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Dialog Editors - Where to Cut Corners?
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pdubber
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3rd July 2012
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Dialog Editors - Where to Cut Corners?

I need some help. I am an experienced freelance dialog editor, working on mostly British and Irish (and occasionally American) films and TV dramas.

Up until about five years ago, the normal dialog editing conditions here were as follows:
The production audio was one or two tracks
The dialog editor was not expected to do any volume automation or any notching, decrackling or other processing
The sound edit always started after picture lock, and only rarely would there be picture changes to deal with

The situation today is as follows:
All production audio is 4 - 8 tracks
Mixers would like me to cut both boom and radio tracks for all lines
Mixers are asking me to do not only volume automation (or now, clip gain) but also notching of tones, decrackling of cloth on radio mics, etc.
The sound edit almost always starts before picture lock and numerous conforms have become commonplace

So there is significantly more work to be done than there used to be. This in itself does not bother me, as I really enjoy the work. The problem is that, even with all these recent developments, my schedules are now significantly SHORTER than they were 5 years ago, particularly on lower-budget features and on TV drama.

My response so far to this situation (more work, less time) has been to work 70 - 90 hours per week (getting paid the same flat weekly rate as I would if I was doing 40 hours). This approach is becoming unsustainable. I'm getting burned out and I'm not spending enough time with my family. I'm a bit of a perfectionist (unfortunately), and I find it hard to compromise on quality in any way. But surely, there have to be compromises when there are short schedules and tiny budgets, right?

So my question to you, fellow dialog editors, is this: when the budget/schedule does not allow for you to do your very very best dialog edit, where do you cut corners? What specific practices do you leave out or modify? Do you still remove all mouth clicks? Do you choose between boom and radio, rather than cutting both?

I am sometimes told "C'mon, it's only TV", but what does that mean for a dialog editor? For an FX editor, I would say they can cut corners by generally including less detail. But for a dialog editor, it seems less clear cut.

Any helpful suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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For TV I can use compressors if tracks BG's are not too noisy.
I will not decrackle all the mouth clicks and will live with some noise and even light distortions.
I might less accurate to match backgrounds. There will be loud atmos in many cases boosted by the overall compression. So less accurate dialogs transitions should be just fine.
I will not search for alternative takes. No one will notice it....unless asked by the director specifically.
I will not attenuate boost some less pronounced words. Nobody cares about it.

What I will try to achieve is a steady sounding dialog tracks with possible consistent backgrounds.

I am too sorry to write about it, especially to give an advise like this. But I feel your pain and often find myself in a similar situations.

Again I would ONLY DO it for the TV stuff. A heavy low budget one.
But never for the feature film.
We must not compromise as it affects drama and overall cinema experience.
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I hear you on the burn out, family time and time/money... And I'm sure this is the case for many of us who run their own studio: there are times you know you are going to be working ridiculous hours, but you can't afford to turn the job down because there's always someone else who will do it for that kind of money. Can't afford getting some help on the job, so the only option is to just do the hours.

Don't have any tips to cut corners, I just try to get to a level which is acceptable for me, even if I know it can be better. That level is different for everyone...

Also depends on the project and director. If they are any good, I'll go some extra miles. If not, I'll try to do a good job. But not a lot more.
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Hello
Believe it or not most directors and producers understand quality vs. money. They just want (need) both anyway.
They are usually capable of grasping the concept of "for this money I can do this much". If you can segment it in plain language which you did in your post (cutting one track, lip smack, noise, leveling) then they can understand that. Easy to explain that in this time for this money they get this much cleanup.
The folks to be more matter-of-fact with due to ego will be your downstream mixers. Of course they want you to do all that cleanup - otherwise they'd have to, and they don't have time either. Your extra unpaid effort makes them sound better.
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Wow, you've got some really lazy mixers.
The only thing I want an editor to give me is the best sounding of either mic, and only get rid of pops and clicks. I prefer to do all my Denoising and dehumming myself, and never use any existing volume automation.

