mainstreetprod

DIY sound for micro budget film

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I'm not a sound guy, but rather an indy filmmaker who has dropped by here for years to learn from the experts. I've shot four features since 2007, with the last two being silent films resembling long form music videos. Now it's time to make another conventional "talkie" so I'm deciding which direction to go sound wise. My films are micro budget (the last one possibly the lowest budget film to ever get a theater release). 

On the last conventional film, for dialogue I used an AT4053 for interiors and an AT4073 for exterior shots. Lavaliers (G2 with a B3 mic)) were used when difficult to boom. The boom was held by a "fresh out of film school" person who actually did a great job, and later did the post work. 

On this project I will have enough budget for a boom operator, but not enough for a mixer, so will go straight into the camera as before. I've reached an agreement with a boom op who is experienced and has some major film and TV credits. 

Obviously a big concern is whether the camera audio section is up to the task. In this case, the camera is a Sony FS7. The audio section is 24 bit/48mhz, four channels. My plan is to use channel one for the boom, channel two for the boom at a lower level for safety. Wireless lavaliers will be used when the scene is difficult to boom, using extra channels at lower levels for backups. I'll be keeping an eye on the levels in the viewfinder, and the boom op will be able to also monitor levels on an iPad thanks to a wireless feature the FS7 has. Limiters will be engaged as needed. Audio level control can be assigned to a "wheel" control on the handgrip, enabling me to ride the levels if necessary. Because of the nature of the story and settings, I expect it won't be necessary often. 

I realize the number one thing here will be, "You need a mixer for decent preamps". I was concerned myself, so I contacted an audio guru on another forum who happens to own the camera and had tested the audio section extensively. He said that the preamps have a low noise floor and are excellent for dialog, but that Sony had engineered in a bass rolloff that would affect things like recording a pipe organ. Not a real concern for me.

The plan for mics is to upgrade the 4053 to either an MKH50 or a Schoeps CMC 641. The rooms I'll be shooting in will have high ceilings and hardwood floors, but the ceilings are heavily textured and there are area rugs, so not particularly "live". I'll keep the 4073 for outside as I'm very pleased with it. 

As I said, a mixer isn't possible, but I would appreciate any other advice you can offer to help me achieve the best sound under the circumstances.

 

 

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sounds to me that you did all your homework and from the technical side there's nothing in the way that would prevent you from recording decent audio. so now focus on the room acoustics, and even more so on the task of directing/producing/camera operating at the same time as inspiring the actors for a great performance ; )

chris

 

 

 

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From a low budget perspective, it's best to keep an ear open for shifts in the background. That's one of the hardest things to fix.

By the way, if you've hired a boom operator and no mixer, you've actually hired a mixer and no boom operator. The job of the mixer is not just to mix mics, but has the knowledge and experience to know what to listen for, what will cut together, what perspective changes you're facing, what background noise issues there are, etc. Continuity of sound. It's very difficult to concentrate on these things and boom at the same time. One or the other will suffer.

Seems crazy to me that you'd want to be watching sound levels in your view finder as opposed to watching the performances and composition and lighting and other things that deserve your attention.

I wish you the very best of luck, and I would suggest buying a used 442 as opposed to an MKH50. It'll be more useful for your purposes. Or buy both and sell them back after. If you get a used 50, it'll hold its value right through the shoot.

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"the boom op will be able to also monitor levels on an iPad thanks to a wireless feature the FS7 has", is this just meters or audio as well? No mention of who is wearing the headphones? Mostly sounds like a 2 operator ENG gig - minus the mixer (box) and HPs. If there's a reason you don't want you sound op. to wear even a small (mixer) box of some kind, possibly because of the nature of the shoot, I would consider using something like a plug-on TX to reduce cable management and maybe (depending on the system) make handling the levels a bit easier too. You could put a handheld recorder in front of the TX and your boom can monitor levels with ears and eyes and you have another back up plus 'go wild' capacity. You could use 2 RX and send the same signal to 2 cameras/devices (to help with sync between the 2). Do you have extra crew members to help manage location issues? Aside from signal control in the electronic domain, i would say managing the acoustics of a tricky location is key and involves well timed manual work with the material resources available - it can be a challenge for a 1 person sound dept to find the time to do this as well as do all the more obvious things. Eg. An either or situation for your sound op when you start the scene using just the boom but things get a bit inconsistent, do they wire cast or try to control the environment some more - they'd probably like to have done both before you even started but now only have time to do 1.

