Classic Movie Making – What’s a Dubber and Mag Stock?

As some of you are aware I had the honor of working in the movie business for many years. These days it floors me how easy it is to pick up a camera and make a “movie,” compared to what it was like just 20 years ago.

In the good old days when films were actually shot on film, the sound was recorded on a separate machine. Later, that sound was matched to the picture though use of the clapper, the writing board with that, well, ‘clapping thing’ attached to the top. This is done at the beginning of each take so the picture and sound can be matched up later.

At the end of each day’s shooting, the picture and sound is sent out to be processed. The film, which at this stage is a negative, is turned into a positive print, the kind that can be run through a film projector.

The sound is transferred to what’s known as ‘Mag Stock,’ which looks a lot like film as it too has sprocket holes. But where the frames of pictures are in film, Mag Stock has magnetic recording tape instead. You record and playback Mag on a machine called a “Dubber.”

Some Mag Stock is known as “Stripe,” like the Single Stripe that’s pictured. Although it’s called ‘single’ stripe, it actually has two stripes of recording medium. The fatter of the two, the “record track” is where the single, mono sound is recorded.

The other is called the “balance stripe” and was originally used only to keep the record stripe “balanced” or properly aligned to the recording head.

Later on, when digital film editing first came along, time code was recorded on the balance stripe as the attempt was being made to integrate the old Mag Stock and Dubbers with the new Digital Workstations.

There were also two and three track versions of Stripe and another type of Mag called “Full Coat.” It had one, fat track of recording medium that completely filled the area between the perforations, hence the name.

The Dubber, along with its counterpart the Mag Stock, was the industry standard from the 1930’s up until about ten years ago. Practically overnight, both were replaced first with DAT (Digital Audio Tape) Machines and now hard drive recorders.

It still amazes me how easy it is to deal with movie sound now as compared to back then. Today, ALL the sound on that ten-pound reel can be stored as just ONE mp3 song on an iPod. And, it’s a whole lot easier to lug around.

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