How to Get An Accurate Estimate for Post-Production Sound

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If you’re a filmmaker or producer looking to get an estimate for post-production sound, there’s a number of questions you’ll need to be prepared to answer. (If you’re a sound person, these questions will help you put together a better estimate.)

  • What’s the Schedule/Timeline?
  • What’s the project about? Some genres generally take more work than others.
  • What’s this being used for? Is it going to web (iTunes, Youtube, Facebook), broadcast, or a movie theater? Is it just for submission (like for a film festival) or is it the final presentation version?
  • If it’s for broadcast, what network is it for? (They will eventually need the broadcast specs and delivery requirements.)
  • Do you need a 5.1 or stereo mix?
  • Mics: Were lavs and booms used? Was there lav coverage for everyone?
  • Are there any scenes with major audio issues (like distortion, dropouts, or background noise)?
  • Do you need ADR? Are there ways to get around any problem lines without ADR if the budget doesn’t allow it?
  • How much would you like to work together in-person?
  • Do you need stage time? Is home studio ok or do we need to book stage time for anything? How many days?
  • Is there anything unusual in the content or about the film that might take more work for sound?
  • What’s the budget? Is there a set budget (or range) in mind?

If you’re looking to save money

  • Give yourself plenty of time. If you need three weeks of work done but only a week to do it, it’s probably going to take extra people to get the job done. A smaller crew might cut you a deal if they can do the work between other projects or at their leisure.
  • Let the crew work independently until it’s really necessary to be together. In most cases, there’s no reason to sit with a mixer start to finish. A mixer can work independently then schedule a mix review to get your notes and do revisions. A sound designer can send Quicktimes to review ideas, too, before you spend time together. I sometimes like to send a stereo mix before a review so a director or producer can listen in a familiar space and acclimate before we’re together. That can cut down on time we need to spend in a review, too.
  • Find an experienced mixer with a home studio. Look for someone with credits, experience and relationships working at studios but can also work from home. Sometimes you can get a deal on studio time if your mixer is booking the time with a studio they already have a relationship with.
  • Work in phases. I regularly recommend to independent filmmakers to plan for three versions: Festival submission, festival screening, distribution version. Nearly every indie film I have ever worked on has made changes between these versions (whether it’s creative or for legal/clearances). For the festival submission, the reviewers aren’t expecting a finished 5.1 mix. I like to work on a stereo mix in a 5.1 template. Then, once you get into festivals, put the effort into doing a theatrical-quality 5.1 mix.
  • Having a “sound edited” sequence may not save any time/money. I’ve had clients mention that their sequence had been sound edited but there’s still tasks that happen to happen regardless of the work a video editor has done. Also, audio software can do edits and fades at a level of detail far beyond video software.
  • Having a sequence generally organized saves the sound crew time. If a picture editor or assistant editor can keep a sequence organized – where each element is contained on its own set of tracks – that can save the audio team time. If an AAF is delivered highly unorganized, that’s time a sound editor isn’t spending on editing.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your budget. Budgets don’t have be a game of poker. If I know a budget (or range), I can figure out how to get the most for your money – or if I can’t do it, who can. There’s also creative solutions like using an apprentice, calling in favors, or subcontracting certain parts of the job. These are things an experienced sound person can help you figure out.