SOUND FOR FILM- CinematographerTools.com

It is important for every filmmaker to understand the basics of recording sound in the field.  Often, you will find that a film audience will forgive poor visuals long before they will put up with bad audio.  Thus, it is important that the DP works in tandem with the Production Mixer and Boom Operator (sometimes one person doing both jobs) to get the best audio possible out on location.  On a low or no budget film, it is not uncommon for the Cinematographer to run the camera and record the sound at the same time.

 

1.  A Boom Op holds a boom pole.  At the end of the boom pole is a shotgun microphone (this microphone is very directional and keeps background noise low because it picks up the most sound in the direction that it is pointed at).  The microphone is plugged into an XLR audio cable that is either connected directly to the camera, an audio mixer which then runs to an external audio recorder or to the camera.  If a Boom Op is not available, the boom pole can be placed on a stand.

 

2.  The Boom Op points the microphone toward the actor who is speaking.   The microphone should be lowered as close to the actor as possible without being seen in the shot.

 

3.  The sound is mixed and recorded at optimal levels using controls on the audio mixer, camera and/or external audio recorder.  Recording sound at the right levels is important (see your user manual for recommended levels).  If audio is too low, it will be noisy.  If it's recorded too hot, it will sound distorted or clipped.  Headphones are used to monitor the sound.

 

4.  Wireless microphones can be used in situations where it is impossible to boom the audio (extremely wide shots for example).  Wireless microphones consist of a transmitter and a receiver.

"Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound.  Sometimes sound even overplays the visual."

-David Lynch

 

Jason Mangini, Sound Engineer

Jason Mangini - CinematographerTools.com
Jason Mangini Sound Engineer - CinematographerTools.com

1.  Tell us about yourself and the types of projects you work on.

For the past 12 years, I've worked on a large variety of projects. As the industry has changed, so have the types of projects I've worked on, although many have remained the same for years. Several of the star studded feature projects that I've worked on have revolved around professional athletics. With clients such as ESPN, Golf Channel, NFL Network, PGA Tour Productions, MLB, NBC Sports, WWE, Fox Sports 1 and countless others, the projects have covered stories which range from triumph to tragedy. There's a certain enjoyment that comes along with working on these projects - the personal interactions, the travels, and the gratification of seeing a project from start to finish.

 

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel around the globe several times, making friends, learning cultures and opening my eyes to the world we live in, all due to the ever evolving television industry.

 

By far, I most enjoy working with like-minded people on projects that have potential to change the world for the better. Oh yeah, and I also enjoy working on anything revolving around skiing and great music.

2.  Who or what influenced or influences your work?

Before I started in the industry, my greatest influence was Warren Miller. If you've ever seen a Warren Miller film, you'll quickly understand his humor and passion for skiing and film making. These days I mostly read articles about musicians and engineers who love what they do, and have a creative eye and ear.

3.  What's your approach to collaborating with a film director or tv producer?

As a sound engineer, I often don't get details about projects until the last minute, which could be very counter productive for a production. Creating a plan, and a back up plan, is often in my best interest. The reality is, your best laid plans may not work, so be ready and anticipate change.

4.  What's your basic approach to capturing good sound out on location?

In order to record the best sound, there are many variables, starting with interior or exterior. Again, the best laid plans and even a scouted location can change within a moments notice. Airplanes to leaf blowers, air conditioners to people talking, there are sounds everywhere! Sound is sloppy. It bounces off walls, passes through windows and can travel for miles. Being a bit of a control freak is part of being a sound engineer. Having control of the surroundings is imperative to the quality of the audio you are recording. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There's enough information to write a book about my "basic" approach to recording good sound on location. The list goes on before we even start discussing microphone selection and placement.

5.  How do you handle the pressure on a set?

When the clock is ticking and the pressure is on, you'd better have your ducks in a row. TV waits for no one, or so it feels. It's easier to remain calm if you are confident with your work. In order to be confident, practice and understanding your gear and your environment will help you be better prepared.

