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HomeCraftsPostproductionOn-Location ADR-Road to Empire

On-Location ADR-Road to Empire

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By Thomas J. McLean
Michael Sibay, the writer, director and producer of the indie film The Road to Empire, faced a dilemma when it came to the dialogue tracks on the film. Almost none of the tracks recorded on location during the 18-day shoot, which traveled from Texas to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Bakersfield, were usable, but he also didn�t have the money to pay for an ADR studio.
Inspiration � and a solution � came, as it often does, from an unexpected source.
�I was watching a documentary about (Akira) Kurosawa, and I learned that he always hated how ADR sounded when it was recorded in studios,� says Sibay. �To him, it always sounded kind of sterile and lifeless. So he took his actors to live locations, and he was somehow able to take the picture to them and re-record ADR there. Now, how he did that technically, they didn�t talk about the details. But I thought to myself, if he was able to do that 40 years ago, why can�t I do this now, when we have portable computes and so forth?�
Sibay took his idea to the film�s original sound supervisor, who came back a few days later with a plan to do just that using a Mac Mini running Nuendo and the same basic workhorse microphones normally used for location shooting.
Working mostly on weekends over the course of a year, Sibay and company returned to many of the original locations and to new locations similar to the originals with the actors to re-record the dialogue.
The road movie was shot guerrilla-style, with the shoot using locations that were given for free, such as local hospitals, offices, and restaurants. But these posed problems when it came to recording a good dialogue track. �When people give you locations like that for fees, you have to work around their schedule,� Sibay said. �And you can�t turn around at the same time and ask them to stop operating their business in terms of preventing the phones from ringing or intercoms and pagers and people talking and refrigerators humming and all that.�
Producer and editor Glen Richard Cote says the same problem existed in the many scenes that occur in the main vehicle, which was, appropriately, a Hummer. �All the intimate dialogue between the husband and wife in their car is covered over by the hum and rattle of the actual Hummer � which means every single line shot in that car had to be looped,� he says.
The ADR was done either in the original locations at a time when the crew had more control over background noise or in similar locations with similar control.
Because much of the film had to be looped, it gave the crew and the actors a lot more flexibility, says Vince Tennant, who joined the film as its ADR editor and took over as supervising sound editor. �Since we were replacing entire scenes, we didn�t have to match existing scenes exactly, we just had to match them enough to be believable,� he says.
Some outdoor scenes were re-recorded in the backyard of a friend of Sibay�s. Another friend gave him use of a law office in which to record dialogue for scenes shot at the offices of an aviation company, and the scenes in the car were recorded in a similar-size vehicle parked in an underground garage.
The final result not only saved the production money; it was more authentic and saved time in the predub and mixing processes. �All of the time [re-recording mixer Gary Bourgeois] would have spent to process the ADR or �world-ize� ADR, or apply reverb to make it sound a little more natural and a little less staged, he ended up being able to free up to rescue the handful of original production dialogue we tried to maintain.�
The film also took advantage of digital techniques for creating visual effects and doing a digital intermediate in post.
Tyler Hawes of Liquid DI came onto the film as a producer, visual effects artist, and colorist. Hawes says the film was shot on 16mm for release in 35mm, with no plans for a digital version. But after assembling a wish list of visual effects � mostly invisible tweaks such as removing brand logos, shadows or crew members showing up in reflections � the number of shots that could be completed by going digital versus optical made the decision obvious.
Given the guerrilla-style shooting of the film, there were many such issues to be worked out, resulting in about 300 visual effects shots. �Probably every third or fourth shot in the film has something we painted out,� Hawes says.
Two artists � one of which was Hawes � did about 80 percent of the shots with a half-dozen freelancers pitching in to do the rest. Most of the work was done using Apple Shake software, though eyeon Fusion, Adobe After Effects, and Autodesk Combustion also were used for various shots.
Using a DI also allowed Hawes to color the movie, giving it the final polish he says the movie deserved. Among the color challenges were dealing with an extreme dynamic range on shots where the crew on location had no time to gel the windows. Hawes says they had time to cook up what he calls a �special sauce� of filters and curves to give the film its style and look.
�That took a lot of research time and a lot of trial and error until we got a silver bullet,� he says. �I think we spent 2 weeks just playing with the finish and grading before we actually started laying down grades that we were keeping.�
The film was graded using Apple�s FinalTouch color correction software and is scheduled to start making the rounds at festivals before the end of the year. And even though it took a lot of time and effort, the experience and the experiments were good ones.
�I wouldn�t hesitate to go this route again,� says Cote.

Written by Tom McLean

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