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How can we save money by avoiding problems in location recording?

Many independent films suffer from serious location sound problems. The importance of good location sound is consistently underrated by production teams, who, in their haste to complete the day's shooting, are often forced to focus on lighting, script, or location problems, and sound quality is placed on a back burner. This will be especially true if you hire an inexperienced sound recordist who, because of his inexperience, is unwilling or unable to assert his needs on the set, or unable to know the difference between what sounds good in his headphones and what sounds bad. 

Filmmaking is a demanding discipline that requires the mastering of skills in many areas at once, and one of these is audio recording. So always hire an experienced location recordist. If you don't, you have taken the first step to opting out of commercial viability for your production. Hiring a great sound recordist is as important as hiring a super DP.

Good, clean location sound is the hallmark of professional production. Without it, the film's producer and post-production team are facing a constant and expensive struggle to get dialogue quality back up to industry standards. With a poor quality dialogue recording, your work in post is  going to add up to more ADR recording, ADR editing, denoising, equalization and other processing. The simple solution is to do it right in the first place. Here are some general guidelines to get you started.  

Radio Mics

1. Static radio interference.
2. contact and friction with clothing 
3. thin sounding frequency response due to very small diaphragm or poor placement.
4. Lav mics provide little sense of proximity and perspective. 

1. Proper placement and direction can greatly reduce BG noise in noisy exteriors.
2. Essential when it is not possible to get close with a boom mic. 

Digital transmitters sound better and transmit much further than analog units, such as Sennheiser G3's. Industry standard G3's are good for no more than 50-75 feet in most situations. Furthermore, the audio analog signal undergoes compression/expansion during transmission. Digital units such as Lectrosonic introduce no such compression artifacts. 

Boom Mics

1. wind blowing on mic creates low rumble. Use a wind sock or blimp. 
2. loose cable on mix mount on boom itself creates clicking and knocking in audio track. 
3. Of course, the boom operator will be careful not to get the boom in the shot. It is not possible to effectively use a boom mic on a long shot.

1. large diaphragm generates warmer, more open sound -- the best choice for dialogue quality, always great on close ups

1. Many productions use both types of mics at the same time to  provide full coverage, recording boom on left channel and radio mic on right channel. When it's time for dialogue conform, the dialogue editor can have the luxury (and the greatly added complication) of both sources to choose from. 


1. Airplanes passing overhead: This should be a significant consideration when scouting locations. Is your location in the flight path of an airport? At what times of day are you likely to be buzzed by various aircraft?

2. Ambient traffic: Watch out for shooting locations near major intersections and boulevards. Again, time of day for shooting may be a major factor. Traffic has an amazing ability to penetrate walls, doors and windows, creating a thick pall over a scene. Heavy traffic may be nearly impossible to clean up in post, especially if the dialogue barely gets above the noise floor.

3. Generators: If you need generators to light your film, especially on night exteriors, for example, there is a really serious peril that a low frequency generator will get on the track. On interior night shoots, the gaffers are usually able to get the generator far enough away and on an oblique side of the structure so the generator will not be picked up. Major productions might excavate deep holes in the desert floor to position their generators for night shooting.

4. Refrigerators, air conditioners, heaters and other household appliances must be turned off when shooting in a residential or commercial interior.

5. Shooting near the ocean is always a problem. The pink noise of the shore is utterly pervasive and tends to smother dialogue, rendering it totally unusable. It is very difficult and often impossible to recover dialogue tracks with lots of ocean over them.

6. Any rooms with smooth walls — especially smooth walls on all four sides — can generate significant reverberation and acoustic resonance. This cannot only blur dialogue, but it will also bounce back camera noise and other crew noise to the detriment of your soundtrack. If possible, your set decorator should try to get some tapestries or painting up on the walls, and blankets or acoustic foam over offscreen walls are highly recommended.


7. Cable buzz is caused by a short in a cable, a bad connector, or proximity to electrical current. If it’s on a specific frequency it may be repaired in post, but processing time to fix this is a cost factor.

8. Camera noise. It is absolutely essential that your camera be utterly quiet and have the most heavy blimping possible. Even with the most heavily blimped camera, camera noise problems will be most severe in interior closeups in small rooms with smooth, hard walls, where the chattering of the camera movement will come out of the rear of the camera where the operator is looking into the eyepiece, or out of the lens area, and bounce off the walls, finding its way back into the mic. The machining of the camera movement itself can be a critical factor in achieving a quiet camera. Camera noise is seldom if ever a problem in exterior shooting. 

9. Besides overmodulation, the worst thing that can happen to your dialogue tracks is low level recording. An inexperienced location mixer is most likely to produce a low level track, and the result will be that your dialogue is buried in tape hiss. I’ve seen it happen. The loud stuff can probably be recovered. But low level talk will lose all it’s detail. The dialogue editor or mixer can diminish the hiss from a track, but in doing so he will also remove breaths and clothing noise and that all-important "air" that make your track breathe with life.

10. Ambient sound effects that concur with dialogue should be suppressed, when appropriate. For example, if the actress is typing on a noisy, old typewriter while delivering dialogue, the typewriter is going to be much too loud relative to the dialogue. Cotton pads or some other noise-absorbing material can be inserted inside the typewriter to cushion the impact of the slamming typewriter keys. In post, the key clicks may be artificially introduced later and mixed at a good level relative to the dialogue. Loud footsteps should also be given due consideration. If you have a great sound recordist, he'll already be on top of all this stuff.