With you doing all the work, wtf do they do?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HughH View Post
course they want you to do all that cleanup - otherwise they'd have to, and they don't have time either. .
Hugh
Denoising and hum removal IS the mixers job. Saying they don't have the time, is making excuses for lazy mixers. If they're just pushing faders, then they're not doing their job.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Henchman View Post
Denoising and hum removal IS the mixers job. Saying they don't have the time, is making excuses for lazy mixers. If they're just pushing faders, then they're not doing their job.
Hmm, maybe I'm just lazy, but I appreciate anything the editor can do to speed things up for me, as long as they know what they're doing and don't cause problems. There is NEVER enough time for the mix, so if they're willing to help a brother out, I'm very appreciative. I just don't see a black and white line between editing and mixing anymore.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ggegan View Post
Hmm, maybe I'm just lazy, but I appreciate anything the editor can do to speed things up for me, as long as they know what they're doing and don't cause problems. There is NEVER enough time for the mix, so if they're willing to help a brother out, I'm very appreciative. I just don't see a black and white line between editing and mixing anymore.
The only thing I want them to do is pops and ticks and clicks.
I really prefer to do all the other clean up myself. I'd rather editors spend their time finding cleaner alts and that kind of thing. Other than that, I don't want anyone doing any kind of destructive clean up. As how much clean up needs to be done, can really only be determined once you know how much music, fx and BG's are in a scene
And really, if they can do a better job than I can, and do it faster, then they should be mixing.
And I only import regions anyway. So any other automation they do is a waste of their time.
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that seems pretty unreasonable but i guess everywhere is different. maybe you could consult with individual mixers over spotting to figure out what is best? on smaller budgets or compressed schedules, spotting and evaluation are critical for us, so everyone knows where to focus their attention. if you spend a few hours to save a few days, then it's worthwhile.

we never ask for volume automation. eq and noise reduction are the mixer's domains and if clips are processed, we ask for the originals as well. we do ask for both mics when usable, split by slate/character, and preferably phase aligned (which is not that hard if you split by slate and group your regions - it gives the mixer a lot more flexibility IMO). if there's too much junk on a lav, we're okay in a pinch with mod cutting it and carrying a fully filled boom. we pretty much declick everything transient with nonoise or izotope so we wouldn't complain if it was done in advance. do they make you cut all 8 tracks for every character? that seems like a lot more noise and more work for the mixer. we just want the mics that work, usually the boom and lav.

for fx on tight schedules, layout is very important to me. i'm trying harder to get in touch ahead of time to ask fx editors to cut in banks of 4 or 8.
also an editor picking a few great sounds is always better than getting 16 tracks of backgrounds on every cut.
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I also don't think it's fair to expect an editor to be putting in unpaid time, to make my job faster.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Henchman View Post
I also don't think it's fair to expect an editor to be putting in unpaid time, to make my job faster.
I haven't read anyone suggest that anyone put in unpaid time, and obviously these things need to be coordinated so everyone is on the same page.

Regarding job descriptions, I think just about everything is up for negotiation at this point. I have seen editors who are more adept at things like noise reduction and tone removal than some of the dialog mixers I've worked with, but if they don't know what they are doing, they should definitely leave the tracks alone, and they should always talk to the mixer before they alter the original tracks.

In terms of sound effects, on features there is always a lot of volume automation and submixing that goes on in the editing room. When I'm mixing, I personally don't feel threatened about the editor massaging things, and when I'm editing, my goal is for the tracks to hit the stage reflecting my artistic vision as closely as possible. If people want to change it, that's fine, but I expect them to at least pay attention to what the initial plan is, which is what I always do as a mixer. It's the respectful thing to do and it makes for a better mix.
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Gary, I think that dialog and SFX editing are two completey different things.
I don't knw how one could do a proper SfX edit without volume graphing. And the OP stated that he IS in fact putting in more time than he's getting paid for. And specifically dialog. A lot more time. And I have heard this from other dialog editors as well.

