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-   -   What sound should you capture on set? (http://www.dvinfo.net/forum/all-things-audio/84503-what-sound-should-you-capture-set.html)

Chris Hocking January 22nd, 2007 03:19 AM

What sound should you capture on set?
Now this might sound like a very stupid question, but it's something I've never really thought about. What exactly do sound recordists capture on your average Hollywood/Professional set? Is their job purely to capture good clean dialogue or do they have to capture everything else as well? Say you have a scene with two people taking whilst one of them reads the paper and the other is making a coffee. Do you just capture the dialogue and try to avoid capturing everything else? Do you try capture the dialogue and the extra noise? Do you capture the dialogue first and then everything else? What about on low/no-budget shoots where there is no money for Foley and expensive audio post-production services? Do you just have to capture the best dialogue you can on location and then rely on sound effects libraries to fill in the gaps? Do you attempt to do your own "bedroom" Foley?

Also, say you are shooting an outdoor scene with two people talking. This is a no/low-budget film and all you have is a single microphone on a boom. The first set-up is a close-up of the camera left actor talking, so you capture their dialogue only. The second set-up is a close-up of the camera right actor talking, so you capture their dialogue only. The third set-up has both actors in shot, so you put the boom in the middle and try capture both. Despite the fact that you have the very best wind protection on the microphone you can still hear the noise and its blowing like crazy. How do you put this footage together in post? All the background wind noise will be different. If it's a no/low-budget shoot professional ADR is probably out of the question. Can the location sound be salvaged (theoretically)? Do you have to just bite the bullet and "fix it in post" with "bedroom" ADR? Sure you can try and reenact the scene in a less windy spot on location, but how likely is it that the footage will sync up OK? How's this option compare to ADR? Maybe the best option all along is to replace the boom microphone with some lapel microphones. But what if you don't have access to these kinds of toys?

Sound to me seems like a constant up-hill battle. Every set-up brings with it a million potential problems. Fridge noise, camera noise, crew noise, wind noise. You bring a shotgun and hyper on set but mother nature is against you (surprise surprise!), and the wind noise renders those microphones basically useless.

Now, I read a lot of technical books on sound and have learnt a great deal on Internet resources such as this. But none of them seem to answer the question of WHAT and HOW do you actually record audio in a real-world audio situation (and by real-world I mean a horrible environment). Actually, that's probably slightly over exaggerating - there are some fantastic reads out there - but despite that, having never worked with a professional sound recordist/boom operator on a real professional set, I'm still uneducated on the matter.

So! To cut a long story slightly shorter, to all you "professional sound recordists and boom operators" please explain to me what you actually do on set and what you hope to achieve at the end of the day. How much of sound is done on production and how much is done in post production? Are there scenes when you just go, "there's nothing I can do to record good sound"?

I know all these questions could be easily answered if I just hanged around with a sound recordist for a shoot or two, and that's something I plan to do ASAP (anyone in Melbourne, Australia interested in an apprentice?) - however, in the short term, I'd love to hear what all you girls and guys have to say about it. As I said, it's a fairly basic question, and something that's probably been hinted at many, many times before on this forum - but unfortunately, I'm still confused!

Thanks for your time...


Rob Lohman January 22nd, 2007 04:01 AM

EDIT: re-read you post and it seems you already know about most things out there, my post probably isn't as useful as I thought....

I've heard about a couple of things through the years. Mind you I am by no means an audio guru...

1) record room tone / noise / background sound for a (couple of) minute(s). Everyone is totally silent during this recording

2) dialog is recorded as clear as possible

3) if dialog is not good enough it is looped in post (known as ADR, a.....(?) dialog replacement) by recording the dialog in a sound recording booth (usually you play the sequence on a monitor for the actor)

4) on big productions all the extra sounds (guns, foot steps, knocking on doors, telephones ringing, glass breaking, car engines, car doors etc.) are made by foley artists on a sound recording stage or gotten from sound libraries. If your audio is clear enough you might be able to catch such sounds as they happen on set

5) music is bought / composed / performed and mixed with everything else

6) audio mixing is / can be done in 3D space to get discrete front / rear / side & subwoofer channels

The more you can record on set the better I'd say (unless it is easily done after the fact while taking forever on set), especially if you're not a big Hollywood production ;)

That's all I "know" on the subject. Hopefully it is of some use...

Chris Hocking January 22nd, 2007 04:15 AM

Thanks Rob! I really appreciate your fast reply!

Regarding your points:

1. Sorry I should have mentioned that in my post. I understand that recording room tone is a necessary procedure, and is something I've always done.

