It’s Emma Butt here again. Have you ever wondered why ADR gets a bad reputation especially amongst actors and directors who say “it just doesn’t work” or “it is never as good as the original”? In my experience, bad ADR primarily comes down to the performance of the actor in the studio on the ADR record day but there are other factors that can play a part. Are the correct mics being used? It is a properly sized room and a good team of people present on the record day? These will always help make sure bad ADR won’t happen as long as the talent is on form.
When it comes to the team it usually consists of the director, producer, dialogue supervisor and the ADR mixer or if you are a studio like Goldcrest Post Production in London, an ADR Mixer AND a separate Pro Tools operator. So how does a two-person ADR team like the one used at Goldcrest, differ from the “usual” one person?
Until recently, I had only ever worked as a 1 person ADR team where I am being both the ADR mixer and Pro Tools operator as back in Ireland a one person ADR team was all I ever knew. That was until some colleagues went to London for ADR sessions and worked with a team at Goldcrest. They would come back and tell me about how quick and smooth the ADR sessions were. Cut to now and freelancing in London and being booked to work in the said studio, I’ve had to learn the two-person system. So what are the advantages? How does it work?
Mark Appleby is one of the most sought after ADR mixers in London. He started at Goldcrest 15 years ago and dabbled in all areas of audio-post from mixing to Foley to ADR. After a couple of years, he decided to concentrate on ADR as he found the use of microphones and the capturing of a live performance the most exciting. He has primarily worked in the two-person ADR system so who better to learn from and compare our different workflows.
Emma: Can you explain the “2-person” system to record ADR
Mark: The two-person system consists of me concentrating on the clients, microphones, preamps, the desk, EQ and reverb while the recordist is in charge of the Pro Tools. The Pro Tools has the QuickTime video file and the guide audio tracks in as well as the triggers for our cueing system. Before QuickTime video files, I used to control the picture with a tape machine remote on my desk but now the Pro Tools system is controlled with a mouse and keyboard as normal. It's essential that the mixer and assistant have a good working relationship and an understanding of each other's roles and abilities.
Emma: With the one person system I usually have to do both jobs as well as act as my own assistant and prep and cue all sessions beforehand. Generally, when I work on my own, EQ’ing each take on playback is the first thing that I can’t spend much time on. I place a general EQ on playback. If we are reviewing a whole scene that has been ADR’d then I will try and finetune the EQ as close to the original as possible but playbacks need to be almost instantaneous. Clients just don’t want to wait so more often than not, it just can’t be perfect. I focus more on making sure the sync is as close to spot on as it can be and that the mix I playback with fill and surrounding dialogue lines are at a correctly balanced level.
What are its advantages?
Mark: I think the main advantages are the speed we can work at and the fact that I can concentrate almost entirely on the clients whilst the recordist is editing, relabelling and preparing for the next cue.
Lottie (One of Goldcrest’s Pro Tools operators) and I recently worked on a project that was not allowed to supply picture or cues in advance for security reasons so we had to enter timecodes and fill for each cue as we worked. While the actor, director and editor were discussing each cue, Lottie was offline in the background entering and filling the next few cues. By halfway through the session, we were up to speed and didn't have to wait between cues any longer. I wouldn't be able to do that on my own whilst being involved in the conversation and looking after the clients.
We also do a lot of work on projects that require camera crews for animation and facial capture. This requires me to be much more involved in other things like supplying the cameras with audio feeds and timecode but they still expect the cues to be ready when they're ready to start.
Emma: The one person system does give the recordist more control over exactly what is happening in their Pro Tools session. I can easily spot if there are any errors, make sure all routing is correct and if I am using “in the box” reverbs, I can quickly and easily recall my own saved preset settings for that session. Generally, if I have also prepped my own session, I can also spot lines that may not have come across on the ADR cue sheets. I can easily see the waveforms. If I am not listening to both mics at the same time, generally it is really easy to see from the waveform of a clip mic if an actor has hit it or in most cases, if the lav mic has come off during a take. If I am in a situation like Lottie and Mark found themselves in and have to cue and create a fill track on the fly, I generally use a plug-in like RX Ambience Match from iZotope to help me create my fill track. From working on my own I have had to build up my speed at how quickly I edit and playback takes which has led to me being a better dialogue editor and being able to quickly spot what works and what doesn’t.
Are there any disadvantages?
Mark: I can't think of any major disadvantages really. I have such a good rapport with Lottie and Maria that we pretty much work without talking to each other during the session. We use hand signals and eye contact a lot of the time so from the client's point of view it appears to just flow without any fuss or discussion.
Emma: I think there are some sessions where either the content we have to record or the atmosphere in the room can be delicate and the fewer people present the better. Generally, though I can’t see any disadvantages to the two-person system. One great advantage I found from this way was having a second set of ears on another mic. If I know who will be the Re-Recording mixer on a project I am working on, I always ask what mic they favour to mix with and then focus my attention on that mic during that scene. But that means a second mic is not getting as much of my attention as it should. Although I will be listening to both, my focus will always be more on one mic. Having a second set of ears as a backup in case something goes wrong is always an advantage.
Why is it important to you for this way of recording ADR to continue?
Mark: I think it's important for this method to continue so we can offer our clients the high level of service they've come to expect. The industry in this country has an excellent reputation for sound so we don't want financial restraints to impact on that. It's also important for the next generation of ADR mixers to learn from people who have learned from people.
Emma: You are right, the disadvantage to the one person system is that it is really hard to train someone else up. I was lucky in that the company I worked in and the clients we worked with, allowed me the opportunity to be on the desk recording while a more senior engineer sat behind me in case anything went wrong. Right now you have 2 young women who are being trained in ADR mixing at Goldcrest thanks to the two-person system. While more women are sorely needed in sound post-production, opportunities, like working on a 2 person ADR team and being trained, are invaluable.
Why do you think more studios who record ADR don’t embrace this system?
Mark: I think there's only one reason for not having two people in ADR and that's staff costs.
Emma: From a client perspective, do you think having two people present in the room influences their decision to work with you?
Mark: Definitely. It's commented on all the time. Some sessions are very straightforward and may be easily doable on your own but some of the trickier jobs are much better served with two people. Especially on partial animations with camera crews and two Pro Tools running at different timecodes. Or when picture and cues are being filtered through whilst we're recording and need to be dealt with without holding up the session.
Emma: Would you ever try recording alone without a second person or have you tried?
Mark: I've done lots of sessions on my own due to staff shortages or illness and whilst the simple, single actor, two track ADR is perfectly manageable, the more complex sessions would definitely suffer.
There is no doubt that both ways of recording ADR work. There is no right or wrong way they are just different. For some sessions having a second set of ears is always going to be beneficial.
Personally, having worked now both ways I do still prefer running my sessions independently as I know everything that is happening with the recording before I play it back to clients and I’ve built up my speed so I know that time difference in playing back a take isn’t an issue but there have been sessions where things have gone wrong (I’m looking at you ISDN boxes!!) and having a second person there to help and keep the session running smoothly would have been a godsend.
Most clients do love seeing two people behind the desk, it makes them feel reassured that their project is being looked after. Afterall ADR so often comes down to psychology, it’s about how you read the room, read the actor and their body language and how you keep everyone calm, relaxed and happy during what is generally a stressful experience and if that means having two people behind the desk during the session then that's the best call to make.
Have you worked in a two-person or one person ADR team before? We would love to hear your opinions on pros and cons.