Friday, 8 April 2011

We don't have to worry about sound....we have a sound recordist

All weathers ...
Because I work with sound everyday, I still get surprised at some comments I hear regarding audio when on location for film, (and by film I'm using "film" as a very generalised term to mean everything from film, through video tape, to digital; whether the content is drama, documentary, commercial or corporate and whether the final medium be the magic of the silver screen or the only slightly less majestic t'interweb). So, I thought I'd write a little bit that was in response to a comment I had on a corporate shoot a few years ago:

"We don't have to worry about sound, Grant's here"

 I knew where the sentiment came from: those normally self shooting, such that a director/DOP that has to potentially think about the camera, the shot, the style, the content and performance, and the sound; which - although undoubtedly cost effective - means that everything will be somewhat compromised (You only have to have watched Channel 5's Brighton Beach Patrol to hear / see what I mean), so having a sound recordist there, is actually a nice weight off of the shoulders.

But the phrase felt far more like (and somewhat unfortunetly proved) "he is here to solve all of the sound problems we'll have today, including that quiet interview I've arranged on the foot bridge over the M1".

Location, Location, Location

Often the choice of location has a huge effect on the sound of shoot, and there may be very little the recordist can do, other than flag the issue. The worst possible situation is when the source of the audio (a road for example) never appears in shot so there is no context for the invasive / distracting sound. Unfortunately because of the energy and nature of sound waves, there is no simple equivalent to "blacking out the windows" for sound. Don't get me wrong though, with documentary style work, the location is often quintessential to the story; I'm mainly referring to corporate videos and short films with low budgets where any issues with sound at the locations feel like they have sometimes not even been thought of.

Good microphone selection and placement, and / or use of a personal (lavaliere / wireless) microphone can certainly help in these conditions, getting the microphone as close to the voice as the shot allows.

Sennheiser MKH 60 Frequency Response
The problem with noisy backgrounds may not really raise its true head until the edit, when two different shots are cut together with very different background sounds, and that harsh transition pulls the audience out of the film. For example, that transition could be something like the sound of a whining scooter passing in one shot, and then a bus driving past on the second.

If the background sound is somewhat constant then the issue is somewhat lessened - but only slightly so. The reason this does not solve the problem is that microphones have different frequency response patterns, so as the microphone position changes in respect to the background sound (with a change in shot or following dialogue), the recorded tonality of that background sound changes. This is one of the reasons why it's always preferable to have fridges and air conditioning systems (et al) off - even though the background sound signature may appear to be somewhat constant to our ears.

"We'll Fix it in Post."

ARRRRGGGGG! (Sorry) But I do find this phrase one of the most annoying on the planet, especially when it is spoken by someone who has absolutely no idea about the capabilities of audio manipulation in post production - or even if there is any dedicated audio post production on the specific job. Fewer and fewer jobs are going for a dedicated dub now, with the audio work being done in picture editing software. 

Full-on audio post production does have a great many tools to improve sound from location; but let's be frank here, most corporate videos don't really have this as an option. The general option is usually to use noisy shots as a mute shot, and then overlay the image with music or a VO - which is absolutely fine, but don't forget to tell your sound recordist this might be an option... instead of them spending half an hour talking to building control trying to turn off the air conditioning system - ;-)

As the budgets and scale of jobs increase, there can occasionally be a very definite argument for letting sound "be" fixed in post - and that is when getting the performance or the 'moment' is more important. Sometimes the sound just can't be done well enough on set, be it a stunt, two camera's, visual effects (wind machines etc), etc - But even then, the attempt is made to get the very best guide audio (and even wild tracks if possible) so that the job of the editor and audio post production is made as easy as possible.

So that's what I'm there for...

I know I'm over egging the cake somewhat, but I think the presence of a sound recordist does more than ensure the best location sound; it gives the project more gravitas on set and gives a more professional appearance; as well as a welcome additional pair of hands...Watch about 2 minutes in of this BBC video on location sound advice - and of course you don't have to worry about the sound..;-)

8th April 2011

1 comment: