Saturday, January 14, 2006


Some rules were meant to be broken. The following are not. Break these rules at your own risk:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

A primary difference between pro and amateur shooters is that the pros know how to manually control their camera image and many amateurs simply let the camera decide how the shot should look and sound by relying heavily on the camera’s auto controls. The hectic and unpredictable nature of documentary shooting makes it tempting to just shoot everything in full auto mode.

The problem is that most of the auto functions on DV cameras are unreliable. Think of it as driving around the city with your car’s cruise control turned on… it’s great until you zip past a police car above the speed limit. The cruise control doesn’t know (or care) that you’re going to get a speeding ticket. It only works well in the most ideal setting… open road with no traffic lights or change in traffic or speed limit. The same is true with most camera auto functions. As soon as something outside of the ideal happens, they become much less reliable.

Your camera is not nearly as competent as you are. (Or will become by the end of your training.) Do not rely blindly on auto-focus or auto-sound levels or auto-iris. Take the time to learn and understand how to manually control the most important aspects of your video. The buttons and features will vary from camera to
camera, but the principles of focus, exposure, and sound will always operate the same.

Auto Zoom vs. Manual Zoom
One thing most DV cameras will do better than you is zoom. The servos (zoom motors) on most of the DV cameras made in recent years are pressure-sensitive and capable of very smooth and controlled moves. This is also practical because you will often have to zoom to adjust your frame and manually refocus at the same time.

Surprises and Panics

At some point in production a fleeting moment may come that you need to capture right that second. The president might walk into the room a few minutes earlier than expected. You may just be passing by and see that elusive C.E.O. slipping out of his office. The rare white leopard is about to pounce on his prey from a tree… whatever. Do whatever you gotta do to grab that image. Don’t waste time fussing with menu screens and white balancing. Just get the shot, man! Your sharp manual focus and perfect white balance mean nothing if the white leopard has already killed the antelope and made off with the carcass. In that case, you may as well be the antelope.

If you totally panic or have a brain fart in the moment, it’s okay. Just quickly switch the camera into auto-lock or full auto-mode. (That’s auto-everything.) You will most likely still get a pretty decent image and sound. It will be just like using a consumer camcorder. Better to go full auto and sacrifice some image and sound control than to have unusable footage because you forgot to adjust the sound level or re-white balance the camera. Don’t worry. Using manual controls will become second nature with practice. Just remember, getting the shot is numero uno.

Run and Gun Shooting
Run and gun shooting is when you are on-the-go and things are happening so quickly or under such confusion that there isn’t ample time or calm to concentrate on all the technical details you need to consider. This includes situations such as covering unfolding violence like a riot or shooting in the crowd of a loud rowdy nightclub. Similarly, it may be wise to go with auto-functions when covering a short or sudden event where many visuals are happening all at once and you need to get full coverage before it all ends. Lastly, anytime you are shooting with unfamiliar equipment or all by yourself as director, cameraperson, sound recordist, and interviewer is an acceptable time to spread out some of those duties to the auto-functions.

Peep out the list below for a simple guide to help you figure out when auto-functions are most useful and when they are the video kiss of death...



Most Likely to Fail When:
• A person, car, or object crosses in front of your subject
• Lighting is low
• Objects are in the foreground (leaves, mic stand, crowd, etc.)

Most Useful When:
• You have an inexperienced operator on camera
• You are having difficulty seeing the viewfinder
• You are legally blind


Most Likely to Fail When:
• A bright object is in frame
• A scene is backlit
• There is snow on the ground

Most Useful When:
• You are shooting in a “run and gun” situation
• Lighting conditions change frequently or unpredictably.


Most Likely to Fail When:

• An audience claps or laughs
• Naturally sharp/loud sounds (gunshot, subway, scream,etc.)
• There are silent gaps in sound

Most Useful When:
• The sound level does not fluctuate much
• You are solo in a “run and gun” situation
• You don’t have headphones

Documentary Location Management 101

Although documentary is a different animal than narrative production, you still must manage your locations with the same (if not more) deft social skills to insure the complete success of your shoot. Do not make the common mistake of thinking that just because your subject works, frequents, or has access to a location that you, your crew, and camera will be automatically welcomed there. Often that will be the case, but many times it will not be. Even if your subject assures you that everything’s cool and you trust them, you need to still make sure that they actually have asked the owner and explained the subject and scope of the shoot.