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Environment management isn't an issue when shooting inside, as a major portion of the film will be shot in my own home (a Victorian with a lot of visual appeal). I will have the luxury of being able to assess and treat the rooms for sound the day before. All have large area rugs, so it will be a matter of throwing a sound blanket here and there.

When shooting outside, it all goes out the window. One of the reasons we did two silent films is because of issues we ran into in our small town with every motorcyclist and monster truck circling the block to see what we were doing, along with weedeaters and mowers. The last "talkie" was shot in fall of 2009, when a variation of locust called "cicada" invaded Tennessee for 7 weeks, which just happened to be when we were shooting. It was a constant, loud droning that sounded much like tree frogs. Amazingly, it only affected one scene to any real extent and we solved it with a close mic and incorporating the bugs into the soundscape. The two silent movies we did felt like a real luxury, with no concern over sound whatsoever. Outside locations will be at a minimum in this one, and carefully chosen for quietness. One is a national cemetery, which should be very quiet!

I was planning on both the boom op and I wearing headphones, with him watching the iPad and me the viewfinder. I've done run and gun all my life so watching the levels comes naturally and doesn't take away from composition, etc. Sound peaks have never been an issue in the past, with only one exception where a screaming teenager pegged the VU's and the limiter couldn't handle it.

My boom op has been generous enough to offer to have  his "kit", which includes a recorder, with him and at our disposal if needed. Since he is working at less than normal rate, I don't want to take advantage, but nice to know it's there in a pinch. 

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It will be really hard to use and look at an iPad while booming. 

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If the boom operator can't directly hear what he's/she's capturing, he/she can't do his/her job, and you won't get a good result.

Get a MixPre or a 302 (both Sound Devices products), and a good set of headphones (not Beats or music headphones, but production headphones). Have the boom op (who now, as RPS pointed out, is your production sound mixer, and should be credited as "sound mixer") feed the boom into the 302, then out of the 302 into the FS7.  If you can afford to buy or hire an FS7, you can afford a 302 and a pair of headphones. Otherwise, sell the $10,000+ camera and get a $3,000+ A7Rii, A7Sii, GH5 [or even Blackmagic Ursa Mini] to shoot on, and use the rest of the cash to buy some more audio gear. The overall outcome of picture and sound together will be much better than an FS7 picture with a boom op who can't directly monitor.

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If the boom operator can't directly hear what he's/she's capturing, he/she can't do his/her job, and you won't get a good result.

That's not true. At least, it's not a rule that would be always true.
One of my facourite boom ops insists on not wearing headphones, unless it's absolutely needed for communicating with me. He always knows where the boom goes and is always dead on. He is one of the best boom ops around here and has been doing the job for years. I know most people here would disapprove, but as long as the result if fine, why argue?
But the boom-op needs to be experienced and be able to decide for himself if he can boom without headphones.

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41 minutes ago, Constantin said:


That's not true. At least, it's not a rule that would be always true.
One of my facourite boom ops insists on not wearing headphones, unless it's absolutely needed for communicating with me. He always knows where the boom goes and is always dead on. He is one of the best boom ops around here and has been doing the job for years. I know most people here would disapprove, but as long as the result if fine, why argue?
But the boom-op needs to be experienced and be able to decide for himself if he can boom without headphones.

agreed , Constantin - That person must have had old-school real training. So rare these days.

I have always encouraged my boom ops to listen, but the best boom op I ever worked with never needed to hear - it was a distraction to his proper mic placement. He knew his mic patterns, lenses etc. We found ways around the communication issue.

Today's work style pretty well necessitates boomers wearing headphones/earbuds or something for both monitoring and communication, but why not adjust to that style if the results are good?

Best

Jim Rillie

 

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Any boom op NOT wearing headphones on a private line would miss out on much needed comedy communication between the two of us...  Further, we do a LOT of communicating on serious matters as well... not to mention, actually hearing things we are recording...  seems very strange to me, but to each their own...

