I don’t have the energy to describe everything that happened today in any sort of entertaining way. Long story short… things are very very very close to finalized. Today’s successes were sponsored by the letters M, J, and P. (Huge thank you to Mohijit, John, and Pierre.) We put some limiters on the tracks. Compression. Some noise reduction. Etc. I was almost forced to re-record my narration (for the THIRD time) but got it worked out. I got John and Pierre’s signatures (50% of the crew that needs to approve my master’s degree!) and will get Jan’s tomorrow (another 25%). I finalize my Production Book tomorrow (looks like it will end up around 190 pages… I’m at 179 at the moment and I’ve got my self-criticism, the end of this here production journal, acknowledgements, and final script/running time report to go). Then, I go to my Sound Design class. Wednesday morning is four more hours of studio time… doing the final mastering. Bouncing. Gain staging. Burning to disc. Heading back to my office where I will print two copies of this epic document (thank you, Journalism Department!) and heading back to Graduate Studies to TURN THIS THING IN. Then… there’s laundry (I only have two clean pairs of skivvies left). This American Life application (have to send by Friday). Getting the piece ready for my screening on May 6 (title cards / credits in Final Cut Pro). Apologies for the most boring entry to date.
I'm getting extremely close to the end. I was feeling very good about where I'm at. In fact, I was even semi-boasting about being able to turn in my piece a day early and enjoy my day off (I am taking Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off from work to get this piece and my insanely long production book out the door). I got so much done on my book... it is currently at 160 pages or so. I only have about 20 pages of that left. Yes! And I went through my piece another time last night... marking down my edits and such.
But here's the stick. I hadn't opened my Pro Tools session since Mooney returned it with all the audio levels corrected and with the polished narration. Mooney's session was created in a Pro Tools HD environment, and my humble system is centered on Pro Tools LE. If you switch between software versions, you run the risk of losing some audio plug-ins (thus affecting the sound originally anticipated).
To take care of all of this business, I scheduled an HD studio at Emerson for the maximum amount of time they allow. A measly four hours. I arrive 15 minutes before they open... just to make sure I have all the time I can. I get in to the studio. I open the session. The dreaded "(1) Missing Audio File" comes up. Stay calm. I'm sure I have all the audio files. Maybe it is just a file that was muted. Or isn't needed. Or anything. I do some poking around... NOOOOOOO. My narration is missing!! I can't do anything without that piece, so I get some heart palpitations going. Call Mooney. Yes, they are indeed missing (somehow not copied to the session he gave me). FREAK OUT. He can't email them to me (too big and his studio doesn't have internet anyway). I don't have time to leave, get on the train, get to my car, get to his studio, get the session, get back in my car, get back on the train, get back to my studio at Emerson. I now only have 3 hours and 45 minutes at this point. So, I desperately call Seth. Always the champ, he immediately says yes, he'll go to Mooney's studio and bring the session to me. As much as this stresses me out (I am currently in the studio... waiting on the session... losing precious precious precious time to work), I see a few MIRACLES in this. One: Seth was awake and answered the phone at 10am on a Saturday... totally willing to be my gopher. Two: Mooney was at his studio already, sitting at the computer he originally mastered this on. Three: Mooney was completely finished with my session but he hadn't deleted it off his system yet (oy! can you imagine?!).
It is now 10:41am. I have to be out of here (session saved to disk, files bounced, etc.) by 2pm. Best case scenario: getting the files by 11:30am. What I've learned: pay attention to that voice that tells you, "You should check Mooney's session before you need to work on Saturday."
One week from today, I will be submitting everything to the Graduate Studies office. One week from today. April 28th. Just a few months ago, I thought this day would never come and now I only have seven days to get there… crawling and dragging across the finish line… drenched in sweat and utterly parched.
I have replaced the VO scratch tracks that were in my first and second rough cuts with the formal voiceover bits. Mooney added the cassette tape sounds I was looking for and adjusted some levels. He also recorded the formal voiceover and everything sounds great. All of this resulted in a fairly strong third rough cut that I am pretty pleased with. Things have come together. I am close to the final version of the piece.
But here’s the struggle. I am now in evaluation / outside review stages. I played the (almost) final piece for my sound design class last night. I had them fill out questionnaires and we followed that by talking about the piece for almost an hour. I also sent the third cut to my cousin Mike. He replied with four pages of thoughts (I appreciate that time investment so much, by the way. It makes me feel less alone with all of this business). Every bit of feedback has been so helpful, but SO MUCH OF IT is contradictory. Parts that some people love are deemed erasable by others. Parts that those people love seem superfluous to others. Other stuff is totally valid but I just don’t have the time to incorporate it. I am attempting to strike the delicate balance between listening to critique and being true to what I think serves the piece best. A friend reminded me of something Jack White said: “It’s safe to say somebody out there’s got a problem with almost anything you’ll do.” Thanks for the reminder. I plan on going through all the feedback I have received and methodically deciding what I can realistically work from and what I can’t. And trusting my gut with the rest of it.
