Secrets of Indie Filmmaking

Secrets of Indie Filmmaking: Talking Equipment II

Photo: Samantha Swan

Talking Equipment.

In our last post Talking Equipment, we focused on equipment that can add a great deal of value to your shoot without costing an arm and a leg. As I stated last time, independent or new filmmakers often obsess over equipment… and for some puzzling reason, it always seems to be for the camera. I don’t think any indie filmmaker has ever said to me, “My God, look at that microphone!” And they should. Why? Because if you’re working an an ultra low-budget independent film, you won’t have the sound department a big-budget feature film has. You are going to have a lean and mean equipment list and a mean and lean crew list. (And I’m not saying that because you don’t feed them. But more on that hornet’s nest in a future post.)

So, on Sound.

A GOOD BASIC SHOTGUN MICROPHONE: Yes this is for mounting to your boom pole or mounting to your camera if you’re close enough to your subject. Preferably two microphones in fact, so you can have one on the boom and one on the camera so the one on the camera is acting as “back up” for the boom mic. Why we like it: Quality sound x 2. What if you’re on location, perhaps some place remote, nowhere near an equipment house? If the sound blows on one, you have another, and you have two separate tracks of the same sound. And here’s a tip: the mic on the camera should be recording at a lower volume than the boom mic, as a safeguard against loud sound that goes into the ‘red’ and distorts on the boom.
We won’t tell you that you must buy a specific brand, but Audio Technica, Azden, and Rode all make affordable high quality mics.

A ZEPPELIN WINDSCREEN: or as Chris puts it, “I love a big furry zeppelin to fight the goddamn wind.” We’re in the digital era and we have good mics, so you don’t want to hear perfectly recorded wind muffling dialogue. Why we like it: (It’s terrible to hear wind whistling mercilessly through a naked mic.)

LAV MICS: I am puzzled when I see them on a really low-budget set, as I suspect that student or indie filmmakers think they ‘look’ professional and therefore make them feel ‘legit’. We’ve spoken to great sound men who work on huge movies who admit lavs often offer up little more than a guide track for what will be ADR’d in post, as they are omnidirectional, finicky, get buffeted about easily, and need to be hidden in wardrobe and restrict movement. Why we like them: We don’t. They’re expensive and we don’t use them. But of course, if you’re in a situation where you absolutely have no space for a boom, they could be a good back up for a mic mounted on your camera.

A PAIR OF GOOD CANS: You just can’t be without good, durable closed ear monitors. Why we like them: Durable ones will last and closed monitors block out unwanted sounds and let you hear in very good detail. Again, we won’t specify brand, but good examples would be AKG, Audio Technica, Beyer, and Sennheiser.
Plus Chris finds also having a pair of ‘in-ear’ phones really helpful for shooting when he’s running and gunning outside, because they really block out the ambient noise and are extremely light and out of the way.

Obviously, we’re talking basics here. But we hope this helps you if you’re a low-budget filmmaker working on your equipment list, and we’ll return with future posts to continue this discussion.


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