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Big or Small, It’s All Sound for Picture

My first real assignments at Mix, once I was finished copyediting and proofreading for the day, were writing about Sound for Film, starting with The Doors movie back in 1991.

My first real assignments at Mix, once I was finished copyediting and proofreading for the day, were writing about Sound for Film, starting with The Doors movie back in 1991. I’ve mentioned that before in this space, as it’s been an area of the industry I’ve always enjoyed covering, especially the people in and around the edit suites and dub stages.

We created a section in the magazine, and even a bi-annual supplement called Sound for Picture, or SFP. We even trademarked the name. And though I was primarily writing about film at the start, it was the broader field of sound for picture—broadcast, video production, videogames, early Internet—that was clearly the umbrella industry. Audio post-production, as a subset of the entertainment industry, has served a lot of masters over the years, both big and small, indie and corporate, studio-based and by-the shoestrings. Still, the process remained essentially the same, no matter the project. You have music, effects and dialog, and you have to match the picture. You have to help tell the story.

Now here we are, nearly a quarter-century later, and Mix is preparing for its second annual Mix Presents Sound for Film conference and exhibition at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif. Last year we started very simply, with a single topic: Immersive Sound. The response from vendors and attendees alike was positive, so we’re doing it again, this time around Sound Design (hence, the Music, Dialog and Effects moniker), with a subtrack on Immersive Sound. And it’s getting even bigger. While we labeled it Sound for Film, we realized that it’s all converging again on Sound for Picture.

There’s a curious dichotomy going on in audio post-production. The big studios on the lots are doing quite well these days. Look at that cover. Warner Bros. expanded from Burbank to London with the purchase of De Lane Lea a few years back, then a few months ago they acquired Digital Cinema in New York. These are big stages for big productions. They do perhaps more TV post than any facility in town. The same can be said at Sony, where they just installed the largest Avid S6 console in the world and are building out two new Dolby Atmos stages for TV post. They have 23 weekly shows to mix this fall, as well as blockbuster feature films. I have no doubt that business is good at Fox and Disney and Universal, as well. Formosa Features has grown dramatically in just two years, with both stages and talent, working on everything from commercials to TV to major features.

Then there is guerrilla post, with its low budgets and short schedules and inventive means of using talent and technology to achieve the same goal—quality, storytelling audio no matter how it is distributed. In this issue of Mix, while WB makes the cover, we have stories on low-budget filmmaking with iPhones and a Sound Devices recorder; a story on a 90-minute mix for a short film to make the festival circuit; and yet another piece on the software sound design tools within reach of any individual who wants to design sounds.

The market for audio post-production seems healthy across all ranges of projects, from multimillion dollars to “can you call a friend?” And the tools are truly converging in a way they haven’t before. This isn’t a case of the big guys being slowly eaten away by the little guys, or the large studios suffering while the boutique thrives. There is a huge demand for content today, and a rising tide lifts all boats.

I hope that you can come join us at Mix Presents Sound for Film on the Sony lot at the end of the month. Besides the expert panels on Music, Effects, Dialog and Mixing, there will be Master Classes and special presentations by the likes of Avid, Dolby, DTS, JBL, Yamaha, Meyer Sound, Harrison, DSpatial, RSPE, Audio Intervisual Design, GC Pro and Formosa Group, among others. Talent and tools, that’s what it’s all about.

Tom Kenny, Editor