It's the Law

Films, television, books, and other media have been filled for years with devices, occurrences, and characters that violate the laws of physics. In spite

Films, television, books, and other media have been filled for years with devices, occurrences, and characters that violate the laws of physics. In spite of this, most people accept that in the real world, what goes up must come down and an object displaces its mass in water, regardless of how much technology and finesse is applied to make it appear otherwise.

All the more amazing, then, that in our fields of sound and music there seems to be such widespread difficulty in grasping the inviolate law of production, which is, of course, "Good, fast, cheap: pick any two."

Everybody wants it all. Well, sorry, only two to a customer; it's that simple. And yet, so many people seem to think they can get around it. This, in and of itself, doesn't really bother me. It's when my pinken little posterior gets positioned somewhere in the middle of the situation that I get riled.

The root problem is that choosing two out of three is a compromise, a dirty word to most creative types. On your own projects, you can usually choose to yield on "fast." But what about when you work for a client who can't bear anything less than perfection? Most commonly, that client presents schedule and budget as a fait accompli fixed at levels far below the reasonable. Regardless of any analysis of these factors, the client insists on pursuing the ideal scenario, but if no compromise on time, budget, or quality is accepted, there are only three possible outcomes.

The first is that the ship sails straight onto the rocks and never makes it to the finish. Money runs out, goodwill runs out, time runs out. Since I believe a large part of my job is bringing the project into port, I hate to see this happen.

The second is that compromise eventually occurs, however reluctantly. Maybe the schedule gets extended; possibly more money is kicked down. Or corners get cut. Compromising late in the game is considerably more expensive than budgeting realistically from the get-go.

The law of production demands that balance be maintained. If time, money, and quality are invariable and out of proportion, the resources to complete the project must come from somewhere.

Hence the third possible outcome: sometimes, sheer force of will and elbow grease can carry the day to get a project over a hump and brought to completion in apparent contradiction of the "Two of Three" law. Past a certain point, however, "sweat equity" turns to "blood equity," typically in the form of sound and music people sacrificing any semblance of a life for weeks or months until the project is done. Professional pride frequently drives musicians and engineers put in this position to see a project through even if it means losing money on it and feeling an adverse impact on personal and other business affairs. For such efforts was the phrase burn out crafted.

In the end, the law of production always holds. Trying to see how it was satisfied can be subtle: some people don't understand what happened in their project until long after it's done, while others are never able to distinguish compromises brought on by unrealistic production expectations. But life would be easier for all of us if people would realize this and take simple measures such as listening seriously to the assessment of necessary resources that they get from the professionals they have hired for their experience doing the job at hand.

The big question in all of our minds is how to show such a client the light. Unfortunately, this is a column of opinions and observations, of which I've got plenty, not of answers, of which I have few. This question of human nature is a real puzzler-if you ever come up with the answer, won't you please let me know?

Larry the O provides music and audio services with his company, Toys in the Attic, and is a sound designer at LucasArts Entertainment.