Good sound matters. It beats good picture when shooting a dialogue heavy scene or film. Unless you have access to post dubbing stages for ADR (automated dialogue replacement) – you will be stuck with what you shot LIVE on the floor. In order to up your content game, it’s essential you pay attention to how you record your sound on set.
Single System vs. Double System – By now you should be familiar with the difference between these two approaches. Single system records your location audio within the video camera or DSLR using an onboard microphone while double system records audio to an external sound deck. Both approaches have their use to upgrade your audio recording.
If you’re a single-system one-person filmmaker or working with limited crew and equipment, you really need a quality RODE microphone plugged into your camera to shoot better audio. Attaching to your DSLR or video camera’s hot/cold shoe, these shotgun microphones filter out extraneous noise providing a tight microphone-recording pattern designed to minimize extraneous noise.
Trying to record with your built-in DSLR microphone is an exercise and futility – so this piece of essential gear can help make your audio recording of dialogue much more intelligible – and infinitely easier for the audience to hear. Proximity matters when filming single system. The closer you are to your subject, the better they will sound. You can find these little marvels for iPhone and other small format devices here.
Here are SIX key sound concerns to remember. Make sure that you have a dedicated sound Recordist (Mixer) PLUS a boom operator to get the microphone as close as possible to the actors speaking. This external recorder/ operator allows you to work in double system format for best results.
1. Pick up a dedicated digital sound recorder from Zoom or Tascam plugging in an external shotgun microphone attached to a boom pole for maximum double system flexibility. Pick up a pro-style HDSLR microphone/ boom pole and windscreen here. The classic Indy recorder – the Zoom H4N can be had for as little as $200 USD while the soon-to-be released Zoom F8 is their top of the line field recorder designed to replace more expensive professional gear. Check out the H4N here. Check out the F8 here for a detailed look at their latest flagship product.
2. Spend some money and pickup some tiny Sony digital voice recorders ($50) plus lavalier microphones you can hide on your actors for better dialogue. These little marvels can save your butt. Proximity of the microphone counts more than the name brand, and with these little sound recorders in the actor’s pocket and a lavaliere microphone hidden under their clothing, you can record a strong signal without the cost of expensive digital transmitters and radio microphone units.
3. Record WILD LINES at the scene if marred by noise. Just pickup the dialogue spoken after the noise has quieted down allows your sound designer a chance to replace it after the fact. Using software like PluralEyes Express ($99) from Red Giant makes post syncing tracks much easier. Click here for more information on PluralEyes.
4. Record room tone (30 seconds minimum) of the sound of the set immediately after the scene is wrapped. Hell, if you can do it after every setup, it will save your butt later on. I always regret not getting enough room tone. Room tone will be used by your sound editor to plug the gaps made while sound editing dialogue takes. Without room tone, your audio designer will have a much harder job making a seamless audio mix or edit.
5. Fight for your rights as a Sound Recordist to be given equal parity as picture. Half of the cinema experience is aural and if it sounds like crap, you will lose your audience faster than if it looks like crap. Arrange with the director or assistant director the protocol for arranging another take. Never just let it go – the production will suffer in your silence. DIY content creators KNOW that sound is important and LISTEN to the Recordist when she or he asks for another one due to bad sound. Chances are you will NOT be able to fix it in the mix on your friend’s laptop or home studio.
6. Keep an accurate log of your sound takes in concert with your camera materials while shooting single or double system. Backup your audio to a dedicated virtual hard drive online (Google Drive) or a portable drive of your own. Make sure your audio takes are protected, clearly labelled and indicate on accompanying paperwork any production notes or information. Adding Metatags to select takes, recording notes and additional sound information is always appreciated by the sound editors. Check out this software from VOSGAMES for amending notations and monitoring boom microphone levels while recording to a dedicated Mac Computer.
Sound problems will be magnified tenfold if projected on a large screen. Spend time learning to listen on set and while location scouting so you don’t pick a great location where you will have to dub all of the lines later on. Remember to STAY AWAY FROM TRAFFIC and TRAINS when shooting your dialogue scenes. STAY AWAY FROM NOISY AIR CONDITIONING, TRAFFIC, KIDS, PARKS and NOISY ELECTRICAL STUFF at all times. And don’t forget to always monitor your sound with quality headphones. For peace of mind, stay away from just about everything that can impede your dialogue tracks. And ask for another take if the audio is impeded.
You can learn to think with your ears as well as your eyes when working and pay attention to camera noise, computer hard drives and phones that really should be OFF on set. It’s a lot to remember but it’s worth it for smooth and clean audio.