|Transcript CAS Forum
Guest: RANDY THOM
CinAudSo: Welcome to the first C.A.S.
Online Forum! Tonight our guest is renowned ReRecording Mixer and
Sound Designer Randy Thom.
Randy Thom: Great to be here.
CinAudSo: Randy, I'd like to give a brief bio on you:
Randy Thom: Oh No!
CinAudSo: You've been nominated for 7 Academy Awards, received an Oscar for "The Right Stuff," and have been nominated for a Grammy and an Emmy. Some of your credits include: "Apocalypse Now,""The Empire Strikes Back," "Return of the Jedi," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," "Backdraft," "Forrest Gump," "Disclosure," "Jumanji" and you are currently working on Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks."
CinAudSo: My first question is: Is it as glamorous as it seems?
Randy Thom: Absolutely not. Its a myth that sound work on big budget films is any more rewarding or glamorous than smaller ones. Sure there is often pressure, but not really more than on lots of smaller things I've worked on.
RMandDogs: What sort of mixing schedule do you usually have? How many days?
Randy Thom: The typical feature mix schedule these days seems to be about 6 to 8 weeks. "Apocalypse Now" was mixed for nine months. "Raging Bull," which was about 90 percent mono, was mixed for about four months.
CHOBIZ: Randy, what's your toughest comment about dealing with production tracks?
Randy Thom: I have enormous sympathy for production mixers. I did it on several features.
CHOBIZ: Gee, sorry! But, you wised up a long time ago!
Randy Thom: The worst sin a production mixer can commit is to have several takes, all of which are distorted. Lots of production mixers don't really understand how the gain structure works in their systems.
AZ MIXER: No, the worst is to have nothing on the tape. Or no tape at all.
Randy Thom: Actually, I'd rather have nothing on tape than bad distortion.
CHOBIZ: Just kidding, of course! At least with digital there's no such thing as a LITTLE distortion!
AZ MIXER: Yeah, then no one can force you to try to "salvage" it.
RMandDogs: you haven't worked with some of my clients
CinAudSo: Could you elaborate on "gain structure"
Randy Thom: In my experience, when you're recording with microphones, the most likely place for distortion to happen is at the mic preamp.
AZ MIXER: True
Randy Thom: An amazing number of production mixers don't seem to understand that.
AZ MIXER: But you want a hot signal coming down the line, especially if it's a long one.
Randy Thom: They think that by turning down the pot on their Nagra or DAT machine they are reducing distortion since volume controls on tape recorders almost never have anything to do with preamp gain all they succeed in doing is to record their distorted signal at a lower level, therefore adding noise. So you either have to put a pad before the mic preamp, or arrange to have a preamp with controllable gain.
CHOBIZ: Have you ever noticed that distortion is sometimes not so much a consequence of level, but of content?
Randy Thom: Well, distortion is probably always a function of electrical level, but sometimes most of that level is below 100 Hz.
AZ MIXER: Some actors have distorted voices, no kidding. They can fool you.
CHOBIZ: For example, a Schoeps can be an excellent mic for booming single voices, but not a choir, even if the level isn't particularly high.
Randy Thom: Also, if you are recording a sound that has very few mid and higher frequencies in it then there will be very little to mask the harmonic distortion products, so you'll notice the distortion more. Schoeps mics are well known for their hot response at low frequencies.
CHOBIZ: Yeah, they're hot in general.
Randy Thom: I love Schoeps mics, but you definitely have to watch their low end response! lately i've been using the sennheiser mkh 40's alot. They are very hot and very low noise. I use them mainly for sound effects.
CHOBIZ: I never use mine without SOME roll off at the in-line low cut filter. The Schoeps, that is
Randy Thom: Good idea.
CinAudSo: Randy, the CAS recently had a seminar on multitrack production recording using digital multitracks recorders. Any thoughts?
Randy Thom: Well, that's a pretty controversial subject, as you know. I'm in favor of using multitrack for production as long as everyone involved, including the people in post production know what the implications are. For some projects it is the right choice. It tends to complicate and make quite a bit more expensive the work of the dialog editors.