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4 hours ago, BrianW said:

If the boom operator can't directly hear what he's/she's capturing, he/she can't do his/her job, and you won't get a good result.

Get a MixPre or a 302 (both Sound Devices products), and a good set of headphones (not Beats or music headphones, but production headphones). Have the boom op (who now, as RPS pointed out, is your production sound mixer, and should be credited as "sound mixer") feed the boom into the 302, then out of the 302 into the FS7.  If you can afford to buy or hire an FS7, you can afford a 302 and a pair of headphones. Otherwise, sell the $10,000+ camera and get a $3,000+ A7Rii, A7Sii, GH5 [or even Blackmagic Ursa Mini] to shoot on, and use the rest of the cash to buy some more audio gear. The overall outcome of picture and sound together will be much better than an FS7 picture with a boom op who can't directly monitor.

I would think most boom ops would need to monitor with a good set of headphones (I was going to get a pair of Sony 7506), but what is wrong with using the camera headphone jack, as I've done for several hundred day to day shoots? Or using a splitter/ long cord so we can both monitor? Once in a while the camera may be on a Movi, but I was going to have him use his recorder during those scenes. 

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I know that old school boomies could do well w/o cans, and in the old days having a feed for them was a hassle and often too high tech for location (non stage) recording, but I don't think many of those guys are still working.  All of the guys I've worked with in the last 20 years insist on having as high-fidelity monitoring as possible--they grouse about the quality of the lesser wireless return schemes, and with me were happiest when listening straight off the MM1.  For myself, no-moni booming would only be done in an emergency....

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+1 for Brian W, anything less than his recommendations is ridiculous. Much like asking an experienced dolly operator to do his job without a monitor. Sure it can be done but come on be real! Speaking of dolly techs, anyone know how crazy Omar from L.A. is doing?

 

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1 hour ago, Dutch said:

+1 for Brian W, anything less than his recommendations is ridiculous. Much like asking an experienced dolly operator to do his job without a monitor. Sure it can be done but come on be real! Speaking of dolly techs, anyone know how crazy Omar from L.A. is doing?

Not sure how the thread went this direction- I've never shot anything without monitoring or asked anyone to do it. Every camera I've ever owned has a headphone jack.

 

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+1 for Brian W, anything less than his recommendations is ridiculous. Much like asking an experienced dolly operator to do his job without a monitor. Sure it can be done but come on be real! Speaking of dolly techs, anyone know how crazy Omar from L.A. is doing?
 

I don't think I have ever seen a dolly op around here with a monitor. Maybe on more high end stuff, but never in my tv movie world.

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+1 for boom ops not needing headphones. It's like directors who used to not look at a screen but instead at the action and trust the DP with the picture. It's not realistic in today's world but I always say booming is as much (or more) of a visual job than an acoustic one (which is why I'm not very good at it). 

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1 hour ago, Christian Spaeth said:

+1 for boom ops not needing headphones. It's like directors who used to not look at a screen but instead at the action and trust the DP with the picture. It's not realistic in today's world but I always say booming is as much (or more) of a visual job than an acoustic one (which is why I'm not very good at it). 

Christian, I respect both you and Constantin but to make comments like that really works against the level of quality that hopefully we're all trying to achieve. Surely each genre has its own level of production quality. Theatrical released feature films are supposed to be the pinnacle of this profession.

It's great that technology gives more and more aspiring artists a chance to express themselves. But the author said " My films are micro budget (the last one possibly the lowest budget film to ever get a theater release)." That's great, wow, maybe even impressive as it implies a level of quality people were willing to invest in to pay for a theatrical release. There are many great "indie" films that never get that opportunity.

Since I make a living primarily in that genre, I see the disturbing trends of Producers who cut corners thinking that technology can take the place of experienced technicians. I've watched the trend of professional boom operators being replaced with "noodle armed" free labor from local film schools so they can add another "named actor" for a three line cameo. That tactic is just for the purpose of enhancing marketing but does little for the overall film.

