Film editors and music – recording and mixing sessions

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Depending on the budget of a film, editors are sometimes released from their contracts right after picture lock which in my opinion is a false economy. No one knows the film better because we deal with every frame, every sound track,  every VFX comp,  every piece of source music, every credit etc etc etc. We are sometimes asked back for the mix so here are some suggestions.

Attend Music Recording Sessions

As an editor, I think it’s important to attend the music recording sessions. It’s the only time you will hear the score in it’s full glory. It is featured with the silent film and allows the editor to watch the film with a different perspective. The music is pure, without dialogue or SFX so it allows the editor to protect the composer’s vision in the final mix.

In Alex Heffes’ beautiful score for Hope Gap, the final cue had amazing cellos under the piano that were not shining through in the mix so I asked to raise and feature them more which boosted the emotion. Since cellos are low sounding instruments, increasing the levels didn’t feel forced or sentimental, just incredibly emotional.

Vary the Sound

Obviously, sound is very important but the absence of sound can also be powerful so you have to measure when to drop it and allow the pictures to reveal the story and create tension. In the final mix, it’s important to vary the sound of the film to keep it fresh and exciting, sometimes feature only music, sometimes champion the sound effects, sometimes crank the sound up to eleven. Suggest ideas that showcase the best from every department which allows the film to be original and the strongest version possible.

Collaborate with Composers

We used classical music as our temp in the opening of Regeneration but Mychael Danna’s score blew us away because it was a revelation. Mychael used sparse and occasional Base Drums over the one minute opening shot like explosions … boom … Boom … BOOM!

Mychael is not only a composer but a film-maker, always thinking about the narrative, characters and emotion. His score helped to set the tone and enhance the opening. He made space for gunfire, the occasional shout from an injured soldier writhing in pain, an occasional crow, and the desolate atmospheres. Mychael worked in perfect harmony with the sound design.

Besides Mychael’s talent, he makes intelligent choices and collaborates closely with the director and editor. On one occasion, he asked if I could make a little more space for the score which really enhanced the emotion in a montage. The key is to collaborate and be receptive to suggestions and ideas that elevate the film.

Trust the Composer

When I edited the TV thriller Falling For You, the score arrived during the mix and it was one frame out of sync so we moved it down. When the composer Jonathan Goldsmith arrived he pointed out that it was meant to be one frame earlier. When we moved the score into the intended position, the film became scarier because the music anticipated the edits which was disconcerting, making the audience jump at the cuts, elevating the suspense and overall effect of the film.

Consider Dropping Cues

Most composers write more music than is necessary which is great because you have options in the mix. If a scene, especially a dialogue scene works well without music, I prefer to drop the score.

In A Very English Scandal, there was score when Hugh Grant’s character describes what it’s like being a gay man in the 60’s but we dropped it in the final mix. Hearing Hugh’s very important admission, performed in such a brilliant way felt more emotional and dramatic without score.

Every film is different but unless the score is adding another layer and elevating the film, it usually distracts and detracts from the drama.

Clear the Right Tracks

If you download music or songs from the internet, it is imperative that you get a master copy to ensure that the correct version is being cleared and that it’s running at the right speed before the final mix. I encountered both of these issues and it’s not fun trying to salvage the original vision with the wrong version or different speed during the expensive and stressful mix.

In my assembly of The Crown: Paterfamilias, when young Prince Philip attends the Nazi funeral of five family members, I used Mozart’s Lacrimosa. The version I wanted was dark and ominous but it couldn’t be cleared so we had to settle for a lighter orchestration. Rupert Gregson-Williams helped us by adding a low male chorus in the mix which really helped the tone and sinister mood we wanted.

In conclusion

Due to the cost of mixing studios, there never seems to be enough time to deal with every detail that I try to include in my offline but the goal is to achieve as much as possible. It can be a stressful time because occasionally, some of the score arrives late, source music isn’t cleared early enough, or foley may need to be re-recorded. Try to accomplish as much as possible whether your comments are small or big because you will have to live with these choices forever. 

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Pia Di Ciaula ACE, CCE

Pia Di Ciaula ACE, CCE

Pia Di Ciaula is a Canadian film and TV editor based in the UK. Di Ciaula's credits include Tyrannosaur, directed by Paddy Considine, winning 40 awards worldwide; A Very English Scandal directed by two time Oscar nominee Stephen Frears, starring Hugh Grant; and Netflix's multi-BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe winning series The Crown, directed by Emmy winner and three time Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry. Di Ciaula has won a BAFTA award for Best Editing and received nominations for a Gemini, two Genie's, BAFTA and RTS nominations for Best Editing.

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