I'm not going too far.

Mentors are an important part of the learning process which hopefully these sound chats are providing a snippet for soundies around the world. When you were starting out did you have one or many mentors and how did they influence you?

I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Ray Merrin for the last 4 years of his career. He was the lead mixer in our studio and had over 40 years experience. His credits included Alien, Birdy, and The Shining. His wealth of knowledge was invaluable. Not only was he a brilliant mixer but he had a great manner with the clients too. He taught me how to really listen and how to manage a mix stage with a room full of clients.

I learnt an awful lot from some great sound supervisors too. These included Glenn Freemantle, Eddy Joseph and Randy Thom. In addition to the sounds it was great to see how they managed their teams to get the best results for the film and how they worked with directors.

With more and more technological advances are Foley editors and sound editors giving you tracks already with EQ and processing done or do you ask for certain requirements?

We are receiving more and more sessions that contain EQ and processing. It is a natural evolution of working on the same platform as sound editorial. It usually provides a great starting point but the virtual nature of the automation allows me to re adjust things as required. Mixes can now evolve as the automation can be carried forward as the picture cut changes.

Do you have any tips on keeping fresh ears to a scene you have been working on for a while?

I find that my focus is always shifting to another element of the mix and that change helps to keep me fresh. Working as part of a team is also great. I’m always listening to the mix even when i'm talking to a client or doing some file management. Quite often I'll find that a sound distracts me when I’m less focussed and that pulls me back to the mix. This is usually a click, a pop, a noisy line of dialogue or an odd pan. Basically anything that pops the bubble. I find that input from the clients always keeps you fresh too. I spend as much time listening to the clients as the sound coming out of the speakers.

Is there a rough ratio of work to minutes of film mixed? (1 hour for 1 minute of film) I know deadlines get shorter these days.

We work to the schedule that has been established by the sound supervisor and the post production supervisor. Certain scenes always take longer than others but it tends to average out between the elements. A difficult dialogue scene may only have simple atmospheres and minimal foley. A battle scene may have hundreds of sound fx and foley but minimal dialogue.

Fight scenes where music, effects and dialogue are all fighting to be heard must be tricky like this Lobby fight scene from V for Vendetta, does it take a lot of trial and error to find the flow of a piece or do you start off with key areas and then bridge the gaps?

The aim of the premix is to gain as much control of the separate elements as possible. The overall shape of a scene is usually defined by the director and the editor in their guide track audio. They have often been shaping scenes and planning the music for weeks or months before we see a frame. We usually start by replicating that shape in the premix. However the mix is a dynamic situation. We like to have all the elements prepared and available just in case the director suddenly changes their mind. In the mix a director will often like to see if a scene works better with an alternate cue, different placement and sometimes without music at all. Clean dialogue and fully filled Sound FX/Foley allow you to achieve the director's vision as efficiently as possible.

Finally, could you recommend any other post production roles or skills that will benefit up and coming Re-Recording Mixers?

I started as a Sound Recordist in the sound department. I was responsible for lacing up the 35mm film projector and the sound dubbers for the mix stage. We used a combination of Akai DD8, Avid Audio Vision, Pro Tools and 35mm Magnetic when I started. I was also responsible for managing the desk setups and automation on the mixing console. I really appreciate that I got to actually work with physical film just as the industry transitioned to digital. I guess my first role is more commonly referred to as a Mix Tech nowadays.

Learning about audio routing, picture codecs, aspect ratios, transcoding, embedding audio in quicktimes, loudness compliance and file management are all skills that will make you useful on any mix stage.

Thanks so much for your input Adam. Thanks also to you for reading this piece and keep the conversation going by commenting below on what you have read!