If you’re new to hiring a professional location sound mixer (or if you just need a refresher), the information below will provide a nice summary of the topics that frequently come up during the pre-production stage of your project.
Planning For Your Shoot
Whether you’re planning for a corporate interview, a docu-follow “run & gun”, or a narrative feature, you’ll need on-set audio that’s recorded right the first time. Getting high quality results require planning during the pre-production stage. It will always be more cost effective to communicate with your sound mixer prior to the shoot regarding potential sound issues rather than to deal with problems as they occur. Below are the major categories of production sound for you to consider.
What Gear Do You Need?:
The first question we tend to ask a producer, coordinator, or director is “what kind of gear do you need?”. The reply is often “oh, just a few lav mics”. While this is helpful, we need to dig deeper to make sure your audio needs are fully met and that you have budgeted appropriately. Production sound gear is rented out in two forms. First, as a basic kit. Then, as “a-la-carte” for every piece of equipment that is in addition to the basic kit.
So what’s in a basic kit?
The basic kit consists of:
(1) Multi-track recorder/mixer capable of recording isolated audio channels as well as producing a mixed feed to send to camera.
(1) Boom microphone w/ accessories appropriately chosen for the shooting location along with a boom pole and c-stand w/ mount if necessary.
(2) Wireless systems. This can either be two wireless systems for talent mics or it can be one talent mic and one wireless camera feed.
All the battery power necessary for each device to operate a full day.
Any accessory required to secure talent mics such as clips, adhesives, straps, and mounts.
“Do I need to rent more equipment for this shoot?”. Well, it depends. How many actors do you plan having on camera simultaneously? How many cameras are you shooting on and do you require a wireless audio feed to each camera? Does your post team require a timecode sync box to feed continuous sync to each camera? Do you need a “Smart Slate”? Would you like individual wireless monitoring for each client present on set?
A La Carte:
Depending on the complexity of your shoot you may need to rent additional equipment beyond the basic kit. Typically these items are:
Extra wireless systems for talent
Wireless audio feed to camera
Timecode “smart” slate
Timecode sync boxes
The location you choose will, by far, have the most significant impact on the quality of audio recording for your shoot. Before locking down a location, ask your location scout and the location’s owner the following questions:
Is the location close to a busy road, highway, bus route, intersection, etc? Is it only busy part of the day/night?
Is the location underneath a flight path? Is it near a railway? If so, do you know the frequency at which the trains run.
Will you have complete control over the location once we’re on set? Will you be able to turn off heating/air conditioning? Will you have access to the breaker box? Will non-film people be on location during filming and do they understand what will be required of them in terms of being quiet?
If we’re shooting in a bar/cafe/restaurant, are we able to turn off coolers, refrigeration units, air conditioners, etc? Will the establishment be fully closed and free of random foot traffic from the public and/or employees?
Will you have the labor resources to lock down locations and keep foot traffic from interrupting takes?
Not all fabrics sound the same. When choosing an actor’s wardrobe consider where a lav mic will be placed. Your sound dept. will greatly appreciate it if you consider the following:
Request that actors/interview subjects wear natural fabrics like cotton but NOT silk.. Synthetic fabrics like polyester also tend to be noisy.
Remember that we have to strap a transmitter box onto your actor. If he/she isn’t wearing much (or wearing very tight clothing) your sound mixer may need additional time to conceal the mic and transmitter pack in a way that is both comfortable for the actor and sounds good to our ears.
Consider how much noise a piece of jewelry makes, especially necklaces and bracelets.
Art Dept. & Set Dressing
Remove or fix noisy furniture like chairs that squeak or rattle.
Remove or secure shelved items that make noise when actors walk in a scene or when doors are opened/closed.
Allow the sound dept. to place sound blankets off screen within a room to deaden a reverberant space.
Help from the A.D.
Your assistant director is our most important ally to implement a sound friendly protocol on set. Request that the A.D. make a habit of the following best practices and all your other crew members will follow suit.
Make sure all cellphones are either turned off or put into airplane mode.
Honor requests for room tone and wild lines from actors if needed.
Make sure the boom operator is included in rehearsals.
Adjustments are often needed to find the best possible positioning of a lav mic. Allow enough time for an actor to be wired up so these adjustments can be made prior to or immediately after blocking takes place.
Request other crew members to work quietly or hold work if needed. If there’s too much noise between takes it can be very difficult to determine if there’s a sound issue until moments before action is called.