What does a Sound Editor do?
Sound Editors manage the team that looks after each part of the sound of a film or TV drama. This includes those responsible for dialogue, additional dialogue recording (ADR), sound effects, background sounds, and Foley.
Their role varies according to the budget of the production. On lower-budget films, they start work when the picture Editor has achieved picture lock – the point at which the Director or Producer has given the final approval for the picture edit. On bigger budget films, they start work before shooting begins and appoint specialist Sound Editors to supervise separate teams for each area of work.
After picture lock, Sound Editors attend a “spotting session” with the Director and other Sound Editors. They discuss any concepts for the overall feel of the sound (naturalistic or stylized), and check every sound effect and line of dialogue to see what’s needed.
They will then have a hands-on role in creating the overall soundtrack for every discipline.
They are responsible for the sound budget and for organizing the workflow – from sound editorial, foley recording, ADR sessions, pre-mix to the final mix, and making plans for any special requirements. After the final mix, Sound Editors usually oversee the creation of the different deliverables, including a music and effects version which allows dialogue to be replaced with dialogue in different languages.
Among the challenges that Sound Editors face are creatively adding together various elements to create believable sounds representing everything you see on screen. The Sound Editor must put all the elements of sound together in a way that not only sounds seamless and natural but also heightens the dramatic tension or emotional impact that the Director wants in each scene.
What's a Sound Editor good at?
Have a good ear, know what sounds good, be able to hear sounds that shouldn’t be there
Understand the process of film production, appreciate how sound contributes to the narrative
Record sound, use editing software, and understand how sound is made
Budget, recruit staff, plan the workflow, and work to the deadline
Understand the vision of the director, work with actors replicating dialogue with ADR, collaborate with the producers, picture editor, and sound editors
Attention to detail
Be patient, and attend to the smallest sounds, often under pressure in the final mix stage
Who does a Sound Editor work with?
Sound Editors work closely with the Director, Editor, and the Post-production Supervisor, who is responsible for the smooth running of the whole post-production process. They also work with the following people in the post-production sound department.
Music Editors intensify the emotional impact of a film by creating the soundtrack. They contribute mood, atmosphere, and the occasional catchy theme tune.
Sound Designers are concerned with all the sound effects whether that be gunshots, clocks, doors closing, dog barking (spot effects) or rain, wind, traffic, birdsong (atmosphere effects), or special effects such as aliens talking.
Foley Editors add subtle sounds that production microphones often miss. These often relate to movement, such as footsteps, fights, fist banging on a door, or pouring wine, shards of glass falling from a broken window. The process gives scenes added realism. They note every Foley effect that is required and works out how to create that sound in special studios. They create the sounds with Foley Artists in front of a projected picture and may try several different ways to get the right effect. After the studio recording, Foley Editors fit all the Foleys to the images in perfect sync.
Re-recording Mixers mix a soundtrack for preview sessions. They work at large mixing consoles smoothing out sound and adding a temporary music soundtrack prepared by the Music Editor. After previews, when the film or show has been re-cut, Re-recording Mixers further pre-mix the sound and reduce the number of tracks in preparation for the final mix. In the final mix, the soundtrack is refined in consultation with the director and mixed to industry standards.
ADR Mixer or ADR Dialogue Editor
ADR Mixers review the original sound files of a production to spot technical or performance-related problems and analyze whether they could be replaced by an alternate take. Working on a digital audio workstation (DAW), they use editing software to cut between a number of takes to create crisp clean lines of dialogue. If this isn’t possible they will use additional dialogue recording (ADR). This is where actors come in for a voice recording session, watching themselves on screen and re-voicing as accurately as possible. After the newly recorded ADR has been edited into the original track, ADR Mixers work to make all background or ambient sound smooth.
Descriptive Video Transcriber
Descriptive Video Transcribers are responsible for creating detailed descriptions to be provided in cinemas or as home-viewing additional soundtracks for visually-impaired viewers. They use a specially designed programme that simultaneously displays the film script, actual image, and timecodes to enable them to write their own narration according to precise timing. Once the audio description script is prepared they will spend several days recording and mixing the new specific soundtrack, which will be reviewed by the Distributor.
How do I become a Sound Editor?
Most Sound Editors begin as Production Assistants in post-production or audio post-production houses. They work their way up to Assistant, and Mixer and spend many years perfecting their craft before becoming a Sound Editor. A program in Media or Film studies, concentrating on post-production audio, is useful. Experience using editing software is key, as is working on small projects to build your portfolio.
Make films: Do the sound on student productions. Make a showreel of your work and build your sound portfolio. This is evidence of your practical skills and creativity that you can show collaborators and employers.
For more tips on finding job opportunities, lists of training programmes, and other great resources, check out our Career Resources page.
You might also be interested in…
Our Partner, ScreenSkills UK is the industry-led skills body for the UK screen industries. For further information, www.screenskills.com.
Profiles and profile icons © 2022 ScreenSkills Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the permission of the copyright owner.
Job Profile Design by Dave Gray. Based on an original concept by Ian Murphy/Allan Burrell.