Being a musician, it is always nice to get people interested in my work especially if this work involves Bartók and I am a Hungarian violinist.
It happened last fall, (2018) when a film director asked me if I would be interested in a documentary film about the Sonata for Solo Violin by Béla Bartók. Of course I was very interested, I’ve played this marvellous music many times, it was part of the Szigeti Competition I won 1st prize back 1979 in Hungary and I made already one recording of it about thirty years ago.
We had some nice meetings with this film director, discussed many things, but we came to the actual sound and video recording just recently, after almost a year of preparation.
After long search I finally did find a nice venue for the recording, in a boarding school where the main hall is an excellent space for sound recordings. We have agreed to do the job at this place, saying that this is a sound recording, but we will do also a video recording in the “background” at the same time, hopefully without disturbing with noises etc. for the audio recording.
Making music video involves lot’s of unforeseen aspects, especially when making “classical” video. That means we have to create the same atmosphere like we would be at a concert hall. This is not an easy task to do, so right at the beginning I was a bit suspicious how it will work out.
Meanwhile, I was practicing, preparing my gear, visiting the recording venue to plan the setup, arranging a “thank you” concert at the venue and so on.
We had two days for the sessions, of course starting with setup. Not easy doing alone all the work, and after that the playing. As expected, doing sound recording same time with video, is really difficult. Having two persons with cameras moving right next to me while playing, making unwanted noises, covering the sound field of the mics, hitting actually my violin also and being so close to my bow hand that I was afraid to play, had to stop several times.
But the real problem came after the sessions. The wish of the director was me to provide a complete finished wav sound to make it sync with the raw video, and after finishing the video editing it would have been my job to edit the sound.
Anyone who did ever syncing work knows that the sound has to be edited first, all post work done, and then take with playback the video. In this case, because of the seriousness of the music, I agreed to do it the other way around, in a way that I would sync the edited audio to the edited video. This way it could work for short periods of time frames, but the director insisted to make also a full version of the sonata with video. Obviously, this seemed to me absolutely impossible, unless we would have used the unedited audio. Even if you don’t know this Bartók music you can imagine that this is clearly impossible.
After I explained my thoughts about this mater to the director, this was the answer: (copy/paste from email)
“I have analysed the whole situation that we went through together so far and I decided that I don’t want to continue working with you. We are very different people and we need very different things.”
I was shocked! How can someone drop a project with so much efforts behind, just because we are supposedly different? What kind of reason is this for ceasing something being involved many people, money, time, work already, with a simple childish reason, without any discussion, any effort to make things work, or at least to try to understand my point of view as sound engineer.
I made several very polite attempts to discuss matters; here some of the correspondence: (also copy/paste from emails)
part of my email:
“I understand. My problem is following:
if I give you let’s say “final quality” sound files they would have to be 16/44.1 stereo wav files. those then you could sync with video and would send me back for editing. Unfortunately, this is no solution for me. I’ve recorded multichannel, I had five mics, so five tracks, and I have to edit those five tracks before making the final versions, means my raw files are 24/48.00, so I have to come down, make it stereo, dithering, effects etc etc. Simple said, all editing has to be done before finalizing.
Maybe your suggestion to do it is a standard procedure in general, but this time we are making a video about music, and that means to me, I cannot make any compromise or workaround where sound is getting secondary importance.
Well, I knew, this is not an easy thing to do, usually we sync mostly in pop music, (I’m sure you know that) so that we make first a complete edited and finalized sound version, and then we make the video with the edited version’s playback, so we hear and play with the playback. That way we are always together in sync, but of course without the original emotions. This is good for pop, and I know, it’s not for us. Unfortunately this is the only way to do how we did, I know too, so I am trying to figure out how could we do it so that we both are happy at the end.
So, I thought that if you know exactly how long my takes are each movement, so you could identify with timings and let me know each edit from where did you take.
Also, if you would give me after video editing the edited video, I could make the sound files here, knowing which take where etc., with the highest accuracy, using a simple soft that I used many times successful.
Perhaps you know also that sound editing is completely different from video editing. We have to take out of course all mistakes and noises possible, some times note by note, making sure we keep the musical flow all over…”
“I do not see any ‘unforeseen technical problems’.
