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Old September 1st, 2010, 02:54 PM   #1
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Basic Rules of Production Sound

I'm working up a quick one-day, hands-on practical class for production sound, mainly to get a few people trained up to where I can trust them with my sound gear for those times I'm busy either directing or DP'ing. Hopefully, it will let them move on to other things as well.

Anyhow, while mapping out the materials, I developed a sort of list of Basic Truths and Advice, those things that I wish somebody had told me up-front when I got started. Thought I'd post them here and get your comments.

Basic Rules of Production Sound:

1. If you can’t see something in the camera’s viewfinder, it doesn’t exist.

2. Corollary to Rule 1: It doesn’t matter if your equipment is butt-ugly and held together with gaff tape, just as long as it sounds good. It doesn't matter if you're an Audio Wizard or an Oddeo Wizurd: it sounds the same.

3. Directional microphones ARE NOT telescopes for sound. At best, they will just make off-axis sounds a little fuzzier.

4. If you can hear it with your ears on location, the microphones will pick it up as well.

5. Record about thirty seconds of sound at each location with some dialog BEFORE the actual shooting begins, then play it back for the director. It’s amazing how easy it becomes to convince them they need to unplug that refrigerator and shut down the air conditioner for each take once they’ve heard your test.

6. First Corollary to Rule 5: people filter out live background noise; sound recorders DON’T.

7. Second Corollary to Rule 5: people CAN NOT filter out background noise when listening to pre-recorded sound. That guy with the leaf blower five blocks over from where you were shooting (and everybody ignored while you were shooting) will sound like a freight train passing through your love scene when played back.

8. Recording three minutes of ambient sound for each location will bail your butt out of a lot of bad situations.

9. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for monitoring the recorded sound over a pair of quality, OVER-THE-EAR headphones.

10. If you show up with earbuds or on-the-ear headphones, expect to be sent over to the childrens’ table.

11. Forget what the level meters tell you – they lie like a cheap rug. Rely on your ears instead. If it doesn’t sound good in the headphones, it won’t sound good on playback.

12. Monitor the sound coming out of the recording device, NOT the mixer. No one cares what it sounded like from the mixer; they only care what it sounds like when played back.

13. Expect to see the boom mic in at least one out of ten shots. If the boom doesn’t show up in ANY shots, then the boompole operator isn’t getting the mic close enough.

14. Cables are your friend. Learn to love and use them. Wireless mics are cranky, irritable, hi-maintenance bitches that will let you down at the most critical moments.

15. Shotgun mics are like shotguns in general: they are for outdoor use only. The echoes will kill you indoors. For indoor recording, use a hypercardioid or cardioid mic.

16. Plan for the worst when editing. If there is a lawn mower heard in the background of one shot in a scene, then make sure the audience hears that lawn mower in every shot of that scene. While it might be a sin to have noise in the background, it’s a bigger sin to have that noise in some of the shots and not in others.

17. Bitching about the sound guy’s gear doesn’t help matters. Telling them about the wonderful mega-$$$$ gear you used on your last shoot, or wondering why they haven’t invested four-to-six figures in the latest hi-end gear is like poking a grizzly bear with a short stick, especially if you’re paying them little or next to nothing. If you want them to use better gear, either budget for it and rent it, or pay them more so they can get it themselves.


Regards;
Martin
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Old September 1st, 2010, 03:00 PM   #2
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Nice, I think I'm going to pass this thread on to my guys as well.
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Old September 1st, 2010, 03:35 PM   #3
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All very good stuff and really well put. I would add

18. A rule about reminding everybody to turn their cell phone off before shooting starts.
19. Oh, and the one about not taking the live wireless mic with them when they go to the Restroom...
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Old September 1st, 2010, 04:52 PM   #4
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A $2000 radio microphone works nearly as well as a $10 cable
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Old September 1st, 2010, 05:21 PM   #5
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Paul:
Never heard it put quite so succinctly.

Martin
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Old September 2nd, 2010, 08:46 PM   #6
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20. Control your Fu#@ing set!

If you have actors walking around in the background while you record dialogue, have them step lightly or remove their shoes.

If you have a restaurant scene with people in the background, have them pretend to speak, then make a "Walla" later.

Moving blankets are your friend and they are cheap. They can help with floor/wall reflections, or even quiet crunchy dry grass.

