One of the most fascinating things I learned from talking to these folks is the chasm in quality that can sometimes occur between how a movie sounds in the mix stages and how it might sound when played on a multiplex. mann says this isn’t a new problem, it’s actually been going on for decades:
“you mix it to your level in the mixing room and in theory that’s supposed to be the same level that’s rendered in theaters on dolby cinema renderers, so you get an exact translation, pretty much, what you’ve done on the mixing stage. but what happened is, particularly in the ’90s, because it felt like the time when they were doing the loudest mixes: I didn’t mix back then, but the stories were that the mixers and maybe the directors would want things mixed to a level that was just unbelievable and what would happen is that would come to the theater, there would be complaints from the sponsors and the theater would be forced to reject the mix…and when the next feature came out next week, the level was never reset, and now that level is playing very low for the regularly mixed movie.that’s a problem the providers have been dealing with for many years.going on] eg For example, the reference theater chain does not plan and its theaters above 5.5 on the theater processor, where the established standard is supposed to be 7 on that processor.”
The idea of a major theater chain deliberately ignoring industry standards for something as crucial as sound is truly shocking. I contacted landmark customer service and asked them directly about this issue, but they did not respond in time for posting.
Fortunately, I haven’t heard similar stories about AMC Theaters, the largest theater chain in the United States. However, I was curious about the setups that occur when a new sound system is installed in an AMC theater, how often its systems are upgraded or replaced, and how the company maintains quality sound conditions throughout its vast empire of theaters. . I contacted amc and they responded with this statement:
Overall, feedback from our guests, both recent and dating back to the last few years, doesn’t match their assessment that dialogue becomes more difficult to understand. Among guest feedback, which is tracked through survey results and through inbound guest contacts, there has been no increase in complaints as a result of audio, regardless of movie type. Regarding your questions about our sound equipment, our speakers and sound systems are calibrated at the time of installation. they are routinely checked and recalibrated when necessary to ensure the best possible sound quality.
In addition, for guests who want to follow the dialogue on screen, AMC now offers open caption times at 240 of our locations and in every major U.S. market with at least two AMC theaters.
Meanwhile, Baker Landers believes part of the problem may have started when theaters stopped showing movies on film. in that transition, union projectionists (people who knew the ins and outs of how to properly present a film carefully) were largely pushed out in favor of inexperienced employees who essentially pressed play on a digital system and then could busy doing other chores. She tells me a story about how she went to see one of her own movies at a large multiplex and the listening experience was so bad that she was forced to tell the manager.
“I made a movie that [played] on a 4 [out of 7 on the processor scale],” she says, still reeling from the memory. “I was at a matinee with a lot of older people because I took my mom and said, ‘none of these people can hear what’s going on.’ the manager, who was probably 22 years old, said, ‘well, that’s how the movie was made.’ and I said, ‘no, I did the sound for the movie. that’s not how it was done.'”
When sound professionals encounter such staggering levels of separation between mixing stages and theaters, Mann says there can be a schism about the best way forward:
“you’re going to have some people on the mix stage who want to turn [the volume up higher than the standard 7] to compensate for the fact that theaters are playing it low. but [if you do that,] when you go to those theaters that are calibrated properly, you’re going to blow the doors off that theater because it’s going to be very loud so one thing we always try to tell our people is that you have to be happy with the mix in the properly calibrated environment, and when you go to your local movieplex, the speaker could blow up, the level could be low, god knows what will happen when it’s out in the wild, and we can’t control all of that.”
baker landers knows which side of that divide they’re on. “We mixed and released the movie at its best, saying, ‘This is how it should be.’ a lot of times, we hear people say, ‘you’re not going to be able to hear this in certain theaters in the midwest, so should we make it louder?’ but then you no longer have a standard. you have to say, ‘this is the standard. we’re doing it for an optimal viewing experience.’ and hopefully the theaters and everyone else will be up to the task.”