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Dialog editing is mostly a matter of cleaning up production sound. The work can be as detailed as reusing a final consonant of one word to complete another where it had been obscured or removing an actor' s denture clicks.

Some of the dialog heard in the completed film was not recorded on location. Shooting silent (MOS) is much easier than having to achieve perfect quiet from the crew, the crowd watching the film, or airplanes and birds passing overhead. Even with the compliance of onlookers, nature, and ubiquitous car alarms, however, miked dialog may be unusable because it picked up extraneous noises such as a squeaky camera dolly or clothing rustle.

Despite these difficulties, directors almost always prefer production dialog, which is an integral part of the actors' performances, to looping (rerecording speech in post-production). Although there is a trend in looping sessions toward using booms and the original microphones to mimic the situation on the set, it is nearly impossible to duplicate all the conditions of the shoot. Orson Welles found that out after shooting the festive horseless carriage ride in The Magnificent Ambersons. Because the scene was photographed in an ice plant with tremendous reverberation (which wouldn't be heard outdoors), the dialog of all six characters had to be looped. When Welles heard the original looping, he rejected it because the voices were much too static; they didn' t sound as though they were spoken by people in an automobile. The sound-man's low-tech solution was to redo all the lines with the performers and himself seated on a twelve-inch plank suspended between sawhorses. For a week, says James G. Stewart, "As we watched the picture I simulated the movement of the car by bouncing the performer and myself up and down on the plank."

It is tough, however, for actors to match later the emotional level they achieved on the set. Ron Bochar, who supervised the sound on Philadelphia, describes the powerful scene where Tom Hanks is responding to an opera recording as a case in point. Ideally the aria and the dialog would be on separately manipulable tracks so that the dialog could be kept intelligible. But Hanks wanted both the freedom to move around and the ability to hear and react to the singing of Maria Callas. As a result, both his dialog and her aria are recorded on the same track and the dialog is less than ideal. But everyone involved agreed that the live performance was preferable to looping the scene. "That' s one of those things about 'mistakes' that get put in because you are forced to or they just happen," says Bochar. "They turn out to be things that you could never re-create. You'd ruin the scene by making it cleaner."

6/24/04 7:55 PM

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