UA staff member Dan Brock, a film and music editor, is the co-founder of CueTime Software, which developed a program that is helping to revolutionize sound editing in films. The first major project to use CueTime is the new James Cameron film, Avatar, coming out on Dec. 18. After a five-year absence from the UA, Brock recently returned from Los Angeles to the UA's School of Media Arts, where he helps students produce and shoot their films.
How did you get into music editing?
Back in 2000, I met a music editor, Jim Henrikson, one of the most senior and experienced music editors in the film industry. He started on the (I Love) Lucy show in the 1950s, and he was the original music editor on the Star Trek TV series and feature films since the '60s. When I met him, I was interested in film music, but I'm not a composer. I learned about this job called a music editor, a person who works with the composer to get music placed into the film, to help keep it organized and to make any changes once a film has been made.
What made you decide to create CueTime?
I discovered while working with (Henrikson) that some of the tools he used for his work were lacking sophistication and technology that would help him work directly with digital video. ... I talked to him about the idea of creating a new project-management application that would help this. This started in 2004. ... We just got the prototype version last year. He started using it on some projects, the first big one being Avatar.
How was it used in Avatar?
Its design allowed the music team, the editor in this case, to take the digital picture and associate with it all the information related to the music that's going to be placed in the film. One of the first things that you do with a film is define where the music is going to be; it's called a spotting session. ... Our software allows you to move quickly with the digital picture and find the associated information for each piece of music. In addition to that, it allows within each of those cues (for the user) to create what's called timings. ... Within each musical cue, the tempo has to be defined so that the music will hit various important places in the picture. Say, for instance, there's an explosion, and the music is building up to the point to the explosion. ... You have to define the starting points ... to be able to weave in the music, adjusting the tempo and the beats to get the music to where you need it in the picture.
So the movie is made, and you watch for these points?
Yes. ... Within the film, you have reels. The purpose is to break down the film into manageable parts for post-production. ... Within each reel, you have information associated with that reel. Within those reels, there are cues; they're numbered according to reel number. Within each cue, there are timings. The timings are the specific locations in the film that are important in defining how the music is going to fit into the picture. As you scroll through data on the computer, you have associated info related to the data. That allows you to easily go through and adjust points of interest. As the composer constructs the music, the composer needs to have various locations clearly defined. ... These things are very useful from the project-management side, too—for instance, a tallied list for all the different types of music in a film.
Before CueTime, what was used?
Typically, what I saw was people using Excel spreadsheets. They've been doing it that way since Excel came out. ... There was no association with the digital picture. The real breakthrough here is having these associations with a digital picture. At its core, it's a relational database to digital video. The ultimate plans are much broader in terms of the use of this kind of tool. We're focused specifically on music. My intent is to transform this technology into a form that can be used in all facets of sound post-production. We're focusing almost entirely, at this point, on post sound. (But) there are other areas. ... We're intent on creating tools for all aspects of sound.
Did you get to meet James Cameron?
I got the chance to see him behind glass, which is apparently a safe way, because he is intense about his work.