The Great OVFM Sound Debate


Hi Everyone,

At the club meeting on 4th December, Jim raised the issue of sound levels being adjusted whilst a film is being shown.

What do you think?

There appears to be widely varying views on this matter amongst the membership of the club. Prior to further discussions on this subject at the next committee meeting in January, it would be useful if as many members as possible were to express their thoughts and/or solutions.

All of your opinions are important so please take the time to reply via the website.


Many thanks.

Mike Coad

20 Replies to “The Great OVFM Sound Debate”

  1. From where I was sitting I could see the volume being adjusted quite a few times during the film which detracted from what I was seeing on the screen but it did give me a ‘fuller’ picture when scoring ‘sound’. We probably need the DVD player set at a standard level – don’t ask me how. Perhaps some ‘tuition’ for individuals to ‘set’ the volume on their films – maybe on a one to one with ‘expert’ sitting with the member to see what options are available on their editing suite. Sound levels was covered in a previous training session – I recall something like >>> “keep volume on your tuner at 9′ then amend sound levels on your film through the editing software.
    *** What about a member with a hearing impediment?

  2. Something that I was not given the opportunity on the evening to say in defence of Simon, was that I specifically asked him to increase the sound once the titles were over. This was due to a known problem with the mono > stereo sound of the dialogue [only].

    The reason for this is that the problem in question causes all sorts of glitches, and not just speaking volume. The dialogue was too low (being only half the sound it should have been), but equally the missing sound on one channel allowed the background music to come through at a much higher volume than intended. This was a problem that the editor dealt with perfectly during playback, but which obviously the DVD player did not during the write-out.

    This incidentally has now all been cured, but only by going back into each original sound file using Adobe Audition and running all sorts of processing on them. It has taken me nearly two days to complete, but it is mainly cured (just shame about the ventilator hum on the set…)

    So problems with that specific film aside, my view is that sound volume should NEVER be touched during the playback of a film. Once set at a level, modification of the sound level results in an interpretation of sound volume by a single person, and not what the director of the film intended. There are very specific reasons for reducing sound volume – often for effect when something else is coming along. For the sound to be raised at a point that ‘seems quiet’ to any single individual, detracts totally from the meaning behind the drop and potentially provides the audience with a crashing shock when the normal sound comes back along.

    An adage in the industry is that sound is 50% of the film. In a FINAL film, if the sound is bad – well, the sound is bad. Tough. Get it fixed, or suffer the critique.

  3. Before putting forward a film for showing, I play back my recordings on my PC Monitor Speakers and through headphones as well as via the TV to ensure as best I can that the sound is level. I did this for my last entry and the sound appeared to be OK throughout but NOT when it was played through the Club’s equipment; Simon had to adjust it a few times. Could it be that the Club’s system is either at fault or is too critical? I mention this as yet again I and several other spectators at the Club’s Autumn show found the sound from some Films to be poor – in fact in one instance almost unintelligible.

    Mention was made at the last Top Ten evening of Members having quite sophisticated sound monitoring equipment. Fine, but not all of us have it and so are not able to compete on an equal basis. If our projectionist is able to adjust the sound on the showing is this really too unacceptable?

  4. I think because of the variation in people’s equipment/editing software, the projectionist is entitled to adjust the sound ONCE at the begionning of a mnovie if it sounds too high or low – and then to leave it. If a case such as Craig’s is encountered, then it would simple for the projectionist (thass yoo, Si ol’ chap!) to announce at the start that he has been asked to adjust sound because…etc. We are all on a learning curve. Let’s not nail peolple to the floor because of that. Set it once at the start if need be – then sound levels should reflect the film-makers intentions.

  5. … and less get them thar spell chequers working when we make posts. Sorry about my sausage-like fingers…. Occasionally I hit the right key. 🙁

  6. As I said at the meeting, it’s no good us sitting there unable to hear a commentary just because the titles were loud and then the rest of the commentary was too quiet.
    When judges are cloistered in a room and parts of the film are too loud or too quiet they adjust the sound, but make a mental note to knock off marks. That seems sensible to me.
    So the projectionist should adjust if necessary but let us all know.
    Colin Jones.

  7. I think that it is reasonable for the projectionist to do a one-off adjustment of the sound level towards the beginning of the film to make it comfortable. However I think that the levels should not then be adjusted during the film to compensate for loud or soft passages.
    Showing films to an audience is a great way to learn about your own film and how it is received by that audience. If you have built in variations in sound during the film to create an effect, you need to be able to calibrate how well this worked on a big screen. If you have overdone it then you need to know. You cannot know how well it has worked if the projectionist is making changes during the film.

  8. … Furthermore, if you enter a film into a competition, you should be judged on the film – as supplied. Not as tweaked during its showing.
    No one would expect the projectionist (if technically possible) to adjust brightness or contrast to correct for badly exposed shots.