CinAudSo: Jim Webb said something similar -- that it really had no place in regular production because it wasn't cost effective
Randy Thom: Well, if you're recording sound for Robert Altman, like Jim has done many times, or another director who demands to be able to control the level of each actor in post, you don't have a choice.
CHOBIZ: How do you feel about dealing with the fact that rarely is each track perfectly isolated?
Randy Thom: Any of you heard of Lou Burrough's "3 to 1" rule?
AZ MIXER: Sure, Electro-voice designer -- wrote an excellent book entitled "Microphones and Their Application"
Randy Thom: For those who haven't, Lou's theory was that as long as each mic in a multi-mic setup is at least three times as far from every other mic as it is from the sound source it is supposed to pick up then you will tend not to have problems with acoustic phasing, etc. Generally, I think that if you can arrange to obey that rule then you will tend not to have many problems with multi mic --- multi -track setups. Or at least those kinds of problems.
CinAudSo: What about the use of digital audio recorders themselves?
Randy Thom: In terms of digital recorders - - I am not among the golden eared group who insist that 16 bit recorders are unacceptable. For many applications they are fine. For certain kinds of recording, a nagra 4.2 is extremely hard to beat.
AZ MIXER: Yes, desert recording for example
CinAudSo: Is that because it is "kinder" to overload?
Randy Thom: Tape saturation is some of the best limiting money can buy. analog saturation, that is. Analog is still great for guns and explosions, for example. but mic placement is an even more important consideration when recording guns and explos. The sound you pick up three or four feet from the muzzle of a gun is among the most boring sounds in the world. What makes sounds like guns and explosions ....not to mention voices...is the way they excite the acoustic environment around them.
CinAudSo: the "bounce?"
AZ MIXER: A gun shot in a canyon is hard to top.
Randy Thom: Multiple mics for guns and explos is a great idea.
CHOBIZ: We often use multiple mics for gunshots....especially full loads in order to get both the close-up characteristics as well as the reverb, overtones, etc..... did that in "Robocop" with pretty good success.
Randy Thom: Great job on Robocop!
CHOBIZ: Thanks! Because of the mega loads they were actually able to use most of the production shots.
Randy Thom: Guns usually need a lot of EQ in post to make them sound really fat. most of the energy in a typical gunshot is in the midrange. If you lower the midrange in post and boost the lows and highs you get a much more powerful sound.
CinAudSo: Do you use DDL's on the
stage to enhance that "acoustical
Randy Thom: We often use electronic delays and various reverb devices to try to simulate real world acoustics with varying degrees of success.
RMandDogs: What's your favorite reverb/delay for gunshots?
Randy Thom: The reverb you use for gunshots is usually more or less determined by the acoustic environment of the scene you're working on. But when you can get away with it, a program with some so-called "pre-delay' and a three or four second decay time is great.
CinAudSo: Randy, changing the subject slightly . . .you've spoken about the importance of Sound Design in the PreProduction and Production stages of a film; however, that may be a luxury for all but "A" pictures. Do you have any suggestions for Sound Design in POST Production on lower budget films?
Randy Thom: In fact, it's a luxury for "a" pictures too. My suggestions for those working on lower budget films would not be very different from what i would say to those who work on bigger movies. In fact, sound people on lower budget films may have more input and power than those on the big films.
AZ MIXER: doubtful
Randy Thom: What I am trying to do is to get directors to think more about the storytelling capacity of sound and to try to design their films with sound in mind, rather than treating sound as a "necessary evil", and afterthought, or whipping boy
RMandDogs: depends on the experience and mindset of the director as much or more than the budget
Randy Thom: You're exactly right, Rmanddogs! I would much rather work on a lower budget movie on which i could have some influence than a big film where I am one of several hundred voices crying for attention.
CHOBIZ: When you present it to directors in terms of the story telling impact they can certainly relate.
