After filming has wrapped, sound effects have been added, the music recorded or licensed, and all cuts and changes have been approved, a movie enters the production stage called picture lock. That's when the supervising sound editor begins the painstaking process of fashioning a final soundtrack from a film's many sonic components. These include production sound (the dialogue and ambient noises captured during shooting), foley (reproduced sounds), ADR (automated dialogue replacement), walla (crowd noises), sound effects, and music.
While supervising sound editors may do a certain amount of editing themselves, their primary job is to oversee the work of a full team of dialogue editors, sound effects editors, and music editors, ensuring that post-production sound stays on schedule.
Once the effects and dialogue are pristine and perfectly situated within the film, the supervising sound editor stitches them together with the composer's score and the music supervisor's song selections, creating a complete sound experience to accompany the moving picture. The work is done using a DAW (digital audio workstation), which stores all the sounds in separate files and allows the editor to synchronize each one with particular frames in the film. When the sound editor's job is finished, the completed soundtrack is sent off to a re-recording mixer to be balanced and mastered, a process for which the supervising sound editor is likely to be present.
At a Glance
This is the highest position in the audio post-production team in the film and TV industries. Many supervising sound editors start out as audio interns with a network or studio. From there, one must typically choose a path: focusing on dialogue, music, or effects. Those who become supervising sound editors are likely to cycle through at least two or possibly all three of these tracks, gaining deep knowledge of the art of sound editing and the film industry's conventions. Eventually, a senior editor may be selected as an assistant supervising sound editor on a film, and in a subsequent project become the supervising sound editor.
Sound editors usually work as freelancers, hired by film and television producers on a per-project basis. They can also be employed full-time by post-production sound studios, and in rare cases by film or television studios.
At the beginning of the career, an internship with a television network or film studio is the best way to gain initial experience, sharpen skills, and get a feel for this kind of work. It can also be helpful to edit sound on a student film, independent film, or web series. While openings may sometimes be posted on online job listing sites, as with many gigs in the entertainment industry, getting a job in sound editing is largely dependent on networking and word-of-mouth recommendation. This is why attending film events and panels—where connections can be made with industry figures—can kick-start one's career.
- Sound design
- Audio editing
- Film/video editing
- Exceptional ears
While the other sound editors spend the bulk of their work days at an audio workstation with headphones on, supervising sound editors do not have that luxury. Their primary responsibility is the soundtrack, and they must communicate, set goals, build long-term schedules, and motivate the rest of the team so that it's ready in time. In other words, they must lead. Because deadlines are often pressing in this industry, it's vital to remain clear-headed and focused while under pressure. Also important is a passion for visual media and a real feel for how sound and images work together to create compelling art and entertainment.
Supervising sound editors have intense schedules when working on a film, which might last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, and sometimes toil more than 12 hours per day. Fortunately, they get to take a break from this rapid pace when the work is done, as most sound editors are freelance and will need to find a new project. Sound editors in the television industry do similar work, but on a smaller scale, in a shorter time frame, and with more consistent employment prospects, although that depends on the success of the show.