By Alexander Markowski CAS
January 28, 2010
Revised January 3, 2014
Prior to viewing The Soundscapes of Middle Earth, the wonderful behind the scenes extras contained on the special edition of Lord of the Rings –The Fellowship of the Ring, I had always defined ADR as “Automated Dialog Recording”. If you get the chance to see the Soundscapes section from the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, disk four- chapter eight begins with the sound of three beeps under the title, Additional Dialog Recording. There after in this section is a splendid demonstrating of the ADR process. The Soundscapes sections for all three of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies is a must see for all film students interested in film sound. The word “additional” does make a bit more sense than “automated”. It is simple and self-explanatory and does not require additional explanation of the term “automated”.
I began mixing ADR in 2002 soon after moving to Wilmington, North Carolina. Before my migration south, I worked in New York as a re-recording engineer for seventeen years. In Wilmington I mixed the pinciple ADR for the last full season of Dawson’s Creek. After that I mixed ADR for the next nine seasons of One Tree Hill, Seaon one for Surface, Revolution, Under The Dome, and Sleepy Hollow. When I started I wasn’t completely green and had engineered bits of ADR on occasion on various projects I was mixing or sound editing. While in New York I had worked as a re-recording mixer with 16 and 35mm film for ten years and then transitioned into mixing and sound editing in Pro Tools for another seven. My move to computers and sound editing after being a mixer was helpful as I had to expand my skills to include ADR mixer. While setting up my first ADR sessions in Wilmington I was comfortable to go with the flow and adapt to what ever was needed with resources available. One thing I embrace about film making is that I learn something new every day, and more often than not I need to be the one figuring out the “what and how” of the thing that needs to be done before anyone asks.
I quite enjoy working with an actor who is stepping on to the ADR stage for first time. After working on teen dramas for the past eight years I have had my share of first time actors to the ADR stage. I do my best to walk the actor through the process and assure them it is quite easy, even though it may not be, depending the actors training and natural abilities. I try to get them to relax so they can concentrate on acting rather than worrying about the technical aspect. The ADR supervisor for One Tree Hill, Beth Crookham, and myself have orchestrated a calm positive line of encouragement for the first time ADR actor. Setting the studio in a positive light is good way to ease tension as it is up to myself and the ADR supervisor to provide a relaxed working environment to allow the actor to focus on the job at hand. That is performing precisely delivered and well acted lines in the very sterile environment of a sound treated ADR stage.
Regardless whether the actor is “first timer” or “veteran “ they will be required to perform from one word to several pages of lines, whatever it is, if the actor seems a bit apprehensive I try to make it seem like it isn’t that much. In this vain, I may point out the cues that are just one or two words or just “breaths”, which is often the case. What ever I say as the actor arrives, it is measured by what is appropriate for that very moment. I may not have to say much at all, as I have to be very perceptive of the mood and temperament of each actor each time they enter the stage.
As a weekly teen drama, One Tree Hill, has a fair amount of ADR each week. The show has had and excellent production sound crew for the past seven seasons, first headed by mixer Jeffree Bloomer for seasons 1-3 and then later Michael Rayle CAS for 4-9. The largest factor with regards to the amount of ADR needed for each episode comes down to the production sound crew and there abilities to deal with their location, the scene action and elements on set. One Tree Hill is about fifty percent “location” and fifty percent “sound stage”. An episode with mostly stage work may yield just a few lines that require ADR, unless there is heavy rain storms which can knock a few lines over the edge with regard to background noise created by rain pelting on the steel roof of the stage. Out in the real world of locations the production is more likely to have need for ADR. Out on location there is less control of the surroundings with regards to audio intrusions. In one instance with One Tree Hill, the scheduling of a popular exterior location for the show coincided with the demolition of a nearby office building, producing lots of lovely clanks and bangs that made the nearby production recording unusable. The demolition crew was willing to stop work, but for a price that far exceeded the cost of a few hours of ADR. It was decided to let the demolition continue. Each principle actor may only have two or three lines one week and the next week they may need to do an entire scene do to a something that can not be controlled cost effectively.
