Secrets of Indie Filmmaking

Secrets of Indie Filmmaking: Sound

Today I’d like to give a few tips to new or independent filmmakers with tiny budgets.

Yes, this will all sound incredibly basic or obvious to some of you, but I am speaking to the people who need to learn. Mistakes happen on set even with a large experienced crew with a higher budget, so reminders never hurt.

Besides, these were all hard won through personal experience.

SOUND.

You really really need well recorded dialogue. Well recorded dialogue. I’ve seen some very nice little movies be tripped up by the bad sound they got on location, then equally poor mixing in post.
So. Get the best mic you can. Here’s a hint. If the mic sells for less than $300 new, it probably won’t be good enough. Do some research.

Once you’ve got a decent mic, you need to record the dialogue as close to the actor’s mouth as possible. Yes that includes the boom. It will be placed as close to the actor’s mouth as possible. You are trying to get as much of the actual voice, and as little of the surrounding environment, as possible.
Ideally the recording should sound dry, that is, no reverb or echo. It should also be recorded closer to the upper limits of the recording meter, but without clipping (going into the red).

Also, get at least a minute of “room tone” in each location before you move to the next scene. As soon as you’re done shooting the scene, everyone on set, the cast and the crew, has to be silent while the room tone is recorded. Your sound editor absolutely positively needs this to lay in behind your nice, dry dialogue, especially if any replacement dialogue (ADR) needs to be recorded during post production. And a minute is the bare minimum. Every sound editor I’ve ever talked to would far prefer 2 or even 4 minutes of silence. But that really is a long time for everyone to stand around, still, and silently.

Also, you may think it would be a better idea for everyone else to leave and the sound guy to remain for a couple of minutes to record the room tone alone. Wrong. I was in such a hurry after shooting a scene on one project that I went back by myself at the end of the day to grab the room tone from the exact locations we had shot that day. Later in post, as I laid in some dialogue I’d had to re-record in my studio (and by “studio” I mean a small tent I’d made out of sleeping bags to kill the reverb in the room), I could very clearly hear the difference between the background sound recorded on location during the performance, and the sound of the same room after all the people were gone. Everything – everything, from the number of bodies to furniture and materials –  in a room alters the sound.

Remember: Don’t be so excited by your camera or what’s happening in front of it that you neglect the sound.

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