“The sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie” – George Lucas
Here are six steps to capturing better production audio.
Every microphone has it’s own unique pickup patterns, and learning which to use in a given situation tends to separate the pros from the amateurs. For example, shotgun microphones, like the industry standard Sennheiser 416, are designed to focus their attention on a narrow area at the front of the mic while rejecting sound from the sides using interference tube technology. Although this may be perfectly suited for recording clean dialogue in an outdoor scene with a pesky lawn mower off in the distance, the lateral rejection can often cause unwanted phasing problems if a shotgun mic is used in a small indoor space filled with very reflective surfaces.
Whether on location or in a studio, listen to the environment. What challenges exist? From noisy HVAC units to the squeaky shoes that your principal talent is wearing, unwanted sounds are usually plentiful and are much easier to remedy before the camera starts rolling, rather than waiting to address them in the editing bay. Your job as a production audio recordist is to capture the cleanest dialogue possible. If you voice your concerns to the crew, and can come up with on-the-spot solutions, you will save yourself (and your team) the inevitable headache of trying to deal with it in post.
This is a no-brainer, but it is worth pointing out. Script directions and scene transitions often become invaluable to a sound recordist as they will allow you to focus on the continuity of the scene and verify that your tracks will hold up from one shot to the next.
Naming tracks, scenes, and takes is imperative for large film shoots, but even small independent productions can benefit from this type of organization. Whether you are editing your own audio tracks, or passing them along to a post house, labeling files and keeping them in clearly marked folder hierarchies can make all the difference.
Digital audio recording has an amplitude limit of 0 dBFS (decibels relative to full scale) also known as digital zero. Any sound that is recorded below that value is noted as a negative reading (i.e. -18 dBFS or eighteen decibels below digital zero). Keep an eye on your meters. As long as you keep the peak reading comfortably below digital zero, you will not run the risk of blowing the take from clipping your recordings.
Metering is very important, but can distract you from what is actually going to tape. So once you are certain that you are not clipping, the best practice is to set your headphone level at a position with which you are familiar and let your ears decide when something is too loud or not loud enough.
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