Announcement: We’ll Fix it in Post

You are recording sound on the 8th take of the second to last shot of the day and, of course, the shoot is behind schedule.  The Director calls “action” and as the actors run through their lines perfectly with incredible emotion, an airplane flies overhead.  “Cut”, says the Director, “brilliant…what emotion”.  “Great for camera”, says the DP.  “Uh”, you say, chagrined, “there was airplane noise, that audio is not going to be usable.”  Running late, the Director makes the same inevitable decision. “Moving on.  We’ll fix it in post.”

You cringe inwardly, mentally sigh, shake your head and of course, do what the Director says.  Move on knowing that the audio on the take is not usable and can probably only be solved using ADR or by using another take’s audio and hoping the lines can be matched up when editing.

This articles in this blog are going to be about the best ways to get audio done correctly in the production environment so you never have to fix it in post.   An impossible task, but a worthy goal.  For more info about hiring me for your next project, see my webite, www.locationsoundmontana.com.

The Secret of Good Sound

Getting good sound is not a secret.  It’s simply understanding everything about your role and performing your role very well.

The sound recordist’s role:

  1. Placing the microphones.
  2. Operating the recorder.
  3. Making sure the recording quality is good.

That’s it, really.  If you do those three things right you will get good sound.  The problem is doing those things right takes a hell of a lot of knowledge, experience and skills.  The other problem is what works on one shoot doesn’t necessarily work on other shoots.

1. Placing the microphones:

  • In general, you need to place the microphone as close to the talent as possible.  This is very important.
  • Start with the mic in the frame and make your DP yell at you. Move it slowly out of frame so YOU know where the frame ends.
  • When booming, boom from above with the microphone angled downward aimed at the talent’s mouth.
  • Know and follow the dialog.
  • Know the blocking.
  • Line up the mic with some reference point so you can keep it close to the talent through whatever blocking happens in the shot.

2. Operating the recorder:

  • Use balanced cables for your connections
  • Bit rate set to at least 16 bits, 24 bits is better
  • Sample rate at least 44.1, preferably at least 48kHz
  • Set the level as high as possible without clipping.  Peaks should be about -6 dbFS
  • Know your recorder

If your recorder doesn’t have these capabilities, you need a new one.

3. Making sure the recording quality is good:

  • LISTEN.  To everything.  Most important.
  • Good headphones are a must. (closed ear pads)
  • Play some of the clips back, verify levels.
  • Communicate issues immediately.

Simple, right?  Not exactly, but that’s the secret in a nutshell.  Use the right mic, get the mic close, set the levels correctly, follow the dialog and communicate issues.

Upcoming posts are going to go into specific details about:

  • What microphone to use and why.
  • Recorders, mixers, accessories.
  • Boom Technique.
  • Headphone reviews.
  • Acoustic properties of rooms and treatment.
  • Audio theory 101.

Other topics:

  • Synching second system audio.
  • In-camera audio recording.
  • Audio bags and accessories.
  • Editing audio.
  • Audio Software.

And, of course, anything else you want to see discussed on Production Audio Pro.

Pity the Poor Sound Recordist

I think in some way DP’s (Directors of Photography) have it easier than sound recordists although I know all my DP friends are shaking their heads right now.  But consider this – if you don’t like what’s in the frame, you can just move the camera or come in tighter – problem solved.   Unfortunately there is no such thing as a zoom microphone. You still hear what’s not in the frame.  Even though bad sound can ruin a move MORE than bad video, no one really notices or appreciates good sound.   They only comment when there is a problem.  So why do it?  That is a great question.  Here’s why I love production audio:

  • It’s an art – you have to be an artist.
  • It’s challenging, every set has different issues.
  • Audio equipment doesn’t become obsolete every three years.
  • You are right in the action with the director, the camera operator and the actors.
  • Good sound can make or break a movie and good directors and producers know this.

The other thing about audio I love is it is often a one-person job.  Although you are part of a collaborative production unit, on a small production or indy film, a single skilled person can boom and mix at the same time.  You have great responsibility for your work, since there is no one else to blame which I find very rewarding.  You have to be good to survive.