This summer I decided to venture a little bit more on production sound. Often I am asked if I prefer being on set or work on post. Working as production sound mixer most certainly means stress. Long days working, people screaming, junk food, facing conditions that one has not counted on… but it is also a very singular sensation of connection with people that are working together to create something great, that eventually start to look at solutions together and be creative. You learn from others and others learn from you. In post one can get extra-creative and delete something that was not so good. One can also relax their body more because there is no struggle to be absolutely silence. But – at least to me – it feels more personal. It´s where you go all in with your creativity. But after some gigs on set, one really learns not to judge others, because circumstances often are unknown.
This is more like a sum-up of the several projects I took this season, that included drama feature film, documentary-style mini series, thriller short film and even tv.
General reference list of audio gear:
- Sound Devices 664 or Sound Devices 788t.
- Schoeps CMC 6U + MK 4 (cardioid) and MK 41 (supercardioid)
- Sennheiser Evolution G3 1 Ch System EK100 (bodypack system) / Wisycom Wireless microphone system
- DPA 4060/71 lav microphones
- Acessories: Rycote zeppelin, 2 shockmounts, portabrace belt and harness, boom pole, waist belt, windshields, a variety of lengths for XLR cables, lav mics miniature concealers.
In the documentary-style production, its nature relied very much on a certain amount of improvisation over the script and that the rehearsals might be very different from the final cutting choice or so interesting that they will actually be the director´s pick.
For this reason, the camera always has one microphone mounted on. From the first meeting with the director we agreed the the mic on the camera could end up being a great resource for post. I picked the same as it would be in the boom pole, for better results and continuity. I work mainly in post-production and my thought is very much in regard to that. So, my goal from the beginning has been to deliver as many great options as possible to the dialogue editor. This might not be the first choice as a lot of cameras are noisy and it adds uncomfortable weight when it´s operated on the shoulder.
The boom is often seen as a bit of a pain-in-the-bum. Although lavaliers are usually able to offer great performance, my motto has been “never rely on the lavs!” – all sorts of unexpected interference, an unhappy incident with the actor´s wardrobe and because tendentiously they sound slightly muffled and not that natural – booming is priority. Dialogue with the director, camera operator and director assistant are crucial for a coordinated team to work properly. Using a wireless system for the shotgun might be a good idea when the cable is on the way of people, and one less thing to worry the boom operator.
The Schoeps became one of my favourites for what I consider to have a more natura – but great – sound and a wider pick-up pattern.
I tend to use the cardioid capsule or at least not a very tight pattern in interior scenes; one reason is to avoid reflections and excessive reverberation from a super-cardioid mic and the other concerns the “free” genre, where bouncing between actors quickly can cause off-axis nuances to sound… off-axis, so I privilege a wider pick up pattern when possible. However, when outdoors, I use the super-cardiod as most backgrounds are very noisy.
For the lavs, the DPA´s 4071 are a great choice. Hardly distorting and that “presence boost” really does make the difference, comparing to the Sennheiser ME, for example, if talking about a feature film or tv series. Although the ME series offer extremely reasonable results, the DPA´s just take the sound to another level.
Knowing the location, props, wardrobe, and camera beforehand will probably annihilate problems. Weird (or non-existing) wardrobe, leather or other annoying-sound seats, or terribly noisy camera (hello Red Epic). It might happen actors with very different clothes (thin vs. thick shirt, for example) and this might cause a huge difference on the background noise level. Asking for the wardrobe plan and talking to the department will do wonders.
Always include a mic to mount on the camera and if it needs an adaptor. One can never prepare too much!
If there is significant diegetic music on the production (in one case, actors singing or dancing over songs played through a loudspeaker in the room): I cannot recall where I read this from, but for scenes when actors are dancing we play the music through a low pass filter below 80 Hz which will not interfere with the dialogue and allows for the beat to be heard and thus better performance of the actors. We then aim to record separately the music with the lavs and boom so the sound post producer can use it then, if he / she finds it useful.
I will call these rules and not set of practical things because without it, better welcome the lord of chaos:
- label every transmitter / receiver system – input number on the mixer + actor´s name / director / script supervisor, etc;
- what can be set up before hand do it; such as receivers permanently connected to the Sound Devices (this also means extra care or transportation!);
- replace and charge batteries on the end of day – I also labeled the batteries with numbers to keep a fine rotation between them.
- name files and tracks before each scene for a clean and neat delivery.
- inputs 1-5 for radio mics in a pre-specified order; input 6 for boom.
- matrix sending lavs to X1 and boom to X2. This allows me to with a switch listen to one or other on the headphones, and send separate to the director, script supervisor and the boom to the boom operator. In cases where the boom is far away or if it´s important to have some actor being listened by the director, I simply change it in the matrix;
I find it better to give the director only the boom mix so he doesn’t get distracted by whatever may occur with the lavs (advice took from Ric Vier´s Location Sound).
Too keep everything really simple, input 1 is routed to ISO 1, 2 for 2 and so on.
Harness and porta-brace, what else when need to take the baby with us? 🙂
Last but not least I share a couple of links that helped the prep of this gig.
Happy sound production mixing!