6.  What makes up your basic gear package?  Any piece of gear you particularly love?

The industry standard was always a shotgun mic, boom pole, mixer and 2 wireless lavs. Today, things have changed, but for the better. With multi track recording abilities, dual channel wireless receivers, stereo shotgun microphones and plenty of other toys which act as tricks to the trade, my collection of gear is continuously mounting. Due to it's warm, wholesome sound, my Schoeps CMC 6 w/ MK41 capsule is one of my favorite pieces of equipment. Nothing beats great sound!

7.  What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the business?

Buy a telelprompter.  ;)

SOUND

On this page, we will:

 

1.  Cover the Basics of Recording Sound in the Field

2.  interview Audio Professionals to explore their knowledge and experience in the following 2 areas:  Recording Sound in the Field and Working with Sound in Post.

RECORDING SOUND IN THE FIELD

Tom Mumme Sound Engineer - CinematographerTools.com
Tom Mumme Sound Engineer 2 - CinematographerTools.com
Tom Mumme Sound Engineer 3 - CinematographerTools.com

Thomas Mumme, Sound Engineer

1.  Tell us about yourself and the types of projects you work on.

I had my first paying job in the business in 1993, so that’s what I consider my “start date” in the Film/TV/Entertainment Industry.  I live on the Space Coast of Florida, so really got my start shooting Rocket and Shuttle launches.  From there I worked on a few big films, like Men in Black, The Devil’s Own and a bunch of small indy films that never saw the light of day.  I moved to he Orlando market in 2000 and started working mostly on reality TV shows like Survivor, The Celebrity Apprentice, Ghost Hunters International, Dual Survival, and Comic Book Men.  Now I mostly travel for work and go from show to show to show as a freelancer.

2.  Who or what influenced or influences your work?

When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, of course it was all about Star Wars and Steven Spielberg movies. That’s what gave me the bug for filmmaking.  When I first got into the business, I really wanted to be a Cinematographer, so I studied the greats like Conrad Hall, Gordon Willis (who I worked with on The Devil’s Own), and Vittorio Storaro.  As I got older I realized that overall I enjoyed producing multiple projects at a time, so that’s kind of where I’m at now.  And media has changed a lot since I went to film school and there are so many ways to tell a story now.  I’m currently publishing comic books and having a blast doing that.

3.  What's your approach to collaborating with a film director or tv producer?

I think the key is communication.  And by communication I mostly mean listening and paying attention.  As a sound guy for a good portion of my career, I have sat back and watched so many people talking but not listening to each other and it’s always very frustrating.  Carrying on a true back and forth dialogue so everyone is on the same page is the key to a good collaboration in my opinion.

4.  What's your basic approach to capturing good sound out on location?

Microphone placement is the most important thing: finding the sweet spot to wire up a lav, or just the right direction and distance for a boom.  It’s really amazing what post production sound designers can do these days, so my job is to try and get them the cleanest audio possible without disrupting the flow of the acting (or reality).  Again, paying attention and knowing when it’s the right time and place to interrupt a performance or a scene is just as important as getting clean audio.

5.  How do you handle the pressure on a set?

Humor and sarcasm.  Sometimes in the thick of it, we forget that we got into this business because it’s fun.  Also, over the past 23 years, I’ve been able to successfully support my family at the same time as traveling around the world, so it’s important every once in a while to stop and appreciate your surroundings when you’re on a set.  A good friend of mine used to say “Why grow up when we can make movies,” and that sticks with me every time there is a pressure cooker moment on set and every one is getting stressed.

6.  What makes up your basic gear package?  Any piece of gear you particularly love?

Our company, Blue Juice Films, Inc has been fortunate enough to pick up a little gear here and there over the years.  The 2 Arri kits that we bought in the early 2000s pretty much supported the company for years until Lite Panel came along (we own a few of those too).  But since I do mostly audio as a freelancer, the Sound Devices audio mixers and Lectrosonic lavaliers have been crucial in supporting the comic publishing and intellectual property side of our business, so I can’t say enough about those.