There is nothing that we can further discuss.”
After putting several other names (being involved) in the cc, in this email I was a bit more direct:
part of my email:
“Well, OK, as you like, we don’t have to discuss anything but in that case I have some words for you.
Naturally, you have the right to cancel a project, however not without any consequences!
Since you have cancelled the project without any explanation or notice, I have to ask you to cover all expenses we had to make. There were many hours of preparation,…
…As I was planning the sound recording alone, it was a big compromise to have you on location, very distracting, worrying while playing whether the bow would be thrown out of my hand, or the scroll of the violin knocked by a camera. Also, noises such as your breathing close to the mics was extremely bothersome, I am probably unable to use the sound recording as it is because there are not enough takes to cover everything…
…As it seemed, you have never realized that in this situation your role as director is different than in a usual setting. You had an artist instead of an actor. Even this artist was also the sound engineer. It would have been your homework to understand the situation and accept any questions to discuss while or after the sessions.
It was quite unclear to me that you didn’t want to understand why I wanted to play in a certain angle to the room and that you didn’t even hear me saying that I wanted to start on the second day with last movement. Well, obviously you completely forgot that this was a sound recording session where you wanted to be there to take videos…”
answer (to all recipients):
“I’m very sorry if I have disappointed you in some way. Please forgive me any problems that I might have caused by that.
Thank you very much for all the work you have done for this project.”
Now, I was trying to get the footage, explaining that we had quite a bit of expenses, as a compensation:
part of my email:
“…I still find it is extremely unfortunate that you’ve dropped this project and because I am greatly disappointed I am trying to find a friendly solution to this matter.
Unfortunately, because there are some real financial elements involved, we must clarify a few things, also because of my involvement as musician and sound engineer. I trust that our mutual agreement doing the project was enough without any written statement or contract, for an honest and fair solution.
As I already mentioned to you, there are some expenses involved. Actually, even with very modest math, I came to a quite high sum, but of course I would prefer to avoid making those demands and come to an amicable agreement…
…Right now only one thing I would like to ask you. Since all the videos were taken with me on them and if you did not erase them yet, I would like to hope that we could agree to at least giving me a copy.”
“I understand that you would like to use the video recording for yourself. I have not erased it yet from my discs but I’m intending to do it soon. I do not want to work on it myself considering all the situation. However if you are interested in buying the footage the total price would come to 5840 GBP.”
And as last, I listed our expenses to show that it was more than the price of the footage:
part of my email:
“Up until today, I have not received any indication directly from you, other than getting highly unfriendly emails, for the reason of your sudden breaking off the Bartok project.
I certainly did not do anything that could have been the reason of your decision. Therefore I have to present you the invoice of my/our work…
The project was your idea, I agreed to do it, whereby I discussed my conditions regarding a sound recording. Any concerns should have been discussed mutually on location.
We were aware of the costs. As the rental of the location was a reciprocal agreement involving a benefit concert, the actual costs of such a concert have been included above.
Cancellation from one side does not eliminate the costs, so the party cancelling must give a valid reason and bear the costs.
It is the duty of the cancelling party to inform the other party of a cause with due notice.
If none of the above are applicable, the canceling party must pay the expenses of the other party…”
“In this case I’m erasing the footage now. And we will discuss the whole situation with the lawyer. I’m not going to pay you anything. I didn’t do anything wrong despite not willing to work with you.”
At this point it was absolutely clear to me what’s going on.
Already at the recording sessions I had some feelings, (yes, we musicians have some times that funny seventh sense) that they don’t want to do this project with me, they just needed the footage to be able to sell to me after such breaking off and use it indeed in the future.
Erasing digital media is impossible to proof because of the countless possibilities of copying, even after full initialization of a computer.
After this whole story I am contacting a lawyer and I am deeply concerned that they will use the video without my consent, so I would like to ask if any of you would ever run into a video showing me playing Bartók with the initials of M. R. or D. R. as film director, please give me a short message! (I cannot give the name of the director because of legal reason)
Since I will finish this film in another arrangement, there will be a release but only with my name.