ProductionSound Wisdom: 5 Sound Mistakes to Avoid, Pt 1
September 28, 2016
5 SOUND MISTAKES TO AVOID ON SET:
“We’ll fix it in post.” Sure, you can do that. But it will cost you. Do another take, or troubleshoot in the moment. It could save you thousands of dollars down the road in ADR and mixing fees.
Are you really mixing? You cannot “mix” on let’s say an iPhone or a Zoom (except for Zoom F8). Understand the difference between “mixing” and just “capturing” audio. This relates to your equipment (some devices can mix, others cannot) but also your recordist; is he listening and adjusting levels? He should be turning knobs on his device just like your AC or DP is pulling focus. As the volume and direction of sound change, so should the devices that pick them up.
Booming is a verb. Except for specific cases (like a sit down interview), the boom should never be totally static. This is your primary source for high sound quality. Also: if the boom op isn’t riding the edge of your frame, he isn’t close enough. Dipping in is a sign that he’s committed to getting you great sound.
Know when it’s a 2-person job. Hired 2 ACs, DIT and DP for camera? But sound is only one person? Sometimes you’re better off balancing out the numbers. (See our footnote to this post for more.)
Location Scout. Checked out your locations already with your DP? How did it sound? Don’t ignore half your location so that you can show up prepared.
5 TIPS TO GET BETTER SOUND ON SET:
Know your equipment. You wouldn’t hire a DP with a camera package without asking what camera he’s bringing, right? Take 20 min to research basic sound kits (there’s only about 5 different ones that most on set sound mixers use) and decide what you need and can afford.
Keep an eye on your soundie. If they’re any good, they will give you visual or verbal cues during a take to let you know when there’s a sound problem -- allowing you the choice to “hold for sound,” ignore it, or go again.
Sound Blankets. Not always needed, but a $5 way to quiet a lot of noisy scenarios. Having C-stands to rig them up also helps.
Playback. Listen to your sound! Just like you watch back your picture. It will tell you a lot about what you’re going to be working with in post – but not exactly: what you’ll probably hear is a mix down: a combination of many tracks playing at once. This isn’t always reflective of the flexibility you have in post (if you’re using a multi-track recorder) but it’s better than flying deaf. If you’re concerned about one particular character, ask to hear a solo of that channel.
Go Wild. Recording “wild lines” in a quiet place while still on set and in the moment allows your talent to provide some quick and free ADR in case your production sound wasn’t a home run; a closet or a car can work great!
*Footnote: How Many Sound Crew Is Enough?
If you’ve ever held a boom pole/mic, you know it’s not for the faint of heart. Now imagine doing that masterfully while ALSO listening, holding up a bag with your equipment, and turning fader knobs to mix the sound -- just right -- as it’s coming at you at the speed of sound? A true skill, and not many can do both, at once, well.
If you’ve got several lavaliere microphones taped onto your talent’s chests, and/or you’re shooting with multiple cameras, AND you have comteks (listening headphone units for director/script sup, producers) to hear sound in real time, you should probably hire more than one sound crew to manage and operate all of this gear. A sound report (we do ours via iPad) is another element that can be thrown into the mix and help your picture & sound editors in post. But not one person can handle all of this. Know your limits and don’t waste your valuable time and money by underperforming on set… because it can come back to bite you in post and cost much, much more later.
But the best way to know if you’ve hired enough? Talk to your sound team. They should be able to break down what’s safe and feasible for them to accomplish given your scene, locations, and gear needs.
Ready for more? Find Heika's tips for post-production sound here.