7.  What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the business?

I grew up with such a love of films that I was like an encyclopedia of movies, so when I came into the business I thought I knew everything.  I quickly learned that watching great movies your whole life does not mean you can create them.  As exciting and artistic as it is, this business is still a trade.  One that takes skill and desire, but also years of education and experience.  My advice is:  don't come out of film school thinking you know everything.  There are jaded older guys like us who have been in the trenches doing it for 20+ years.  A great attitude and humility goes a long way.  A good example is from a James Woods movie that I was working on a long time ago.  It was my first time as a grip on a feature length film, and although I had been in the business already for years, the Best Boy asked me how much I knew.  I told him, treat me like I know nothing, show me something once and I promise you won’t have to show me again.  Because of that humility and positive attitude, he went out of his way to teach me his years of experience in a 6 week shoot and I came out of it as a better filmmaker overall.  Positive attitude, good work ethic, sense of humor.  That’s what I look forward to when I’m both above and below the line.

Tom Mumme Sound Engineer 4 - CinematographerTools.com
Tom Mumme Sound Engineer 5 - CinematographerTools.com
Tom Mumme Sound Engineer 6 - CinematographerTools.com
Tom Mumme Sound Engineer 7 - CinematographerTools.com

Timothy Spero, Post Production Sound Mixer/ Sound FX - Dialog Editor

My name is Timothy Spero.

 

I am a freelance/independent  Post Production Sound Mixer/ Sound FX - Dialog Editor.  I work primarily in sports television with most of that work being done for, or airing on ESPN.  Thru the years I have specialized in Sound Design for graphics, Sweetening on post produced events, sales and franchised elements, and Post Production sound mixing for features and full length shows.

Over the the past 20 years I have been awarded over a dozen Sports Emmy Awards.

 

I started my career in radio in the 70’s. I wanted to be the best Rock and Roll DJ in the universe.  Unfortunately I really sucked. Fortunately, the chief engineer took me under his wing and introduced me to the important work that went on behind the scenes in engineering and production. After producing for several years at a number of radio stations and networks I made the transition to television which is, after all, simply radio with pictures.

 

1.5 years of live television mixing and then with the help of the production manager created a new position at that station for production of audio for radio and tv promos in the days when synchronization required dubbing everything to video machines. It was time to move to a commercial production studio and master a streamlined  workflow for the emerging post production television sound field.

 

In the early 80’s there were no DAW’s sync between analog multitracks and video machines was achieved using old school TC synchronization boxes such as the BTX Shadow, Adams Smith Zeta 3, and the Timeline Microlynx. Big boxes syncing bigger machines with timecode requiring burning a channel on your multitrack and using long prerolls.

 

In 1988 Gary Rivera and I opened WestEnd Recording a full service Recording studio that specialized in Post Production sound services. The initial investment in those days was over $200,000.00 for equipment alone. However since this was our own company and we alone made the decisions we were able to purchase a Spectral Synthesis DAW, one of the first viable work stations for post production audio.

 

I started working regularly for ESPN in 1995 with the premier of the X games. Technical Director Steve Laxton convinced Producer Rich Feinberg and Director Chip Dean that on site “audio sweetening” was needed for the event that would take place at Ft. Adams that summer and require a full broadcast compound with multiple edit bays and on site graphics for 2 solid weeks.

I worked on over 300 items including teases, bumps, features, etc working 16 hour days for that event. By the 2000 X Games I was providing 3 suites and 6 sound editor/mixers 2 times a year to output some of the most exciting extreme sports programing of the era.  I continue to work on the X games and Winter X games to this day however, the workload is much smaller and due to the technology available today there is no travel or remote setup involved.

 

This lead to 20+ years of Great Outdoor Games, Hockey, Baseball, Sound Design for a  complete SportsCenter graphics package, College Football, Soccer, Indy Racing, Nascar, etc… My most recent highlights include 5 years of World Cup Soccer Events and the transition from BCS to College Football Playoff and National Championship Games. The icing on the cake has been the weekly investigative magazine show E60. Now in its 9th season I have worked on over 130 episodes mixing teases, bumps, and features.

 

Over the years I have found inspiration in many different places. Movies, television, music, nature and everyday life is filled with unique sounds. When doing sound design for a graphics package you can look to many Sci Fi movies for the literal sounds but by combining them with more natural sounds I was able to achieve one of the more popular directions that producers used in the late 90’s and early 2000’s….”make it sound organic”. When you pay attention you can get ideas and inspiration everyday going about your routine. Sound is everywhere. And good sound is important. More important than video quality.

