'Radio Icebox'

A warm story about a cold place

Friday's at the Mic: The Recipe part 2

The Recipe Part 2 - Production

Last week, we got all the way from idea to the initial set-up for a table read. In part 2, I shift focus to the recording and editing.

  1. TABLE READ TIME: The cast gathers at the pre-set time. We hand out scripts, verify who's cast in which role, and begin. This is the writer's first chance to hear the story 'on its feet' and it's not unusual for many changes to be made. Mistakes are found and corrected. Lines that don't work as dialog are changed. Some times, actors come up with better dialog, some times the writer does. We go through the script, have a few laughs, then chat to catch up with each other personally. Finally, we get out our calendars and decide on the record date.

  2. SET UP TIME: (warning: tech stuff ahead) With the date to record approaching, I set up the studio for the number of mics we need up to a maximum of 5 (it gets too crowded after that). Actor's stands are placed around the room as far apart as possible. Each stand is equipped with a spring loaded mic arm, a pair of headphones, and a microphone. Gobos (large, portable walls on wheels) are positioned to try and limit natural echo and reverb. Mic cables all run to a 'stage snake' which runs to the main desk where our Zoom R-16 interface is located. The R-16 is then connected into the computer which is running Reaper, one recording track per actor. In the event one actor can't make the recording session, I try to have that actor come in early and record their lines. Those lines are then processed into separate sound files (one file per line) and loaded onto an Android tablet as a playlist. The tablet is hooked into the R-16. When it's time to record, a tech will play each of the missing actor's lines so that they are on the recording track, and also in the actor's headphones just as if the missing actor were in the room. Finally, sound from the R-16 is routed back to a headphone amp and then to the headphones of the actors present.

  3. RECORDING TIME: The moment of truth arrives. Usually, this is scheduled in the evenings or on weekends. I've come to appreciate mid-afternoon on weekends as the best time to record. The actors are not tired from a long work day. Not much to this phase, really. We record in order, page one to the end. If a section didn't work or was too low energy, we go back and do it again but that's not actually needed that often. Finish the script, call 'Wrap' and the actors are done. Upon conclusion, I immediately download the Reaper file to a flash drive for safety. Then I export the entire session (bloopers and all) to one big file often to be offered to members and patrons as a bonus.

  4. EDITING – FIRST PASS: A day or so later, it's time to get editing. First, I go over the recording and simply remove anything that I'm not going to use. Mistakes, first takes, etc. This leaves me with a good idea of the final product.

  5. SOUND EFFECTS: Next, I create new channels in Reaper for pre-recorded sound effects. These are divided into 'motivated' (effects which are part of a specific action such as a knock on the door or a phone ringing) and 'background' (which are generally field recordings of an environment such as a shopping mall or a street). Most of these effects either come from our own collection or Freesound.org.

  6. FOLEY: If there are some effects we need and don't have, we'll set up a Foley session in the studio. Mics are set up, the Reaper session featuring the actor's recordings is opened, and we 'loop' the section of the recording we need the new sound effect to join. That way, the Foley artist can listen over and over while practicing his or her effect. Then, we select the prop we need from our collection, hit record and go to work.

  7. MIXING: Now that all the sound effects and music are present, the editor sits down with Reaper and starts changing each channel to mix all the others. Volume levels are altered so that all actors are heard at roughly the same level. In conversations between characters, pan (or left/right) will be manipulated so that the characters will seem to be on different sides of the listeners head. And effects will be added to sections where characters are supposed to be heard over a phone line, over the radio, in a cave, etc.

  8. MUSIC: Lastly, we're ready for our score. Some times the music is from Kevin McLeod at Incompetech.com. Other times, from our own production music collection. If there's just a minor stab, or easy musical element, Jeff may hook up his keyboard in Garageband and play it himself. A new track in Reaper is created for music, and the musical tracks are laid in. The show is now complete...mostly.

    It occurs to me that this subject might actually warrant a 3-part blog. Check in next week for a look at Post Production.