I hope this post comes out informative, but there is a high risk that it will turn into a rant. I’ve been very frustrated lately that I’ve been working with multiple directors, DPs, and producers lately all of which have been in the industry for over 15 years…and yet still know absolutely nothing about the world of sound. So I’d like to clear up some misconceptions.
It isn’t the microphone its what we do with it I’d bet on this forum you’d find quite a few posts asking “What is a good shotgun mic for $xxx.xx?”. It’s important to realize that good sound is only about 20% about the microphone, and 80% about where you put it. Strap a $2000 schoeps CMIT 5U onto your camera and it won’t sound any better than the on camera mic. A boom op with good technique could make a cheap Rode mic sound better.
Wireless lavaliers are a crutch Sound mixers will tell you that wireless lavaliers don’t sound as good as the boom. To an extent that is true…but truthfully lavaliers do sound pretty good. The difference is they sound much less natural because they don’t catch the inherent reverb and ambiance of the room. They are also have more bass because they are seated right next to the actors chest.
Like all gear, there is a time and place for wireless lavaliers. Extremely wide shots with lots of headroom are a great example. In these shots the boom would be too far to get good sound. Secondly, the actors are far enough away that if something happens to the audio (such as a wireless dropout or RF hit), its easy for the dialogue editor to sneak in a track from a different take or angle and cover up the mistake.
However, many directors and DP’s use lavaliers as a crutch for their poorly designed, poorly lit scenes. A well blocked properly lit scene is almost always easy to capture on the boom. Wireless lavaliers are for reality TV…real movies should be mostly about the boom.
Lavaliers are not some magical sound voodoo (but you’d swear DPs think they are). They have serious limitations. They pick up the sound of the clothing, if the actor sweats they will sometimes fall out of place, they are both fragile and expensive, and they are also very sensitive to radio frequencies.
We don’t use one microphone Many new filmmakers ask “What mic do you use?”. We don’t use just one type of microphone. Microphones are like lenses. Different microphones work great for different situations. For example, our audio kit consists of: Senhessier 416, AKG 480BCK-69, AKG 480BCK-63, Sanken CS3e, Schoeps CMC MK41, 1 x Oktava mk012a.
Etiquette – This is a personal thing, and I may be wrong on this. When you hire a sound person, trust their advice. You are paying good money for it after all.
When someone tells me to throw a lav on someone, I take it as an insult. I have been hired to give you good sound…if the lavalier was necessary or helpful then I would have put it. It also suggests you don’t think I can boom the shot, which is also insulting. You wouldn’t tell the DP, “Hey, why don’t you throw an LED light on her just in case”. Most good DPs would not appreciate that sort of comment. Trust that I know my job enough to know when it will do more harm than good.
For example, I did a scene where a girl ran out of a house and had a huge emotional breakdown, screamed, and rolled around on the ground. In general, when people start crawling around on the ground, the lavs sound like crap and they have a high risk of being seen..and given her tight wardrobe it was almost guaranteed to happen. But the director insisted that a lavalier be placed…and so in the next shot, as predicted the lavalier (which was sounding like crap anyways) fell out and ruined the shot (a shot which sounded great on the boom by the way).
In general, I will put wires on all the actors for every scene. If I haven’t put one there is usually a good reason. Sometimes its like the reason above. Other times its because the actors asked if me if we could go without it. Many actors don’t like to get wired, or at the very least have bad days where they don’t feel like worrying about twenty people on set listening to their private conversations all day.
Sometimes I am so sure that this is an easy scene to boom that I will tell the actor “Sure I can get the scene on the boom, no problem”. When you tell me to lavalier them for no good reason, you have frustrated them, me, and also hurt our working relationship.
Sometimes its because they are crazy people who might break it
Yes we can hear that – If you can hear a sound with your ears, then yes we can hear it on the mics. However, that does not necessarily mean it will ruin your sound. In general constant noises like hums, or high pitched ringing can be taken out in post. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to eliminate these noises…but if that isn’t practical then trust your sound person if they tell you it is ok.
Secondly, a good sound team will know how to pick the right microphones to reduce the problem as much as possible. Certain mics are great for rooms that echo, and others are good for reducing hum(provided the boom op knows what he’s doing).
No furniture pads Whoever called those damn things sound blankets did us sound guys a great disservice. People think they can throw them over things like air conditioner units, or in front of coolers and it will get rid of the noise. It might work…if you layer it about 8 feet thick. These things have zero acoustic insulation…they won’t do anything.
The only function they really have in the sound world is to throw on the ground as a quick and dirty means of quieting the sounds of footsteps (especially high heels).
We can’t save you from yourself When you scout locations, make sure to keep your ears open. Lately, I’ve been beginning to suspect that directors scout locations with their ipods on. I’ve done two page dialogue scenes next to active construction sights, inside crowded restaurants, and once even in a fish processing plant. Those scenes were ADR’d at great expense.
Recently, I worked on a film that had a scene inside an arcade. The owner refused to let the production lock the location, so we had to shoot in it as a live location. There were bells, whistles, ten different songs from different machines, and about forty screaming brats running in every direction. In the middle of the first shot, the following conversation took place:
DIRECTOR (yelling because its too loud to even talk in this place): I can’t hear them.
Me: I know…its like 98db in here. If an airplane took off we might not hear it.
DIRECTOR: I don’t want to have to dub this scene
Me: But you have to…there is no way not to.
DIRECTOR: Are they wired?
Me (trying not to lose my temper): He is but the little girl isn’t
DIRECTOR: Well, how about you throw a lav on her…
Understand this…we can’t fix the sound any more than the DP can move a 20ft tall tree that is blocking a beautiful wide shot. If the sound is fucked…its fucked…and the last thing that will save it is a lavalier.
We are there to record what is there in the cleanest most pristine manner possible. If the location sounds like a 747 taking off then a good sound mixer will get a very solid track of a 747 taking off…so try not to stage a four page scene there. Getting good sound starts in preproduction when you are choosing your locations.