RMandDogs: the biggest enemy on low budget tho is time -- well one of the biggest enemies
Randy Thom: In my experience time is no less an enemy on big budget films. you have more time, but you also have more to cram into it
AZ MIXER: I rate producer's anxiety as a pretty big enemy.
Randy Thom: One of the biggest frustrations i have is that producers and directors often hire me because They think i'm a miracle worker.
CinAudSo: < heard that rumor too <g>
Randy Thom: They think that because I've worked on lots of big films that I can make their film just like "Apocalypse Now" or one of the "Star Wars" movies. It obviously doesn't work that way. The film has to be designed well to begin with. Sound does not ever ever ever save a movie that is in trouble. I don't care how brilliant the score is, if the movie stinks, it stinks with a brilliant score.
RMandDogs: and hopefully brilliant FX
Randy Thom: Absolutely. Lots of scores are being thrown out these days for that reason. There is this ridiculous hope that a different score will "save the movie"
RMandDogs: the composers fighting the same battle we are
CHOBIZ: full scale panic>
CinAudSo: What areas are you concerned about in the new multi-channel digital release formats?
Randy Thom: Ah digital release formats. I think it is very unwise of universal and sony to insist on releasing their films only on their digital formats. They are undercutting the power of their own films
CHOBIZ: The same arrogance which got Apple into trouble.
RMandDogs: what chair do you usually sit in --dialog or FX?
Randy Thom: These days i usually mix fx. Technically, dialog re-recording is definitely usually the toughest job.
RMandDogs: very tedious. I think FX is much more fun
Randy Thom: Trying to reconcile production and ADR tracks and make it sound seamless is so difficult it is often impossible. Since I would rather mix FX, that's usually what i do.
RMandDogs: do you gaff from the FX chair?
Randy Thom: Often I'm the one "in charge" but i really don't have any interest in bossing people around. I'm happiest when there is no boss. But sometimes someone has to be the "guide" or settle disputes, and so sometimes that's me. Mixing, like so many things in life is primarily a political process.
CinAudSo: And not usually a Democracy!
Treble: Roger that.
RMandDogs: absolutely, right
Randy Thom: Right
AZ MIXER: absolutely
Randy Thom: There are lots of mixers who are amazing in terms of their technical prowess, but lousy politicians. They don't get far.
CinAudSo: Is the converse true?
AZ MIXER: Converse is true, yes.
RMandDogs: I've seen it
Randy Thom: I know of a couple of mixers who are definitely not technical geniuses who are very successful mixers. In fact, I may be one of them.
CHOBIZ: I've found that our selection of music on the sound cart can be key!
Randy Thom: Absolutely! Got to establish the right mood.
CinAudSo: Do you have a preference for any release format over another?
Randy Thom: In terms of preferred release formats, I do have a soft spot in my heart for the people at Dolby. They tend to hire really top notch engineers, and they tend to be very helpful in a variety of ways. On the other hand, I think each of the three competing digital formats has its own strengths, and each can sound great if everything goes well. Which it almost never does, of course.
CinAudSo: Speaking of that, do you
ever find yourself disappointed when
Randy Thom: I nearly always am disappointed when i hear my work in the theater, even if the theater is set up correctly, which is rare. Like most of us, I tend to obsess on what I think is wrong with my work, and I tend to think others do better work.
RMandDogs: what about TAP?
Randy Thom: TAP is great. More films should use them
RMandDogs: I have yet to see the 1-800-phonethx on the end of a movie tho
Randy Thom: The "Theater Alignment Program" checks prints and theaters for distributors.
Randy Thom: Well, this has been great. I'm actually sort of happy we had a small crowd.
CinAudSo: Randy, thank you so much.
Treble: Thanks Randy!
RMandDogs: thanks Randy!!
CHOBIZ: Thanks< Randy!!
AZ MIXER: thank you
CinAudSo: This has been not only informative, but also entertaining!
Randy Thom: My Pleasure.
AZ MIXER: good night all
Randy Thom: It'll be fun to be a question asker next time.
Randy Thom: Bye Everybody.
CinAudSo: Good night everyone and thank you for coming!
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