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Making Remote Audio Post Workflows a Success with Karol Urban, MPSE & President CAS

Olivia Broadley
Jul 12, 2021
5 min read

The final stages of the creative process are often the most essential – and the ones at most risk of being lost when workflows are torn apart. Critical decisions are affected greatly when client and editor, colourist or dubbing mixer are tasked with making nuanced adjustments to the sound and picture without the ability to share the screen in front of them.

When COVID-19 threatened to terminate this social connection, Karol Urban MPSE and current president of Cinema Audio Society (CAS) was ready to plug it right back in.

“We already had an amazing workflow for remote approvals when the pandemic started,” Urban explains. “It was just a matter of taking the workflow we had used so successfully over a number of seasons for one client and offering it to everyone.[Sohonet] ClearView Flex has been absolutely fantastic.”

Urban is a hugely experienced and in-demand re-recording mixer for television and feature films. At Westwind Media in Burbank, she and Kurt Kassulke CAS had been using a remote approval system to help some clients overcome the logistical challenge of LA’s notorious traffic and maximize their productivity.

“I mixed New Girl and then Single Parents (both of which were done at Fox) and the executives expressed a preference to perform approvals remotely to save them time traveling over the hill from the Fox lot,” she says.

“Ultimately, we secured a ClearView Flex system and our engineering staff at Westwind crafted a superb workflow that allows us to stream high-quality video and audio to up to five different users simultaneously.”

She notes, “We were using a different service previously but the satisfaction and reliability went through the roof when we went with ClearView Flex.”

In fact, Urban used this remote approval workflow on each of the 45 episodes over two seasons of Single Parents for ABC. “The show was wonderful to work on,” she shares. “From PA to EP everyone involved was 100 percent team oriented. So much so that the EPs and editors would make an effort to come onto the dub stage in person at least once a season because we were part of their team.”

The system at Westwind Stage 3 is configured so that signals from the in-board talkback of its control surfaces are fed directly to the ClearView Flexbox. This enables Urban and Kassulke to chat with multiple users through a live stream while hearing the client’s notes and discussion through a conference call. 

“Our chief engineer Craig Holbrook did an incredible job streamlining this workflow. A technician oversees the session from the machine room to monitor for any technical concerns so if anybody does have any issue they are already sent a new link often before the client even notices. They are constantly monitoring the signals to make sure everyone can view the stream.”

Having perfected this system of remote approval for major broadcast network shows it was straightforward to pivot when the pandemic struck.

“Everyone needed to decrease their contact time overnight but ClearView Flex came to the rescue,” Urban says.

This wasn’t just for the shows she was working on either. Westwind began offering ClearView Flex as an option to other productions in the facility. It allowed Westwind to remain on the dub stage while strictly adhering to safety guidelines and ensuring that a quality product was delivered on deadline.

“I work on a traditional two mixer dub stage. There is plenty of room for my co-mixer and I to work with at least 6 feet between us, even while sharing our board,” Urban explains.

“Usually, it’s just me and my mixing partner in the room and our engineering staff tries to remedy any technical issues and setup duties remotely. The machine core is in another space in the building so they rarely need to come in.  Sound Supervisors and Music Editors work remotely and fly in material via our secure server.”

She continues, “When the mix is ready to present, we allow a couple EPs, writers, directors, or editors in the backfield if they would prefer to approve in person. This allows enough space for the recommended social distancing. Then we schedule a Clearview Flex review session with engineering if anyone prefers to weigh in remotely.”

By the end of March, nearly all producers, editors, and writers were remotely approving. Urban finished season 2 of Boomerang for BET (produced by Paramount TV Studios, Hillman Grad Productions, 606 Television and DeEtte Productions) and multiple episodes of S16 of Grey’s Anatomy (Shondaland Productions) for ABC using ClearView Flex.

When shut down became really tight and leaving home was discouraged for non-essential businesses, she was forced to remote work from home.

“I did not have ClearView Flex. I used another tech and I was not nearly as pleased. I was very excited to get my ClearView Flex back. There is a discernible difference in reliability and quality.”

To reduce her time in the studio, Urban has also been pre-dubbing at home. “My private studio is calibrated three ways to Sunday and is Atmos capable. I have temperature regulating iso racks for all my gear, an AVID S3 and Dock, JBLs, and a full complement of plug-ins, but it is not a dub stage. My room at Westwind is so beautifully balanced. It was natively constructed to be THX compliant and is currently Dolby Atmos certified. 

“I prefer to go there at a minimum for a final QC listen. Visiting the dub stage provides me with a chance to break the monotony of staring at the walls at home. The room has an isolated entrance to the outside and is routinely cleaned. It’s safe and I can run my files in that calibrated space… they also have ClearView Flex capabilities!”

When clients could no longer go into the studio and were all at home in full remote mode ClearView Flex proved its mettle. Urban says, “I’ve never had a complaint about quality of sound or picture.”

Now that production is gradually getting up and running, Urban predicts a deluge of work coming their way. Much of this will be completed using remote workflows and not just because of enforced social distancing.

“My favorite part of mixing is analyzing the script and molding the narrative in group discussions on the dub stage but, in truth, budgets have got smaller, schedules have got tighter, and at the same time there’s been a trend to have more and more people in the room for reviews. And more perspectives naturally beget more discussion and requires more time.”

“While I miss having time to interact with people face to face, as far as productivity is concerned this forced isolation has assisted efficiency in some ways because my clients are asking themselves whether they need to be physically present or not. My creative teams have begun consolidating and pre-discussing notes.”

“People are prioritizing notes and prioritizing those who attend the mix. The result is a reduction in notes and less conflicting perspectives that need to be discussed and worked through.  This affords me more time to address noise and add nuance to my mix. What we’re learning from this process is to prioritize what is important and make ourselves more efficient and I believe as a result remote workflow may be here to stay.”

She concludes, “ClearView Flex has been a great solution. I know it’s key to our workflow moving forward. I’m excited about it. ClearView Flex has allowed us to expand our seats and make sure we respect everyone’s health. It is currently an essential element to our success.”

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