  9. There is a sound issue about which I would like to learn more and it became apparent in the editing of Disastermind Mind. It was necessary/ appropriate to import some sound effects, but as Chris rightly pointed out the sound , balance/quality/whatever else might be applicable, was, at times, not the best it might have been (although we still won, YEAH!). A lesson from a ‘sound expert’ on this matter could be very rewarding and would lead to greater enjoyment at club evenings, not only for the viewers, but for the maker of the film. Like many other club members, I have some sound editing software, but knowing how to make the best use of it is difficult, to say the least. It seems to be agreed that sound is as important as the visual image so, a training evening(s) on this seems to me, would be beneficial.


    repeated from an email already distributed

  10. Regarding the sound levels in our finished video productions. I have previously made my comments on this subject but they were not too popular at the time. I have to say that in order to judge fairly, we should not interfere with the sound level of competition films once the film has started, in fact I would go further and say that once set at a level with a known “good” film, the level should should not be changed for the competition entries until all have been shown. We had this as a rule at the Ashford club and within a few weeks almost all films were made to a fairly constant audio level. As a regular projectionist for the mobile film shows at the time, I found this a great help in presenting a reasonably polished show to many groups around the villages. The club members found that competition judging became more realistic and visiting judges agreed that they liked the system.
    A final point on this subject, I always walked to the back of any hall that we used and set the volume to suit a few people seated at the back and middle of the room, NOT always the most comfortable level for the projection team but in general it suited the majority of the audience.

  11. A further note regarding audio level. I used to set the audio track to max peak at 0db. I then read somewhere (possibly in film and videomaker) that the correct setting should be -6db for output to DVD. Perhaps one of our more technically knowledgeable members could give us some guidance? For the benefit of those members who are not sure where to look, this is possible within the audio settings (I use Pinnacle studio 14 ultimate)hope this helps.

  12. The general opinion seems to be that the sound should not be adjusted once the film has started. I think Alan Smith’s idea of using a good film to set up the sound is a good one.
    What about using a test disc to set up the sound on competition nights? It could be a commercial disk with speech and music on it. The sound could be adjusted to an acceptable level before any entries are played and not altered again. If any entries are too loud or too soft – so be it – they will be judged accordingly. The same disk would be used on each competition night.
    I use Pinnacle Studio which has sound level indicators for each track which can be adjusted separately. I presume other editing suites have something similar so getting the right level shouldn’t be too much of an editing problem.

    Glad to see the website back. Well done Lee.

  13. I think regulating the sound level on a finished film is the most difficult thing to do.I always spend at least two hours, with headphones and the sound level monitor running through the whole timeline. I make sure that all my dialogue is on both channels, changing it if needed. One of my mikes only records on one channel.
    Although there is a good reason to use a good film as a ‘marker’ for the evening, it could be the making of a very uncomfortable session( I find loud sound tracks extremely painful)and if some soundtracks are too quiet, what a waste of an otherwise good film.
    Let’s go for the ‘set it once at the beginning of the film’ and unless its absolutely way over top or bottom, leave alone.Question the projectionist before judging.
    Lastly an evening on sound would be an excellent idea.things like fading atmos sound in and out,where is it best to record your dialogue etc

  14. Let’s be honest here, we’ve all bought “proper” DVDs Blu-rays, etc where the sound levels have differed from disc to disc so it shouldn’t be *that* unexpected for a slight differential in sound levels between our homemade films.

    That said, as pertaining to club films playback, it seems that we’re pretty much in agreement that an adjustment by the projectionist at the start of a film may be necessary and is therefore acceptable, but if the audio fluctuates wildly during the film then – during competition nights – we should mark it accordingly.

    Happy with that, Jim? 😉

  15. Thank you everyone for your thoughts. It looks as if my view is shared by many in our club.
    My system is Grass Valley Edius. It features an on-screen sound level meter for each channel The recommendation by Grass Valley is to average the sound level at
    -12Db. In fact, this is the sound level on the colour bars insert which is intended for use to match playback kit with the recording.
    I agree that we are going to get differences between systems and that the projectionist needs to set to the opening sound, not easy if the opening passage is quiet! I’m still uncomfortable with the projectionist having to adjust during a showing however, I agree that this should be stated before any comments are made or marking starts.
    The pros used the Academy countdown clip with a sound tone to enable the projectionist to set the sound level for a particular film before it was actually projected on to a screen. My first edit system was a German system by FAST gmbh and it featured a mandatory colour bar and sound tone for 30 seconds with a total leadin time of 2 minutes. So the projectionist could set his average sound level and presumably check the colur match somehow, possibly on video transmission systems.
    Anyway, this may not be the last word as I agree that an expert’s view on this subject would be worth seeking with demostrations. Asa participating amateur, I would be willing to bring my system on a laptop to demonstrate my own approach with sample clips for dialogue, environmental sound, music and the mixing facility.

  16. Sorry it’s taken so long to comment but, in my opinion, once a fim has started then the sound should be adjusted once only at the start UNLESS the film maker has indicated to the projectionist AND the audience/judges that this is a ‘work in prgoress’ and may need sound adjustments during screening. It should then be assessed purely as a ‘work in progress’ until its final screening as a finished article.

    Barbara J

  17. Better late than never?
    If it’s agreed to set the sound level at the bginning of a film what about those that the maker want to start extra quietly to make it spooky, or to make the audience jump when it’s followed by a loud noise?
    When I wanted one of my films to be loud at the start then settle down I made sure the projectionists were aware of this, so I recommend we add ‘sound guidance’ to the list that Lee gave – your name, the title, picture ratio (16:9 or 4:3) and running time.
    I doubt we’ll ever get it all right, especially as projectionists themselves have different levels of hearing and often sit very close to the speakers, whether it’s under, behind or in front of them!

  18. ref comment by Annabelle,my first post included my procedure when I was projectionist for the mobile film shows at Ashford. May I repeat it, I used to walk to the back of the various halls that we visited and check that the volume was acceptable to people at the back and centre. Not always the most comfortable for the projection team(we were three) May I also mention that I think Simon is doing a great job.

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