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Old February 10th, 2005, 10:41 PM   #1
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Questions About Sound for Documentary without Sound Person

Hi Folks,

We are planning a documentary tour for 2005/2006 around North America to capture the grassroots music scene in about 100 major markets. (We do these tours every year, but want to capture it on digital video this time around.)

We have several different types of settings, and though we have plenty of expertise in music and studio recording of music, we have zero in capturing good sound for digital video. Here are the primary settings we will be shooting:

1. Live Concert Performance Footage in various sized clubs and venues.

2. "Man on the scene" type interviews with people in noisy venues, conferences and tourist settings in the towns we visit. (to supply context to the locations by using famous landmarks in the interview shots).

3. Controlled sit down interviews where we can control the audio conditions carefully as well as lighting etc.

4. Interviews/Commentary done in a vehicle while driving.

Our main difficulty is that we likely won't have a dedicated sound person on these shoots (with the possible exception of the controlled interviews). So at most we'll have a camera operator, an interviewer and some complete novice volunteers with no particular expertise in anything.

I am painfully aware how important a dedicated sound person is for these types of shooting conditions, but it just isn't going to be possible most of the time. So, what suggestions do you have support equipment (i.e., specific mics, boom equipment, wireless mics etc) that we should consider purchasing/using to get the best results without the dedicated sound person? Money isn't as much of an issue as ease of use and the ability for us to try and get usable quality audio from this less than ideal shooting set up. We have a Canon XL2 and Canon xi camera to work with. Some venues have board mixes that we could plug directly into the camera for live performances, but that's only about 1/2 the time.

We've been watching some of the "man on the street" type shows on the travel channel (Like Great Hotels for example) where she seems to be unmiced and it appears that it might be a 1 person crew. We also watched Late Night Insomniac which also appears to be a 1 person crew without obvious hand held or wireless mics. Is that possible? Can they get that good of audio quality on the scene without a sound person? And if so, how are they likely doing it?

Thanks for any info you can offer. If you have any music industry questions, I would be happy to reciprocate any time.

I also posted this on the XL2 watchdog board. I hope the double post isn't a problem.

Brian
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Old February 10th, 2005, 11:30 PM   #2
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Brian, the Great Hotel show has several people on the crew. I remember from the credits there is a sound man, camera man, and make up artist to name a few crew positions. They just try to make it look & feel like a run and gun/man on the street/vacation video for the benefit of the show.

That's the bad news, the good news is that it's a very well scripted and planned out show. The directors, writers, and talent do a lot of research and prep work before anything happens, so they know exactly what they need before they ever show up. Makes it easier to take advantage of serendipity when it strikes.

Anyway, just something to think about, if you plan on shooting with a one man crew.
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Old February 11th, 2005, 04:14 AM   #3
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Thanks Michael,

I guess I should have known. The best organized projects always look the easiest when done right.

Is it simply unrealistic to expect professional results without a larger crew? Are there any examples of shows being produced of that nature that have done it with a 1 person crew?

Does anyone here know what the crew is for Late Night Insomniac with Dave Attell? That's another show that appears to be 1 guy (cameraman named Brian) and Dave. Is it a multi person crew after all?

Brian
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Old February 11th, 2005, 08:09 AM   #4
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++++Our main difficulty is that we likely won't have a dedicated sound person on these shoots (with the possible exception of the controlled interviews). So at most we'll have a camera operator, an interviewer and some complete novice volunteers with no particular expertise in anything.

Why not? There's an existing network of location audio professionals nationwide; the rec.arts.movies.production.sound Usenet Newsgroup. As professionals, we regularly pass the word along to our friends in different cities through this newsgroup.

++++Money isn't as much of an issue as ease of use and the ability for us to try and get usable quality audio from this less than ideal shooting set up.

If money isn't an issue, why not use a sound person who brings the right gear and the experience?

Regards,

Ty Ford
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Old February 11th, 2005, 04:15 PM   #5
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>> Is it simply unrealistic to expect professional results without a larger crew?

