The Point and Click of no Return: ADR sessions

Well, here we were crafting our first ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) session. All the research I had done into ADR indicted that it should only be utilised when there is a problem with the on location audio, and yes we did have issues with the on location recordings. This was a consequence of a film student being in charge of the on location sound and further amplified by our representative Shay Jagger experiencing his first attempt at this art form. The director Jamey, believed that 90% of audio in film is performed post using ADR, but this view is disputed by every ounce of research I invested into this topic. Anyhow, this was to be a great experience into a valuable technique that can be deployed when required.

We had decided upon two mics; the Neumann U87 and SM7B to get a couple of different tones for blending later. Our first session involved the main actor in the short film (Ash), and the voice of Gayle on the other end of the phone. Kim (playing the role of Gayle), had some experience in this field and performed her lines succinctly and with little effort. Our challenge arrived with the ADR of Ash who was very hard to coach. When given feedback on his performance and receiving suggestions on how to better deliver, Ash was like speaking to a brick wall. He would take on board the suggestions and agree that they were relevant, but then convey the exact same sentiment that we were trying to correct in the next take. So began many frustrating hours of walking over familiar ground trying in vain to get through session one.

By the end of the first 8hr recording session, the director Jamey had decided that his didn’t really like Kim’s performance which was certainly at odds with my opinion as I thought she sounded really good but it was not what he was looking for in this production. After the actors had left we revisited the on location recording which was performed by a different voice actor ‘Ashley’. This performance (to my mind), was much less interesting and I would describe it as quite monotone or deadpan with impassive phrasing throughout, however most of the team agreed we should get her in do perform the ADR and replace Kim’s performance.

Her only lines were as a female on the other end of a phone call, so we were not faced with any of the challenges we had with nudging and syncing vocal lines to the on screen performance with the main actors which was refreshing and despite this being her first ADR experience, she did well and the director was please with most of what she did on the initial takes.

Ashley ADR
Ashley performing her phone conversation ADR with our mic setup visible

We now had the assailant (or victim), Sean coming in to perform his lines. Sean was actually a paid actor in this project with some acting experience, however it was his first foray into ADR. Earlier, we had experienced an annoying issue with the Foley room TV which had been making an audible hum and could not be used, but with the assistance of the tech team were able to transport the resident TV from the void, placing it outside the recording booth facing the actors and adjusting our mics to suit this new arrangement. The audible humming of the TV was not our only challenge in the C24, the room is just not soundproof at all, the sounds of neighboring classrooms and high heel walking on the floor above plagued us in our sessions in this room particularly with our foley recordings but also with the ADR.

Sean really was a pleasure to work with, taking our coaching feedback on board positively and really taking to this new experience with passion and gusto which was refreshing. We were still faced with the important syncing issues that had plagued us with the main actor Ash, but Sean was really invested and wanted to try and make authentic takes without us adjusting the timing of his delivery in most sections. Below is a short video of us coaching Sean’s performance.

Once we had completed Sean’s tracking it was back to the lead of the short film Ash. Again we faced challenges in getting the takes feeling right, it was no really about his timing but more so the delivery and his vocal inflections and feeling. He had been suffering a cold for the past week which prompted him to pull out of our planned ADR session the week before but fortunately we had built 2 extra weeks into our plan which helped mitigate this issue but again we struggled to get what we wanted. Shay in particular was adamant that we just needed to call the session off due to the mucus sound emanating in his performance, and after some debate this is what we did.

The following week we decided to leave the C24 alone and record him in a more soundproof environment, namely the S6 live room. Whilst this move rid us of unwanted extraneous noise we still struggled getting the emotion and feeling that suited the visual performance in the film. He still had a blocked nose and sore throat which really didn’t help but eventually we got the takes that we could use.

We had received some useful feedback from our lecturers that the inner monologue that featured so prominently in the story line must sound different to the actors voice in the different rooms of the film and this made complete sense to us. The inner monologue takes the viewer on a journey of the actor going a bit insane and losing his cool as he realises that his lover had been killed. The voice was in his head therefore the tone could/should be different and any reverb effects should be different. This was the perfect scenario for us to deploy Melodyne to try and achieve this objective. If you are unfamiliar with Melodyne, watch this short 2 min video to get an overview:

Melodyne is a software application that can correct pitch imperfections in audio, stretch notes, adjust the vibrato or timbre of a performance and also correct timing or tempo issues in a piece. These are just the capabilities I know about, using the software certainly makes me feel like its possibilities are limitless. I was very excited and impressed the first time I saw Melodyne being used and immediately went home and watched some tutorials on its use. My first ‘real world’ experience with using it on a project however was sitting with Jaxon Arundell as he was working on correcting some audio issues with his vocals for his album. He was still quite new to the program also, but I learned a great deal from watching him stumble through the array of options and having some input with him on what sounded right. Jaxon had to leave for 1/2hr and entrusted me with his session to continue pitch correcting his vocal and backing vocal tracks and was genuinely please when he returned!

For the inner monologue in our film, we decided that we would use Melodyne to shift the formant of the main characters voice down by a couple of semitones. This gave an impression of a definable difference in his vocal takes for the inner monologue, when compared with his other speaking parts in the film. It actually made him sound like he was a little older than the visuals would suggest which was basically what the feedback we had received had suggested, and this was a simple process using Melodyne!

This whole ADR experience really had its highs and lows from not recording in a soundproof environment, to struggling to coach the primary actor, to losing 2 weeks due to the acting talents flu symptons. What it taught us was that we were right to plan from the outset for delays, talent health issues and also technical hiccups in the early stages of our production plan.

It was now time for Pat Duck supported by the team to come into his own. The mixing process would turn out to be another journey into uncharted territory and a steep learning curve for all concerned…



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