One of the many mistakes I made in drafting contracts was a deletion rather than an omission. Angel told me, “We will never have the money to do ADR [additional dialog recording], so take that out of the actors’ contracts.”
I understood that ADR was done when the voices recorded lacked necessary clarity, but I didn’t have a solid appreciation of what caused the problem. Well, it turned out to be any number of things, including a hum of a refrigerator in the background, mistakes by the sound man, an inoperable boom, or a problematic microphone. But I learned all of that in retrospect, after the film was shot. Not knowing it in advance, I listened to Angel and took it out of the contract that actors would have to do ADR.
As it turned out, we had very substantial problems with sound. There was an entire sequence shot in a car that took the better part of a day to film. The camera work wasn’t very good, but it was useable. The audio was so awful it was unusable. I really wanted to use the scene because the dialog was important, but not integral, to the plot and the banter between the characters helped develop their relationship. To boot, the imagery out the windows revealed Dallas and had good production value.
There were other sound issues as well, including a humming refrigerator that couldn’t be turned off in a bar where we shot an essential scene, a dysfunctional microphone in a murder scene, voices drowned by passing vehicles, and absence of key human noises in a host of scenes such as the victim praying, a dying man choking, a woman pleading, and a voice over the telephone. These turned out to be so crucial that they required ADR.
I tried to do as much of the ADR as I could myself. I made the choking noises for the dying, the whispers of prayer, and recorded the telephone voice. My masterful sound engineer, Johnny Marshall, was able to manipulate these recordings to make them fit the circumstance. For example, he lowered the tone of my voice so that it sounds like a male speaking on the phone.
The way it works is that the relevant scene is played on a screen and the speaker stands in front of a microphone with a headset on. You hear three clicks and then the film rolls. You watch the lips of the person onscreen to synch your speech with their movement. For some people, this is as easy as bouncing a ball; for others, it takes many repetitions.
I toyed with the idea of getting some friends to come in and ADR some of the isolated voices that we needed. But then it occurred to me that the extras who played the roles might enjoy the ADR process and learn from it as well. I decided to forthrightly ask them if they’d like to do it for free, with the understanding that there was no obligation or pressure. They all jumped at the chance. After all, having not only your visage, but your voice, in a movie is great fun.
A rather humorous thing happened in regard to the extras. A very tall, hefty man played the medical examiner. The trouble was that there were two extras’ names by the role in the log. So I called the first guy and asked him if he played the medical examiner and he replied yes.
When we opened the studio door to let him in, it was not the big man who played the medical examiner at all; it was a small, slim fellow with a decidedly “wrong” voice for the role. Not wanting to offend him since he’d shown up, I let him do the ADR. But I resolved to call in the person who’d really played the role. The second name was the right one and he came gladly to do the ADR as well.
In cases where a known voice was needed, we had to bring in the relevant actors. But I was willing to do this for only a short amount of time, not the lengthy sessions that would be required to re-do the entire in-auto scene.
I was a novice when it came to sound. Yes, I knew that films need a sound designer to have the right noise when a door closes, a foot steps, or pencil taps. But I hadn’t really thought of the importance of timing: the light switch needs to click exactly with the first frame of light coming on; or of tenor: the voice on the phone needs to be just so deep; or of small extraneous noises: the man with a crushed windpipe makes small guttural gasps. Nor had I considered clarity. It is essential that any dialog that is unclear either have additional dialog recorded or be cut.
Angel convinced me that sound is a critical aspect of the film and that we needed to find the very best possible for the price we could pay. And I hoped, but didn’t expect, that the someone would be local so that I could work with them in person.
The very first person we interviewed was someone who cost more than we’d budgeted, but was the right professional for the job in every other respect. He was Johnny Marshall. To be truthful, I didn’t have the expertise to judge his capabilities, but I could see from his resume that he’d done enough films, and high level ones at that, to do a great job. So what interested me was the person.
I am a feelings person and my antennae are both long and sensitive. Johnny immediately struck me as being both a relaxed hippie and a highly demanding professional. What an interesting combination. Supple yet rigid, quick but thorough, both staid and outgoing. I knew that I would do whatever I needed to do budget-wise to get him onto the movie.
Johnny turned out to exceed my high expectations. He did a superb job with the sound on the movie and I feel like no one in the whole world could have done it better. Also, he was masterful in guiding my input and helping me do my part of the job better, which made it much more fun than arduous. I thoroughly enjoyed going through the film step-by-step to review the sound and tweak it to perfection.
Also, Johnny became a friend from whom I could seek advice. There were many issues that came up that were not sound-related, but on which he gave me help. I consider myself a very lucky girl to have had him on my movie.