Brian,

It's not unrealistic, if you've clearly pre-scripted the documentary and have a clear idea of what shots & responses you need. And you're crew has prepared and rehearsed their team work and honed their skills with their particular equipment in the same type of environment they'll be working in.

On the other hand, if you're just going to show up, with people who are learning their equipment and haven't really tested it or their teamwork in that environment. And you just try to build a documentary off the raw footage without a clear idea of what the end result will be, then it's highly likely you're going to be disappointed.

Not saying that's what you're doing, but you get the gist of it.
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Old February 11th, 2005, 04:18 PM   #6
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Ty,

It's a good question. The reason is that we travel on short notice all over North America for as much as 8-12 weeks at a stint, sometimes with only a couple weeks notice. We extend visits to some places, change visits to others and often our accomodations are someone's couch or guest room or even the back of the van we travel in on the fly. We've been traveling this way the last 6.5 years and it's not conduscive to having another person on the trip.

The cost of hiring a full time, nearly year round person, taking them all over North America on zero or nearly zero notice, working 18 hours a day one day and then going to the next shoot not knowing how many hours it would be is probably not a reasonable work schedule for a full time employee. The cost of putting them up in hotels and feeding them and the friction of dragging them all over North America on our particular whims are just unrealistic. The logistics alone would make it impossible. On the other hand, spending money on the right equipment is a predictable up front cost that wouldn't approximate all of the above.

Thanks for the question,

Brian
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Old February 11th, 2005, 04:30 PM   #7
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Michael,

On our side is 6.5 years of experience doing the types of events we want to capture on the documentary. We're very organized in the framework for what we do. The problem, as you identified, is that as film makers, we're starting from scratch. The planning (i.e. going to the venues, setting up/preparing for the natural light conditions etc) doesn't concern me that much, but learning to deal with the unexpected, which we can't script or plan out, is a concern to me. We don't have unrealistic expectations (actually we have probably too low of expectations) which is why we're going into the first 6 months of this project assuming we'll get to use very little of the audio and probably only a portion of the video with voice overs. But, we're willing to use the time to experiment and learn and I am here asking opinions from folks who have done it so at least we're starting in a logical way.

I wouldn't expect an inexperienced artist/producer to walk into a recording studio and produce a great album, but if they learned which equipment did what, which stuff they really needed and someone taught them how to make the gear work to achieve what they want, with some practice and really interesting songs and production ideas and material, they will improve and get better until they are competent and eventually can produce something cool. We have good instincts and a command of our subjects/material, we just lack the technical basis/experience and as with all things, we simply "don't know" what we "don't know."

We bought the Lighting DVD from this site which "illuminated" (sorry couldn't resist) a few things we hadn't really thought about in setting up the lighting or working with natural light available. If there was a similar series on audio, we'll probably get that as a primer as well. Also, if I thought we could find an experienced director and crew who wanted to follow us around for a year and deal with the logistics, I would do that.. but I doubt many people can drop their lives, and do it for, at best, cost of food/shelter/transportation on the road for a year.

Thanks for the note! I appreciate the feedback.

Brian
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Old February 11th, 2005, 11:31 PM   #8
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<<<-- Originally posted by Brian Austin Whitney : Ty,

It's a good question. The reason is that we travel on short notice all over North America for as much as 8-12 weeks at a stint, sometimes with only a couple weeks notice.

Um, sound people are used to working on short notice.

Regards,

Ty
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Old February 11th, 2005, 11:54 PM   #9
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Ty,

Okay.. I'll take the bait. Send me the names of the sound people who are willing to be on call all year with short notice to go on long trips, sleep in vans or on couches, have little upfront info on when the shoot will end or how long it will last and who will do it for food/board/transportation and I am very interested in hearing their work.

If these people exist, bring em on!

Brian
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Old February 11th, 2005, 11:56 PM   #10
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Hi Brian,

If you haven't already, check out Ty's link to his website. Lots of neat stuff there.