I want to go deeper into so much more of what is going on with me right now. I decided on a title. I have had 324324 eureka! moments. I am editing this piece down to the very second it is due. I have to be completely done with my production book by Monday at noon (gasp!). I want to go into all of this, but… well… I only have a week left to do everything. Time is precious.
Tomorrow, Saturday, is my recording session with Jared Mooney to re-record my voice-over sections. My Friday night will be re-writing my lines. I was hesitant to even involve myself in this piece at first (which must sound silly considering the project). As such, my initial narrations that I recorded were quite detached (as my Sound Design class pointed out). While my new narrations will still have a not-totally-emotionally-invested flavor, they’ll be just a titch more personal. I am so grateful to Mooney for his help—this piece will be infinitely better because of it. This was on my Facebook wall THE DAY AFTER I gave him my session:
Your levels are officially balanced out. I also recorded the cassette tape sound effects you need and did lots of fades and pacing. I busted some phone hiss and tape hiss and eq'd the snot out of your skype tracks. We should also find some space in your tape of the siblings together that is quiet enough to use for room tone/handles. And let's figure out a time when we can record ya lovely pipes bustin some narration up in the dirty dirty. (Meaning his recording studio.)
“Appreciative” is nowhere near an adequate word to describe how I feel on that front. We start work at 11a. I am somewhat nervous because I normally record my narrations alone. It is easier to feel silly when you know someone is listening. Also, I have come down with some sort of allergy attack and/or cold symptoms of doom. I sound nasal and my ears are clogged. Worst timing ever. I have 12 days to make everything happen, and I feel like my hearing is damaged. Whatever. Today is the first day that I actually feel really good about my piece and being able to finish it and get this production book completed. HUZZAH! I am so excited for April 28. I will actually be able to sleep! Even when I try to fall asleep (as opposed to my working-through-the-night habits), I wake up every 2 hours or so. So ready to be done with that. And I’m sure my friends and family will be pleased that I will be able to do something other than talk about my piece and complain about how stressed and busy I am all the time.
When I’m not editing, I am absorbed in reading about children, siblings, divorce, and romantic and familial love. There is so much written on these topics that I couldn’t possibly be exhaustive, but I have done my best to read everything I can get my grubby little hands on. All sorts of things have been speaking to me lately. I thought I would share a few. The first was quoted a while back by my cousin Chanelle. I scribbled it on a piece of paper and shoved it in my master’s project notebook. The reasons why are obvious. The others are poetry that came up in my quest for titles and further inspiration.
From The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager by Thomas Hine
The point of looking back is not to observe that everything that happens is for the best. History is far too horrifying to support that point of view. What looking back does tell us is that all sorts of things can and do happen. It shows us that even the family, that institution we so often identify as the bedrock of human life, has changed significantly several times during the relatively short span of American history.
Driving by Dina Ben-Lev
The summer our marriage failed
we picked sage to sweeten our hot dark car.
We sat in the yard with heavy glasses of iced tea,
talking about which seeds to sow
when the soil was cool. Praising our large, smooth spinach
leaves, free this year of Fusarium wilt,
downy mildew, blue mold. And then we spoke of flowers,
and there was a joke, you said, about old florists
who were forced to make other arrangements.
Delphiniums flared along the back fence.
All summer it hurt to look at you.
I heard a woman on the bus say, "He and I were going
in different directions." As if it had something to do
with a latitude or a pole. Trying to write down
how love empties itself from a house, how a view
changes, how the sign for infinity turns into a noose
for a couple. Trying to say that weather weighed
down all the streets we traveled on, that if gravel sinks,
it keeps sinking. How can I blame you who kneeled day
after day in wet soil, pulling slugs from the seedlings?
You who built a ten-foot arch for the beans, who hated
a bird feeder left unfilled. You who gave
carrots to a gang of girls on bicycles.
On our last trip we drove through rain
to a town lit with vacancies.
We'd come to watch whales. At the dock we met
five other couples—all of us fluorescent,
waterproof, ready for the pitch and frequency
of the motor that would lure these great mammals
near. The boat chugged forward—trailing a long,
creamy wake. The captain spoke from a loudspeaker:
In winter gray whales love Laguna Guerrero; it's warm
and calm, no killer whales gulp down their calves.
