by Laszlo Szijarto
It is still possible to get decent sound for your micro budget film if you plan well and have a few basic tools on hand during production. Here are some things to consider to get good, solid sound on your next project.
Mic’s - This is THE most important step in the recording process. Lots of basic recorders today record respectable 48kHz/24 bit files so feed your machine the cleanest, best signal you can. If you can only get your hands on one mic, make it a shotgun (super cardioid or hyper cardioid). Whatever you end up using and whether it’s mounted on a nice boom pole with a shock mount or taped to the end of a broom stick, get the mic as close to the dialogue as you can (just barely out of frame) and take extreme care to reduce handling noise.
Lav mic’s are a great addition to your kit but come with a host of separate considerations and a learning curve you may not have time for on your first short.
Recorder – To keep things super simple, you can plug a mic directly into the camera but the camera’s main concern is the picture, as it should be so having a separate sound recorder gives much more control and far better resolution than many cameras. You could always send a feed from your recorder to the camera for redundancy and syncing later. Make sure to accurately slate everything so the editor knows what goes where.
Just like in real estate, location is huge! Try to scout a location where you will have the most control over the environment. consider things like:
Ventilation – can you turn off heating or A/C units and for how long?
Fridges and Freezers – if you can’t unplug the fridge or find the breaker for it or if it doesn’t have a ‘off’ switch, turn it up (yes, up) so it is not trying to cool the food so much.
MAKE SURE TO TURN EVERYTHING BACK ON!!!!!!
Ambient sound – Is it a noisy street, will it be noisy when you shoot? Is there construction nearby? Will there be a generator nearby? Is it a busy café or restaurant? Will they allow fridges, compressors and cooking ventilation to be turned off? Is it possible to use the space after hours?
GET IT!!! So no one forgets, get it at the beginning of each location. That first 10 to 15 seconds before “Action” may also be a good way to settle into the scene. If there’s a change in the ambient sound in the middle of a take like a fridge or fan going on or off, GET IT AGAIN with the offending noise present. This is a pesky detail that no one likes to take extra time for but it’s just like tweaking a light or changing a camera setting. GET IT! The editor will thank you.
KEEPING THINGS QUIET:
Moveable floor mats and small carpets are a good and quick way to reduce sounds from foot fall if your actors or extras are walking through the scene.
Wardrobe – Consider quiet clothing options. An exterior winter scene with extras walking by in swishy snow pants can kill the dialogue. OK, it’s true cotton and flannel can’t be used every time but for the love of Sonos, think of your courageous colleague with headphones when choosing clothes.
Shoes – Sometimes you can’t get carpets under everything and those great boots or killer pumps just have to be in the scene. Moleskin (available at drug stores) on the bottom of shoes is a good way to soften the foot fall. Take great care of the traction issue though. Moleskin may be a bit slippery on some surfaces.
OK, the location is great but you only have it for an hour, it’s noisy and you have no control over anything ... or so you thought. Once you’ve done your wide master shot, ask for as tight a shot as possible (if the story allows) so you can get the mic right in there. Even if it’s noisy, what you want is the strongest separation of your dialogue and the ambient sound.
Masking – If you just can’t get rid of that pesky buzz or rattle, it may work to take as much out as you can then add other room noise or crowd BG noise back in (provided it doesn’t overpower the dialogue) in post.
So ...... this being your first short, you may not have the best gear or control over the world but you do have a cooperative, dedicated crew. If you can’t quite get a mic in close enough for that intimate dialogue, ask for another take, perhaps a flag on a light to hide your boom shadow, or a tighter shot so you can get in there and capture the other, magical, invisible half of that gorgeous picture.
Laszlo’s AV career started humbly in the 1970’s at a community cable station. After graduating from TV broadcasting at Fanshawe College in the early 80’s, his love of film & TV worlds has taken him to countless adventures with features, commercials, series’, corporate videos and documentaries in North and South America. He has been specializing in production sound since 2000.