Film making: Film sound

Who’s the fella or lady, but usually fella, in the corner, with his headphones on and fiddling with his knobs? That’s the sound recordist and without that person your film is going to be lacking one very important element – the dimension of sound, including all those lovely lines of dialogue, fridges, explosions, gun shots etc. There’s also another very important part of the sound team and that’s the boom operator. This person should never just be someone you know who can come in and hold the stick up in the air and wave it about in the general direction of the actors. A ‘boom operator’ is a highly skilled technician with bags of experience when it comes to where to point and position the mic. Working with the recordist they will know where to position themselves to get the best sound, how to follow actor’s movement, avoid creating lighting shadows and so on.

One of the key rules to getting good sound is to always move the microphone either closer or further away from the action rather than altering the sound levels on the machine. This keeps the background level more or less consistent.

Sound recording within a studio environment is obviously more controllable and less problematic. But what happens when you are outside? One of the secrets of good sound recording when you’re on location out in the wild countryside (or at least a bus ride away) is microphone selection and placement. Although the ideal ‘place’ for placement may often be difficult to achieve due to blocking and lighting issues and boom shadows, cramped spaces, odd background noises and so on. It’s a reality on a lot of shoots, that where the best spot is for the sound crew, is a little lower down the scale of priorities after camera position and actors.

Wherever you are shooting the sound recordist will monitor the sound for each take, indicating problem areas and lines, listening for over head aircraft, cars zooming by or crew members chatting (shut the f**k up!) outside by the coffee and doughnuts. They will also get as many ‘atmospheres’ as they can for each of the locations. These are recordings of the background noise of each location. These are invaluable for the soundtrack in the edit for joining and smoothing shots.

It is always a very good idea to include the sound team on any locations reccy’s that the production arrange. Often a sound recordist can highlight important issues that may create problems on the day for recording and waste valuable time.

Microphone types:

  1. Omnidirectional mics: These pick up sound guessed it..every direction equally. They are occasionally used for radio mics.
  2. Uni-directional mics: This is usually a singer’s microphone on a stage. The microphone’s pick-up pattern ignores sound from behind it. It captures sound from one direction only.
  3. Cardioid: This mic has a heart shaped pick-up pattern hence the name. There are variations such as the Hyper-cardiod and the Super-cardiod which have very directional response fields. They are normally used in speech recording.
  4. Shotgun mic: A highly directional mic with great frontal pick-up and sensitivity that is good for dialogue capture whilst the recordist stays out of shot. A ‘Sennheiser 416’ is a classic example of the directional mic.
  5. Radio mics/Wireless mics: These are small microphones hidden in an actor’s clothing or pockets etc. You will usually see them in broadcast interview situations worn on jacket lapels. They have their own small battery pack which is usually worn at the back and tucked into a belt. Radio mics are very useful in certain situation when booming is impossible.

Sound tips.

If it’s a dark scene have the boom operator put some white camera tape at the end of the boom mic so that the camera operator can see it better.
Don’t shoot near airports.
If the actors are too noisy have them take their shoes off…but nothing else.
Don’t turn up to set naked otherwise you’ll get a reputation for being “That naked sound recordist?..You know, the crazy one that’s always naked.”

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