And I have to say, if the dialog mixer you work with can't do a better job than the editor, getting rid of noise, hums, whistles and whines, then quite frankly, he doesn't deserve that chair. Its a big bone of contention I have. Mixers who can't clean up dialog, or match in ADR.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Henchman View Post
Gary, I think that dialog and SFX editing are two completey different things.
I don't knw how one could do a proper SfX edit without volume graphing. And the OP stated that he IS in fact putting in more time than he's getting paid for. And specifically dialog. A lot more time. And I have heard this from other dialog editors as well.

And I have to say, if the dialog mixer you work with can't do a better job than the editor, getting rid of noise, hums, whistles and whines, then quite frankly, he doesn't deserve that chair. Its a big bone of contention I have. Mixers who can't clean up dialog, or match in ADR.
You are right that SFX and DX are definitely different animals.
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Thanks for the helpful suggestions, particularly in the first few replies.

I was afraid this thread would degenerate into a debate about how much processing the dialog editor should do, and it has.

For the record, I always speak with the mixer first and only do as much processing as he wants. But most of my projects are mixed "in the box" these days, and the mixers are happy to have me do a fair bit of processing. I was a mixer for a good many years, so they trust me. Of course, I always provide the original as well.

Any more time-saving dialog editing suggestions out there?
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All I can say is, the stuff I have been mixing, the dialog editors use the OMF from the picture editor, and only look for cleaner mics if it's too noisy or there are problems with the track the editor used. And I would say, do what you can, in the time you're getting paid for. And let the mixers know, how much time you have. And that their expectations need to be realistic.
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I think you just have to really prioritize when cutting under a tight deadline. In dialog you have to evaluate everything you are fixing. Spend your time on the awful stuff that you know the producer or director would flag first and go from there. Be disciplined about the time you are spending. It's hard letting things pass by that you'd normally fix but as you're finding the alternative is burn out. You're not letting your standards slip, you are just being realistic with the time and money you've been given.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Henchman View Post
All I can say is, the stuff I have been mixing, the dialog editors use the OMF from the picture editor, and only look for cleaner mics if it's too noisy or there are problems with the track the editor used. And I would say, do what you can, in the time you're getting paid for. And let the mixers know, how much time you have. And that their expectations need to be realistic.
Sounds like a boring job!

I'm also in the camp of doing as much as possible in the DX phase before giving it to mix. I don't do any automation or clip gain changes though. But I mix too and sometimes I feel like I'm too hard on other dialogue editors because I've blurred the lines between DX and mix in my own work flow. I see your point. A mixer should probably be more than a fader pusher and be familiar with NR, etc.
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The delineation between the sound editor (dialogue/FX) and mixer is becoming increasingly blurred, and, as a consequence, there are times when a greater onus/time constraint is being imposed on sound editors. This is, for better or worse, a part of the industry we work in and is not going to change for the foreseeable future. Cutting corners at the dialogue editing stage is possible but it needs the collusion and agreement of the dialogue mixer.

As a by-product of budgets becoming smaller the blurring has increased because the emphasis on more preparation for the mix being done during sound editing has increased exponentially. Some sound editors have embraced this way of working with relish and enjoy knowing that it helps speed the mix process up. If given a clear indication as to what the parameters and expectations are for the Final Mix (regarding levels, eq, panning etc), some sound editors 'get it' and have 'found their way onto the mixing console', albeit that, so far, it's mainly sound effects editors rather than dialogue editors.

There is, clearly, a new generation who are technically and creatively savvy and who want a greater degree of input/control at the mix. My experience of sound editors morphing into re-recording mixers has been both positive and refreshing.
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Boom vs Lav...

If the show can play mostly on boom tracks that saves you time by limiting the tracks you have to cut. If a scene can play on just the boom it's really satisfying to obliterate all the radio regions (keeping a copy hidden for the odd off-mic line). The edits need to be smoother with booms but they are easier to cut and mix, so I normally will pick these tracks if they're usable. Less tracks, faster edit- and to my ears a well-placed boom always > crunchy clothy warbly midrangy lav.