Today we'll see them on their way to Alaska. If we
get close enough, observe their eyes—they're bigger
than baseballs, but can only look down. Whales can
communicate at a distance of 300 miles—but it's
my guess they're all saying, Can you hear me?
His laughter crackled. When he told us Pink Floyd is slang
for a whale's two-foot penis, I stopped listening.
The boat rocked, and for two hours our eyes
were lost in the waves—but no whales surfaced, blowing
or breaching or expelling water through baleen plates.
Again and again you patiently wiped the spray
from your glasses. We smiled to each other, good
troopers used to disappointment. On the way back
you pointed at cormorants riding the waves--
you knew them by name: the Brants, the Pelagic,
the double-breasted. I only said, I'm sure
whales were swimming under us by the dozens.
Trying to write that I loved the work of an argument,
the exhaustion of forgiving, the next morning,
washing our handprints off the wineglasses. How I loved
sitting with our friends under the plum trees,
in the white wire chairs, at the glass table. How you
stood by the grill, delicately broiling the fish. How
the dill grew tall by the window. Trying to explain
how camellias spoil and bloom at the same time,
how their perfume makes lovers ache. Trying
to describe the ways sex darkens
and dies, how two bodies can lie
together, entwined, out of habit.
Finding themselves later, tired, by a fire,
on an old couch that no longer reassures.
The night we eloped we drove to the rainforest
and found ourselves in fog so thick
our lights were useless. There's no choice,
you said, we must have faith in our blindness.
How I believed you. Trying to imagine
the road beneath us, we inched forward,
honking, gently, again and again.
Family Reunion by Jeredith Merrin
The divorced mother and her divorcing
daughter. The about-to-be ex-son-in-law
and the ex-husband's adopted son.
The divorcing daughter's child, who is
the step-nephew of the ex-husband's
adopted son. Everyone cordial:
the ex-husband's second wife
friendly to the first wife, warm
to the divorcing daughter's child's
great-grandmother, who was herself
long ago divorced. Everyone
grown used to the idea of divorce
Almost everyone has separated
from the landscape of childhood.
Collections of people in cities
are divorced from clean air and stars.
Toddlers in day care are parted
from working parents, schoolchildren
from the assumption of unbloodied
daylong safety. Old people die apart
from all they've gathered over time,
and in strange beds. Adults
grow estranged from a God
evidently divorced from history;
most are cut off from their own
histories, each of which waits
like a child left at day care.
What if you turned back for a moment
and put your arms around yours?
Yes, you might be late for work;
no, your history doesn't smell sweet
like a toddler's head. But look
at those small round wrists,
that short-legged, comical walk.
Caress your history—who else will?
Promise to come back later.
Pay attention when it asks you
simple questions: Where are we going?
Is it scary? What happened? Can
I have more now? Who is that?
Today is/was an epic day. I'm not entirely sure that today is a different day from yesterday... I'm not sure how long you have to sleep for a day to qualify as a new one.
People other than myself have now heard my piece. The first person--my roommate Rachel (who I guess now qualifies as my former roommate as I drove her to the airport for her move to Utah this morning at 5am). The piece is still in rough rough rough cut stages, but she seemed to emotionally connect. The real test came when I played it for my fellow graduate students in my Graduate Sound Design course. Some of my favorite feedback:
I chatted with Pierre for a bit today, too. We talked about the drama at the audio suites (read previous post) and ways to make my piece gel a bit more. We talked about the sound design in No Country for Old Men and how, like the film, I could potentially come up with something that is just barely audible that operates as a bed throughout the whole piece. I needed to do something like that or record a 30-minute track of room tone to make it possible for poetic silences. So, I am doing the former. I am excited about my idea and I REALLY hope it works. Again, I'll report when things are 100% decided.
There is so much snowballing going on right now (this project and my production book is due to Graduate Studies in TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY), but one of the MOST EXCITING parts of the day... Jared Mooney of Dirty Water Sound & Music agreed to help me with my mastering!!!!!! THIS IS A PRAYER ANSWERED. He is also a Broadcast Recording Technician at WBUR, and his job there is to do just this... help pathetic producers who are great at content but suck at EQ, gain staging, and mastering. I cannot explain the joy this brings to my heart and he deserves some sort of mega-prize. Mooney, my family, and the transcription brigade... I could not have done it without you.
So, like I mentioned. TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY. Voice-over re-write. Voice-over re-record. Start (!!) work on production book. Get session data from Mooney and import into my session. Edit. Add voice-overs to my session. Edit. Final mastering in audio suites at Emerson. Finish production book (this is budgets, reflections, production journal, production schedules, etc.). Get all that crap printed on the special paper with the special margins that Emerson requires. Master some more. Edit some more. Hold on to my piece until the very last moment I can... working on it until the very last moment I can... then turn it in on April 28. Crash.