Also check out the Now Hear This! DVD on the VASST website, which features Douglas Spotted Eagle, (the forum moderator). The DVInfo.net discount code is COMM.

Also this book comes highly recommended:
Producing Great Sound for Digital Video you can contact the author, Jay Rose on the audio forum at dv.com.

Best wishes and good luck, sounds like an exciting documentary.
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Old February 12th, 2005, 12:13 AM   #11
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Thanks Michael! I appreciate the great resources.

As for Ty, I have no doubts he's great at what he does. (I am enjoying checking out the work of tons of talented folks I've found here already) If he wants to come on the road under the terms we can offer, I am all for it. I just figured the reality of how we operate wouldn't be particularly compatible with a real professional sound person. While we're at it, we'd love to have a pro cameraperson and director as well. Any takers, let us know. That would sure make our lives easier!

As for the project itself, it's always exciting out on the road and the folks we meet are amazing on all sorts of levels. We've videotaped (with a stagnant camera on a tripod with zero lighting/sound effort) over 13,000 artists in 48 states and across Canada in the last 6 years. That footage is useless of course, but it is a scratchy/poorly lit record of the performances and the entire grassroots indie music scene in the last half decade. So we upgraded the cameras, we're going to buy some lighting gear, which has been recommended here, and hopefully find some workable audio solutions so at least the equipment won't be the reason we don't capture the footage. Whether we will have the talent/ability to adequately capture it as film makers on the other hand, I am unsure. But after 7 years of going "Damn.. I wish I had that on tape" we're going to give it a shot and see what happens.

If others out there are actually interested in participating or helping in any way, we're all for it. We have zero ego about this. We're by far severely underqualified to be doing this project from the videography and sound point of view, but if we don't try it, I am not sure it would ever get done. We CAN make the magic happen and create the the circumstances for compelling content. We're hoping we can learn enough to capture it as well on digital video.

Brian
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Old February 12th, 2005, 12:47 AM   #12
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Okay, so I looked at the links to Ty, Douglas and Jay's books/dvds. Is there a reason why Ty's would be better or not as good as Jay's? Do they cover the same territory?

Can anyone who has used the DVD offer any comments? It looks pretty good and I'll likely buy it and one of the two books. Feedback appreciated.

Brian
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Old February 12th, 2005, 08:09 AM   #13
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<<<-- Originally posted by Brian Austin Whitney : Ty,

Okay.. I'll take the bait. Send me the names of the sound people who are willing to be on call all year with short notice to go on long trips, sleep in vans or on couches, have little upfront info on when the shoot will end or how long it will last and who will do it for food/board/transportation and I am very interested in hearing their work.

If these people exist, bring em on!

Brian -->>>

Sound people are always on call.

You didn't mention accomodations (or lack thereof).

You didn't mention this was a labor of love. Somehow, by what you said, I thought it was a professional pursuit.

I presume your request to send you a list of the names was a joke. Otherwise it comes off as you asking me to do your work for you.

Did your partner post this on another forum, I answered a post that was strikingly similar elsewhere recently.

Ty Ford
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Old February 12th, 2005, 11:54 AM   #14
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The original discussion

<<<-- Originally posted by Brian Austin Whitney : Can anyone who has used the DVD offer any comments? It looks pretty good and I'll likely buy it and one of the two books. Feedback appreciated.

Brian -->>>

Here.
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Old February 12th, 2005, 02:09 PM   #15
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It seems to me you can get by using a good on camera mic and good wireless lav. The great thing about the wireless lav, if it's good and well placed, is once you pick up the camera you don't need to worry about it. Make sure your camera goes wide enough so that you can get in close for the interviews, that way the on-camera mic will also work for you, as a backup for the lav.

I would suggest you ask an experienced sound-for-film professional for help, have him design the setup for what you need and buy the best possible tools for the job and for the money you can spend. No need for him to tag along.
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