Film sound recording

December 23, 2016
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My name is Tony Errico and I'm a sound guy. I've worked on countless productions, large and small. Raindance asked me to write up an article on the DON'Ts of sound recording. Here goes:

Nowadays it is so easy to make movies, DSLR are getting cheaper and better, every phone can shoot a movie in HD, so everybody can become a director. (even though all the technical magic of the world will never buy you knowledge!)

But by far the biggest problem of many independent filmmaking is the sound.

The dialogue recorded on location, which in most cases is the project’s only source of dialogue in post-production, is not always recorded with the correct technique, which results in poor audio quality.

People have to realize that poor audio can completely ruin an otherwise great video.

Never underestimate the power of audio-acoustic. Bad image quality can be regarded as Arty, bad sound not, and worse it makes the audience feel uneasy!

So here is a Top 10 of things NOT TO DO regarding sound on a movie!

1. “We’ll fix it in post!”

Yeah right! How many times I’ve heard this one. Doing ADR - Automated Dialog Replacement - with the actors listening to the recorded dialogue and replacing it in the comfort of a recording studio with quality microphones, compression, EQ costs a LOOOOOOT of money, and time as well.

And I am not even talking about the background sound here...

2. Underestimate the sound guy recording the sound.

If I had to listen to only one guy on a set, it would be the sound guy. I’ve been on set as Production Assistant noticing that none listened to the sound operator when he said “hum, there was a plane in this take”, and the Director thought the take was great enough not to redo it.

Honestly guys! A sound guy has experience and knows what to listen to, his job is ‘hearing’ - and trust me it is a job per se. He knows what people need in post-prod, so if he says that there is a plane, then it means a big problem for later on...

I would trust a sound guy a lot!

3. One sound guy can do it all!

Of course, and one person in a restaurant can cook, serve and wash the dishes... all at the same time!

Depending on the budget it is true that a sound guy can record, mix and dub the movie, but still the skills are not quite the same, and to mix a movie, better have a pro who owns a studio or at least a perfect acoustic place to do so.

You don’t want muffled dialogues.

4. Using the microphone of the camera will do!

Then why not shoot your movie with a phone cam?

Tony ErricoAny mirophone will do! Yeah right, then why some microphones are worth thousands of pounds and some £10? Never wondered why in a professional music studio there are hundreds of different microphones?

To record high-quality location sound the right type of microphone must be used: ultra-directional for external locations, directional (shorter) for interiors, and non-directional for cramped interiors. The more directional the microphone, the greater the extent to which it selectively picks up sounds from its front end, and the higher the signal-to-noise ratio will be.

And professional microphones uses XLR connections! So if you have a jack microphone, it won’t sound as good as it should, this is a sign!

5. Underestimate the location!

When you check the location, you should bring the sound guy with you if you want to be pro!

He will then know exactly what needs to be done to get the best sound recording there. A room without windows, posters or furnitures will reverb a lot, hence will be very difficult to deal with, to edit and mix.

An important rule to master is: once there is a reverb or echo on a recording YOU CANNOT TAKE IT OFF!

But it is easy to ADD one on a perfect recording neutral of effects.

6. Record the sound with the music or background noise is fine!

Of course, then when you choose your correct take and mix it, that’ll be fun!

Same as 5) here, once a background sound is on the dialogs, it is impossible to take it off, but if the dialogs are clean, you can easily add a background music, noise etc

The cleaner your dialogues, the better for post-production.

7. We don’t need a “wild track”!

Then I am wondering how your dialogs will sound like... If you edit a dialogue leaving spaces between them or taking a dialogue from one take and the other from another take, there is a big chance that the background noise is slightly different, then, people will hear it, and it will distract the audience. Is that what you want? Really?

Avoid this by always record a “wild track” - or ambient sound = one minute of total silence on a set, before or after the main shooting - to have a neutral background sound. So useful that you cannot live without.

8. Anyone can be a boom operator, I’ll ask a friend

Cool, then I should ask my mum too!

A Boom operator knows what to do and most of all what NOT TO DO!

When you move your hands on the boom, you touch the XLR cable then the sound is recorded on top of the dialogues! Microphones are very very sensitive, any movement or noise will be recorded. And this is why a boom operator should always wear headphones, to hear ONLY the recorded audio and not the sound on the set!

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