Temp mixes: keeping centred

Although film production is mainly about the combined work of specialists, we editors sometimes need do some of the work others are responsible for. We add titles, do simple composites, a little colourisation and temp mixes. This is to make test screenings run more smoothly. It is easier to show audiences ‘good enough’ titles, composites and so on without a lack of such refinements distracting people from the story.

This means we have to create our own temp mixes: add simple sound effects and temp music while balancing the elements to make the dialogue clear.

For a long time I wondered about the pan settings in Final Cut Pro. I found it odd that all the stereo tracks I imported had their pan set to -1. If they were mono, the default pan was 0. That meant that I usually set all stereo tracks to have a pan of 0. I didn’t want all the sound to be on one side of the mix.

It turns out that ‘pan’ for stereo tracks in Final Cut should be labelled ‘spread.’ A value of -1 means that all the information from the left channel in the source gets sent to the left output channel, with the right going to the right. A value of 0 sends both left and right channels equally to both outputs. A value of 1 sends the left content to the right output and the right content to the left output.

This meant that when I ‘fixed’ the pan of my stereo music and room tone effects so that their pan value was 0, I was making sure that the music and room tone sound came from the centre of the stereo field. That’s not a good idea if you want to make your dialogue clear: because for temp mixes, you should always set dialogue to come from the centre (0) with nearly everything else coming from the left and right (-1). That makes your temp mix much clearer.

I think it would be a lot clearer if ‘pan’ was marked as ‘spread’ when a stereo pair is loaded into the viewer. Pity that the value of normal stereo is -1, which is a trap for new users – which is probably too late to change now.

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