Dialog Editing Part 6: Dialog Editing Basics

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The dialog editor is responsible for going through all of the dialog tracks for the following:

  • Organizing files on audio tracks
  • Sorting through tracks and removing regions so only usable or preferred/best mics are remaining.
  • Once the appropriate mics are in place: adjusting fade ins, fade outs, cross fades, and filling in holes as necessary.
  • Removing unwanted sounds such as pops, clicks, hums, thumps (no broadband noise – this is addressed in mixing). Sometimes the dialog editor can remove other non-desirable sounds like dogs barking or sirens.
  • Repairing sounds that can’t be fixed by real-time mixing (such as mic dropouts)
  • Editing ADR (actor’s lines that were re-recorded in the studio) and voice-over narration

Mono vs Stereo

In general, dialog is edited in mono even if it’s delivered in stereo. There’s some exceptions to this like if you get a source that’s mixed in stereo, like a line mix from a news story or the dialog stem from another movie. This commonly comes up in documentaries that uses audio/video from other sources to help tell the story. Another example would be walla, if it was recorded in stereo.

The reason we edit in mono is because most of time dialog is panned in the center of a mix. In 5.1, the dialog comes out the center channel (the center speaker) only. So, even if an entire movie was recorded with stereo mics, you only need one side of the mic when the dialog calls for it.

Different types of mics

This video by Videomaker shows examples of commonly used mics without any additional processing. This is important because this is how you’ll hear the mics – and you probably won’t get any information or reference about what track is what. You have to use your ears to determine which tracks are booms, lavs, camera mic, or other.

In an ideal world, you will have a boom (or multiple boom mics) and lav coverage on everyone. Whether or not you use booms or lavs depend on a number of factors:

  • Are the boom mics on axis? Is everyone heard clearly or is anyone off-mic?
  • Is there lav coverage of everyone?
  • Is there any noticeable technical issues on any of the mics?
  • How many background noise is there?
  • How many characters are there and how much do they overlap?

For example, for a scene with two characters with minimal background noise, if the boom mic is placed well, this may be preferred to the lavs. If lavs are hidden, there is some compromising on sound quality (weird body resonances that take time to EQ, lack of ambience and room reflections) versus a boom. But, if the two are yelling over each other the entire scene, the lavs may be preferred over the booms to give the mixer maximum flexibility to mix one character louder than the another to favor a line. If one of the lav mics wasn’t placed well and has cloth rubbing throughout, the boom might be a better option.

This is one of the challenges of being a dialog editor: knowing when to pick which mics and how to make them work together. This is where lots of practice comes in and getting lots of feedback from any mixers you are editing for. You can also try practicing mixing your own dialog to see when two lavs work better than a boom.

Lavs or Booms

Ideally, you want to select one or the other and use that as the foundation for the entire scene. If there’s times you need to switch from lav to boom (like if someone touches their mic and can’t be corrected), that’s switching mics to solve a problem.

In low budget filmmaking (when inexperienced sound crew or no sound crew is used), we see problems like one lav mic to cover multiple people. Or, one boom and one lav. It can be hard to edit and hard to mix – not ideal. But, if it’s all you have to work with, any mic coverage is better than no coverage.

Line Mix

You may also receive a line mix, or a mix by the production mixer from on-set. Depending on the project, budget, deadline, etc you may want to use these tracks first or you may want to re-edit from scratch. For example, game shows and talk shows tend to have a decent line mix and there usually isn’t the time or budget to re-edit and remix everything. The priority might be to fix technical problems like dropouts and add the mics that weren’t brought up in time in the line mix. Some game shows do have the budget to go back to the source mics (usually lavs for hosts and contestants, and various mics for the audience).

Picking mics

When you’re listening to mics for editing, listen for three levels of quality:

  1. Good. A voice that sounds close, present, not too noisy or distorted. If a lav sounds boxy or a boom sounds sibilant that can be an ok starting point (these are common issues that can be corrected by the mixer).
  2. Usable if necessary. There might be a minor issue with mic placement (like sound off-mic), noise, or a tech problem that can be corrected (like distortion or light cloth rustling).
  3. Poor. Dialog is hard to understand, mic is too distant, very noisy, dropouts, etc.

Look at this scene by scene to start. Listen to each mic and see if it consistently sounds good, usable, or poor. If one of your mics is poor, that may dictate using a boom for the scene instead or lavs. Or, if it’s only an occasional problem (like one mic has dropouts) you can use the mics that generally sound best throughout and try to solve that individual issue with an alt mic.

For a scripted show or film, you may find the same locations coming back again and again and shot at the same time. If you choose a certain mic for one scene, ideally use the same mic choice for the other scenes in the same location (this helps mixers who can re-use settings/processing choices).

In general, you may find consistencies across the mics after editing a couple scenes and this can help you make choices faster about which mics to use. Maybe one interview mic always had the gain too hot and distorting so you’ll know before even listening to it its unusable. Eventually, knowing the material like this will speed up the mic selection process.

It’s possible you start editing a scene using one type of mic (all lavs or all booms, for example), only to find that a mic had problems for part of the scene. Sometimes it’s bad enough you backtrack and editing with the opposite mics. In cases like this, there’s no harm in editing both sets of tracks (especially if you already started editing one) just in case the mixer wants to switch during the scene between one and the other. Ideally, a mixer doesn’t want to be moving from booms to lavs interchangeably unless necessary, like covering up occasional problems.

