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Sound Prep

Contributed By Fred Ginsburg

They call them 'talking pictures"! Often need to remind directors that sound is important, too. Eye sees but ear imagines.

What is Production Sound?
The complex craft of recording live dialogue and sound effects on the set during principal photography (Production). Requires blend of creative judgement, technical expertise and acceptable compromise! An art of creative problem solving.

Scout locations with eyes closed and ease open! Camera can frame out distracting view but noise is all around. Scout on same day of week and time as upcoming shoot.

Hire professional crew and best equipment available. A few extra dollars spent up front can save thousands in post. Solve problems before they become problems. Improve the recording environment; cheat action. Attack the offending noise whenever you can! Sound blankets, foam sheets, booties, throw rugs. Better art direction. Good sound is especially important in video! Unlike film, sound editing sweetening in video is difficult and expensive.

Achieving Good Sound

One person sound crew
Very limited in capability. Video is physically tied to camera with cables (or audio to camcorder), so no freedom to move as needed. Mixer is sometimes expected to run video as well as record sound, so attention is divided. Types of sound from one person is limited to:

  1. non-distinct background ambience; or
  2. talking head with lavalier (close-up perspective on immobile interviewees).

Two person sound crew
More versatile and professional. More can be done. Better morale. Impressive to client. Theatrical quality soundtracks. Mixer can operate video and mix sound from near camera; Boom can move to strategic position closer to talent. Two person approach is necessary for dramatic sequences or complex staging.

Sound from aimed overhead mic is higher quality and more natural from boom records than from lavaliers. When on lavaliers, sound footsteps, doors, objects, props, etc. to add texture to track, saves on post-production, especially low-budget video.

Budgeting for Crew
Hire professionals! Sound is as important and complex as picture. Pay now or pay, pay, and pay later...

  1. Sound Mixer: $250 to $600 per day. ($350-$400 average)
  2. Boom: $150 to $450 per day. ($350 average) Very important to use experienced professional. Should be 'hired' by Mixer. Dedicated crew position: no other duties on set.
  3. FONT CLASS="subheading">Utility Sound Technician: (optional) Works as 2nd Boom or Sync Playback. Also as 2nd Unit Mixer or Effects Mixer.

Work Day:
Never work a 'flat" day! Commercial rate is 10 hours plus lunch. Overtime at 1.5x. Meal penalty after 6 hours. Negotiate for 8, 10, or 12 hour day, plus O.T. No such thing as 'half-&Ys". 'Deferred' usually means FREE!

Basic Equipment Packages

Always use the best available. Rent if you cannot buy. Prepare for all contingencies; bring EVERYTHING! Back-up gear.

Types of channels (packages)

  • Video mic channel
    Mics, panel, fishpole, lavs, cables, cart. $150-200 per day.
  • ENG package
    shotgun, fishpole, mini-mixer, 2 lavs. $75.
  • Sync playback channel
    sync playback recorder, amp, WAers. $90.
  • Film stage channel
    one Nagra, cart, panel, mics, etc. $175.
  • Film location channel
    two Nagras, cart, panel, etc. $250. Nagra Time Code IV-STC w. wireless slate: $175.
  • Radio mics
    $40 plus batteries. Always specify components, as packages vary from house to house.
Professional Mixer should put together package, even if producer pays for the rental. Allow ample time to prep carefully with halfday buffer for contingency... Never trust a rental clerk!
sound channels
film production sound channels (equipment packages) break down and usages: location, stage, ENG and one mic sound packages.
Syncing Sound
sound syncing; topics covered include 60 Hz sync pulse, crystal sync, audio time code, Nagra IV-STC, HHB and Fostex DAT and Aaton Master Clocks.
Microphone Basics
dynamic and electret condenser microphones. Some microphone brands discussed: Shure, Electrovoice, Beyer, Audio Technica, Sennheiser, Schoeps and Neumann.
working with film sound effects (sfx): hard and soft effects, sound effect libraries, stealing SFX, foley effects and dubbing are discussed.
Introduction to Microphones
listing of shock mounts, long and short shotgun mics, lavalier and cardioid microphones. mics covered include Schoeps, Sennheiser, Audio Technica, Neumann and Sony.