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Cinema playback levels and mixing (again)
Old 27th September 2012
  #1
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🎧 15 years
Cinema playback levels and mixing (again)

Rant on!

I know it's been discussed before.
Yesterday I recieved an email from a director asking why his film was low compared to "other" movies.

I HATE THIS SO MUCH RIGHT NOW!

Felt nice to scream a bit.
WTF is a mixer to do when even the large screens play back at six db lower then they are supposed to according to the real standard, and claiming its become company policy!?

Mix to 79?! I might as well just mix for TV and be done with it then.
Goodbye dynamic range and goodbye mixing intentions. Just squash it all and not caring?

although I'm really against regulations in general, I'm actually thinking that a LUFS standard for features is needed as well to stop "loud mouths" that mix (and directors that create wall to wall noise content films, I really don't blame the mixers that much) so hot that cinema owners keep lowering the levels and hurting everyone else, and to reinstate the proper playback level at cinemas once again.

And I don't even mix at fader seven any more, and feel bad about not doing it, but I do make sure my mixes are still enjoyable at seven, although are a bit older than I'd like them to.

But a difference if six db in reference level? That I don't know how to handle...
Old 27th September 2012
  #2
Registered User
 
🎧 15 years
This is sad:(.
I really hope the proper level at cinemas will stay/come back. The mixes are becoming very hot. This is maybe OK in the civilized world but take a country with 1 proper cinema with a badly calibrated, outdated sound system (welcome to my world ). It is just painful!.
I stopped watching movies there and I'm forbidding it to my kids as well. It sounds better in my studio then there LOL.
If the loudness war will start in cinema as well then Good Night. It is the only medium right now that I enjoy. There is nothing better then an explosion at 95dB .
Old 27th September 2012
  #3
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Henchman's Avatar
 
🎧 20 years
Tell the director to talk to the theatre owners.
They have control over the volume knob. Not you.
Old 27th September 2012
  #4
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I know how you feel! I mix for playback at 7, and I stick to my guns and explain as much to directors and producers.
It's a painful process, but as long as every one takes care of checking the theatres prior to important screenings, and setting the proper level beforehand (called a screening "rehearsal" over here), there shouldn't be a reason for the director to hear the mix at any other level than the proper one.
The director should also be aware that film theatres all over the world are, well... all over the place calibration-wise, even though there IS still a standard (85dB (C) per screen channel for a -20dB pink).

If the director is at a screening in a theatre that refuses to play the film at it's proper level, then he should refuse to screen it until they fix it. He should also be sticking to his guns, and making sure that his film is viewed in the best possible conditions.

A director would not be happy with an out-of-focus or severely underlit picture, why should he accept that the mix he made with you not be respected by the cinema?
Old 27th September 2012
  #5
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🎧 10 years
LUFS makes perfect sense. Director wants it loud? No problem, you can still "go to eleven" in spots. Director wants it loud all the time? Overall level will be lower...

General playback level in cinemas over here in the Netherlands seems to be about 5.5.
Old 27th September 2012
  #6
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Kuba_Pietrzak's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
The same here in Poland... And this is what I mix to...

Kuba
Old 27th September 2012
  #7
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We have a cinema here that plays back at 3.8. Beat that!
Old 27th September 2012
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Garret ➡️
We have a cinema here that plays back at 3.8. Beat that!
Ugh! What next cinemas were you need headphones?

Sent from my XT910
Old 27th September 2012
  #9
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🎧 10 years
Be afraid, be very afraid...

Cinema playback levels and mixing (again)-3978093372_488f7bd808.jpg
Old 27th September 2012
  #10
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🎧 15 years
I agree that it's all a director call. They need to understand how their work will translate in playback situations they will have no control over, and still have what they do work. They can't blame the sound people for this, this variability is built in to the entire distribution of all media everywhere. "Consumer Choice"! Just like composers can't count on there being huge low end avail in a playback system, the director can't count on proper overall playback levels, and had better make sure that all their dialog is intelligible no matter what level the movie is played at.

phil p
Old 27th September 2012
  #11
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🎧 15 years
Phil

But that was the point of having a level standard in cinemas, NOT having to mix to the lowest common denominator...

