Hear the story!

If there is an Achilles heel of video, it is sound. What am I hearing from this video?

A well thought out story that is beautifully shot is brought to its knees with poor sound. The overwhelming sense of emotional awkwardness caused by bad sound seems to take the viewer to the farthest opposite place from what was desired.

Sound starts with the location. Questions like, “will we be able to control ambient sounds like air conditioners or nearby businesses” are too often easily overlooked until everyone is sitting in the edit bay feeling very awkward about a problem that can’t be fixed.

Many shooters are so concerned with the visuals, (naturally), that they aren’t wearing headphones to monitor what everything is sounding like. It is very often one of the least expensive parts of a budget, but the one that causes the most problems.

Good sound is achieved fairly simply. The closer a mic is to the source of the sound, the better it will be. In other words, when a person is talking, the mic needs to be near the speaker’s mouth — within 4 to 6 inches.

When a cameraman is using the on-camera mic for the main audio, the production is in serious trouble.

The best solution is a lapel mic. These mics are designed to attach to a shirt near the second button from the top. In these cases, you are on your way to having great sound. Sometimes, the story will be inhibited by showing a mic on a shirt so the director decides to use a boom pole with a mic on the end of it.

In these cases, the abilities of the mic and its operator become a big deal. The bottom line is still the same, the boom operator needs to get the mic as close to the speaker’s mouth as possible without being seen in the frame. As soon as there is a boom operator who thinks he only needs to point the mic in the general direction and is hoevering two feet above the speaker’s head, the production is in trouble.

The other item that is often overlooked is  audio level.  A healthy level must be achieved for good sound and this can only be accomplished by looking at the meters — usually on the side of the camera.  A lot of shooters think that if it sounds good in the headphones they must have good level, but it’s not the case.  Very often the monitoring level is deceiving and giving the impression that plenty of level is being recorded when it is not.  Checking the levels on the meters easily overcomes this.

The goal with levels is to keep the audio from getting so high that it distorts and from getting too low where it would have excessive noise. The phrase “find a happy medium” can be a very helpful rule of thumb when working with audio levels.

After you’ve captured your compelling story in a way that evokes curiosity and is appealing to see and hear, then you’ve given the editor the potential to be creative in shaping the story instead of spending the editing budget fixing a bunch of problems.

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