Level problems: If you’ve kept in the volume automation from the original AAF, you may find there are level issues and volume jumps from what came from the editor. If you know something is going to be a problem for the mixer, you can adjust it – but this isn’t a task to spend a lot of time on. The job of a dialog editor is to edit dialog and it will be on the mixer to deal with volume automation.

Approaching mics you don’t need

The obvious thing to do is delete regions but it’s not always that simple. If you get lucky, you have too many good sounding mics (and you don’t want to delete anything good!). Sometimes it’s not clear which mic to use. Or, maybe you need to leave in multiple mic options for some reason.

It might seem like a small detail but when you’re handing over a edit project to a mixer, the mixer has to be able to find answers to questions without asking you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a mix and had a client say, “I know there’s a better mic than what you’re using. Can you find it?” If I see a muted region or something on an X track, I know that’s the editor’s way of telling me “Check this out. It might be useful.”

Or, it’s possible the wrong mic got picked in the edit (and that’s ok). As a mixer, if I can get to any alts or find the original tracks quickly (on the AAF tracks) then we can figure it the mic situation quickly and move on.

Once you know you don’t need a region, there’s three things you can do: Delete, mute on an active track, move to an “X” track.

In this screenshot, Audio 7 – Audio 11 are from the AAF (that’s how the picture editor had them named). The tracks below are the same regions but edited.

If there’s multiple mics of the same source and both sound good, you can edit both mics and leave them on active dialog tracks. Check out the photo below how “INT 1” and “INT 2” are edited together and both left active (INT is short for interview). The mixer won’t use both mics but it signals to him/her that there is more than one decent mic in this spot to choose from. If you have a boom and lav mic and both sound good, this is how you may edit it.

If you look at what’s happening on tracks DIA 1 and DIA 2, there’s one mic that’s edited and a muted mic. The muted mic signifies there’s something possibly usable there. In this case, DIA 1 is a boom covering two people and DIA 2 is a lav mic picking up only one person. Since DIA 1 captures both characters clearly (and we only have lav coverage on one person), the lav isn’t necessary to use. But, it’s left in there in case the mixer wants to use it.

Another option for unused mics is “X” tracks. X tracks are basically alt tracks – usable audio but not good enough to have in the edit (cause there’s better options). If you’ve gone through the mics in a scene, have good coverage, but still have other mics that are usable, you could move them to an X track. X tracks don’t need to be edited. It’s just a way to quickly review other mics that are usable if the mixer needs to.

In this case, the X tracks are below the dialog tracks:

If a mic is completely unusable or very poor quality, it’s the only time to remove (delete) the region.

The fundamentals of dialog editing

This video is an excellent demonstration of a basic dialog edit and the type of typical challenges you encounter with transitions. One important note: while this editor deletes volume automation on his dialog tracks before starting to edit, check with the re-recording mixer before you do this. Some mixers (like myself) always want the automation.

Breaking down the same concepts in writing:

Here is an example of a very basic dialog edit; The above track is edited while the grey track (lower) is how it was delivered by the picture editor (via AAF). (Note: The “DIA ORIG” track is here only to show a before/after; it’s not how you would leave it in an edit session going to a mixer.)

  • Notice how in this example there’s a long fade in and fade out. This is to help ambience come in and out naturally (when it’s audible).
  • In the middle, the original dialog had a hole between two regions. The dialog edit “filled” that hole in and added a crossfade. In this case, the fill existed by extending the clip.
  • Towards the end of the clip (the 5th region), an edit was moved slightly to clean up a bad dialog edit in the middle of a word.
  • At the end, the original audio had some unwanted noise. That was replaced with clean audio from earlier in the track then faded out.

Removing mics

Before dialog editing
After dialog editing

This is a before and after look of two tracks of dialog where only parts of the regions have been removed. It’s two people with separate mics talking at close proximity. Even just looking at the waveforms (without listening) you can tell when one person (or both) are talking. There’s a bit of bleed from one mic to the other. If you edit out the bleed it makes the person talking sound much clearer.

Even though you can tell a lot from the waveform it’s still a good idea to listen through what you’re going to delete. Sometimes there’s low level sounds you want to keep like a reaction or quiet word.

It’s not necessary to put the deleted regions on an x-track when you’re editing like this. If you have the AAF tracks, it’s possible to go back to those to find something that was edited out.


The video below has a great demonstration of to do fill. Filling is literally filling in empty areas between regions with audio from the same mic.


I’ve seen videos and tutorials on dialog editing that suggest using playlists to edit dialog. In practice, this is not a widely used technique by professionals especially not when a session is delivered to a mixer. If a mixer wanted to compare a boom and lav, it’s not easy to adjust EQ, compression, gain etc to compare when it’s on the same playlist vs on separate tracks. It would be a multi-step process to break out playlists to other tracks just to do the comparison.

While this type of detail may not seem like a big deal, for mixers on high end projects, seconds matter. The cost of a dialog editor for an hour of work might be 1/10 the cost for an hour of a dub stage with multiple mixers. It’s the responsibility of the dialog editor to make things as simple as possible for the mixer. Sometimes that may mean doing things in a way that’s more work for the dialog editor.

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