Whenever you mix to 5.5 playback level, then it's not possible to listen to it at 7 that will be deafening.
And the louder we as a collective mix the more they will lower the playback level!
Old 27th September 2012
  #12
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🎧 15 years
Of course informing him about how it works and why makes him understand the problem, but his film will still be played back at to low level a lot of the time it's shown, that's not changing whatever I say. He can complain to the cinema staff and they might raise it, and when he leaves it'll get turned down again I bet...
Old 27th September 2012 | Show parent
  #13
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Garret ➡️
We have a cinema here that plays back at 3.8. Beat that!
Wow!!
Old 30th September 2012
  #14
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nzl62's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
After years of talking to various Dolby consultants during print master, heads of departments at Dolby UK and adhering to the principal of mixing at fader 7 I have had enough.
When we achieved or Premier room status (first in the UK) I suggested that all the tools were available for Dolby and the studios to sort this out. Key ingredients

1. DCP with metadata
2. Leq measurements
3. New processors that can read said metadata

So in my opinion there was absolutely nothing standing between and measurement and a playback meta data code or even just some ****ing label on the box.
Could be as easy as A = Very loud through to D quiet. Not that bloody hard.

In any other industry it would be criminal then levels that we are forced to endure to mix a loud flik. Conversely why should film makes have to put up with quiet delicate arthouse films being butchered cause the cinemas turn everything down to accomodate the Dark Knight Rises......

Solution

I mixed at 80 (fader 5.7 ish) in a smallish room and translation was spot on.
We print mastered at 85 (fader 7) and there were a small number of areas where dial and foley got a bit wayward but nothing significant.
I told our consultant and although he could not say officially....he agreed.

Average cinema playback in New Zealand now that I have set up here falls between 3.8 and 5.5/6 if you are lucky.
Some cinemas will take pride and adjust while most are set and forget based on directions from head office.

My advice is to experiment a bit. But heres the problem with fader 7 aside from a simple level issue.

Directors / producers etc go to the movies, they build up an aural memory about what that experience is like so even if you are totally comfortable with fader 7, your clients may not be. They will get you to pull things down to what they remember it ought to sound like.

Not a great situation but about to get worse once evryone is on DCP and no LtRt is required....because then there will not be any Dolby consultant around. Boom back to the wild west.

Oh joy....
Old 30th September 2012
  #15
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soundboy's Avatar
 
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I guess the real question is for Dolby. Why is there a user accessible knob on the box in the first place!!!!! It's a standard. If the theater is calibrated to match the mix stage, that's how it should play. If the movie is too damn loud, the patrons can show their displeasure by leaving and asking for their money back. This sends a clear message to producers and directors. Too loud=less money. Standards are set for a reason. The ushers should not be touching the damn equipment!
Old 30th September 2012
  #16
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Henchman's Avatar
 
🎧 20 years
The knob is there to protect the system and speakers for theaters owners from movies like Batman.
Old 30th September 2012
  #17
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The theatre owners are Dolby's customers, not rerecording mixers. I think it is extremely unlikely that theatre owners will allow playback to happen without locally controllable level control. My point about directors is that they need to be realistic about what happens to their soundtrack when it is let loose into the real world of commercial movie theatres. We have the same problem in TV--with wildly varying playback equipment, rooms and setup. A director has to understand that whatever is done will have to work at least ok in a wide variety of rooms and a range of playback levels. I don't see this changing, in fact I see it getting worse.

phil p
Old 30th September 2012
  #18
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
So the question remains, if LUFS is helping reducing the loudness wars on TV, could it be helpfull in the cinema? We as mixers don't loose our headroom and it forces directors to make a choice: where do you want it to be loud, instead of everything louder than everything else.

