Lee Orloff's Production Recording of
'The Patriot'

Excerpts from an article by Tom Kenny.

The Sony Pictures Entertainment lot was abuzz at the end of May with the controlled rush to bring Mel Gibson and the drama of a family caught up in war to the big screen. From the remodeled Cary Grant to the William Holden and all-new Burt Lancaster theaters, with the Foley and ADR working overtime and John William's sessions in the historic scoring stage, the sound crew was, to quote re-recording mixer Kevin O'Connell, "all blazing". The goal, from Lee Orloff's production recordings to the preparation of tracks at Soundelux and the final mix at Sony, was to support picture and story in a natural way.

.... The Patriot balances the intimate and the epic on every level, from script to photography to acting, and certainly with sound. Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a guerilla hero of the French and Indian War who has put his brutal past behind him and adopted the life of a widower family farmer in South Carolina raising his seven children alone.
      As the threat of conflict with England looms, he speaks out against war. His firstborn son, meanwhile, believes passionately in the cause and enlists in the Continental Army, the the militia. When the war comes literally to Martin's doorstep and his family is attacked by the rouge Colonel Tavington, the reluctant hero enters the fray to save home and country.
      It's a simple story, but it's told with such deftness and poignancy that audiences and critics are sure to respond. Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) penned the script, which was beautifully shot by Caleb Deschanel (The Right Stuff, Anna and the King), capturing the overwhelming scope of the battlefield and the softness of candlelight. Director Roland Emmerich, who with his production partner Dean Devlin is best known for the effects bonanzas Independence Day and Godzilla, can now add storyteller to his resume.
       For the sound team, it's a dream package and a wide-open palette, but in a much different way from the typical blockbuster action picture. Kevin O'Connell, who with his partner Greg P. Russel has mixed more than his share of outrageous, anything-goes effects thrillers, including
'Con Air, Godzilla, and Armageddon', says, "Unlike some of the other summer movies, we're not using the sound to sell anything because this movie sells itself visually. All we are doing is supporting what we see. Our goal is to bring clarity and detail" ....


.... "This is not an action movie," says Hallberg. "It's big, spectacular, and has all those elements, but it's really about a family and about values. That's the heart of it, and that's where we need to make it feel right. The whole setup is for us to connect with the father and his family living a beautiful life, so we make it sound soft and beautiful. It's about emotion, and you need Mel's (Gibson) voice to have that chesty, rich quality coming through in the quiet dialog scenes."
      "Mel's voice is edgy, deep and rich," adds O'Connell, "which is why I like it. Everything in production was so well recorded that it captured that warmth and richness. I plan just play it on the screen that way. There was surprisingly little ADR in this movie, which is a credit to Lee Orloff and his crew. We had a lot of group ADR, but not a lot of principal ADR. These tracks are stellar."
       Production mixer Lee Orloff recorded digitally to a 4-channel Nagra D and was able to use boom mics (boom operator Knox White and assistant David Acord) a majority of the time, which accounts for some of the richness and naturalness in the tracks. "When you look at the work tapes that we're cutting to and you see the boom (mic) in the top end, just out of the frame line ... well, it's very seldom that you see that these days, with somebody who dares to get in there and stay right on the edge," Hallberg says. "A big hats off to Lee and his crew. Every time I see that boom above the frame, I think, 'That's my man!"
       "Bringing the shoot to the Low Country of South Carolina, where the actual events took place, was one more example of the filmmaker's desire to maintain historical accuracy throughout the production," Orloff says.
       " We reduced intrusions of 20th century life on the track by the typical road closures and by keeping a handle on local train and plane scheduling. But we also had to eliminate the hazards of 'friendly fire' - maintaining tight base camp lock-ups and generator baffling, and control over special effects foggers, smokers and wind machines. We would often hand out Comtek wireless receivers with dialog feeds to the effects operators, along with 'sides' for them to read so that they could help pull down particularly noisy elements on cue in an effort to keep the dialog clean.
       " Stereo mic configurations were used extensively during the battles and were laid down on two of the four channels," he continues. 'Once the atmosphere had been tamed, the ambient levels supported the use of multiple booms for the majority of the principal's dialog recording, ensuring proper perspectives on those tracks. The multi-channel format allows us to deliver a mixed mono for dailies and editorial, while at the same time preserving clean pre-fader outs to protect the inevitable overlaps and paraphrasing, which occur from time to time. The higher bit rate of the Nagra D enables a natural, fuller and more dynamic recording to be made than is possible with 16-bit mastering formats. We then made certain to interpolate, rather than truncate, the additional information contained in the longer word length when the tracks were loaded digitally into the DAW's."

       All four tracks were loaded digitally into WaveFrames for editing, then laid back to Sony DADR-5000 playback machines. It was the first time Hallberg had a completely digital dialog chain, with no analog conversions.

       "My biggest goal as the dialog mixer is intelligibility," O'Connell says. "You have to understand every word, and I live by the fact that there are no rules to doing dialog right or wrong. I'll use fractions of words from the loop, fractions from production, and I'll use crazy EQ in order to understand the line.
But I probably process the dialog less than anybody I know. When I first started mixing dialog (in 1987), I would take out every hum, buzz and rumble at the predub. I would use dip filters, CATs (43 or 
430 Dolby single-ended noise reduction units), compressors, de-essers. But over the years, I've literally got down to using almost nothing except a little compression and de-essing in predubs. By the time you put in the music, BG's, Foley and everything else, you can't really hear those extraneous sounds in the dialog track, and by stripping them out, you can't help but strip away some of the richness. Once I'm in the final mix, if a sound still pops out, I'll address it then." ....


MIX Magazine, July 2000.





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