Today it is easier than ever to purchase high quality digital recorders for audio recording. Whether it be for film dialog, “wild” sound capture, Foley or otherwise, prices have dropped or at least stabilized for microphones, field recorders and digital audio software.
Even still, what remains is a demand for quality audio that comes not just from the device you choose or the microphone you select, but how you use them to get that fantastic quality of sound before post-production. If you have the quality gear, then the following very simple tips might help you get the most out of it. Not everything is fixable in post-production!
Plan, plan and plan some more.
If there is one thing that you can do to improve the quality of your audio recordings, plan ahead before you press record. This ranges from knowing your environment and the challenges you might face for ambient noise, to having a good sense of what you are recording.
Are you filming a documentary? Get familiar with whom you are recording and how they react to having a microphone near their head or a lapel microphone attached to their shirt.
Filming outdoors? Check out your location a few hours ahead of time. How many planes just flew by? Are there dogs around that might start barking when you and your crew arrive?
How about that road nearby? Are you filming at a time near rush hour?
Indoor production? Check out that refrigerator. See if you can turn it off during those really important takes. (Be sure to plug or turn it back on!). HVAC. What a killer to an otherwise great take. See if that can also be turned off or is there another room you can shoot in?
Most importantly, get that room tone! It will come in handy later for you or those who will be laying down the mix.
A lot of times we are going to be following some sort of script. Take the time to get familiar with the environment, transitions, sounds that might actually be part of the scene, etc.
For example, if a scene calls for an actor to answer their phone, see if you can grab the audio of a phone ringing before Production. This not only provides clean audio for you to use as Foley, but you have just impressed the Producer / Director when you have this in your stock library and have saved them some time in both Production and Post-Production. Nice job!
It’s a given now that most everyone on your set, including you, is going to have a cell phone. It’s not enough to have everyone set it to vibrate. The device needs to be turned off.
It is very likely no matter how good your gear, the sound of the phone just reaching out to the cell tower or uploading / downloading information will come through your recording equipment as static, hum or some other sound that will be next to impossible to remove later in post production. Best bet is to ask everyone to please turn the phones off. Mention this to your director (if you have one) as well and make it part of the communication to cast and crew.
Some of the above may be very obvious, but in the hurried schedule of a production shoot, it’s easy to forget a few of the basics. I’ve had a lot of students (as well as myself) improve their audio and lessen their pain in post production by following a few pre-production guidelines and planning their day ahead of time.