Dolby ought to be working on something. like nzl62said, they all know that a lot of mixers mix at lower values, but can't officially say something about it. Or maybe Dolby's role is played out in this regard and SMPTE should incorporate it into the DCP standard.
Old 30th September 2012
  #19
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at the first moment I rejected the idea of establishing R128 kind of rules for theatrical playback, but after some time, and after cooling down a bit, I think it might be a good idea.
Some new set of rules will definitely have to be developed, as today's average movie, mixed at 7 measures somewhere between -27 and -29 LUFS, so if you play those mixes on TV, they are too low.
Otoh, it will still not protect us from loud bursts of FX in action movies, which may influence cinema owners to turn it down anyway.
Cinema owners turn down the volume for various reasons, most frequent being the audience's complaints, but also poor isolation between rooms in multiplexes, underpowered playback system, poor installation, etc.
I see that many of you talk about CP fader being set lower than 7, but unfortunately, that is not a reference - I've seen too many contractors and equipment installers in action not having a clue about measurement techniques, especially on low frequencies, so that "fader 7" setting may not be referenced to 85dBC SPL at all. A great number of installer's techs doesn't understand the difference between "A" and "C" weighting, so the levels may actually be all over the place. I've once seen a guy measuring the LFE channel with "A" weighting and telling the cinema owner he should buy a bigger amp!
Old 30th September 2012
  #20
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
Is there anything we, as an international online community of professionals can do to prevent the upcoming DCP loudness wars that is slowly creeping and freaking us out? Put together an 'I will mix at 7' oath"?

As for me, I leave it to client to decide if he wants to go at 7 (ref 85) for the festival circle, or 5.5 (ref 80) for domestic presentation. Right now, I'm finishing a mix where I will print out both versions.
Old 30th September 2012
  #21
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🎧 10 years
As I stated in another discussion here in this forum, I've avoided movie theaters because I've gotten tired of having my brains blown out with the excessive sound levels that result from "calibrated" playback levels. Probably so have many movie theater patrons, and the reaction of the theater owners has been to turn the replay levels down from recommendation. Unfortunate if you mixed the movie soundtrack and used good judgement at setting levels, you get penalized. C'est la vie.
Old 30th September 2012
  #22
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🎧 10 years
A lot of directors are tech-savvy enough to understand the difference between mixing at 5.5 and 7. If they are, they choose to mix at 5.5. Just my experience with both arthouse films and films trying to mimic bigger Hollywood productions.
Old 30th September 2012
  #23
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🎧 10 years
Mixing at a lower calibration level is not a solution. If you mix your project louder, the theaters will just turn it down more. The mix will still play back low and you will have lost your headroom, plus the movie will sound atrocious in high profile, properly calibrated theaters, which is where the people who care about sound go to watch movies. The theaters turn down the volume because people complain and because of the sound leakage between theaters in multi-screen venues. Mixing louder does not address those issues. You can't game the situation, so just mix at 85.
Old 30th September 2012
  #24
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🎧 20 years
Yep. What Gary said.
And I'll repet whst I say everytime this topic comes up after someone has gone to a move they mixed and freak out.

Once the mix leaves the Dubstage, my responsibility ends.
I do not worry one bit how it plays in some crappy calibrated theatre, with 15 year old, half dead speakers, of which half don't even work.

Not my problem.
Old 30th September 2012 | Show parent
  #25
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by ggegan ➡️
Mixing at a lower calibration level is not a solution. If you mix your project louder, the theaters will just turn it down more. The mix will still play back low and you will have lost your headroom, plus the movie will sound atrocious in high profile, properly calibrated theaters, which is where the people who care about sound go to watch movies. The theaters turn down the volume because people complain and because of the sound leakage between theaters in multi-screen venues. Mixing louder does not address those issues. You can't game the situation, so just mix at 85.
As much as I'd like to, I don't get to decide that. But it's not only the crappy theaters where the dial is on 5.5 all the time.
Old 30th September 2012
  #26
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🎧 10 years
I certainly am not listening in "crappy" theaters with 15 year old uncalibrated systems. Quite to the contrary. The theaters I -would- frequent are probably more throughly and accurately calibrated than what you are working with.

The basic problem was touched on years ago when Ioan Allen wrote that "are movies getting louder" paper. The 85 dB level standard was established back when we were essentially all analog, and dynamic ranges were restricted (out of necessity). Now that we're all digital, the calibration level is the same, but the dynamic range certainly isn't, and that is where the problem arises.

