Dialog Editing Part 9: Frankenbites

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more information.

A frankenbite is a slang term used typically in reality television. It’s when a picture editor assembles together dialog from multiple sources or interviews to make someone say something they didn’t actually say. While that sounds bad (or potentially unethical), you have to consider that sometimes picture editors have hundreds or even thousands of hours of footage and trying to convey a story in minutes. Sometimes getting important story point across quickly and clearly takes editing across many interviews. Frankenbites can be used for story, to clarify the way someone worded something, or correct an error. But along with the good uses, there are times when frankenbites are used only to increase drama or change the audience’s view of a character.

To get a broad idea what this looks like, here’s an example from picture editor Vince Rocca. The left side of the screen shows the raw footage and the right side shows how he edited picture to cover up the jump cuts and edits. All of this comes from the same interview, which in this case would make it easier for a dialog editor and mixer to make the end product sound seamless.

Where it gets tricky is when a picture editor starts crossing interviews, which is inevitable and common practice. The main subject of a documentary or reality show may be interviewed many times in many different locations. Part of what makes the film work (from a storytelling perspective) is pulling from all those different interviews.

The challenge for a dialog editor is to edit these types of bites in a way that sounds natural and have good flow even though it’s not what someone actually said in real-time. A good picture editor will get you most of the way there (like the example above) but there are times where you can be left with a total audio mess: the frankenbite. In reality television, I have seen sentences literally put together word by word – like 10 words across 10 interviews – and the expectation is for the dialog editor and re-recording mixer to make it sound seamless. Frankenbites like that can be a major time suck.

The challenges to editing interviews from multiple sources

  • Timbre. People’s voices change timbre depending on when the day it is, how much they talked during the day, if they’re tired, sick or getting sick
  • Pitch. Pitch can change depending on the intensity or excitement, or even stress. Editing together an interview of someone relaxed then excited or stressed their pitch may be very different
  • Intensity. Same as above
  • Environment. An indoor space could be really reverberant but an outdoor space might have a lot of ambience

For example, let’s say we have indoor and outdoor interview bites combined to make one sentence. The indoor interview was a large, reverberant room and outdoors had heavy background sound (like crickets and a river). The shift between these two interviews is very obvious. It might even pull the viewer out of the story. What the dialog editor could do is fill (edit the background sound of the outdoors) under the indoor interview. If the interview isn’t on screen (and it’s not distracting to what is happening on screen), this gives the mixer the option to ease in that background sound so the viewer won’t even notice the background changed. Another workaround is for the mixer to add reverb to the outdoor dialog so there isn’t a shift in the size of the room between the interview. Sometimes this doesn’t work depending what you see on-screen. You may have to get creative with a solution. If the audience doesn’t notice it and stays involved with the story (versus being taken out of it), it’s a good solution.

A mixer has some tools (including to remove some reverb) but it will still be the dialog editor’s responsible to do some preparation. For example:

  • If the ambience/background noise on one side of a bite is distinct, it may help to have that same ambience added to the other side of the bite
  • Pitch shifting (possibly). This is one to ask your mixer before doing but sometimes the solution is to pitch a portion of the bite
  • Re-edit/re-time. Sometimes looking for an alt of the same word or adjusting the timing can help a bite sound more natural. If a show has logged all their footage, you can ask the post-production supervisor or an assistant editor if they can search for alt options of the same word or words.

Selecting mics

One of the challenges selecting mics for a Frankenbite is that the goal isn’t necessarily to pick the mics that sound the best. Instead, it’s better to pick the mics that sound the closest to each other.

In general, what helps a mixer deal with a bad frankenbite is to have the dialog staggered:

Anytime the dialog shifts between interviews, put it on a separate track. If you identify multiple words or portions from the same interview, try to keep those on the same track. In the above example, the first and fourth regions (both on the INT 1 track) are from the same interview. The regions on INT 2 and INT 3 are from different interviews.

The idea is that the mixer will have to address processing one bite (or one track) at a time. On really bad frankenbites, a mixer might only work on matching 3 words at a time (and working on loop playback). This is why it’s not ideal to have it all on a single track.

If you are editing a frankenbite word by word, try adjusting the clip gain so everything is in the ballpark to each other. That’ll make it a lot easier to hear shifts in ambience and edits. It’ll be on the mixer to do the heavier lifting, but you are supporting by making it as easy for them as possible.

This is where it’s really beneficial to stay in touch with the mixer you’re editing for. They will probably have suggestions for how to edit differently or their personal preferences for dealing with frankenbites.

Leave a Comment