Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sound advice

First of all, this is like the busiest week ever. If I was supposed to email or call you for any reason I'm sorry. I haven't even had time to buy groceries. Fortunately I have enough left over lasagna and some soup in my kitchen. I am almost out of soap.

I'm trying to box, teach, rebel against my boss and prepare to shoot my short film this week. And next week I go on vacation so I'm grading papers like a madman. But next Wednesday my time becomes my own again, then it becomes all about the writing. Zombie movie. Expo. Short film.

My current conundrum with Game Night is the sound issue. I have people coming at me from all sides with advice on how to handle sound and they all have different suggestions. Almost all of the film shoots in my living room with my actors gathered around a coffee table.

There's Writing Partner, who wants to load up with crew but use one lav on the coffee table and a boom. Then there's Boyfriend, who's willing to handle sound on his own, Robert Rodriguez style with a boom and a pair of headphones and not much else. I could get the equipment for cheap over at Indierentals and he'll handle the rest.

He thinks we might also need a lav on all four actors because of the echo factor on my hardwood floors. But there is some yelling in the script. Maybe I should get a rug instead.

Boyfriend also said a refrigerator isn't as much noise as you think. Partner says refrigerators are really loud and the one POV shot in the refrigerator is going to totally fuck up my sound. But I want that shot.

Then there's a bunch of people who say I should pay whatever it takes to get a professional sound guy to come in and handle everything. But I don't have a lot of extra cash.

And everybody says I shouldn't skimp on sound because if the sound sucks, the movie sucks. And now my brain hurts from all the anxiety.

What kind of experiences have you guys had with sound? Disasters? Achievements? What worked? What didn't? Add to my confusion by giving me more opinions.


  1. hey em, tried to email you back but lasusd bounced my email. apparently i used an adult-content word. not sure what is was. maybe my salacious descriptions of how good sound is hard to find? :)

    i copied your gmail account.

  2. Thanks. I hate my workplace filters. They don't even let the word "boob" through. It's ridiculous.

    I'll read your email when I get home.

  3. I was in a short film last semester. The boom mic broke, and so the director opted to shoot the whole film and redub in post. Redubbing was a PAIN, especially when you're overworked, overbooked undergrads. When it "premiered" with the other short films made that semester, the other two actors sounded fine. It didn't sound like they had been dubbed in post, really, except for the occasional out of sync sound and lip movement. I sounded horrible. I think I might have been too close to the mic or something. The film isn't so bad. But people knew the sound was messed up. And I really am not planning on showing it to anyone else because of how bad I sound. So that's my story about sound. I think that you just need to make sure that whoever's doing it, pro or not, really knows what they're doing.

    Best of luck! I hope I'll get to see it sometime.


  4. What type of camera are you shooting on? It could make a difference. Are you going to record sound directly into the cam or on another source?

    We just shot a short for our school, and the frig did let out an annoying hum in the background of piece. I was able to eliminate most of it in Post production with Final Cut Pro and Soundtrack, but it took some time.

    Sound is going to be one of the most important elements to your film. Especially in a short film. You can't hide bad sound with flashy special effects. I would put a rug underneath your table. That will take away some of the echo. Depending on your shots, you could use wireless mics on the table hidden with a flower vase or some other object. A boom could work if your operator has some experience.

  5. I'm not sure what kind of camera the DP's using but it is digital. We're using a boom for sure, but I'm not sure if we'll be using lavs or not. I'm not sure whether to use both or just the boom or if we use lavs how many.

    I was told to cut the refrigerator off during the shoot. But I need one shot in the actual refrigerator and I haven't figured out how to do that yet and balance light and sound together.

    How do you have the refrigerator open and the light come one and the sound not be loud?

  6. Whatever you decide, you can/should test it first. That will be cheap and effective, and will tell you exactly what you'll be getting. And in the test, do whatever you think will be problematic. Have the actors yell, etc.

    Re: the fridge, I don't know if it will really be a problem, but there should be no reason why it has to be one or the other. Turn it off for the bulk of the shoot, and have it on only for that shot. As I recall, there isn't much dialogue over that shot anyway, so if need be, you can replace with wild sound. And even if there is, it would make sense that fridge noise would go up as he opens the door. So that can certainly work with no problem, as I see it.

  7. Sorry, i'm not a techie... but since it's DV, can't you do a run thru/experiment to see about the sound??

    I've only participated in a couple of shorts. They're a pain in the ass.

    Good luck.

  8. Sound is like the bastard stepchild of filming. You always skimp on it - and then it rears its ugly head and bites you in the ass. Yes - you can go back later and try to fix it in the mix - but its a double edged sword that never works like it should. Here in China - they do everything at the end - but that's why their mouths all look funny when they talk.

    A good boom guy can handle four people talking - as long as you get a lot of coverage - ie: in the wide shot - he's trying to get as much as possible - but he gets better on each person as you shoot closer. The Lav might be fine as a back up or another source - but make sure its going to its own channel.

    As for the fridge - if you're shooting into the fridge for a POV - who cares if about the sound? Just shoot inside with the fridge running. If you need your actors to talk while looking in - record them clean and then mix the two in post. If you need to see from inside the fridge towards your actor reaching in - and talking - build a couple shelves - put a light source nearby - put some beer and fruit on the shelves and shoot back at the actors.

    Sound is tough. Anytime you can get someone who knows what he's doing - its better. But know that many have gone before you with much less knowledge than you and made many mistakes that were fixed. The whole point of this is to learn and to have fun. Yes you want a good piece - but more importantly - you want experience so that the next one is better. Relax. Take the time to enjoy the set - the actors - cause you'll never have the "first shoot" experience again.

    Good luck.

  9. I agree with Greg. Shoot the table shot with the frig off, and then crank it up when you have it in the shot. You could always record the sound of the fridge with the boom mic, and then lower the volume in post and lay it down on one of the audio tracks. that way your actors and the frig will be on different tracks. Then you can manipulate the frig sound without ruining the quality of your actor's conversation.

  10. Anonymous6:34 PM

    If you can turn off your fridge and hang a light inside it you can avoid the sound issues. It'll spoil your yogurt, but you have to suffer for your art, right?

    And sound is the reason we'll probably have to scrub the feature we shot. The parts that came out were great. The parts where the sound person missed problems or couldn't bring herself to speak up about them are Dumpster-bound.


  11. I've done a few short films, and a couple of them I won't even show anyone because the sounds sucks so bad. It's definitely worth it to have a sound guy who has the right gear and knows how to use it.

    Fridges and air conditioning can kill your sound, especially if you are using a shotgun mic. Lavs can be more trouble than they are worth, so it's a good idea to also boom if you are using lavs.

    Also, make friends with a post-audio facility in case you need to beg for some ADR help.

  12. Thanks for all the input. I actually think I know what I'm going to do.


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