In an industry where the ultimate goal is to have the final product displayed on a giant screen, it’s easy to focus so much on the visual aspects of your film that you forget about the sounds that you’re capturing. However, the sound of a film is what conveys the emotion of the story to the audience. As a filmmaker, I find myself getting obsessed wiht the framing of a shot or getting everything in focus so much that I completely forget to make sure my sound is perfect. That leads to hours in the editing room trying to find any usable sound from my footage. To gain more of an insight to the people who work in audio, I interviewed Tim Day, a sound designer and creative director at Center City Film & Video in Philadelphia.
Day began mixing his own records in high school and continued this practice in college. While initially planning to become a musician, he realized he wanted to pursue a career in audio mixing. Since then he has worked on a variety of projects. He started mainly in music but later transitioned into working on commercials, television shows and documentary films.
After years of working in sound and sitting in a dark room with some very important people, Day felt comfortable asking for more work. Along with working as an audio engineer, Day currently works as CCFV’s creative director. Day stated that he can use his creative thinking that he used in the editing room for other creative pursuits. “As long as I can remain valuable wearing both of these hats, I can do both jobs,” explained Day.
Currently, Day focuses more on the editing side of audio instead of the recording side. The biggest mistake he feels that people make when recording sound is that they don’t get enough. “You have to focus when you’re listening,” said Day. “It’s difficult to absorb everything that you hear all at once.” And when you don’t listen carefully, you can end up with unusable audio. “I spent so much time fixing mistakes in post,” explained Day. Day also pointed out that many projects have limited budgets, and advanced editing techniques, such as ADR, are not viable options. This means you have to get creative with sound mixing and know all the tools and software available.
One thing that Day stresses is to remember that sound is energy. “Everything in audio is a transducer, even vocal chords…The ear can only hear so much at a time, so you have to conserve energy.”
Day also emphasizes that the audio person on a shoot typically has to be the bearer of bad news. “You can’t be lazy or let things slide when working with audio. Many times, you have to be the one to say, “we need to get that again.””
Day has done a mixture of shorts and features, including Halloween: The Inside Story and projects for Ted Talks. He says, “Mixing documentaries is a game of balancing time and money and the product.” To combat this challenge, Day relies on storytelling skills. “I normally receive a final cut of a project. By the time I get it, the decisions have already been made, so I reinforce them. My job is to breathe some life into these projects.”