Day Twenty Three

Posted: 2020-06-11 12:00:00


11th June 

I am fortunate to have many actor friends. I often don’t envy them. The life of an actor is a perpetual see saw of ups and downs- unemployment nearly always an endemic threat, and of course never has the actors livelihood been more precarious than it is right now.

Yet it’s always a good day when I bump into someone, coffee cup in hand trudging gaily through Soho on their way to ‘ADR’ a scene from (inevitably) some new Netflix drama. It has always been made out to me like money for old rope- turning up and saying a few lines and getting paid well for it before retiring to The French House for a swift half before getting home in time for Countdown. Now that’s the actors life. Or so I thought.

The reality, as I found out today- is that ADR, or additional dialogue recording, is in fact seriously hard work and an art entirely of itself. As far as I understand it, should sound levels on set not be adequate for any number of reasons, the actors may need to record it back in a session of ADR. This normally takes place in the production suites littered around Soho. I have never known or appreciated the complexity and precision ADR requires. Now I do.

It’s really really hard. It presumably needs someone on the other side of the booth recording that ADR with a very specific skill set- which is a skill set I currently do not have. We were re-recording (for the the third time) the Act 1 scene 5 garden scene which charts the first meeting of Stephen and Isabelle. Last time it was Maddy who was in costume with the rest of the cast in their civvies, this time it was Tom’s turn to dress up to the nines and as Olivia commented ‘he looks very handsome’. This was true. And with Tom’s aesthetic duly noted we re traced our steps with the cast to get Tom into the swing of the scene once again. Yet Tristan needs Tom’s recorded sections to fit precisely into the edit he has now done- this means the timings of all his dialogue has to synchronise. And for this we said goodbye once again to Olivia, Maddy and Stephen.

To achieve what we needed Tristan sent us the edited version of the scene with all Tom’s previous audio muted out. Tom’s task was to synch in with his previous recorded self. Very precisely. My job was to help him.

I’m not sure either of us succeeded.

The first method of playing the scene over zoom through the wonders of Zoom was calamitous due to the delay experienced over the internet connection. Next we tried sending the clip for Tom to play directly from his laptop which worked a little better. But with ADR being pretty new to both of us- we manfully struggled with it for a few takes- all the time knowing that the take recorded with the actors was the strongest. Unable to calibrate Tom’s equipment from afar I marvelled at my own technical inadequacies and inability to help Tom master this tricky technique before ultimately and with great decorum making a tactical withdrawal. This adds further to Tristan’s workload- more on which shortly. At least however we had a very good take, albeit with dodgy timings to fall back on.

So now we enter the returns phase of the process. Actors have been sent props, costumes, guns, phones, laptops, microphone, lighting stands and green screens. We have a cast of 14 and hundreds of items which need returning. So our assistant producer Sam has the unenviable job of arranging all of this. From afar. Today one of our cast was on the golf course when his delivery driver arrived, the email going into their junk folder and remaining dormant and unseen, one of the cast hadn’t loaded up the files from the phone which the delivery man was trying to prise away and so on. Ultimately it will need me to drive around London and the home counties picking up period weaponry and driving it out to Tony with accompanying green screen and phone to record his final sections and return to him his horde of guns. Only then can we rest easy.

A veritable compound noun of creatives met at 5:30pm today. 6 of us met and Tristan looked a bit white, which didn’t bode well. He’d been editing all day- and told us the good news that he had edited 35 minutes of the film. The bad news being implicit in that it meant he still had 55 minutes to go. This before we had even looked at dealing with the transitions, music and sound which really needs to be seen sequentially to make sense of. This means to state the blindingly obvious that time is short. Very short. We have a fixed deadline of 1st July when the show must and will be ready. That deadline is an immoveable object. A big hard concrete wall from which there is no escape.

None of us can claim expertise in this way of working. Dom and Tristan are in a battle to get their filing systems synchronised. Their work goes in tandem with each other and is intimate and complicated. Not being to ever get into the same room adds a level of difficulty none of us are familiar with. 

The idea of a Tristan and Dom ‘Bubble’ was briefly considered and rolled around the mouth for a moment before being disregarded pretty swiftly. Although I would have enjoyed zooming into their new social bubble. I would imagine it would be a cornucopia of headphones, speakers and beer bottles. Alas ww sadly decided it might not, on balance,  be fair on respective partners and young people in their charge and to pursue further. So we moved on.

The things is that our MD James (and my flatmate upstairs in his lair and recording studio/cum bedroom) cannot really write the music until he sees the scenes in some sort of sequence. Until that point we have to do a fair bit of work in the dark. And at this stage it’s not even clear that by finding the money to allow Tristan more man-power to edit would help him, the challenges of remote working on a project like this could mean more time 

spent managing his assistant than simply getting through the edit himself. Basically poor Tristan is now at work on this 7 days a week and all hours between now and the release and there really isn’t very much any of us can do to help him. We will instead keep checking in and hope he doesn’t get too deathly a shade of white in the interim. He is already working daily miracles with his first draft cuts on scenes getting us all volubly excitable.

But if honest, we also all know it will go to the wire and we will have to make important decisions without ever really seeing what we need in order to make them. This means Charlotte and I have to start imagining the look and feel of the piece based on the scenes we have and start getting ahead on elements like the music in more of a topsy turvy fashion than perhaps we would ideally wish.

It helps that we all, bar Tristan, know the material having lived with it for six years or so. Tomorrow James, Charlotte and I will knuckle down on the music and Dom is starting the next stage of his work in earnest. Tristan is going flat out to get us a 40 minute sequence to watch on Monday and from there we should be able bottom down on a filmic/zoom language which we can use to tell this story. This new language really boils down to a use of transitions, the use of music and our use of James on screen who will be playing the music in character as ‘Cartwright’ within the show and also Dom’s use of background and foregrounded sound. Tristan has by now established a largely very clear language in terms of how he using one, two and group shots within the scenes themselves. So we are making progress- perhaps just not quite as quickly as we would like.

Just past 10pm and Tristan sent through more cuts of scenes- and they do continue to surprise me. It’s a like seeing the play we know so well completely freshly. The picture at the top of this diary entry is a shot from the first complete cut of the Tunnel scene in Act 1 which we battled so hard with. It had some rudimentary sound put in as a placeholder- but even with that you got a little sense that maybe, just maybe this really could be quite good.