Who controls theater volumes

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by BobH, Dec 16, 2002.

  1. BobH

    BobH Stunt Coordinator

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    I saw Nemesis this weekend and the sound was so loud I had to cover my ears during several scenes. I would estimate the volume was in excess of 110dB from other experiences I am embarrased to admit to.

    I asked the manager of the Harkins Theaters why it was so loud and who controls that. Her answer was interesting:

    1. The distributors dictate the volumes the theaters MUST play the movies at. They spot monitor the theaters and if there is not compliance they can pull all the copies!

    2. The particular volume of Nemesis was supposed to be at level 4.5 (some relative setting) but was accidentally at 5.0 so I got an apology. She suggested checking on it in the future if the movie seems too loud.

    It's interesting to me that the theaters have no say in this at the local level. I know that Hollowhead oops, I mean Holywood thinks that louder movies are more exciting so I should not be surprised despite evidence to the contrary.

    For what it's worth to y'awl.
     
  2. Sean Laughter

    Sean Laughter Screenwriter

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    I work at an IMAX theater so it's probably not the same, but we had a FOX employee (or whichever company it is that's in charge of the Star Wars Ep. 2 stuff) tell us to play the movie louder than we were after they had a spot check during the first week. I don't know if there would actually be any kind of consequences if we weren't too obey such an "order" though. I personally think it's very loud even from where I'm sitting and I know it sounds even louder to the audience than to me given the acoustics of the theater and my placement.

    As far as I know the normal IMAX movies don't have that kind of thing where someone tells us what level to play the sound and I generally just ear it. I didn't even hear about Disney saying anything (though I think we tended to play Fantasia and B&tB louder than usual anyway). We don't have a numberical scale, just a volume slider that we can adjust as we see fit.
     
  3. Chauncey_G

    Chauncey_G Second Unit

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    Bob, the manager of that theater is feeding you a line. No studio is going to pull prints if their film is shown at 5 instead of 7. Either she was totally clueless (which is VERY possible) or she's got this line that she hands out anytime someone complains about the volume.

    The studios do recommend certain volume settings, but absolutely no attention is paid to the execution of those recommendations. At the theater that I still part-time at, we'll get letters recommending that we play the film at 7. We actually play them at about 4.5 (or so), and we haven't been shut down yet.
     
  4. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    Bob,

    Chauncey is correct. We get those same recommended level letters with many prints and have never been spot-checked. She's feeding you an all-purpose line designed to stop a customer complaint.

    There is no way a distributor could make a theatre play a movie at "4.5" - that number is meaningless.
     
  5. Malcolm R

    Malcolm R Executive Producer

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    It's sort of annoying that there's no consistency, though. Last week, I saw "Harry Potter" and had to strain to hear the dialogue. This week I saw "Die Another Day" and thought my eardrums were bleeding. Same theater.
     
  6. TheLongshot

    TheLongshot Producer

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    Funny, but wasn't THX supposed to fix this problem? I guess another place where THX is overrated...

    Jason
     
  7. LawrenceZ

    LawrenceZ Stunt Coordinator

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    "Funny, but wasn't THX supposed to fix this problem? I guess another place where THX is overrated..."

    Not every theater is THX certified so I wouldn't say it's THX's fault if theater managers and operators can't figure out the volume controls.

    I saw Meet Joe Black in a theater that posted a letter from Martin Brest, the director, in the box office. He asked that theaters play the movie lounder then usual because the dialog was intentionally recorded at a lower level to give the louder scenes more impact. It was probably posted as a preemptive response to the anticipated complaints about the movie being too loud.

    I have much more of a problem if the movie is played too quiet. I'll gladly take one movie played too loud, the first time I saw LOTR when the Ringwraths screamed one of my ears fell off, if it means I don't have to sit through one played too quiet.
     
  8. Chauncey_G

    Chauncey_G Second Unit

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    Jason,

    I'm not sure how THX would have fixed this problem. I've worked in a couple of THX houses, and the THX-specific equipment didn't have anything to do with volume setting. It was mostly cross-overs, EQ's, speaker type and placement, etc.

    There are a lot of reasons for different volume levels in a theater. Maybe one movie was recorded louder than another; maybe the ads are louder than the film, so they just adjusted the volume to match the ads; maybe there's an equipment problem, etc.

    Of course, it can also be because no one on the theater's side of things is paying attention.
     