 

Several studies have shown that media containing medium to marginal quality video that is accompanied by good clear audio will still get the intended message across. On the other hand great quality video accompanied by distorted poorly mixed or otherwise flawed audio will get negative reactions to the content in general. It is somewhat ironic that production budgets usually reflect that the opposite is the standard belief. This is particularly true on lower budget productions. Getting the sound right starts on day one. Any kind of pre-production meetings that concern content should include either the sound supervisor or the post production mixer.

 

Location sound will make or break a production from the very beginning. Hire a good location sound person. Do not leave the acquisition of audio to the cameraman. Whatever money you save in the field will evaporate in a post production sound studio trying to fix poor audio. And without ADR or “looping”, which can be pricey, you will never be able to truly “fix” poorly recorded sound. This is also true with voiceover. Many VO talent now have the ability to record in their own home studios. Most times this works fine but always get a sample before agreeing to let them record on their own rather than in a professional recording studio. Many times in the news and sports world the talent is forced to record on portable “prosumer” equipment in hotel rooms, airports, or automobiles. Many times retakes are recorded in totally different places and need to be matched to previous tracks. I spend more time working on voice trax recorded in this manner than any other single problem.

 

Next the project goes to the edit suite where there is more potential for quality issues. When I started in this business most videotape machines (yes that was a thing) had only 2 channels. Some of the older quad machines only had 1. In video production soundtracks were often put together first then sent to have the picture edited to the sound. NLE made this process much more flexible in many ways. Today the editor often edits the vo tracks and in many cases the music too. Nat sound may have been recorded onto the camera and also finds its way onto the timeline in the editsuite. While this is the accepted norm these days it is important to note that there are limitations of both the video editing equipment and the some of the people operating the equipment. For instance an Avid Symphony NLE is frame accurate to lets say 1/60th of a second. An Avid ProTools DAW operating at a 96k sample rate lets you edit to 1/96000 of a second. Cleaning up edits on the tracks is much easier when the correct tool is used. This also applies to music editing which is enhanced not only by the technical tools but the expertise of a sound editor who was specifically trained to edit music. Sound Fx and Design are also best left to the “sound dept” rather than the video editing process. I have a hard drive with hundreds of thousands of backgrounds, foley fx, and sound design elements. Many have been recorded by me or my associates over a 25 year period.. Certainly there are exceptions, but, it has never seemed logical to tie up an editor and an edit suite to do an inferior job of sound design with limited tools or assets.

 

Finally it is time for the editor to pass the production on to the sound department. This can be done several ways the best being in the form of the Advanced Authoring Format or AAF. In the past we used the OMF (Open Media Format), individual wav files, multichannel wav files, multichannel Quicktimes, or in the ancient times we captured from tape. The video can be embedded in the AAF if the DAW is equipped to handle this or it can come as a separate Quicktime video. Once we have created our own timeline on our audio DAW, in my case Avid ProTools, and imported the AAF and Quicktime video there are many things to check. You must make sure the frame rates all match, panning sometimes does not translate well, fades from the NLE could also not translate, and in some NLE actual sound clips may have incorrect audio from another channel. These are just a few of the things that can stand between an inexperienced sound editor/mixer and a great sounding piece.

 

I have a standard template I use for my timelines that loads the plugins I favor and have the tracks labeled and ordered so I can find things easily.  After I conform the AAF to my template I choose to either work on VO and SOT cleanup and EQ or adding sound fx. There is a method to how and why I choose but that is for another post. Typically I will mute all the channels but the ones I am working on and while I try to keep levels in the realistic realm I save the mix for last. Generally I add to or replace the fx that the editor provided and I add what else I need to making sure that it makes the piece better and is not just adding sound for the sake of adding sound.

 

The mix process begins when all the sounds have been added and cleanup and sound processing has been completed. There are so many variables in mixing that it really should be addressed for each specific production. Will it be played in a theatre, an auditorium, a conference room, or perhaps on TV or a handheld mobile device? Stereo? Surround? 5.1? 7.1?,

If it is surround what kind of encoding or if discreet surround is it smpte or film standards? This is just the tip of the iceberg when dealing with the mix. Making the the wrong choice could be catastrophic.  And each one of these scenarios would fill a book.

 

COPYRIGHT 2016 J. MORRIS.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.