Well prepared videos = great scores
So you have a talented film composer attached to your project, you send her/him the latest version of your cut and a few days later you are presented with a score that seems out of sync, badly mixed, starting very abruptly, or seemingly written on a different version of the video. Well, believe it or not, it might be your fault… Here are 5 tips to improve your videos and help your composer do an amazing job:
Make sure your video has timecode burned in. This will not only give your composer coordinates to nail those sync-points but will prove handy when trying to give instructions around a particular moment/shot/sequence. Instead of saying have the melody start when we see the third close shot of Betty, while she is riding her bike, after she has gone fishing, you will simply say have the melody start at 01:12:03:20. To learn more about timecode this Wikipedia page is a good place to start reading. All the major editing software applications have a way of adding timecode to your videos. If you are working on iMovie and the like try googling “free timecode” for a practical solution.
Film Leader Countdown
You have seen this many times; a black and white countdown at the beginning of a movie, the film leader countdown has the role of clearly stating where the film actually starts. Without it your composer will struggle to start the music exactly on frame 1 without having to fiddle with the setup of their DAWs. This section usually lasts 8 seconds exactly. As for timecode, film leader countdowns are standard among all the post-production departments, so highly recommended!
Update: don’t forget to have timecode over the film leader too, it is sufficient to set the timecode start at 00:59:52:00 to ensure it will hit the 01:00:00:00 mark at frame 1 of the actual content.
A close relative of film leader countdown, the sync pop marks a very important frame: minus 2 seconds (in fact it is also known as 2-pop). When the countdown gets to the number 2 (sometimes the actual number doesn’t show) a beep alerts us of this very important spot and prepares the start of the movie after exactly 2 seconds. Composers rely on it to make sure they are correctly synced to the mixing board during the dubbing stage, in fact all post-production audio departments do. A “beep” in unison and you know everyone is in sync, a few pops slightly displaced and you can bet someone screwed up.
Bonus: did you know you can create your own sync pop with any signal generator? You need to create a 1000 Hz sine wave and only keep the length of one frame. Now place it exactly 2 seconds before the start of your film et voilà!
Separate Audio Tracks
Don’t send your composer a video with dialogues and effects merged with the temp score. Instead, why not put the former on the left channel and the latter on the right channel? This might sound like an obvious, simple rule; if only I could get a dollar for each time a director didn’t do so… Don’t follow this advice and it will sound like the composer didn’t even bother listening to the dialogues (chances are she/he didn’t, and you can’t blame her/him!). Follow it and not only the music will likely follow the dialogues/fx nicely but the volume levels will sound better balanced too.
Give Your Video File Functional Names
Don’t just call your video Final, followed by a more recent version called Final-final and an even more recent one called Final-for-real-this-time. A file’s name is a place where you can sneak in many useful bits of info for your composer and other departments. There isn’t a precise rule of thumb here but I suggest considering a mixture of the following elements: project name, version number, version date, reel number, episode number, season number. When deciding what info to include try not to make it too long but also visualise yourself in 2 years trying to figure out which file is which version. Now kindly ask your composer to reflect this naming convention to the music she/he delivers and kiss goodbye to long phone calls aimed at figuring out on which version of your film you should put the new batch of music!
I think we can all agree this are 5 very simple steps, right? Well I guarantee that implementing them in your video file will get you better scores and happier composers. Try them out and let me know how it goes!
Also published on Medium.