Sound plays an important role in almost any production. Music and sound design are needed to create suspense and evoke emotion, but clean and accurately recorded speech is an absolute necessity. When done properly we may hardly notice sound, as it seamlessly integrates with the visuals. However, when done badly it can be a harsh distraction from the overall viewing experience. While film and drama productions may have the option of re-recording dialogue in post-production, this is rarely possible in television broadcast so getting top quality sound recorded on location is crucial. To avoid last minute panics in the edit, two of our top in-house sound recordists, Micheal Ademilua and Simon Pallen, have put together the following tips for making a production with excellent audio.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
When scouting a location, don’t forget to consider audio! Ideally a sound recordist would attend the recce, but this isn’t always possible.Our recommendation is that whoever attends makes note of anything that would be of concern, such as whether there any problematic noise sources nearby. Heavy traffic, construction sites, airports and flight paths, etc, can be major disruptions to a shoot. Involve your sound recordist in the pre-shoot conversation and they will let you know whether the noise is something they can work around on location or that can be fixed in the sound dub; or if it’s something that could cost you a lot of money in overtime when you’re waiting for the builders to finish digging to get that final shot or paying for ADR in post.
PRE-SHOOT CONVERSATIONS ARE KEY
It sounds like an obvious one, but you would be surprised at how often pre-shoot conversations are overlooked. Make sure you take 10 minutes to call your sound recordist before the shoot! Providing your sound recordist with the necessary information will allow them to prepare and bring the correct equipment to capture the best audio possible. What are you filming? How many contributors are there? Will the shoot be indoor, outdoor or both? How many cameras will there be? If there are multiple cameras, have your sound op bring along timecode locking devices like the Timecode Systems Mini TRX, the latest Timecode Systems UltraSync ONE or Timecode Systems Syncbac PRO for GoPro HERO 6 and 7 Black, which will accurately sync timecode between cameras and the audio recorder. They will need one per camera or recorder, so if an extra camera gets added on last minute be sure to let them know.
CONSIDER YOUR CAMERA CHOICE
It is important to let your sound recordist know your camera choices prior to the shoot, as audio and timecode functionality vary from camera to camera, with some requiring non-standard cables and adaptors. Most RED cameras, for example, need a specific RED cable to get an audio and/or timecode input to the camera. Similarly, the ARRI Alexa Mini requires a Lemo 00 cable to input line level audio. DSLR cameras like the Canon 5D, Sony A7S or Panasonic GH5 are designed predominantly for handheld photography, so they do not have conventional audio inputs and do not run timecode, but there are workarounds. If you’re using a Sony FS7 Mk1 or FS7 Mk2 then you will need a Sony XDCA-FS7 Extension Unit for timecode. Your sound recordist should know all of this and with a little forewarning, can be prepared to send audio and timecode to any camera.
MIC PLACEMENT – KNOW YOUR STUFF
Lavalier (or lapel) mic placement can be a tricky business, especially when hiding them. Your sound recordist will know not only the best microphone position to avoid rustle and clothing noise to get the most natural sounding audio, but also know the best etiquette for attaching the lapel microphones to contributors. It is important to be courteous and explain everything you are about to do in a timely, polite and professional manner to put your contributor at ease. This might sound easy, but to do this quickly and efficiently requires confidence and experience.
RADIO MICROPHONE FREQUENCIES – WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO PLAN
Procam clients can freely and legally use our radio microphones all over the UK because we have a license issued by Ofcom, allowing our radio microphones to be used within a certain frequency allocation, known as Channel 38. However, as soon as you need to use 2 more radio mics in the same location, it is important to start planning which frequencies within that block (Channel 38) to program each device. This can be difficult once you have several radio mics running, so a good sound recordist should know from experience which frequencies complement each other and be able to plan these out to avoid interference and intermodulation.
ROOM TONE – WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Make sure to get at least 30 seconds of room tone at each location. Room tone is the ambience or sound of ‘silence’ in a space, which is surprisingly different everywhere. Each location will have its own unique room tone and a good sound recordist will know to record this, which can then be used to fill unnatural sounding gaps between cuts when editing.
FINALLY AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: INVEST IN A SOUND RECORDIST, IT WILL SAVE YOU MONEY!
It’s true! Unlike a bad camera shot, bad audio is sometimes impossible to edit around in post-production. Having a sound recordist on location to monitor the audio and tell you instantly when the audio dropped out, was distorted, had mic rustle or excessive wind noise, or there was radio interference, can save you a huge amount of money in re-shoots, as it is much cheaper to do one more take on the day. There are a lot of links in the chain of an audio signal and if one has a problem, it can seem like an impossible task figuring out what has gone wrong, especially under pressure. Don’t leave a runner with little experience in charge of the audio when it really matters. Be sure to have an experienced sound recordist on every shoot.
Need a sound recordist on your next production? Contact our knowledgeable rental team with your shooting dates to get a quote for one of our dedicated and experienced sound crew. For large scale productions and complicated set ups, we can also supply sound supervisors to create tailored technical audio solutions and oversee the whole sound team. Shooting out in the sticks? No problem! You can also hire a crew van with any of our crew members to transport your crew and kit to location.