More often on multicam shows the blokes rely on lavs/radios and they obviously take time to cut. You can save time by using less fill due to lower noise floor. Find the track with the most dialog (or noise sometimes), use that as your "noise anchor" for a scene and then cut the other actors' mics tight (i.e. only fill a ramp into and out of their lines).

Regarding cutting both boom and lavs; you said you have mixed before so tell the mixer you're gonna pick which mics play and put the alt choices on the x tracks, unedited. That way they are available if he needs em but you aren't cutting both for no reason.

Another thing you can try: learn to cut faster. We get spoiled working on cushy features with long schedules. Then a tv show/low budget feature comes around and it's time to man up and break out the Edward Scissorhands. Good luck, this thread is a nice respite from all the plug-in ones....
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Henchman View Post
Wow, you've got some really lazy mixers.
The only thing I want an editor to give me is the best sounding of either mic, and only get rid of pops and clicks. I prefer to do all my Denoising and dehumming myself, and never use any existing volume automation.

With you doing all the work, wtf do they do?
Amen!!! Lazy lazy lazy!
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For me what makes the job efficient is a good understanding and communication with the mixer. It's not who gets saddled with the most work, but rahter how can we both get home at a sane time. We make deals as to what is done by whom. What's the most natural place to do any given chore: the cutting room or the dub stage? Even if a certain action goes against traditional division of labor, our decisions are made based on the notion of "is this easier for me or for him?" Sometime this yields premature committments (e.g., noise reduction). Somehow this works, but there needs to be a decent rapport between editor and mixer to pull this off.
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I think the most important job of a dialogue editor is to organize the mess which comes out of the editing room and separate good clips from bad.

if the boom sounds good, why should I bother to waste my time on editing a few lav's which will never be used or even heard? (if your schedule is tight chances are high the mixer also only has a very limited amount of time)

of course, if you are not sure which is better, edit both... but you really have to learn to make decisions fast when you don't have much time.

you can always bring the clips you haven't used with you to the stage on hidden tracks in case of an emergency.

@ volume automation and noise reduction: I really don't think this should be only done by the mixer. in a world of full automation and non-destruktive processing the mixer can always bypass the editors work within seconds... and if he is not satisfied with the editors processing after a few scenes he may then delete all the automation... but to categorical dismiss the work of an editor is in my book a rather disrespectful thing to do... hey nobody gets born as a mixer and there isn't a clear line between editing and mixing nowadays anyways...

I don't want the mixer to waste his time with obvious cleaning and heavy level tasks... I want him to concentrate on the whole project, on dramaturgie and the tiny things which separate a good from and outstanding mix. I want to give him the freedom to do _what he WANTS to do_ ... and not on _what he HAS to do_ to make a scene work.

that said, I HATE it if I mix a show and the editor used destructive processing WITHOUT including the muted orignal under the processed clip.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaVogi View Post

