Studio Time: Sync to the Jam
Posted Dec 31, 2003

Working in a high-tech field like the one EMedia covers can force us into the role of wide-eyed kids in a digital video candy store—always on the lookout for the sweetest features and most eye-catching wrappers. Sometimes it's easy to forget the simple satisfaction and certainty of a hot meal under a roof in our homes, away from the world of acronyms. Hollywood makes its living off furthering this distraction with images of the just-out-of-reach, so-called American dream: living luxurious lives, worrying or effortlessly debating about trivial matters (or momentous matters made trivial), and just generally being a little too good-looking.

Yet the technology through which these images are captured has no inherent bias towards these id-pleasing images. Film can be used to show all facets of life, including those stories that exist outside the realm of the pretty, pampered, or preternaturally poised for pratfalls. And through the magic of surround sound, THX, and other sonic wonders, film—and DVD— can take us from the comfy confines of a theater or a couch and drop us into an unfamiliar world.

Kevin Shaw chose to take his audience inside the life of a homeless man through writing and directing the award-winning short film, Jeremiah Strong. What sets it apart from contemporary portrayals is that it doesn't overtly announce that the title character, played by Barry Scott, is homeless. It lets the audience come to that realization on its own, highlighting how the homeless defy the stereotypes that film often succumbs to.

Shaw's depiction of this reality (released by his production company, 23 Films) has been shown at film festivals around the world and has received a number of accolades and awards, among them the Tennessee Independent Spirit Award presented by the Nashville Film Festival. To reward the spirit that willed Jeremiah Strong into existence and ensured that its message rang out loud and clear, the festival gave him a monetary award as well as the opportunity to have his film transferred to DVD, complete with all of the bells and whistles, by JamSync, a local DVD authoring and audio house. "That was like icing on the cake," says Shaw.

Smoothing the rough spots and frosting the fades was KK Profitt, the maestro of mixing and mastering, and Joel Silverman, who wasn't the father of THX, but perhaps its cool uncle with the really nice sound system. Together, they are JamSync, the first digital studio we will highlight in Studio Time.

The Who, What, Where, and Why of JamSync
JamSync began their relationship with the Nashville Film Festival a year earlier, authoring a DVD for 2002's Best Film from Tennessee award winner The Key. And while they've worked with such international icons as Tim McGraw, their approach to customer relations works well with acts both large and small. Shaw explains, "They were very down to earth; they made the client feel very comfortable. Here I am, a small-time guy, and I still felt as though I was treated with the same respect as a country music star."

Based in a 1920s Tudor home on Nashville's famed Sixteenth Avenue South (dubbed Music Row for its housing numerous upstart music studios in the 1950s, it was somewhat responsible for the city later being referred to as "Music City, USA"), JamSync offers a wide range of services, from archiving to sound design to DVD authoring and CD mastering. It even has some street cred, being the first Nashville facility designed to handle surround sound for music.

"We came from a music point of view, and we thought that the music industry would jump for surround audio," Profitt says, "but they didn't." So the pair shifted gears slightly. "The DVD-Video market is much, much larger than DVD-Audio. the audio industry was lucky that video was there to get people to buy 5.1 systems," Profitt continues. And these two know a little something about home theaters.

Back in 1991, when some home theaters still used Betamax, Silverman built the first THX home theater following LucasFilm's specifications. "I helped build decoders back when Tom Holman was still trying to market the concept of home theaters sounding as good as real theaters," states Silverman. "I learned a lot of lessons and have incorporated them into the design of our test setup." Silverman's experience in sound design extends further, beyond his five years mixing house sound for Bonnie Raitt to the concert PA system that he designed and built. That system, Silverman proudly claims, has set the sonic standard for "medium loud" acts in venues under 5,000 seats.

Profitt's academic degrees range from Experimental Psychology to Guitar Methodology. She draws on her musical background to help in the specialized tasks, like voice tuning, that are essential in getting sound of all sorts just right. The logical tools that she learned when dealing with statistics helped her growth in the world of digital audio. "If you know about the Q methodology in psychology statistics, then you know the Q in EQ. The math led me to the art," she explains. After a period of consulting for studios throughout the Northeast, she's built up her reputation to the point that audio equipment manufacturers come to her to do high-level alpha and beta tests of their products, meaning that by the time new technology comes out, she's been working with it for months.

Between product testing, she gets to romp in a three-room playground of high-tech equipment (four if you count the kitchen, which houses an oscilloscope; "It's one way of seeing how old the milk is," quips Silverman). JamSync owns several Pro Tools systems including HD; Steinberg's Nuendo; almost every kind of Dolby Digital software and hardware (not to mention their ability to do DTS and MLP Lossless encoding); a slew of DVD burners; and, of course, the aforementioned tricked-out THX home-theater setup. Their latest acquisition is a Primera Composer for disc duplication and printing. "It's just great," Profitt gushes. "It's freed up a lot of time." To see the full list of goodies, go to www.jamsync.com/gear.htm.

With the aid of these facilities (a recent visitor asked the question of why four workstation rooms with only two employees; JamSync responded, "We let the computers do the work"), Profitt and Silverman have taken on a broad range of tasks. These run the gamut from a Tim McGraw music video to archiving video and audio from pretty much any media onto CD or DVD to working with Zenith on audio for their HD rollout. "We're doing a lot of corporate work," Profitt states. "And while it's not always glamorous, that's where DVD's going to be extremely useful." That said, the pair haven't given up on their original intention of surround sound audio.

Jamming with Jeremiah
One keynote of JamSync's approach is working closely with their clients to assure that they end up with the DVD that they envisioned—and hopefullly one that sounds better than they could have even imagined. The Jeremiah Strong project was no exception. Says Jeremiah writer-director Shaw, "Joel pretty much opened the door and said, ‘What do you want?'" The filmmaker then blew every whistle and rang every bell that he could, including a custom menu scored with music from the movie's composer, the trailer (which Shaw had cut early on in the shoot to help raise funds), and not one, not two, but three separate commentary tracks—one with Shaw alone, another with him and lead actor Barry Scott, and the third with him and director of photography Armand Holmes. "I wanted to make sure that the people involved with the creative process of the film had a chance to express their thoughts on that process," explains Shaw. "Since the movie was short, it would've been tough for everyone to get their thoughts out [with only one track].

Shaw made use of Profitt's mixing and mastering expertise when the score of the original credits came up a minute short, after the addition of DVD-related credits. No worries, though: They were able to find that piece of music, and upmix and blend it back in to the multitrack audio. "It's not as easy as it sounds…making sure that there aren't any audio image shifts," Profitt asserts. "It's important to maintain the audio image so that you don't feel like you're going on a sea voyage."

Profitt also provided the movie with two soundtracks, 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby surround, although the menus were done in 5.0. "With 5.1 if you downmix, the low frequency channel goes away," Silverman explains. "It's better to have one less channel but still have all of the audio information in there." As in all of JamSync's productions, sonic quality reigned supreme. Profitt clarifies by mentioning that with any DVD project, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, many of them concerning the quality of the system on which the DVD will be played back. "We assume that the people who will listen to this have reasonable home theaters. If someone has a very good system, you want them to be blown away." When it comes to home theater sophistication and power Profitt adds, JamSync rewards those customers who aim high with their audio setup.

JamSync plans to continue rewarding ambitious independent filmmaking through its relationship with the Nashville Film Festival, building upon the success of this project as well as the year prior's inaugural effort. "The independent film industry is burgeoning, and we're happy to support it," Profitt states.

JamSync, www.jamsync.com
Nashville Film Festival, www.nashvillefilmfestival.org
23 Films www.23films.com