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Help! Film Mix - Theater Playback
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DigitalVictim
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19th April 2013
Old 19th April 2013
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Help! Film Mix - Theater Playback

So I know there are other threads on this subject, and believe me I have read them.

I'm writing this post to get some opinions from the experts.

I've mixed many short films, but I rarely get to hear them in theaters. That said, I've never really had any complaints from the ones that have... but I recently mixed a film that is playing in Tribeca now. I just got back from the premiere, and it was sadly, very low in volume compared to the other films that came before. I'd say it needed an overall boost of about 6-8dB to have felt 'right'. I don't think the audience really noticed, and it still was well received, but I don't know if it's me, the other films, or the theater.

I calibrate my mix room to -83dB (right between the -79 and -85 standards) to be safe. I check my levels with the Nugen and Phasescope meters, and my dialnorm for this one came in at approx -24dB, which is even a bit on the loud side. This showing was the stereo mix, which didn't have any Dolby encoding applied.

In the studio it sounds loud. The levels are healthy on laptops, quicktimes, and headphones, as well. I don't know how much louder I could really make this thing in the box without sacrificing some serious dynamic range. All that's on my master bus is a limiter at -3.0 for peaks, and a -6.0 threshold.

It does have a lot of music and many layers of sound effects... the dialogue was all completely intelligible, but the main problem was that the subtleties and ambience got kind of lost, and the music didn't feel loud enough.

So the question is... is everyone else just mixing really loud these days? as if it's just for the web? I thought overall everything could have been bumped up by the projectionist, but I'm feeling pretty crappy about myself right now considering I did everything 'by the book' according to the blue sky calibration and all of the other standards that I've read extensively about on this website.

The only other thing I can think of is that the finishing house that made the HDCam had their levels incorrectly set up, possibly attenuated down, when printing the tape. Or, maybe it was because it was only coming out of the front L and R speakers in the theater, rather than the sides and center as well.

What are your experiences with this? Should I just accept it, conform and slam everything to compete?
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19th April 2013
Old 19th April 2013
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Sounds like a bad theatre setup
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19th April 2013
Old 19th April 2013
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When you bring a two-track mix (I assume that's what it was on an HDCAM, and not an HDCAM SR), it might be prudent to write "DOLBY STEREO" in big print on the tape and perhaps verbally let the projectionist know that it should be played in "format 74" -- if they have the HDCAM deck wired into the CP's Nonsync 1 input, that'll do the right thing and Just Work(c).

If you look at that list you can see there's all kinds of formats that take a stereo-ish input and make all kinds of hash out of it -- no derived center but derived surround, stereo summed to mono,etc. What can happen is they either leave the CP in format X for the trailer or short before yours, and/or they take the pot off of 7 for some loud program before yours, but never restore it.
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19th April 2013
Old 19th April 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Henchman View Post
Sounds like a bad theatre setup
Agreed, I mixed a short a few years ago that played in a festival. Even after we had taken the time to mix it on a calibrated stage, it played about 8-10dB too soft in the theater. It turned out that apparently all of the other films had been "mixed" by the same people, who were also providing the festival projection services.
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19th April 2013
Old 19th April 2013
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It's similar here in Sweden when it comes to shorts.
Most shorts never get mixed in a dub stage nor by a professional film mixer. Often they are mixed by a composer or a beginner/student and they simply do not know how to mix for the cinema.
So they most likely mix to -10 and crunch it all to it, as that is the only "spec" they ever heard of.
Often they will be mixed in stereo as well and that means problematic replay in decent size cinemas.
This means that if there are many badly mixed films and a few done correctly then the ones that are done correctly will suffer when it comes to perceived volume as the playback level ill be a lot lower than standard.
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19th April 2013
Old 19th April 2013
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Thanks for the responses guys... I'm still feeling pretty bad about the whole thing.

As far as the projectionist... Tribeca has a strict policy of 'set it and forget it'. They don't make any custom tweaks or take any requests when it comes to playback for different films. They're really kind of stingy about it.

