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Capturing the Sound

Recording good sound on set will prevent some literal headaches in post. And remember, the sound crew’s work should always be heard, but never be seen.

Photo: Nancy Wong

Getting It Right

Ok – that’s close enough.

When it comes to sound, cleanliness is next to godliness. Okay, so clean sound might not resemble the voice of an almighty creator deity. Instead, it sounds good and consistent, with no clips or blips. During the shot, the levels on the recorder should always be below 0db, so if it starts to jump, turn the volume knob down. You also want to consider the framing of the shot. Close-ups generally need to sound closer, which probably means the mic needs to be closer…closer…

Even if your entire cast is wearing lapel mics, don’t let the boom operator hit the craft services table during the shot (especially if you’re paying for both). It’s always a good idea to record a few different audio sources for the inevitable time when an actor’s lapel mic only picks up the rustling of the shirt during the scene’s emotional climax.

The face you’re going to make when you realize the LAV cut out and you didn’t have a shotgun mic for a backup:

Hiding It Right

It’s pretty easy to tell when a boom is in a shot, or at least it should be. However, if you’re using lapel mics, pencil in some additional budget money for Rycote accessories as well. Not only will these keep those mics under cover, they’ll also prevent the ruffling noise from ruining each take. And while it’s pretty obvious when that boom juts into the frame, it can be a little trickier to tell where the boom operator’s shadow is hanging out during the shot. If it decides to make a cameo appearance in this scene, something is clearly wrong. Some of the time, the solution is to have the mic go “wild,” which means camouflaging in something like a plant or somewhere overhead. Whenever operating the boom mic, always try to keep it above the actors’ heads and more or less in between them all. And for those days when the boom is really terrible at playing “stay the hell out of the shot,” have a couple lapel mics and even extra shotgun mics on hand.

Best Practices

“Mic-check 1-2 1-2” might be a cliché, but actual microphone checks are really useful. Have the actors talk or even run through some dialogue to get a sense of their sound dynamics. You also want to consider what’s supposed to happen in the scene. If it’s loud, turn it down; if it’s hushed, turn it up. And if it’s a pissed off Samuel L. Jackson – well, you’re gonna wish you hadn’t picked up a super-sensitive mic, or find a recorder with a compression and limiting feature to contain the extremes of his rage-induced range.

“They speak English in What?”


It’s also good to think about how the actors move. When actors turn their heads, this moves the source of your audio. With lapel mics, you probably don’t have to worry about this, but if you’re aiming at a part of the actor’s body – unlike with a zombie, you should point the shotgun to the chest. You also want to consider gain changes and signal flow. Gain stages are any points where the sound quality can be affected, or in the Murphy’s Law plagued world of production, completely mess up. A lapel mic, for instance, has three gain stages: the mic itself, the signal receiver and the field recorder, which is also the order that the signal will flow. Try to start all the stages at neutral, begin bringing it down from stage one and then fine tune everything from there.

Something to aspire to…


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