I don’t like the sound of that…

Ah, sound recording.

BeachtekBeen writing this blog since 2005 and think I’ve managed to avoid talking about sound recording at pretty much every step. I think it’s safe to say that it’s not my specialist subject. Not the thing I’d be grilled about on Mastermind.

It’d be an understatement to say I’m ‘still learning’, because I’m still making mistakes all over the shop. I try new approaches with each movie but the simple truth is this:

Sound is amazingly, incredibly important. To get great sound requires skill and TIME. You won’t always have these things, which means you’ll end up with problems.

Ok, let’s break down the kit we’ve used along the way. That way you can learn from the mistakes that I’m apparently still making, despite having been in this game for a good few years now.

TrashHouse has actually got cool sound given the ridiculously echoey environment that it was filmed in. This is down to one man, Danny Lenihan (credited as Danny James) who came along, brought a whole bunch of kit and did an amazing job. He recorded to MiniDisc (which was still the best route in 2004) and we post-synched. He now runs the fantastically funky tripod company 3 Legged Thing, so go buy some of his brilliant kit and tell him I sent you.

Cock-ups I made: Rather than just using the XM1s onboard sound and keeping that as a guide track to lay Danny’s lovely MiniDisc sound over, I got all over-excited and decided to plumb an external mic into the XM1 on the off-chance that I caught useable sound with that too. I figured that I was increasing my chances of getting a decent audio take. What actually happened was that the external mic set-up for the XM1 was forgotten about and only sometimes switched on, and nobody was in charge of making sure that the onboard mic was switched back on when the external wasn’t being used. As a result, I had entire days of filming with NO SYNCH SOUND WHATSOEVER, and, this being our first shoot, our use of a clapper board (or even just having someone stand in front of the camera clapping) was inconsistent to say the least. So I had good sound sitting on a bunch of MiniDiscs and a load of silent video footage, with no easy way of matching them up. A fresh, unusual and exciting mistake to make.

Another wrinkle on TrashHouse‘s sound came about when the inevitable Bittorrent DVD rip (which hit the net on the day of the UK release) turned out to have a massive sound glitch on it, meaning that all the people who’d downloaded it then proceeded to piss and moan about the ‘appalling sound’ on various message boards. This meant that as well as torpedoing our deals in several other territories just by it’s very existence, the DVD rip also ended up giving the film a reputation for bad sound which wasn’t the case on the released version. Aah, the joys of internet.

We went a different route for the sound on Hellbride. We took our shiny new Sony HDR-FX1 HDV camcorder and paired it up with a BEACHTEK break-out box, allowing us to plumb an XLR mic straight into the camera and avoid the post-synch that had given me so many headaches on TrashHouse. Combined with the post-production dialogue sweetening talents of Rich Miller, this wasn’t a bad solution as long as we had a dedicated sound guy checking things out (James ‘Magic’ Mitchell, take a bow) and were shooting in environments without too much ambient sound.

Cock-ups I made: As I said, things usually went fine as long as we had a sound guy there. Unfortunately, particularly on days of pick-ups and reshoots, that wasn’t always the case. When the rough cut of the movie underran rather badly we brought back some of the cast to shoot some additional scenes, which tended to be character-driven and featured such material as romantic autumn walks in the woods. So, two people walking through crunchy leaves. Followed by a couple of other people walking through crunchy leaves, recording some largely unuseable sound. Hellbride is a mixed bag as far as sound recording goes, and the bad stuff is all my fault. The technical set-up was fine, but the practicalities weren’t always handled as well as they could be.

I’ve continued to make a variety of varied and interesting mistakes when it comes to recording sound, but I think that’s enough from my personal hit parade of regrets for now. If there is a deafening clamour for more, I’ll break down my later movies in a future post.

Does that sound good?

2 Replies to “I don’t like the sound of that…”

  1. Oh I have a tale to tell. Having spent years as a solo shooter doing community & corporate single camera gigs with gorgeous rich sound, I was asked to help out on a microbudget feature as a camera op / DP and, wanting to share the wealth, brought in a friend who’s a whizz with the old sound (worked in TV!) to boom op and capture audio, leaving me free to make nice images,

    As It was a single location shoot we had a playback system coming from the camera to a video village of sorts where the director could watch listen and generally keep out of the way.

    5 Days, an exploding lamp and a biblical downpour later we’re wrapped. It has been f*cking brilliant! We’ve shot 10 pages of dialogue every 7 hour day, the actors have been fantastic, the venue; a small pub in Bedford doubling for a small pub on the moors has been a great stand-in.

    We go home to our respective lives. I’ve taken the following week off as well (2 weeks of lost wages!) so that i can start the capture/logging/edit process.

    I have 2 hard drives of backup, the bins labelled, an empty timeline Quicktime DV PAL 16:9 anamorphic. (This is cinema baby!)

    Drop a 5 sec slug onto the time line then a basic text title.

    The Lady in Waiting.

    It looks classy.

    Let’s play this shit.

    Where’s the hiss coming from, wait, where’s the hum coming from?
    Over the course of 2 miserable days, I play through every second of every shot. Left channel has high frequency hiss, left channel has low frequency hum.

    All sound, All fucked. I am less than happy. Sound guy shrugs, Must have been a fridge. Director went to too many Milwall games in his youth and didn’t notice a thing.

    I edit the film, but it sounds so shit we all lose enthusiasm for it.

    Here’s a scene. It’s well acted but

    What I learned was this. Pre production testing, pre production testing, pre pro f*cking duction f*cking testing.

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