If you got through all this, you're a champ.
I had a major meltdown tonight at the Emerson audio suites. I booked a suite to record my voiceover parts, and when I got there to record, ALL YOU COULD HEAR is the freaking air conditioner. I ask them if we can turn it off. No. If there is a suite in which you hear it less. No. Can I check out an AKG 414 and 722 and record at home? No. Is there another mic that I CAN take home that will work decently? No. Etc. Etc. Finally, in complete frustration, I just completely start bawling and starting with (seriously, as embarrassing as it is to admit) "NO ONE IS WILLING TO HELP ME!!!!!!!" drama. That's finally what did it. After an hour of everyone shifting me to someone else to solve the issue (seriously? the recording booths don't have proper recording conditions?), I am set up in a classroom. I haven't edited my voiceover yet (so I don't know if they're a completely clean recording), but from the titch that I did hear while monitoring... I think it turned out well. Somewhat sad that I had to freak out for this all to come together, but you know. After said major meltdown, my feelings on my project are still a bit tender.
Enter the loving grace of John Gianvito.
I checked my email again (at the "only 16 days until I have to turn this sucker in" point, I should be ignoring my email, but you know), and this is what awaited me:
I wanted to let you know I have listened to your rough edit and even in this long unmixed form I found myself genuinely moved many times over. I have a variety of small comments that would be easiest delivered in person than via email. Wondered if you had time to drop by on Wednesday at either 1:30 or 2:30pm? If not we'll figure out another time. I do think you have a very strong in the making. John
I'll be going by his office on my lunch break on Wednesday. I'll have my second rough cut done by then if it kills me (which it might).
I am happy to report that I am now on the other side of the intensity that was getting my first rough cut to Pierre and John (the extremely talented members of my master’s committee). I am currently taking Graduate Sound Design with Pierre and I committed to bring my working post script and the corresponding AIFF to class last night. Class starts at 6pm. I arrived at 6:20p, entirely out of breath but attempting to look nonchalant. I say it still counts.
My first rough cut is about 43 minutes long (22 pages written). This cut includes only the sound bites that I want to use… all arranged in the order that I want to use them. To make this happen, I used the efforts of my transcription brigade to do a paper edit of my entire piece (see the photo of my [extremely literal] cutting room floor). I did the paper edit section by section—arranging the order and cutting lines of a master document then editing the audio in my Pro Tools session to reflect that edit. (Fellow producers: This is an excellent way to do it—takes incredibly less time than an edit using audio cues only.)
My weekend includes cutting the sound bite collection down to roughly 20 minutes, writing drafts of my vocal part and working on my transition pieces (short little blips of music/effects/titles/etc. to cue a topical change and/or timeline shift). I met with Pierre for an hour or so after class last night and he gave a host of wonderful suggestions; all of which overwhelm me but have the potential to make the piece really wonderful. I meet with John tomorrow at 5:15p… I’m sure I’ll get another host of overwhelmingly brilliant directional ideas. I wanted to have an even tighter second rough cut for him, but that’s not gonna happen (I have tickets to the Red Sox vs. Yankees game at Fenway tonight!).
GOAL: Final cut by April 21. Gives me exactly one week to master it and fix any random unexpected issues before due date. Friends and family— I guess we’ll talk on April 29?
Well, it is Friday night at 10:13pm and I am still in my office. This is a wonderful thing. It means I am actually doing what I need to do in order to get this piece done (or at least done enough to obtain approval from my master's committee). I have every single bit of audio I collected for this piece all snuggled up in my Pro Tools session. Everything is in its section: courtship, before, cracks, divorce, post, now. Using the transcription done by my amazing Transcription Brigade, I have everything in the audio session reflected in one fat Word document. Twenty-six pages. Over the weekend, I am going to (literally) cut up that Word doc and do a paper edit. I'm sure chunks of paper will be all over my floor. Then, I will organize everything into that order in a new Word doc. Then, I will make my Pro Tools session reflect that Word doc... resulting in my first official rough cut. Oh, and I have to give this to my master's committee by Tuesday. I can do this. Right? (I feel like I've been asking that question a lot lately.)
I finally digitized the tapes I found of my Dad talking to my Mom from his mission in the '70s. I have come up with some really awesome ways to use this archival sound, and I REALLY hope it works. I'm thinking some of this would be amazing as the connective tissue / transitional material between sections... kind of a my-father-as-a-twenty-something commenting on the lives of his future family. This might not make sense on paper, but I think it could be amazing. I'll try it.
Backed up my work on Dropbox, on an external hard drive, and on DVD. I'm not messing around.