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The ‘Unreal’ Reality Show

The ‘Unreal’ Reality Show

by caristewart on December 22, 2010

Post Magazine, April, 2005

“Audio for TV”

According to Blaine Stewart, president of the Burbank-based Post Plus Sound (www.postplussound.com), the new Kirstie Alley series Fat Actress, which airs on and is produced by Showtime, is a mixture of reality television and scripted sitcom.  “It’s shot in reality style with lots of microphones and each person is recorded discreetly on various tracks on HDCAM decks,” he explains. “You have anywhere from one or two characters a scene to up to six that are miced separately, as well as the fish poles mics.  Even though the show is scripted, it’s designed to look and be very ad libby.”

That explains why Stewart, who also serves as a sound designer and mixer at Post Plus, takes the mix supplied by the production mixer and throws it out. “I’ll go back to the discreet tracks and remix it,” he explains.  “It’s pretty tough to be on top of all those microphones during production, and since it’s shot on location if you leave all the mics open you’re going to get a lot of unwanted noise.  So it’s easier for me to go back to the original microphones and remix the show by opening up the mics that are need for each scene.”

Post Plus is responsible for mixing the show, as well as adding the sound effects and Foley.  “We’re basically doing film-style mixes,” Stewart reports.  “We put in all the footsteps and all the cloth movement.  We also have to deliver a fully-filled M&E for foreign distribution.  Music is embedded for us as part of production, if they get it in time, if not I add it later.”  Stewart does two full audio mixes of the show.  “I do a full complete stereo mix of the show and then go back and do a 5.1 mix on the show as well, rather than taking a 5.1 mix and folding it down to a stereo mix.  You don’t always get the best quality by folding a 5.1 down to a stereo mix, so I do a separate mix.  We derive one from the other, so it’s not like remixing everything from scratch.”

Although the demands of 5.1 mixing will be pushing the facility to upgrade, Pro Tools 5.1.3 is still being used and run on Mac G4s.

Stewart, who started working in the audio post field 30 years ago, is still amazed at the speed and quality found in today’s sessions.  “I remember thinking the we had arrived when we got two Studer 24-track machines with 48 tracks of Dolby noise reduction and the synchronizers,” he admits with a laugh.  “At some point we had to make the jump to computers because that’s just the way it is in the industry.  The trend is that we’re putting out a much better product than we were five or 10 years ago.  We can do it quickly and much more efficiently.  It used to take me five minutes to lay in a gun shot.  Now I go to my Msoft Library, type in ‘gun shot’ and have 250 gun shots to choose from.  I’ll click on one or two of them and within a minute I can drag it into my timeline and I’ve got it placed perfectly.  This gives you more time to worry about the artistry and to make things sound better.”

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