Their specs were very vague as well.. and it's only HDCam, not SR. So we just put the stereo mix on channels 1-2 as per their request (we didn't have time or resources to do a Dolby E). Also, I believe they just print all of the films for the showing's program onto one tape.

And as far as the other films... There were 6 or 7. Most of them were fairly quiet content-wise, just dialogue and room tone with the occasional abstract sound effect, but they mostly sounded fine. My film was last, so to me it was noticeably lower (especially because the beginning is the loudest part, with mostly music).

The thing that blows my mind is that one of them was mixed by Skywalker, so you'd think they would know what they were doing. It was one of the quiet ones though (literally just a man and a boy sitting in a hotel room with minimal dialogue) so it's hard to use it as a reference.
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19th April 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DigitalVictim View Post
As far as the projectionist... Tribeca has a strict policy of 'set it and forget it'. They don't make any custom tweaks or take any requests when it comes to playback for different films. They're really kind of stingy about it.

Their specs were very vague as well.. and it's only HDCam, not SR. So we just put the stereo mix on channels 1-2 as per their request (we didn't have time or resources to do a Dolby E). Also, I believe they just print all of the films for the showing's program onto one tape.
We feel your pain, it sucks when you work so hard and have a less that satisfying screening.....

Look at it from the festivals perspective -- each short, someone is running in "turn it up", next one, "turn it down". There is a bigger problem, it should be "set and forget" but Eric indicated one of the many reasons that is now a (big) problem.

Also, HDCam is quite typical. No festival does HDCam SR that I know of. No festival does discrete analog surround channels - as SR has 12 and you spread the audio across them. And Dolby E can be quite good!! It often plays back better than LtRt even aside from the matrixing. And usually, it sounds better overall. Encoding Dolby E takes 20 minutes to encode the file and then run-time to review. Many places encode Dolby E. We do it for a very reasonable price. Upload the files to FTP, get a Dolby E file back. Simple. Probably places in your area too.
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19th April 2013
Old 19th April 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DigitalVictim View Post
Thanks for the responses guys... I'm still feeling pretty bad about the whole thing.

As far as the projectionist... Tribeca has a strict policy of 'set it and forget it'. They don't make any custom tweaks or take any requests when it comes to playback for different films. They're really kind of stingy about it.
That's common and pretty reasonable, you can't expect them to have levels for every show on the program, or have a projectionist taking mix notes from the producer over the phone as they're sitting in the audience.
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19th April 2013
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I completely understand that, and I don't disagree with it. I just wish if that was the case, they had some more strict level requirements so that stuff like this doesn't happen.

As I was sitting there I just couldn't stop thinking about busting into that room and turning up the volume knob a little bit. If the projectionist was paying any attention I'm sure it would have been a really simple thing to do.

Or yeah, as iluvcapra said, it would have been nice if they spit it out to the side speakers even though it's stereo.

Edit: I just rechecked my speaker calibration and everything is spot on... medium sized room, monitor reference level is between 82 and 83dB SPL with C weighting, radioshack spl meter. The mix sounds great in here even in stereo. I'm leaning more and more towards the creation of the HDCam tape... maybe the volume pots on the deck were turned down, or maybe the software was attenuating it on layback (like in Final Cut where there's the -3dB downmix option on by default).
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19th April 2013
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Your calibration level may be too high. You may find that 79dBC would be a better fit.

Also, there is no guarantee that the analog audio outs of the HDCam playback deck at the theater is even calibrated to anything.
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20th April 2013
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Shorts in festivals kind of have to take what they get--they are often used as the sacrifice before the feature to wring out the system, and no one usually wants to hear about your playback wishes. But with feature length projects of any type usually the director gets a tech-check if they are there and make it known that they want one. This CAN involve setting a playback level--I've done this with directors many many times. In a festival situation if you or the director DON'T take the opportunity (or insist) to do a tech check before the show then you have to take what you get. The LtRt thing almost always requires intervention beforehand, but it's worth it.

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