I don't want the mixer to waste his time with obvious cleaning and heavy level tasks... I want him to concentrate on the whole project, on dramaturgie and the tiny things which separate a good from and outstanding mix. I want to give him the freedom to do _what he WANTS to do_ ... and not on _what he HAS to do_ to make a scene work.
This is exactly why I don't want the ex editor doing anything but dx editing. I always end up with a 1/2 assed edit with crap mixing thrown in. They don't have time to do both. I do however, have time to do the mix as long as I don't have to redo most of the edit. That's how that works.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brandoncross View Post
This is exactly why I don't want the ex editor doing anything but dx editing. I always end up with a 1/2 assed edit with crap mixing thrown in. They don't have time to do both. I do however, have time to do the mix as long as I don't have to redo most of the edit. That's how that works.
It's all about who you are working with and how much time they have. There isn't a single reality at work here. TV definitely has a much shorter turnaround time than features, so the editor is usually going to be scrambling just to deliver a basic cut, but for some features the editors have a lot more time and have gone through multiple temp dubs where the DX issues have been revealed, discussed in detail, and a game plan can be worked out to try to deal with some issues in the editing room using someone who is very adept at noise reduction or distortion reduction. I have worked on some projects where a specialist is brought in for this, either by the supervising sound editor or the facility, and others where the main DX editor had the required skills. It can mean the difference between having to use ADR and being able to keep the production track. The dub stage is sometimes just too expensive for certain tasks and the DX mixer isn't always an expert with some of the specialized offline tools required.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brandoncross View Post
This is exactly why I don't want the ex editor doing anything but dx editing. I always end up with a 1/2 assed edit with crap mixing thrown in. They don't have time to do both. I do however, have time to do the mix as long as I don't have to redo most of the edit. That's how that works.
Totally agree brandon.
I firmly believe that everyone shoud focus on song their OWN job right, first.
And I have yet to have an editor do a better job of noise clean up in their editing room, than I can do on the stage.
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Quote:
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Totally agree brandon.
I firmly believe that everyone shoud focus on song their OWN job right, first.
And I have yet to have an editor do a better job of noise clean up in their editing room, than I can do on the stage.
Yeah, maybe, but I may not have TIME on the stage to have you do NR, no matter how good you are at it. You might be better at NR, but good NR can be done in lots of places (incl editorial), and I might need you to use your stage time to do work that can only be done on the stage, like mixing @ theatrical levels, surround pans, reverbs , final DX EQ etc etc.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Henchman View Post
Totally agree brandon.
I firmly believe that everyone shoud focus on song their OWN job right, first.
And I have yet to have an editor do a better job of noise clean up in their editing room, than I can do on the stage.
Are you challenging us ;-) maybe I could sell this to Discovery; "Noise Battle", a show where two studios get just two days to edit, tracklay and mix a 20 minute mini-feature, may the best men win..." I can see it now, the stress, the deadline, the sweat, the noise....

I think in Europe the jobs of editor and mixer are less seperated than in the US. But if I was producing a cinema release over here (with todays budgets), I would never use the dubstage for NR. I'm not doubting your skills, but isn't NR a question of experimenting; how much notching, how much broadband, listen in context, back it off a bit, maybe try a different approach etc... Doing that on the dubstage is a luxury I wouldn't allow as a producer over here. Someone with ears and the tools can do a really good job in an edtingroom, so when we get to the dubstage we can have fun and don't have to think about the technical stuff.

I understand the advantages of doing it on a dubstage.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pethenis View Post
I understand the advantages of doing it on a dubstage.
This is not possible if you previously said this:
Quote:
Doing that on the dubstage is a luxury
You presume that the job is done properly, which isn't true, in most of the cases. What if you come to the dubbing stage just to discover that several weeks of supposed editing were lost?

I've seen too many of what they call "editing rooms" in my life to believe one can hear enough details to judge the effect of NR. A lot of people use headphones, but that's kind of too many details, and working that way makes it difficult to distinguish important things from the non-important ones.
I've also heard too many screwed up dialogue, where good editing practices were omitted, expecting that NR and leveling (you can't really call it mixing, can you?) would make up for poor editing...
At dubbing stage, those "mixed" dialogue tracks will undergo further treatment, most obvious being EQ and compression, and this will reveal all the weaknesses of the poorly prepared tracks and, most often, will need some re-editing.
Today, NR tools are way more powerful than in the past. Location sound is also much noisier today. The price of NR software and plugins is low, which makes them available at the editing room, but that doesn't mean they should be used there.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brandoncross View Post
This is exactly why I don't want the ex editor doing anything but dx editing. I always end up with a 1/2 assed edit with crap mixing thrown in. They don't have time to do both. I do however, have time to do the mix as long as I don't have to redo most of the edit. That's how that works.
a bad edit is a bad edit... and has first of all nothing to do with processing. if the editor sucks, the edit will suck as well as the processing he applies...

but if a experienced editor which is also experienced as a rerecording-mixer works in a decent room, why shouldn't he use his skills and tools properly?

maybe this discussion lacks some views from different continents. this 'guy X does only Y and must not EVER touch Z because only guy W is allowed to to this task' has certainly some advantages, especially if the editor's lacks proper skills and the editing room sounds bad.

but as a young european editor and rerecording mixer like me it seems very dated if you consider all the possibilities (nondestructive processing via automation) available today.

