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A Film out of synch 1960

One day, I was sitting in my office at the ABC in Melbourne, when I got a message that there was a man down at the front door who needed to talk to me.  Intrigued, I went down to find out who it was.

On arrival the man introduced himself as from the programme department of the Herald-Sun station, HSV 7.  (I remember them, they were the people who turned me down for a job in 1956).

He said “Are you Terence Gallacher ?” I said “Yes, I am, how can I help you ?

It seems they had a problem and they were sure that I could fix it.  He was carrying three 1200-foot cans of 16mm film.  He said that the sound track on the film was out of synch and it was so much out of synch that they were not even sure the track belonged to the picture.

The major problem for HSV was that this was a Hollywood movie and it had been well advertised to appear on their screen in two days.


Steenbeck - Image by Niels Endres via Flickr

When a sound track is printed onto the side of a film, the synchronous point on the sound track is 26 picture frames in advance of the equivalent image.  In order to ensure this, the sound track and the picture were each given synchronisation marks on their respective leaders.

The reason that the sound is advanced against the picture is that it is impossible to have a sound reader and the picture gate in the same place on the projector.  For this reason, the sound is advanced so that the two parts of the projector are separated.

From time to time, an operative in the laboratory will synch up the picture and sound ready for printing not realising that someone else in the lab has already done that, so, they advance the track a further 26 frames.  However this is only likely when the sound track has not got a suitable synch mark. Although this is not a common mistake, it does mean that when such a problem, as I had been posed with, comes to light, the first thing to do is to re-record the sound track on to separate 16mm magnetic tape.  This enables us to move it up and down in relation to the picture.  The first exercise is to see whether the track has been advanced 52 frames instead of 26.


Image by Brent Weichsel via Flickr

It was still out of synch.  I tried a few spots in between.  By now, I was joined at the Steenbeck machine by half the editors all trying to guess what the problem was.

I then said ”If in doubt, wait for someone to slam the door”.  We went through the picture looking for something that would guarantee a corresponding sound on the picture.  Someone slammed the door.  We matched it up and then went on to the first piece of dialogue.  We were in synch.  Rewinding to the front, we discovered that the track was 104 frames out of synch.  Someone must have had real fun in the laboratory, which, incidentally, would have been in Hollywood.

Now we had it in synch, we had to check whether all of the sound track had been transferred on to the optical track.

As we were now operating with a separate magnetic track, we could work at level sync, that is to say, we had no need to advance the sound at all.

We found that the optical track had been printed some two and a half feet into the leader at the head.  At the end of the film, there had been one hundred and four frames of picture that had no sound.

When we placed the magnetic track in level sync, we found that the film now had a complete sound track, nothing was missing.

We handed the programme back to HSV 7 and they broadcast it.  I even watched it to see that all was well.

It was, indeed, an honour to have been sought out and asked to do this, but, afterwards, wondered how they had the colossal nerve to ask.  He said thanks, but we did not get paid.  However, we did feel considerably superior from then on, well maybe not superior but smug.  I cannot tell you how that made my day.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2011.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For other articles about the ABC click here.

16mm film reel image courtesy of

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Colin G #

    Must have been a really good feeling, in this day and age it would have involved’high fives’ in the editing department. Excellant story and informative too

    January 21, 2011
  2. You can imagine our feeling of triumph,when an opposing channel needed our help to enable them to show an advertised film.

    It was too far to go to the pub to celebrate. We just took on an air of superiority.

    January 25, 2011

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