Dialogue editing is the least creative work, so I start there. I smooth dialog via editing using J-cuts and L-cuts (aka: split edits), crossfades, and room tone fills. I also do no noise reduction and leave that for the premix stage.
Dialogue editing requires a lot of track checkboarding to get things isolated. It’s difficult, tedious work. I can usually only do that for about four hours before I want to go Ernest Hemingway.
Therefore, I turn my attention to building the other elements that support the dialogue just finished.
That means backgrounds, obvious sound effects, and Foley. Some of my ‘Foley’ comes from sound effects and other Foley sessions done in the past, so I put that in first.
I do other real Foley sessions at various times throughout the project because it’s fun and breaks up the tedium of the other work. You’d be surprised how much Foley you can do with very simple materials.
I always work on the first 3-5 minutes and the last 3-5 minutes first. This enables revisiting those crucial moments many times before the thing is done.
If you are going to have bad sound anywhere in the film, make it the middle and not the ends. The start brings the audience into the film’s world so it has to be really good and the end sound is what people remember most.
I keep my timeline very organized using color coding and grouping/busing like sounds together. At first, I’m a bit stingy with tracks, and usually end up moving sounds around to more tracks later in the process. The typical film ends up between 85 to 100 tracks in the end.
I do a little bit of mixing as I go along, mostly fitting backgrounds and sound effects in, but generally it’s an ‘all faders up’ mix at this stage.
I prefer clip-based automation (fades, levels, etc.) over track-based at this stage. I listen to elements on their own – such as a pass of just Foley — which always reveals missing elements and other issues. Fresh ears are invaluable!
I send versions to the director as the film comes together and that generates notes for changing things.
I tend to be a ‘kitchen sink’ guy and put everything in — to give the director choices — and then strip stuff away until we find the film’s sound. It’s a variation on the ask forgiveness instead of asking permission kind of thing.