also, I really don't know how you can even make a good edit without clip gain with the 8 tracks per scene with heavy level changes we get from set now.
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.... to get back to the original question.....

pdubber: I have been in the situation you describe for many a year now. Xtreme Audio Post (Xtreme Sports and Xtreme Cars - eat your heart out! ) . So I feel your pain. The one advantage I have over you is that I do all of the sound post myself, so I don't have to worry about what the rere mixer thinks - I know what I think. ;o)

My tips are:

1. COMMUNICATE!
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Originally Posted by Lipflap View Post
For me what makes the job efficient is a good understanding and communication with the mixer. It's not who gets saddled with the most work, but rahter how can we both get home at a sane time. We make deals as to what is done by whom. What's the most natural place to do any given chore: the cutting room or the dub stage? Even if a certain action goes against traditional division of labor, our decisions are made based on the notion of "is this easier for me or for him?" Sometime this yields premature committments (e.g., noise reduction). Somehow this works, but there needs to be a decent rapport between editor and mixer to pull this off.
Learn this brilliant post by heart.

I think it is clear from all the above that there are as many ways of working as there are editors and mixers. Communication is the key to getting all noses set in the same direction, and seriously lowering stress levels - which will actually also make you work faster.

I would add: if possible, communicate as much (as with the mixer) with the recordist, boom operator, video editor, sfx people and music guy.

To be honest, I have rarely found that any of them were *lazy*. Usually they are doing the best they can - to their knowledge. But often, there are misunderstandings about what the next guy wants or needs. Clear that up, and you'll save time.

Also, you will probably find that you are all in the same sh1t. I mean ship. Boat.
Too little time, too many demands, cost efficiency, blablabla. Understanding why the others work as they do is - again - a good stress decreaser. (Hm. Stress Decreaser. Would be a nice plug-in).

In the end, it should be a collaborative effort to produce the best soundtrack possible within the given means.


2.PRIORITIZE

There's a good chance we'll all agree that sound is never finished. Because it's never perfect. Never ever. So set your priorities and go from there.

F.ex. for me (and my tight little time frame) they are:

(1) intelligibility (please santa, I want Izotope to invent an ActorAntiMumbleFilter), smooth noise floors (with NR only at the worst bits), getting rid of anything that would draw the audience's unwanted attention;
(2) fast voice EQ'ing (with EQ presets) to have a steady "sound" through the whole project (for you, depends on what the mixer wants);
(3) producer's or director's fickle ideas and demands;
(4) extra NR, EQ tweaking, and generally anything and everything else that can make it better within the time I have left over. If any.

I never ever go from A to Z, doing the very best I can from start to end. There's no way I would get the job done with the time that I have available.
I go over episodes from A to Z several times, working the priorities in the order above. Sometimes several episodes at the same time. An added advantage is that by the time I get to (3), I know the material pretty well, and have a better idea of what to do, and how to do it. Saves time.


3. PROTECT YOURSELF
.... this is more about the burn-out bit than about gearslutzing... but I wish I could have the money back I had to give to cardiologists and neurosurgeons, so I'm going to mention it anyway. ;o)

- get up and move regularly. Your ears need a rest now and then, so does your back.

- this may sound silly, but.... don't forget to blink. I used to get so concentrated on the job that I was staring like a madman at the screen - eyes drying out and swollen, headache from mid-afternoon every day. That does NOT help fast working! ;o))))) I'm still grateful to my colleague who pointed it out to me.

- generally speaking: listen to your body. A damaged dx editor is not a fast dx editor... :-/

- to keep your sanity, give yourself a present now and then. If you're on such a tight schedule, chances are that you will never be really happy with the result. I usually choose one or two scenes a week that I like, and do those really well. I give myself the time to do that by dropping the priority phase (4) on a couple of other scenes that are cr*p anyway.
Makes me happy. Well, happiER. ;o)


Very best of luck to you, mate - and keep up the good spirits. If you want to know more about my workflow, feel free to pm me.
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There are some who call me... "Tim"...?
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