After the first read, I can tell fairly well how the rest of the session will go. Some actors come in and “nail it”, while other actors may struggle. If the actor admits to never performing ADR before, I like to run through the process with them. I will explain to the actor, “Each of your lines are proceeded with ADR beeps, there are three beeps, one, two , three and where the fourth one would be is where your line begins.” I always recommend a slight inhale on the first or second beep which makes it a lot easier to speak when the fourth imaginary beep comes. “It goes like this beep, beep, beep, line.” Next I show the actor their headphones with their own volume control on the stand next to them. I gesture toward where they will be positioned to perform their lines, I tell them it is better to stand during ADR unless of course they were sitting during the delivery of their line. The actor is encouraged to try to mimic whatever action they may have been doing during scene while they deliver each line. This means with in reason of the confines of the stage. This sometimes requires the actor to run I place for a bit before delivering their line if the original scene entails that the line was delivered during some physical exertion.
Before I started mixing ADR for a particular show many of these actors had developed bad habits of sitting for any and all ADR. In fact one the biggest stars of the show at that time would begin sitting upright and eventually slouch back in the high chair. so much so that the microphone perspective would change noticeably. At which point I would need to say, “That sounded a bit far away did the mic move?” Of course it didn’t but the actor would sit up again, which brought the actor’s mouth about a foot closer to the mic.
At the beginning of the sixth season of Dawson’s Creek which was my first season, producer Greg Prange came to one of my early ADR sessions. In fact it was the first session that I had made some changes in an effort to streamline things for myself. I had re-patched the signal flow so the preamp feed directly into Pro Tools instead of being routed through the analog console. I was using Pro-tools along with a new control surface and I monitored through the analog board that was there instead of mixing through it. The video for the session was a QuickTime movie, no more 3/4” tape! I had beeps laid into a dedicated track replacing the Micro Lynx beep generator. It was light years faster. I could concentrate on what the actor was doing and not what buttons to push. After the session was over and the actor had left, Greg was still there talking to ADR supervisor Brenda Dalrymple. I asked Greg how he thought it went. I had never meet him before. He looked at me with a curious expression and I for a moment I thought maybe I should have kept quiet. He gently smiled and said, “That was the fastest and most painless ADR session I have ever witnessed”. I hope the earlier blank expression was his thinking “what the heck were the other guys doing before?”, but I didn’t ask.
ADR Set UP
The set up for ADR these days involves importing a Quick Time movie with a guide track into Pro Tools. I may have to capture it myself or just import a file that may have been downloaded from an “ftp” site. The picture is placed in the timeline so that the timecode “burn in window” matches the Pro Tools session timecode. Every once in a while I need to flip the Pro Tools counter to the old style 35 footage counts, but there is always a timecode that needs to be aligned.
The position of the cues are taken from the submitted ADR cue logs which are emailed to me. I set them to memory locations in Pro Tools sorted by character. In the work flow of One Tree Hill, the sound supervisor Ray Spiess emails me the cues in a custom word document that allows me to sort the cues by character or timecode, which allows for easier cueing. It is helpful to have each actor’s cues sorted together in the memory locations even though they will not occur that way in the program. Being ready and organized allows the session to be set up quicker and engineered with less worry. I highly recommend establishing organized consistent labeling, color-coding recent sessions, sorting and organizing media on the hard drive consistently. All these are great habits to embrace as soon as you can.
I try my best to have the rhythm and flow of the session follow the actor’s efforts. I “feel out” the pace and time the actor needs to regroup between takes. As things get going I may need to make a pass right away without announcing my audio slate, which can be distracting and clinical. The rhythm will change with the difficulty of the line. The ADR supervisor will sometimes need to ask the actor to perform a highly emotional or physical read last as not to influence the other performances. Of course each client runs their session uniquely. If its my first session with a client I need to gain a sense quickly whether to “captain” the session or settle back to just pushing buttons with quick acknowledgments to the client. This is especially true with ISDN sessions when the client directing is a faceless voice in our headsets. The engineer becomes invisible and the session runs itself, or a least that is how it should appear.