If a chair squeaks, WD-40 it.
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Old September 3rd, 2010, 12:13 AM   #7
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#1 should be : You generally can't place the mic close enough - either by booming a 1/2" above frame line or lavs up high and close

#2 wind protection is safe sound ;) use a blimp with proper suspension

#3 rechargeable batteries will always die during the hardest you only have one take shots, have spares always ready

#4 directional ( shotgun ) mics do you no good if they aren't aimed at the sound source, the speaking person's mouth, not the top of their heads. mic'ing someone's head results in a major loss of HF / detail, as well as creating eq / tone problems in post between takes.

actually there should be a rule #0

IF ITS WRONG, STOP AND FIX IT IMMEDIATELY ! a take with bad audio is worthless.

and the last rule

Audio is really really simple : to screw up !
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Old September 3rd, 2010, 03:08 AM   #8
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Deja VU guys ..

21. Always play the first take back to check ALL the gear is working.

22. The wrong mic is the best position is always better than the right mic in the worst position.

23. Never leave it saying .. 'we'll fix it in the mix'

24. No Blimp?, try and work a shotgun at 90degress to the direction the wind is coming from.

25. Whenever you're able, run a cable.

Cheers.
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Old September 3rd, 2010, 04:28 AM   #9
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26: Take time to attend a sound dub, you will learn more about what is really needed at the post prod end.
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Old September 4th, 2010, 06:02 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chad Johnson View Post
20. Control your Fu#@ing set!

If you have actors walking around in the background while you record dialogue, have them step lightly or remove their shoes.

If you have a restaurant scene with people in the background, have them pretend to speak, then make a "Walla" later.

Moving blankets are your friend and they are cheap. They can help with floor/wall reflections, or even quiet crunchy dry grass.

If a chair squeaks, WD-40 it.
As a sub-heading: 20.1 Get the AD on your side whenever possible early on. They can be a great help getting the set quiet.
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Old September 8th, 2010, 10:41 AM   #11
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Personally, I think you've got too many rules here. To be more succinct, I suggest you kill items 1, 2, 6, 7, 8 (three minutes? Seriously? You're lucky to get 30 seconds), 10, and 17. Also, regarding item 15: while this is no doubt true, many (most?) real live working sound people rely exclusively on a shotgun. I know. I don't get it either, but there it is.
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Old September 9th, 2010, 12:00 AM   #12
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Marco:
These are not rules as such as you are --required-- to follow them; more like they are rules than can be bent or broken as long as you understand the possible consequences. I don't expect everyone to memorize them or carry them on a card taped inside their sound box (though it would be nice), but these are points I think every sound person should have at least been exposed to at some time.

I've run into several sound people who didn't understand the basics of sound recording. Everyone has to start SOMEWHERE, I know. The Rules as I've listed them cover a base set of considerations to develop the correct mind-set for good sound, which boils down to the simple sentence: "No one cares how you did it as long as it sounds good and nothing intrudes into the camera's field of view." ;)

Can't get three minutes room tone? Barter your way down to one or two minutes, but get SOMETHING. Only got a shotgun for indoors? Fine: hang a couple moving blankets behind it to kill the echoes as best as you can, and start saving for a good, plain-vanilla hypercardioid (they aren't that expensive). You wouldn't play golf with just a putter (unless it's miniature golf); why would you go into a production with just one mic?

Martin
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Old September 9th, 2010, 01:00 PM   #13
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I'm not necessarily challenging the points on your list. It's just that for your stated purpose it seems like it's loaded down with non-essential stuff.
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Old September 9th, 2010, 02:32 PM   #14
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"I've run into several sound people who didn't understand the basics of sound recording"

Then I wouldn't refer to them as "sound people". At least not in professional sense.
Some of the above 'rules' only apply when you have time to spare.
I hear ya Marco, "3 minutes of room tone," how ridiculous, unless it's S/FX and your on your own. How is one going to keep a caffeinated cast and crew quiet for three minutes after a take.
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Old September 9th, 2010, 03:26 PM   #15
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I agree that 3 minutes is longer than needed. You can cut and loop a much shorter segment in most scenes.

The one exception would be for a long scene with long pauses between lines - especially if there is to be no music or action. Personally, I have yet to film any scenes like that.
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