Wednesday, May 23, 2007


A reader asks:
It seems like sound is always piggybacked onto picture. Thus, it seems as though the sound editor does not have an opportunity to respond to the picture edit and say: "this does not work for sound." Is there much reverse motion in the work-flow and why is it that the work-flow puts sound after picture?

Well, the answer is, yes, and no.

Picture locks first because it's a part of the cultural assumption that visuals are more important than sound, but it's also practical. Generally a picture change means changing hundreds of sound tracks, so it's easier to lock (or "latch") picture before locking sound.

However, on a big feature with a long schedule, it's typical for there to be several temp dubs. After each temp dub, the picture editor then goes back and re-edits picture with the stems from the previous dub, so s/he can see and hear whether the new changes are working. Most of the time it should be clear to a good editor when picture needs adjusting.

Even without temp dubs, good editors do more than cut picture. In fact, I've often said the most important sound editor is the picture editor. Especially in today's environment, editors are expected to cut temp music, temp sound effects, temp VO, temp ADR (and even record much of it in the editing room), as well as temp visual FX. By the time the real sound editors come on the movie, the picture editor has already established much of the mood and pacing of both the music and sound design.

However, it is extremely rare that a sound editor would ask a picture editor to make a picture change. It's usually pretty obvious if it's necessary (to jam in an added explanatory ADR line, or an off-camera sound effect for something you didn't' shoot) and the picture editor will usually cut in a temp sound that needs to be matched in length by the real sound editors.

One area where it is more likely to change is for music. Occasionally, a composer will ask to fix an edit because it doesn't work with a consistent musical tempo (although more often than not, the change still won't happen). Probably the most famous example of this was John Williams asking Spielberg to re-edit and extend the climactic scene in E.T. so that he could include a complete statement of the musical theme when the bicycle starts to fly. Since a change like that impacts so many people (sound editors, visual effects, negative cutter), even then, it's pretty rare, but it does occasionally happen.
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