5 SOUND RULES TO LIVE BY
Some rules were meant to be broken. The following are not. Break these rules at your own risk:
RULE #1: GET AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE WITHOUT GETTING IN THE SHOT
The most basic rule for recording dialogue is to get the mic as close as possible without being in the scene. The closer the mic, the better the quality of the recording. This is why boom mics so often end up creeping into scenes. The sound person is trying to get as close as possible and ends up accidentally entering the frame. The sound person should always try to confirm the frame line with the DP before shooting starts to avoid this problem.
RULE #2: ALWAYS USE HEADPHONES… ALWAYS
There are a wide variety of things that can ruin your sound that can only be heard by monitoring your recording with headphones. Simply watching sound levels on a meter or relying on the naked ear will not reveal the following: a cable clunking against the boom pole, air conditioner noise, hum from a computer, a distant plane, a loose mic in the zeppelin, excessive street noise… on and on.
Also, whenever possible, the sound recordist should plug their headphones into the camera itself, rather than a mixer (if one is being used) so that they are monitoring the actual sound being recorded as opposed to just the sound coming from the mixer & mic. The bottom line is to always monitor the sound at it’s final recording destination, regardless of whether you run through a mixer or other sound equipment.
RULE #3: WATCH THE SOUND LEVELS ON THE CAMERA
audio level display on a Sony PD 150
The absolute worst thing you can do audiowise, is to record distorted over-modulated (too loud) sound. Not even the most skilled sound technician can do anything to fix over-modulated sound in post. If you record sound that is too loud you’ve just gotten on a one-way train to Stinktown. If you are using a mixer, remember to match levels between the camera and mixer. Once your levels are set use the mixer controls, but monitor sound by watching the levels on the camera, because they represent what is actually being recorded to tape and that’s what counts.
RULE #4: SCOUT YOUR LOCATION FOR SOUND WHENEVER POSSIBLE
It is vital that you make a serious attempt to observe any location you will be shooting inside and out for any source of noise or sound problems that could interfere with your shoot. Murphy’s Law of whatever can go wrong will go wrong is always in full effect when it comes to location shooting. If you do not take sound into full consideration when location scouting or even worse, if you haven’t observed your location beforehand, you are personally inviting Murphy to wreak further havoc on your shoot.
This is a very common mistake, even on big budget shoots, as illustrated by an episode of Project Greenlight in which an entire team of seasoned film professionals didn’t take note of the fact that the perfect location they picked below an elevated subway track was… well, below an elevated subway track… with an elevated subway train… that ran by every 5 minutes and ultimately costs them tons of ruined takes, time, money, and headaches on the first say of shooting. So how can you avoid such a catastrophe? Always think about sound in addition to those beautiful images in your head.
RULE #5: ALWAYS RECORD “WILD” SOUND
Recording wild sound is simply recording the natural sound of any location… all the little buzzes, hums, birds, traffic, and background noises, that often go unnoticed in production. The purpose of recording wild sound is to smooth out audio inconsistencies in editing. This comes into play in two primary situations:
Situation A: You need to do ADR (additional dialogue recording) after a scene was already shot. The ambient sound under the dialogue you lay in will not match the shots you recorded on location unless you lay in the ambient sound from location… your room tone.
Situation B: During location recording, background noise elements that you have no control over or failed to notice such as air conditioners or computers were not there for certain takes and you need to restore that particular noise for these shots in order for them to sound the same as the other shots when edited together in the same scene.
The procedure is simple. During a break or as soon as picture is wrapped, have everyone on location be silent and freeze where they are. No packing or adjusting equipment… no nothing for at least 1 minute while the sound recordist captures the natural ambient sound of the location that will save your butt in the edit room.