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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Winter 2014

By Tom White

Dear Readers:

This past fall, IDA presented a daylong Doc U devoted to sound and music. Over the course of the day, the leading practitioners in all things aural—recordists, mixers, designers, composers and filmmakers—proffered sage counsel on how to achieve the best sound—ambient, dialogue, music—for your documentary. A veritable feast for the ears! one might exclaim-and a valuable touchstone for a deeper exploration into the issues and topics that arose out of the seminar.

So, beginning with a report on the Doc U , we present our issue on sound and music. Ron Deutsch talks to some seasoned veterans of the music documentary genre—Jonathan Demme, Morgan Neville and Bob Smeaton among them—about everything from constructing a good story to the knotty challenges of clearing songs and licensing footage.

No matter the environment—be it a war zone, the emergency room of a hospital, a public school or a concert hall—you must have the tools and craft to capture the sounds of who and what you're filming. Directors and sound recordists for First Position, Dirty Wars, Brooklyn Castle and The Waiting Room, share their experiences with Bob Fisher about how they overcame the challenges of their respective milieus.

The music you choose for your film, whether it's composed or acquired, makes a critical difference in enhancing the emotional reality of the story. Miriam Cutler, one of the more acclaimed composers in documentary today, shares a comprehensive primer for what it takes to effect a symbiotic composer-filmmaker partnership and render the best score for your film.

Part and parcel with how a film sings is how a film sounds. Sound supervisor/mixer James LeBrecht, who, through his company Berkeley Sound Artists, has worked on some of the most acclaimed documentaries coming out of the San Francisco Bay Area over the past 15 years, offers his advice about getting a good sound mix.

This year witnessed the passing of one of the true geniuses of audio technology, Ray Dolby, whose noise reduction system formed the foundation for further innovation in entertainment and communications. The enterprise that bears his name, Dolby Labs, launched the Dolby Institute this year, an educational initiative devoted to the use of sound technology as a creative tool. Suzanne Curtis Campbell talks to Institute director Glenn Kiser about his goals for working with filmmakers.

Finally, while conjuring the soundtrack for your documentary may be a fulfilling pastime, clearing the songs that you settle on is one of the more arduous tasks in the documentary practice. That's where a music supervisor can help, and Brooke Wentz, a longtime veteran of that field, spells out exactly what she does regarding the clearance process.

You might also want to explore licensing through music libraries. Lonnie Sill, director of the Film/TV division of FirstCom Music, provides a valuable resource for finding the right music library that will make a difference both artistically and fiscally.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White