3. ADR stands for "Automatic Dialogue Replacement" - although it's far from automatic!

To be perfectly honest though, I'm still slightly confused or at least, I feel as if I'm missing something. I get the logic behind "the more you can record on set the better", and it's something I have always almost subconsciously aimed to do - however, I'm still not sure of the logistics behind it. I just had a look at a video on YouTube which others have recommended watching on other posts - but it doesn't really help. I want to know first hand, what does through a sound techs mind. What do they want to end up with at the end of the day on a professional shoot, and on a low/no-budget shoot? Do they differ? Surely money affects the process some way or another. And finally, how do they achieve what they need to achieve? I know this is rather vague - but it's worth asking. I'm not after the technical info really - all this is fairly easy to come by - but more the logistical and practical information on how a shoot, sound wise, actually all comes together. Watching a feature film, or even some of the great short films out there, you can see (or more to the point, hear) that so much hard work has gone into creating a great sound-scape. How has it got to this point? Is "fix it in post" a rule in the sound world?

Again, Rob, thanks for taking the time to read my rather long post! And apologies to all that think this question is too vague, uneducated, or inappropriate. I'm just trying to get my head around the department without actually visiting it in person.


Rob Lohman January 22nd, 2007 04:38 AM

I know exactly how you feel, I have the same thing with audio & lighting.

Guess this is also the reason why a lot indie productions tend to have not so
great audio (mixing), which as we know is half the movie.

I'm really hoping some people will join in that have experience in this field.

Sorry I can't be of any more help, good luck!

Michael Carter January 22nd, 2007 03:34 PM

Bravo for one heck of good question!

Steve House January 22nd, 2007 03:52 PM

There's some good answers here but one more thing is piece of advise is to monitor monitor monitor! The mixer, the boom operator, and if sound is going to the camera the caerma operator all need to be wearing cans. The boom op role isn't passive - with two person dialog he doesn't hold the mic somewhere between them, he's reviewed the script and can anticpate the lines so he can aim the mic at first one player and then the other as the conversation shifts.

Chris Hocking January 23rd, 2007 02:38 AM

Thanks for your reply Steve!

I understand that actually listening to what you are recording is absolutely vital. It's common sense really - still some people simply don't do it.

I also understand that the boom is not static - it does move around. In the example I was giving, the image in my head was of a situation where the boom cannot physically move between actors - something that actually came up in a shoot recently.

Steve, I love if you could give me a quick overview, when you get the time, to explain what goes through your head, as a sound professional, before, during and after a film shoot. What do you need to achieve, and how do you do it? How does your work on professional shoots differ from those of low/no-budget shoots?

I'd love other peoples opinions too!

Steve House January 23rd, 2007 08:23 AM


Originally Posted by Chris Hocking
Thanks for your reply Steve!

Steve, I love if you could give me a quick overview, when you get the time, to explain what goes through your head, as a sound professional, before, during and after a film shoot. What do you need to achieve, and how do you do it? How does your work on professional shoots differ from those of low/no-budget shoots?


I can't really share any insights as a sound professional because I aren't one .... yet <grin>. I made some industrials as producer-director earlier in my career, did a stint as a board-op and on-air talent in broadcasting where I developed some voice-over and narration skills, but got sidetracked into computer work and application training. Been at that long enough to feel its time for another life shift and for the past year I've been assembling some of my toolkit and working on getting my career path back into the film/video arena by updating my skills. I'll be happy to share what I've learned and my sources plus any insights of my own I've had putting it together but I don't want to convey the impression my own ideas have been field-tested, as it were, on the set of major budget professional productions because they haven't. Most of my knowledge is coming second hand from the real experts in the field, reading the knowledge they share and finding the opportunity for online conversations with people who do work on those productions. My years of experience as a trainer has made me a quick study and given me the ability to put together the pieces from various sources into a cohesive whole. Of course, having somewhat of a technical background in electronics plus 40 years of serious photography for the visual imagery side of things also helps.

Bill Davis January 23rd, 2007 10:55 PM


The one thing that can't be easily done in post is the sync sound of the characters speaking. (Yeah, ADR is possible, but it's NEVER as good as a clean recording of the original performance.)

On any set, the first, foremost, and unbending rule is RECORD THE PERFORMANCE as well as possible.

You can debate all day long on whether you like a close lav'd approach or a "live room" boom approach, but the bottom line is that if you come back with solid, clean audio (decent level and good signal to noise ratio) of every piece of the actors dialog properly recorded - you've done your job as a field recordist.

Everything else is secondary. Period.

BTW, I started in radio and I'm as obsessive about sound recording as budget and time allows. That said, what goes through my mind when approaching an audio gig is pretty much...

A) How can I get my mic(s) as close as possible to the actors mouth(es) so I can get a good clean recording. B) how can I get ANOTHER mic as backup that close or even closer. And C) f is there any chance I can get a THIRD mic in there, just in case the first and second screw up!

