I was having a chat the other day with some of the team who work in post production about the joys of fixing yet another interview with sound issues. According to them this was par for the course and not unusual, they had the feeling that often the thought during the shoot was that it could be fixed in post. I direct quite a lot of shoots and I also edit quite a lot of video, sometimes projects I did not direct, sometimes shoots I didn't even attend.
So wearing two hats I thought I'd give those who direct but have never had to deal with what sound guys sometimes get handed in post some tips, making life better for everyone. I was also assisted by Alan and Julian on this article.
Consult The Sound Crew In Pre-Production
It's very easy to get caught up with the setting, the lights, using the latest camera or prime lenses and just think the sound will take care of itself. Sound never takes care of itself, if you've never had a problem with sound on a shoot that's probably down to both the people capturing the sound on shoot and the people in post covering the multitude of sins that the set crew had no way of being able to deal with.
Consult with the people capturing the sound, tell them what you are trying to achieve creatively. Tell them what you are expecting them to capture. Tell them who the main characters are. Tell them where you are shooting. Remember that while some locations can look perfect (especially with the help of CGI), the sound issues associated with them may actually limit your creativity when it comes to post.
Why does this matter?
If you are trying to shoot a costume drama in a field under the flightpath of an airport or next to a busy road, then capturing your sound is going to be a nightmare. Not only that, the distraction of the background noise is not helpful to your actors. You're not going to be happy if the sound people want you to call cut every time a plane flies over your perfect shot, or even worse if they keep their mouths shut and you discover this in post!
Everything from the location, the angles you shoot and how you light a shot can affect the job of the sound crew, so you do need to consult beforehand so they can advise you of the best approach.
Multi-camera shoots are an added challenge for location sound crews. Not only does shooting close and wide from different angles mean that it's much harder to get a boom close enough without it being in shot, the more cameras you have, the more background noise is generated. Modern digital cameras generate a lot of heat, and often have to be cooled by fans - the arch enemy of sound.
Give The Sound Crew Time To Do Things Right
It can take a lot of discussion and time to get the shot lit right and the camera angles figured out, but make sure you also give your sound crew time to get their equipment set right. They may need to fix a squeaking floor board or have some time to record room tone for use in post. Particular costumes may also require an inventive approach to microphone placement.
If you don't already give sound crew time on set time to do things right before and after a shot then make time.
You May Need To Direct For Sound
Just this week I've had to spend a significant amount of time in post dealing with what seem like minor issues but which take time to fix. Both of the edits were interviews. The first interview had the interviewee clapping their hands nervously when answering questions. It was all over the audio. To add to this air con was running through the entire interview.
In the second interview the person was talking to camera and then turning away to look at the computer with the software he was talking about. Each time this happened the audio would drop in level and change in tone.
Granted some of these things should have been called by the sound person but often they don't feel able to say there are issues. They can often feel like the poor cousin of the shoot with the feeling that they should just shut up and do their best... and they often do work miracles in tough situations.
There have been a lot of discussions over the last few months about problems with sound on some high budget shows. At this point it's easy to point the finger at the sound crew on shoot or the post production teams - in some cases the issue lies with those running the shoot not giving due consideration to the sound as it is being captured. Some Directors and Producers are excellent and recognise the huge importance that sound has to any production, be that an interview or a full-blown drama, but some do not.
The location sound crew would always rather be asked if you have an issue, even if it means spending extra time. They'd rather make their best effort to sort out the issues on location rather than hear on the grapevine about "a nightmare in post" six months later. Location Sound crews do talk to Post crews.
What compounds the issue is the budgets (insert laugh) allocated for sound in post, with post production sound crews working for virtually nothing and delivering audio that is far above what should have been possible.
Quite often the post production sound deal has not been sewn up before the shoot commences, but it is really important to get your location sound crew in touch with your post crew as soon as possible. Also get your edit department in the loop. Your editor and post crew can help head off problems before they arise if they are all talking.
In closing, this article is meant to give those running shoots some things to consider that will help to make the job of getting great sound much easier. The fact that the tools exist to rescue bad sound doesn't make bad sound OK any more than airbags make bad driving OK, they are meant as a last resort not the modus operandi. Surely all our creative efforts deserve the best from start to finish?