Nathan AshtonNathan Ashton

Reach the World

When it comes time to sell your movie, you don’t want to leave out the rest of the world. It is true that some countries, like Sweden, thrive on using captions but others, notably Germany, don’t want to hear a trace of English. In other parts of the world where literacy and TV sizes limit the acceptance of language captioning, a native tongue version is required.

There are companies that specialize in replacing dialog with regional languages, but they need a properly prepared set of audio files.

Enter the Music and Effects track.

The Music and Effects (M&E) is essentially the film’s soundscape with the English language dialogue muted. The challenge is that muting dialog also mutes any location sound effects, clothing, and room tone. This version is considered unfilled” and is not suitable for foreign dubbing.

My job becomes one of reconstructive surgery. Production effects from a film’s dialogue stem are combined with additional foley. Room tones are pulled from production, extended and blended. The clothing pass is turned up to add more life to the actor’s movements. Then the film goes through a quality control pass where the original (Director approved) mix is slightly adjusted to accommodate the new sounds. At this point the M&E is considered “fully-filled,” and may be suitable for foreign dubbing.

Elements like ambiances, walla, diegetic music, and background radio chatter can be tricky. Often these sounds are so deep in the mix that the words are indistinguishable. Other times they can be understood if the viewer is paying attention. In cases like this, I can prepare an alternate track with English walla accents and let the foreign language dub house decide if they want to use them, or replace them.

Win your battles up-front.

The process of creating an M&E from an improperly prepared audio session can be tedious and expensive. There are several things which can be done during audio editorial to reduce the time needed to make a fully-filled M&E. They include:

  • Record that room-tone! I know you are paying a lot of people a lot of money on set, but we NEED a good stretch of room tone on ALL mics – boom, lav, plants, whatever. Choose a setup where the actors are settled into place and get 30-60 seconds of quiet. Record toward the longer side on intimate scenes. Thats less than a minute for each scene and is gold to the M&E process. The Production Mixer will make note that Room Tone (RT) is on that track, and it will come to Audio Editorial along with the rest of the deliverables
  • Careful dialogue editing. The dialog tracks should be free-and-clear whenever possible. This means that as many of the location sound effects that can be recovered have been moved to their own PFX track. Ambiance is then used to back-fill the dialogue track and the PFX track.
  • Full coverage Foley. Sometimes clothing and footsteps recorded on the foley stage are never used in the domestic version because the location sound works really well. However, it is often easier to cover the entire movie while the Foley Artist and Mixer are in the groove instead of bringing them back later to try and fill in holes.
  • Professional Loop Group. There are two kinds of walla – the intelligible which must be removed and the unintelligible which can remain in the M&E. They cost more, but a pro loop group knows how to distinguish between the two and can deliver true group walla separate from free-and-clear background callouts.

In many cases you may not know if your film will be attractive to an international audience, or budgets may be tight, and so you may want to wait on the M&E. That’s fine. If we win these battles up front, then we can easily return to the M&E at a later time.

Its your sound… made clear… in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, etc.