Furthermore, previews (aka trailers) are being conspicuously compressed and brightened to the point of causing hearing trauma (they literally make my ears ring). It's not just "arthouse" films that are doing, it's the majors too.

Nobody is blaming the mixing fraternity for causing the problem, so let's not get paranoid. OTOH, ignoring that there is a legitimate complaint and reaction, isn't going to help in solving the problem.
Old 30th September 2012
  #27
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Ad, you missed my point entirely.
Old 30th September 2012
  #28
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nzl62's Avatar
 
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If we still had proper skilled projectionists looking after the multiplexes then this would not be an issue. Quiet films would be treated with the same respect as the loud ones. The processor fader would be adjusted accordingly.
This is not my experience.
I have more often than not met popcorn sellers that have had a 5 minute lesson on the CP650 with a directive from head office to play at 4.5 (or whatever) unless there is a complaint or asked by the director.
I have for a long time had a stance that I cannot legislate for the real world. We mix at 85 in a calibrated room and therefore that is the end of the story. But my clients are used to seeing films in the "real world", they get used to that spl and when confronted with a good sounding mix at 85 they often freak, and start pulling things down. Then they complain that there film was too quiet at the first screening.
Frankly the situation has become a farce and Dolby have to step in to resolve this.
I believe that the very biggest hurdle is Hollywood in respect to any level governance.
In the meantime I will mix loud films at 85 and quiet ones at 80/81 and will do that with an absolutely clear conscience.
Old 30th September 2012 | Show parent
  #29
Gear Addict
 
🎧 10 years
a couple of observations (with some shortcuts):

- there is an ideal theoretical world and a there is the real world
- pointing fingers to Dolby to address the problem is not the solution. Certainly not now DCP is taking over from 35mm and other processors such as QSC are arriving in projection booths (for example QSC Cinema - DCP 200 Digital Cinema Processor)
- as discussed in other threads, some films are just mixed too loud. Playing them at 7 is deafening. And then there's the 1997 Dolby paper by Ioan Allen that already described the problem (http://www.cinematechnologymagazine....0June%2000.pdf)
- as Branko mentioned and Orwell before: "all 7s are equal, but some are more equal than others"
- Dolby SR had some 12 to 14dB headroom. Dolby Digital had 20dB headroom, which was a good idea to cope with true peak levels that the SR headroom was certainly generating in the digital domain. That was until people started thinking that square waves at 0dBFS were a good idea.
- there is probably a cultural difference between what we believe is "average dialog level". Take an average italian, american, french, swedish, dutch and belgian restaurant and I can tell you 2 things: 1. the average dialog level won't be the same in the different countries
2. the belgian restaurant won't be the loudest :-)
- the projectionists in the largest multiplex theater chain here have had the instruction from management to never ever play louder than 5. This has been going on for quite some time now and was decided after too many audience complaints about movies being too loud.
- whenever I have the chance in a cinema, I visit projection booths and talk to projectionists. The last 10 years I have NEVER seen a theater running at 7. Most often it was in the 4 to 6 range and the best one had a enthusiastic projectionist with a written note beside the projector with a specific level at which he would run the different titles (after having checked them out). Unfortunately nowadays it is more often 5 and lower than not.
- when the mix theater and the premiere are the only places a film gets to be shown at the correct level, there is a problem one can't ignore. I (and the producers/directors) do care how an audience will hear a film and our intention is to let them hear what we hear. The last film I mixed at 7 was great at the premiere, but I would never go see it during weekly screenings to avoid level disappointment…
- Using LEQm or LUFS wouldn't be such a bad idea to indicate a film's loudness and address metadata with it to set the playback level. A theater owner could still decide what his average level would be.
- That said the 85LEQm that trailers now are mixed at, was probably chosen a bit too high in hindsight…

Greetings,

Thierry
Old 30th September 2012 | Show parent
  #30
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🎧 20 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by nzl62 ➡️
If we still had proper skilled projectionists looking after the multiplexes then this would not be an issue. Quiet films would be treated with the same respect as the loud ones. The processor fader would be adjusted accordingly.
.
Well, actually, if mixed properly nothing should have to be adjusted.
Quiet or loud.
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