ADR! You don’t want that!

Ah, the joys of Audio Post-Production. And what is ADR exactly? Automatic Dialogue Replacement. Also referred to (though rarely) as Additional Dialogue Recording. However you say it, ADR means long and tedious hours and it can be very costly. It’s something that, when you’ve done it, you want to avoid.  If you HAVE to do it, then you want to do it in as little time possible. Let me tell you how you can save time doing ADR and how you can avoid having to do it in the first place, just with two simple tricks on set.

First, let’s begin with why and when. ADR is part of the Audio Post-Production process. So you got your person cleaning audio, making things “seamless”, adding sound effects. But sometimes, the audio is just not good enough and cleaning it doesn’t help it sound better.  Other times it’s just a question of losing some of the sounds during the cleaning process and certain words might need to be re-recorded simply (which is the better reason and one that is less avoidable).

The reasons sound might have been bad?

  • 1) Could be your audio recording device was malfunctioning (this is the worst case scenario and it happened to me) and it messed up your sound and it all sounds…bad.
  • 2) There’s a buzz in the audio or a whistling (another sort of malfunction, sometimes sporadic, sometimes constant), which could be due to the “hidden” buzz of lighting equipment and such.
  • 3) The line was whispered and was not loud enough.
  • 4) The line was said too far from the mic or the actor was turned away from the mic and the sound did not get picked up.
  • 5) Something unexpected came in and added a noise at one precise moment (tractor, truck, thunder, disruptive neighbour, etc.).
  • 6) One word from the line is shouted and the audio peaks at that place.
  • 7) There’s a lot of wind.

Usually, if the reason is #5, you can retake the shot (because it was sort of obvious on set and you could redo the take right away.)  However, sometimes sounds are recorded and unheard by anyone except by the Sound Recordist.  So trust your sound person to notice these things.  However, long days can mean missing some of the sounds sometimes, and it’s only normal, since the human brain can’t register everything at once.  So don’t fire your sound person just yet.

Okay, stuff happened.  What do we do now?  ADR.  So basically, when doing ADR, you get your actor in a special booth at a post-prod sound studio and they say their line(s) while watching a screen with the scene happening. They have to match the words with the mouth movement in the video. Not only that, some directors (like me), if the line was brilliantly said on set, will want them to match the tone and speed as well. I was stuck doing 900 words in ADR once.

If you’re Indie, then you don’t have a lot of budget and the costs of ADR can go up very quickly.  As in VERY quickly.  I found a trick though, and I take pride in sharing that I was told that I was doing ADR in record time. Was it beginner’s luck?  I don’t know; I’ve made sure to not have to do ADR again…so far.  (Don’t keep us waiting, Binky, what was your trick?) Yes, yes, I was just coming to that. Not only did I play the video, but instead of recording while watching the video, I had my sound guy playback and loop the line. We divided paragraphs into sections too, and left a space of several seconds to record the line in between each loop. So each of my actors who had to come in to do ADR, listened to the line, then said it, listened, said it. And we did this maybe 3 or 4 times for each line. This way, the tone and the speed was matched.  We took note of the good takes and moved on.

After a session, the actor went home and my sound guy took the good takes and matched them to the lips, sometimes he had to clip it and shorten a pause at worst, and of course make it sound like NOT ADR (but that’s the sound person’s job, you can relax here). Four actors did ADR in this way. It took roughly 10 hours in total, done on different days. And it could have taken dozens of hours, weeks even.

Okay, so that’s good to know, but… How do you AVOID it if possible?

1) BOOM. Don’t rely on your camcorder’s mic to pick everything up loudly enough without hitting the red lines. You don’t want peaking but you want to hear the sound. I’ll say it again: Boom. A Sound Recordist doesn’t need to be an expert either, as long as they know what they’re doing, if they’ve got earphones to hear everything that’s being recorded, the recorder on them to see the audio levels (and they will hear if there’s peaking) you should be good. No need for an additional mic on the actors either, lavs and all that stuff.  If your budget is limited, just make sure your Sound Recordist, a.k.a. Boom Mic Operator, gets close enough to the actors, except in wide shots; expect the sound from the wider shots to be unusable.  Instead use sound from close ups and other angles. You’ll see, well you’ll hear (hehehe), the difference, and syncing sound will become a bit simpler in this way too (less work in Post-Production all ’round).

2) Wild takes!  You think a whispered line was too low?  You’re unsure if the truck created too much noise, but the take was good and the sun is setting and you need to move on?  The sound is good everywhere, except for that one line where he screams and it peaks? We don’t see his lips move but we can hear him inverting two words and the line makes no sense?  Whatever the reason, you can always do wild takes.  No camera needed here, just get the mic at the required level, low or high, and get the actor to say the specific line a few times.  You will see with experience that you don’t need many wild takes to be recorded.  You will learn to recognise when it’s necessary.  And then you have a few lines here and there, recorded additionally, for use if required.  Then in editing, just use the wild takes if you need them.  You might have to clip them and cut long pauses, but the line is there, clear and good.  No need for a special facility with special padded walls to contain sound.  No need to pay any additional people, especially if you are the editor.  Then all your sound guy needs to do is clean the sound and make it, as they call it, “seamless”, which means making it all sound like one same clean clip of sound.

Because believe me, if you have had the luxury of not needing ADR in your career thus far, you do NOT want to live through ADR or pay for it.  I wish you all good luck on set, the beginners and the experts.  That wind, trucks, buzzes, or anything else, be on your side, and don’t come mess up your sound.

Note: If you are needing to do ADR, you can organise your ADR list in the same manner one organises an Sound Effects list.  In a spreadsheet, number each ADR line (ADR-001, ADR-002, etc.); colour code by character or by scene, or however you prefer; write in the line of dialogue where in an SFX list you would put the SFX that you want; and then write in the Timecode of that line.  For details regarding SFX lists (and thus ADR lists), you can refer to my article about How To Make your Own Sound Effects Lists.

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