Mike Prestwood Smith is a sound engineer and has worked on over 100 films including The Hunger Games, Iron Man 3 and Casino Royale. Smith and his fellow sound engineers were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound for the 2013 film Captain Phillips. Our friends at Exponential Audio asked Mike for his 5 best tips on using reverb In movie sound. Over to you Mike...
The biggest difference between mixing music and mixing movies is that little thing called 'picture'. With a visual reference, sound has a whole new set of criteria. Reverb in a movie mix not only has to sound right, but it has to look right too.
One of the biggest roles of a dialogue mixer is to create a consistent and believable dialogue track that sticks to the screen. Part of that craft is matching all the source recordings into one coherent, believable track.
When I get a new reverb I try and spend some time matching a dry recording (usually a line of ADR) with some production dialogue, to see if I can match the acoustics. I'll try this with several recordings and get some presets which become my 'go to' settings.
Reverb is an essential component in giving the mix depth and dynamics. Being able to 'place' sound in a geographic space really helps sell a location or a set. Often we use sound to tell a story that isn't quite being told by the picture and sound can really sneak ideas into the viewers consciousness. Using a reverb to suggest scale or distance can make an environment feel very different to the real location.
With the new multichannel surround formats we now have a great palate with which toimmerse the audience. I often place reverbs in the overheads or surround objects to create a sense of depth and space. By using these speakers we can describe a space without cluttering up the screen channels.
Heads or Tails
A really transparent and adjustable reverb is an essential tool for any film mixer. Music cues can often need some help getting in and out of a scene. A lumpy start to a cue can bump an audience, as can too swift an exit. Using reverb as a cloak to sneak music in and out is extremely common place and getting a verb that can extend a tail or mask an entrance is essential. The Phoenix reverb is the first reverb I have found that can really do this as well, if not better than anything hardware can offer.
It’s easy to over do reverb in a movie mix. Having a picture can make reverb use too literal and arbitrary. Just because were in a space doesn’t mean we have to hear it. As with any component of a mix, its best to have some light and shade. Wait for a good opportunity for some reverb and then go for it.