Always Mixing

Aug 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Mel Lambert



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Anna Behlmer and Andy Nelson jumped from Australia to Star Trek: The Future Begins.

Anna Behlmer and Andy Nelson jumped from Australia to Star Trek: The Future Begins.

Unusually, during the re-recording of Star Trek: The Future Begins, a second dubbing crew took over re-recording chores after the project had started predubbing with Paul Massey and David Giammarco. Director J.J. Abrams had worked with Andy Nelson and Anna Behlmer from Fox Studios on several of his previous films, including Mission Impossible III and Cloverfield. “But since we had been hired previously to work in Sydney on Australia,” Nelson says, “J.J. had started with another crew. When we were freed up from Australia, we were able to join the project with Paul and Dave, who had been working on predubs for several weeks.”

“It's not the optimum way of working,” considers Behlmer. “But because of the tight schedule, we had to move the project along. ‘Needs must,’ as they say.” Effects predubs are, by their nature, particularly complex on a film like Star Trek, “so finding what is where [on the predub mixes] can take some time,” she offers.

“Having access to three identically equipped stages — Howard Hawks, John Ford, which is Paul Massey's room, and Robert Wise Theatres — helps a lot,” adds Nelson, who also serves as VP of sound operations at Fox Post-Production Services. “Predubs from any of the rooms sound exactly the same in any other area, and the automation data from our [AMS Neve] DFC consoles is fully transportable. I ended up with six dialog predubs, including original production dialog, ADR and a pair of group walla [tracks]; I did redo a couple of these mixes, but preferred to use the existing predubs where we could. Music was delivered as six or seven 5.1-channel stems, plus solo instruments, et cetera. Anna had a total of 44 predubs, all of which were 5.1 channels wide.

“We also needed to predub new effects elements that came in from [sound designer] Ben Burtt,” Nelson continues, “which brought to the film some of the iconic sounds from the original TV show. [Supervising sound editor] Mark Stoeckinger also supplied a number of new elements. Eventually, we whittled down the total number of effects predubs to 36, which is still a lot to handle during finaling.”

Combining editorial/design with re-recording functions also offers creative advantages. With an extensive background in sound design and sound-effects mixing, Myron Nettinga used his skills while developing predubs for director Jonathan Mostow's film Surrogates at Sony's editorial facility prior to the mix at Walt Disney Studios. “Because of my experience as a mixer,” he says, “I'm able to use those sensibilities while making creative choices during designing that will carry through to the final mix. I know what I will want for separation, panning, delays and reverb, with a good understanding of how it will translate on the final stage.” Working closely with supervising sound editor Jon Johnson, Nettinga developed predubs while designing sound for a number of action sequences and other selected scenes.

“I will still be doing more predubbing at Disney before the final mix,” he continues, “but it was great to have built and predubbed some of the larger and busier sequences early on. I see the approach of working earlier in the process in smaller rooms becoming more the norm. [It is] similar to the music stems that currently come to the stage for the final mix and which have been premixed in smaller control rooms by the scoring mixer. It's a great way to work with budgets and schedules that may not always be optimum, without sacrificing quality.”

Most re-recording mixers are reluctant to work with predubs that have been produced by somebody else, unless they have worked closely with the mixer in the past and share similar sensibilities, or are supervising their choices. “We try not to predub each other's material if possible,” Jenkins confirms. “On one film where I couldn't make it for predubbing, I offered to the director that probably it would be better if the same re-recording mixer took the project all the way through finals. There is just too much room for interpretation. I guess it's 40-percent ego and 60-percent reality.

“If I don't do the predubs I just don't know what the problems were and what to look out for going into finals. I have a great auditory memory and ‘learn’ the film during premixes. For example, I might not clean up something or put on a particular reverb because I know that I could get to that later in the process. Somebody else might not do that; they may clean everything up for me. Making this sort of decision — and locking myself in — is something I'd prefer to do for myself!”

Mel Lambert heads up Media&Marketing (, a full-service consulting service for pro-audio firms and facilities.

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