My 2 cents worth as a former audio guy who's now a working director/producer.

Chris Hocking January 24th, 2007 01:53 AM

Thanks Bill and Steve for your honesty, views and suggestions! Much appreciated!

Bill, the mindset you mentioned is exactly the kind of information I was after. Cheers!

Steve House January 24th, 2007 03:42 AM

Add a couple more things to the list of considerations approaching a set ...

"What unwanted sounds are present at this location - air conditioners and refrigerators running, pounding and clanging in the auto body shop across the street, airplanes flying over, kids riding dirtbikes in the vacant lot next door, ringing telephones at an office location, squeals from the elementary school playground around the corner, etc etc - that'll screw up the shot and what, if anything, can I do to control them?

"How are the acoustics of the set? Do I need to hang blankets, etc to control reflections?"

Gareth Watkins January 24th, 2007 04:20 AM

Steve you are so right about unwanted and usually uncontrolable sounds...
I shot several fishing videos last year in locations that were, at first glance, havens of peace and tranquility.

Then you put a set of cans on and try to record decent dialogue, and you realise that the wind is deafening, the helicopters that keep buzzing over head drown out your audio, or the disused railway line does in fact have about 30 high speed commuter trains an hour going through...

The world is such a noisy place, yet we are all totally unaware of it. Our brains shut out the unwanted noise... microphones on the other hand can't...

Can be really frustrating.


Richard Alvarez January 24th, 2007 07:06 AM

I've always thought about sound, the same way I think about image. "Inside out".

When I go to frame an image, I pay very close attention to the composition of the actors. How do I show them the best way possible, how to I make sure they stay in the shot, etc. THEN I look at the 'outside' of the center of attention:IE the FRAME. Is there anything in it that doesn't BELONG there? Am I getting the most 'value' out of what IS there?

Same sort of mind set is how I approach sound.

Bill and Steve said it perfectly, in the order I approach sound. First and foremost, capture the best possible performance. Redundancy is best. Boom AND lav are GREAT! Know the script, monitor the performance LOG THE SHOTS.(Aboslutely imperitive in film) Get the dialogue... GET THE DIALOGUE.

Then look 'outside' the frame. Extraneous noises. (Which actually happens as soon as you get on set, or even in location scouting) Airconditioning, refridgerators, etc. Prepare to muffle them with blankets, or pulling the plug (BUT ASSIGN SOMEONE TO TURN THEM BACK ON). Make sure you get room tone. (I like to get it BEFORE the shots, so I don't forget, and before people leave the set. The number of bodies on set changes the room tone.)

AND COMMUNICATE WITH THE DIRECTOR. (Or perhaps the First AD, depending on the set.) By this I mean, let them know there's a problem early. Make sure they know there was a problem on the last take. Let them know you're picking up the airplane they can't hear. Let them know the wind sound is acceptable... Let them KNOW how the sound is going, but don't be intrusive in the director's flow. (Fine line, I know. No need to interrupt to say the sound is going well. Good news can wait, bad news they need right away.)

Be polite and courteous and PROFESSIONAL around the actors, as you are probably going to be assisting in body mics. Be DILIGENT about their privacy when mics are on and off.

No, I'm not a professional audio engineer. I've worked audio on a few small shoots, watched on some big ones, worked in Major Market Radio for ten years on air, ... that's just my take on how I approach it.

As Bill and Steve said, get good clean performance is NUMBER ONE priority. Then, if there's time on set, try and get some foley. A good take of the door opening and closeing. The papers rustling. The cabinet and plates, whatever. Just some bonus stuff for the foley people to have around.

Peter Malcolm January 24th, 2007 07:08 AM

Haha, well this is just about the exact same question in the unanswered thread I started a few days ago.

I'm becoming a bit more informed; thanks to those who replied to the thread starter.

Jad Meouchy January 24th, 2007 11:49 AM

I'm not a pro, but in the productions I'm involved in, I do _everything_. My best advice: separate as much of the audio as you can into distinct channels. Get the dialogue, but try not to pick up room sound effects in the same track. Do get those sound effects, but get them into a different track. Get room tone into yet another track. You can see where this is going...

This will make your life 100x easier during editing. While cutting your scenes together, inevitably you will want to normalize the dialogue, make some sounds quieter than others, and maybe even position the audio for surround sound. Having distinct tracks will make this process much simpler. Many things will happen in the scene at the same time and if you have only one track of audio, you will have to record over it (or do some crazy audio engineering) to properly mix distinct overlapping sounds.

Recognize that good audio will greatly enhance your picture, and the reverse is even more true. Don't go overboard with it, but experiment with basic mixing and learn how to incorporate it into your workflow. You can do a lot in post, but you can also spend much less time in post if you followed good procedures during production.

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