Sound Gun Episode #1: Production Sound

Taught By:

Kevin Senzaki

Description:

This is TUTORIAL #1 of the Sound Gun Series! Kevin walks us through the basics of getting good production sound and why it's important.

Lesson Plan

Haven't seen the Sound Gun short film yet? Watch it here!

Good production sound is essential for capturing the best performances from actors while you are on set. Actors will often not be able to reproduce the same performance after the fact in post or in ADR or voice over, so it's important to get the performance the first time around.

Poor quality sound hurts the immersion and story comprehensibility of your film. Meaning if you have bad sound, people won't be as invested or interested in the story you are telling. Nothing is more distracting than bad sound!

Furthermore, bad production audio is often hard or impossible to repair in post or editing, so it's doubly important to get it right during filming.

Here are some things that will help you get good production sound:

Have a sound recording set up separate from camera! This is important because:

  1. You will have someone solely focused on audio quality. They can notice problems and issues a camera operator wouldn't.
  2. Most cameras (even expensive ones) do not have very good quality audio.

Boom Mics

Having a microphone on a boom pole allows you to get the mic as close to the performance as possible, giving you a clean and natural sounding recording.

Pro tip: Before the take, check with the camera operator to make sure your microphone (or the shadow of the microphone) is not in the shot.

Lavalier mics

Lavalier mics (also known as "lav mics" or "lavs") are helpful for when it's difficult or impossible to boom the shot (for example: when the shot is extremely wide). Traditional lav mics require a transmitter (attached to the actor) and a receiver (attached to the sound recordist), but we often use the Røde SmartLav+ Microphones, which can connect and record directly to a smart phone in your actor's pocket. Super handy and a more cost effective option!

Lavalier mics are hidden beneath actor's clothing, and therefore require maintenance from time to time as the actor moves around. Remember to tell the actor you're gonna make adjustment before your start fixing the lav mic– be courteous, and respect their personal space. Remember, actors are people, too!

Headroom

Headroom is the term used for leaving extra "space" in your recording levels for sound to suddenly get louder than you are expecting (for example, if an actor suddenly screams or yells), which leaves some wiggle room to avoid distortion.

Limiter

Sometimes when you are in an unpredictable environment, you can see if your recording device has a "limiter" option for your levels. A limiter basically prevents a signal or sound from going over a very specific setting. But note: this is not a catch-all magic fix for good audio.

Good Recording Space

Often, large or empty rooms have a lot of reverberation. You can check the acoustics of a room just by talking or even clapping (or in Clint's case, driving through it in a tiny jeep.)

When you are in a new space, make sure to check what you can do to make it more optimal for recording sound, such as turning off loud appliances like fridges or air conditioning. You can also use sound blankets to reduce reverb in a space. Make sure the blanket is somewhere behind the mic, if possible, outside of the shot.

How is the shot going to be used?

Some shots– such as inserts– where nothing in the frame is making any noise (or if foley or effects are to be created later in post) don't actually need sound. This can save you a small amount of time and energy on set if you know for sure which shots do and do not need sound.

Wild Lines

Often when it's difficult to get clean recordings, you can ask for wild lines. This is where you have actors repeat the same performance they just did in the scene, while still on set, while cameras aren't rolling. This will give you different options and clean performances without getting in the shot. The great thing about wild lines is that since they are recorded in the same space as the rest of the scene, the sound quality will match the rest of production sound.

Also, wild lines do not equal wild life, but both are very good things.

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