Your subject may be a doctor at General Hospital, but the hospital administration may have very strict policies about cameras in the building. Often subjects will be oblivious of such matters. If permission has not been secured from the proper people beforehand you may find yourself in a situation where your subject is embarrassed (or even reprimanded). Worse of all, your big interview in that great location won’t happen.

Corporate-owned locations, franchises, entertainment venues, government offices, schools, and places housing adult or illegal activity are all locations that must be researched and secured properly before you ever show up with a camera. Many of these institutions will have a Public Relations (P.R.) person whose main function is to act as a liaison between the institution and the media. That’s you.

If your story will show the institution in a favorable light or help educate people about their business, you are much more likely to get a “yes”. If your story involves a controversial topic, you can almost definitely expect to get a “no”. (I’ll get into how to combat this in a moment.) Either way, you need to communicate with these institutions, as far in advance as possible.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Please be patient and check back in Febr
uary. I'm previewing the books, dvd's, website, and blog all at the SAME time, so I'm just getting started on this thang. Right now I'm dashing off to Sundance to tell the world about Down and Dirty DV, but I didn't want to leave you empty-handed. So here's a little bit to get you started and let you taste a little of the Down and Dirty DV flavor and feel the love.

Much more pix, rants, and articles to come your way...stay tuned.
Show me some love at if you like what you see or have suggestions for the blog or website.

Peace and Love,


What’s Down and Dirty DV all about?

In a nutshell the entire Down and Dirty DV project is designed to help guerilla DV filmmakers learn to maximize their resources, increase production value, and avoid the most common production mistakes that aspiring digital film
makers make. The project currently consists of:

-“Down and Dirty DV – Volume 1: Documentaries” Book (200 pgs.)
-“Down and Dirty DV – Volume 1: Documentaries” DVD (approx. 100 mins.)

What’s coming in the future?

Over the next year we will be adding:
-Video Podcast
(February 2006)
-Guerilla Workshops

-Private Consulting

-“Down and Dirty DV – Volume 2: Narratives”

-“Down and Dirty DV – Volume 3: Music Videos, Commercials, and Events”

Who's Behind Down and Dirty DV?

Me... Anthony Artis (a.k.a. "The Down and Dirty DV Don", a.k.a. "T-Ski the Digital Pimp" a.k.a. "Little Tony Baltimore") is the twisted mind behind Down and Dirty DV. I am currently the manger of NYU f
ilm school's Production Center and a 15-year veteran of low-budget film and video shoots on both coasts at all budget levels, all genres, and virtually all positions. Rather than a specialist, years of grimy shooting with no money transformed me into a production "generalist" who feels just as comfortable producing, directing, shooting , lighting, mixing audio, managing locations, doing Special FX make-up or hosting on-screen... The rest of the Down and Dirty DV fam is an informal network of my fellow independent film and digital hustlers, NYU film students, and industry professionals, mostly in the NYC area.

Is this a
commercial site?
Yes and No.
This blog, the upcoming podcast, and the tutorials at are absolutely FREE for all to enjoy. Combined, these elements of the project will include about 10% of the material in the book and DVD and will be updated regularly. I started this website, because I love sharing information and teaching people about what I do, but doing it at this level requires more time commitment and money than I can afford to give away for free.

I've literally spent more than a year and a half working on this project, put my house on the line, and invested thousands of dollars of my son's college money to hire crew and shoot material for the Down and Dirty DV book/DVD and upcoming guerilla workshops.

So the bottom line is that this website, equipment rental, editor
s, DP's, and getting the word out all costs lots of mullah and if I don't eventually recoup that investment my wife will leave me and my son will be doomed to a life of ignorance and poverty (or maybe he'll be a male model since he's considerably more handsome than myself).

Either way, if you like the free content, you'll love the premium content, so support Down and Dirty DV by buying some products and help me and my wife recoup our investment, so I can stay married and this cute kid can go to college...