The submitted guide track for the program, must be the production track only. It is essential to have the production track in the timeline, as it allows me to match the waveform of the newly recorded line against the waveform of the production track. I always record new ADR lines to a track just below the guide track to compare them easily. I then drag each take down to an appropriately numbered track below after a recording pass. I have tracks numbered 1through16 for takes 1 through16 just below the record track. Simply naming and re-naming the record track with the cue name, allows me to keep track of each take as the prefix of _01 is added to the newly created audio file after recording one pass. Record again and _02 is placed. For example, the track name is 203 DAVID boom. After the third recording pass on that track, the audio file is labeled 203 DAVID boom_03. After each record pass I drag the track down to a track below that matches the take number. I then mark the cue sheet with the take number in its track label box. (See Figure) In an ADR session for One Tree Hill, the ADR supervisor, myself or the actor will chose a select take and at that point I add a “P” to the end of file name, 203 DAVID boom_03P. I move a copy of that take up to the “print track” above the record track. We always select a print and an alternate take for each line with One Tree Hill. Due to time constraints and fast pace of the audio post for this TV show the ADR editor will only import the “Print” and “Alt” track to work with in their edit, and by doing so keep their edit simplified and “less wide” by not importing all of the other takes that can be thirty two additional tracks.
I will always record two mics on two grouped tracks during the session and be prepared with three mic choices. I use a combination of two boom mics close and far with a lav mic which are all ready to go without stopping the session. If any of the sessions ADR requires matching a radio lav mic I use a Sanken COS11 clipped mid-chest. I usually work with a MKH50 about three to four feet away as the main boom, along with a KMR81 about three to five feet away higher up and coming down at a steeper angle. I never actually measure the distance, In my mind the distance and angle of the mic is related to the sound quality I get and that’s it. They are one. I can adjust a mic properly after only hearing a few words from the actor. That’s why I like to chatter a bit with the talent while we are all in position almost ready to begin. I sometimes run out to the room and move the mic what appears to be an inch but that is all that it may need.
The One That Got Away
Each of my record tracks are paired mono tracks so I always have two mics for each take. It is usually “boom” and back up which I label “bu”. But I may choose to use a boom and the lav and switch out the back up mic. When in use the back up is turned down slightly in gain. This works very to contain levels when an actor is louder and varies their performance from a whisper to a yell during a single take. The far mic tends to sound more natural as is angled down as well as gained down so it will not overload as fast. I love telling the ADR super that “I got it” after the front mic seems too hot during record. This technique was a life saver while recording some ADR with Malcolm McDowell. He came in for only two or three lines for and episode of Law and Order and would only give me two takes each. With bravado the actor blasted his first lines so much higher than I expected I almost fell out of my chair, yet I did not lose the first take, which of course was perfect. He only needed to give two takes of each line because each read was perfect and then better.
I always have a back up recorder running constantly during the session. This is especially helpful while working with an obsessive director. This way I can avoid the situation of a client believing I missed the prize take. This is the take that will be obsessed about if it appears lost. Since the back up recording is always running on a separate recorder it takes a little more time to retrieve. The funny thing with regard to that lost magic take, what often happens is after I play it back to the director, the magic is lost. The obessive type of director then has the actor do another twenty more takes even after the “perfect take” was not lost or suitable take was on take two. Usually ADR is not so involved with mind games but it happens. I witnessed one actor perform the one word “earth” over and over for about 1hour and 45 minutes until the director was satisfied.
After the ADR session is completed the session is stripped of the redundant media which includes media sound editorial will already have, the guide track, and quicktime movie. Rarely do we Fed-x the material out to sound editorial. The audio files and meta data from the session are uploaded to the client via ftp and in minutes after the recording an editor in LA, New York, or Toronto, can be editing with pristine audio the same day of the session even if they are over three thousand miles away.