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Last But Not Least

Mixing great TV drama is more than just pushing faders and keeping the levels at the relevant broadcast spec. Will Strauss talks to three leading dubbing mixers in this TV drama dubbing masterclass.

Howard Bargroff, Sonorous Post

Selected TV drama credits: Sherlock, Luther, Broadchurch, Ripper Street, Law and Order: UK Kit: Pro Tools

TO BE an exceptional TV drama dubbing mixer, argues Bafta Craft award winner and Emmy nominee Howard Bargroff, you need to be patient, diplomatic, and have a good sense of story. Oh, and you need to know how to read minds.

“People ask for things and you kind of know what they mean but they don’t ask

you directly,” he says, slightly tongue-in-cheek. “Now, through experience, quite often, I will know what [a director is] going to say before he or she says it.” It’s a skill that also comes in handy when attempting to interpret people’s ideas,

and sometimes the solution can be something simple. “I’ ve had a 10-minute long explanation about a sound and about how it should transform a scene,” he says. “And I’ve just turned it up by 2dB and they say ‘yes, you’ve nailed it!’” Like most dubbing mixers, Bargroff is generally the last link in the drama

production chain but that has started to change. “With [ITV drama] Broadchurch, before they’d even locked the first episode, we

sat down and we had a big tone meeting with everyone to decide which bits of the guide track we liked,” he reveals. “Ideally I like to get involved as a show is being edited, at the point at which

they’re deciding on the tone of it. That way I can get involved and can start talking about making broad [sound] brush strokes.” At whatever stage he gets on board, Bargroff describes himself as a very

instinctive mixer. “On Sherlock, all of the weird sequences with all the funny graphics and noises,

Scott Jones, Molinare

Selected TV drama credits: The Bible, Yonderland, The Wrong Mans, Silent Witness Kit: Pro Tools

AS FAR as Molinare’s Scott Jones is concerned, doing a great drama mix requires technical know-how and high levels of diplomacy. “You’ve got to have a good knowledge of the tools you’re working with, an understanding of

what a soundwave is, and an awareness of all the ingredients that make up sound,” he says. “If you can get that then you’ve got a good chance of twisting and turning sounds into whatever it is you want to make.” “You also need to be adaptable with clients,” he adds. “They’ve probably been

working on the project for a long time so you need to adjust to their wavelength and suggest things that they may not have thought of. You also have to be cool under pressure, especially when there are a lot of clients in the room.” Jones acknowledges the importance of teamwork, of being involved in a

project as early as possible, and of making the most of what you’ve got. After that it’s all about dynamics. “I’ll spend a day dialogue pre-mixing,

cleaning up the dialogue, mixing in the ADR, and then a day on the FX pre-mixing. Then I’ll add the music with the Foley. Every time you add something, the dynamics change in the sound. Then I’ll look at what holes we’ve got and what else we can put in the scene to make us feel like we’re in the story.” His biggest recent challenge was on The Bible, a History Channel mini series for which the sound was Emmy nominated. Jones says that the signature scene

22 January 2014 Sherlock (courtesy BBC)

they’re all track-laid, but none of them have a plan or a concept. If you presented me with a new episode I couldn’t tell you what I would do with every section. I would just start mixing it and I would know if it does or doesn’t feel right.” A big fan of technology, Bargroff likes to be ready for all eventualities ahead of

the final mix, pulling together a soundscape that is not complete but works from start to finish. “If I haven’t been given guidance up front I’d rather just turn up with my

interpretation,” he says. “Everything is live but at any point I can press play and it should just run as a proper cohesive whole – but with flexibility built in everywhere. Any take of ADR, any treatment, any music can be changed. This offers complete flexibility for the client.” Experienced in both TV and film, does his style change depending on the

medium? Other than “minor technical considerations in level”, no. “What I change is story,” he says. “Telling the story is our entire job.”

where Moses parts the sea was particularly tricky: “It had people chasing people, horses, carts, thousands of extras, the parting of the waves, screaming, shouting, dialogue, and driving music. The energy was fast, it’s cut big, it’s epic. That one four-minute scene took nearly two days.” The key to making it work was finding ways of dropping bits of sound to

make other bits heard and ensuring that the scene maintained its intensity but wasn’t just a “wall of mush”. To do this, Jones made sure he filled up the full spectrum of sound. He says: “You’ve got levels that are high continuously so what you do is find

frequencies that aren’t being used and fill them up with something else, finding or making pockets for the dialogue to sit in, EQ out the waves or the sea, and push it through. But without anyone hearing the fades or the mix. It should be smooth. That is the whole trick of being a great mixer.”

The Bible (courtesy The History Channel)

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