  9. Ken Chan

    Ken Chan Producer

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    With digital soundtracks, max volume is well-defined. Do what everyone here does at home: play some reference material. Sit in the "sweet spot" of the theater with a sound meter.

    Sure, different movies can be mixed differently, but then that's on them.

    //Ken
     
  10. Jesse Skeen

    Jesse Skeen Producer

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    IF the sound system is aligned properly, the volume should be on 7. However, I've only seen a handful of systems that were aligned properly! The theatres I worked at usually had the volumes between 5 and 6, depending on the auditorium- one movie might sound OK at around 6 1/2 in one house but have to be turned down to 5 when moved to a different one.
    BTW a true sign of a bad theater manager is one who turns the volume down after one complaint- I've heard of sold-out theatres enjoying the sound then one person will ask to have it turned down, ruining it for everyone else!
     
  11. Adam Nelson

    Adam Nelson Auditioning

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  12. BobH

    BobH Stunt Coordinator

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    Well I learned that if the trailers are deafening, to go complain to the manager so the main feature will be turned down (maybe).

    Since the manager told me it was played too loud by accident then you all may be right - it was BS about the distributors having the iron-hand control.

    Don't worry, I don't want it quiet; just not deafening. And I will sit farther back.

    PS I have noticed that I play movies at home at a much lower volume because I have good speakers and don't need to overwhelm the ears to cover up the bad sound. Now if we could just get Peter Jackson to release ROTK on DVD/EE on the same day as the theatrical release . . .
     
  13. Carl Johnson

    Carl Johnson Cinematographer

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    Bullshit. I used to be a projectionist and there's not as much as a hint of truth in that statement. How could the distributor dictate a universal volume setting when no two auditoriums are exactly alike? I worked a fourteenplex and different amps, speakers, auditorium size and sound systems in each one would have made that impossible.
     
  14. Andy Olivera

    Andy Olivera Screenwriter

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    I don't suppose there's a way to find "reference" volume in a theater, is there? If there is, just find reference and leave it there. That way all films would sound like they're supposed to...[​IMG]
     
  15. Chris Dugger

    Chris Dugger Supporting Actor

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    Dolby spec have the system set up to 7.0 on the system, along with THX.

    This level is TOO loud... We get complaints all the time with it set at 7.0.

    Normally, the level is set between 4.5 and 6 depending on how populated the house is.

    As for the comment that HARRY POTTER was too soft to DIE ANOTHER DAY was too loud.... Well.... looks like someone complained that HARRY was too loud at some point and the volume was dropped.

    With the new digital mixes, film is set to play loud to get every sonic frequency out of the mix. Turning it down to acceptable levels does impede the presentation... but it also doesn't cause your ears to bleed.. heh heh!

    Dugger
     
  16. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    "Who Controls Theater Volume Levels"???
    Unfortunately, it's probably Billy. You know the kid who just buttered your popcorn and filled your coke cup about a fourth full of ice! [​IMG]
     
  17. Aaron Garman

    Aaron Garman Second Unit

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    Hello all. Yes, letters that state to play films at some reference cannot be a paradigm for setting volume. On most of our screens, we usually have the volume at 5, and this is perfect. However, some films and screens dictate a higher or lower number. In the end, I go by ear. If a movie sounds too loud or too soft, I regulate the volume properly. I also always explain to a complaining customer that trailers are much louder, just like commercials. I mean of course the trailer for Two Towers is going to be much louder than the feature: Solaris. As for Bond, it was deafening at all levels from 4.5 to 5.5! In my opinion, it was a bad mix. Cheers!

    AJ Garman
     
  18. Todd Beachler

    Todd Beachler Stunt Coordinator

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    For us non-theater workers, what are the numbers referring to? The master volume in the booth?

    Also, if someone a theater worker could take some pics of the equipment in the booth that would be pretty sweet! I've never been up to a booth before.
     
  19. Aaron Garman

    Aaron Garman Second Unit

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    Hello all. When I reffered to a number, I am referring to the number on our master fader control. At our theatre, we use Ultra Stereo pre/pros and the fader goes from 1 to 10, with 5 being our usual default. In addition, several houses are fitted with dts, Dolby Digital, or SDDS processors for digital sound. Want to learn more? Check out Film-Tech for pictures, manuals, reviews, forums, and even VIDEO TOURS!
     
  20. Todd Beachler

    Todd Beachler Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for the link, Aaron. I'll check it out!
     

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