Sorry for the seeming rant as my intention isn't disrespect to anyone. My intention is respect! Respect for each individual crew position that it takes to make a quality film. Technology can't replace skilled people in this industry. So go back and read what Brian W wrote as it's all great advice!

17 hours ago, BrianW said:

If the boom operator can't directly hear what he's/she's capturing, he/she can't do his/her job, and you won't get a good result.

Get a MixPre or a 302 (both Sound Devices products), and a good set of headphones (not Beats or music headphones, but production headphones). Have the boom op (who now, as RPS pointed out, is your production sound mixer, and should be credited as "sound mixer") feed the boom into the 302, then out of the 302 into the FS7.  If you can afford to buy or hire an FS7, you can afford a 302 and a pair of headphones. Otherwise, sell the $10,000+ camera and get a $3,000+ A7Rii, A7Sii, GH5 [or even Blackmagic Ursa Mini] to shoot on, and use the rest of the cash to buy some more audio gear. The overall outcome of picture and sound together will be much better than an FS7 picture with a boom op who can't directly monitor.

I'd gladly work with Brian knowing he works toward standards of excellence and he'd value my skills working toward that same goal.

 

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7 hours ago, Dutch said:

Christian, I respect both you and Constantin but to make comments like that really works against the level of quality that hopefully we're all trying to achieve. Surely each genre has its own level of production quality. Theatrical released feature films are supposed to be the pinnacle of this profession.

It's great that technology gives more and more aspiring artists a chance to express themselves. But the author said " My films are micro budget (the last one possibly the lowest budget film to ever get a theater release)." That's great, wow, maybe even impressive as it implies a level of quality people were willing to invest in to pay for a theatrical release. There are many great "indie" films that never get that opportunity.

Since I make a living primarily in that genre, I see the disturbing trends of Producers who cut corners thinking that technology can take the place of experienced technicians. I've watched the trend of professional boom operators being replaced with "noodle armed" free labor from local film schools so they can add another "named actor" for a three line cameo. That tactic is just for the purpose of enhancing marketing but does little for the overall film.

Dutch, I think you have misunderstood what I was trying to say. 

Having a boom-op who prefers to work without headphones is absolutely NOT part of the race to the bottom. It is not cutting corners at all. It also has nothing to do with technology. I have plenty of iem receivers for boom-ops and others, nor does this meam that a boom-op will be replaced by some piece of gear. Absolutely not. As I mentioned, booming without headphones is reserved only to the highly skilled and experienced boom-op - no-one else. I do that to accomodate him, because he is one of those crew members I feel privileged to work with, so I will do whatever I can to make him comfortable. There have been scenarios when I asked him to put on cans (and he will then), but often it's not needed. This applies to only a few boom operators

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I did post on a film where they did a great job booming directly into the camera (with good mics and good mic pres to boot) but the natural hiss of the camera was noticeable and unpleasant. Cleaning it up really killed the life of the sound, and adding music and sound design with richer sonic characteristics really made the production sound stand out in a bad way. Even though it was a good movie with a lot going for it, I think that the sound was probably what kept it from getting into festivals or seeing any success. The constraints were in the budget, and I told the director before he began shooting it to hold out and save a little more money and get it right. Well, like nearly all indie film makers, he was impatient and didn't understand the importance. So he spent a lot on a film that went nowhere, instead of spending a little more on a film that could have had a chance to go somewhere. 

Youve heard it before but I'll echo it: keep saving and hire a mixer, don't bother making your movies half ready. Don't buy your own gear. Do it right and your film will see better success. 

If you want to be known as a film maker and  want to ever have the opportunity to be paid to make films, people want to see that you can do things right, not that you can get away with doing things cheap, or if you've made X amount of movies that never went anywhere. 

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I do a lot of post on indie projects and agree re: digital camera sound vs. recorder sound, esp a pro-level recorder.  Given the same mic position and technique, the sound from the recorder is noticeably better, takes fixes like NR, De-reverb and EQ better without getting harsh, and generally sounds more alive.  A simple comparison does not tell the whole story.  I have found that sound recorded on cameras is very wearing to listen to over the duration of a feature-length project compared to that from recorders, the result being that people are less likely to "stay with" the film, or even watch it to the end.  I understand the desire to save money, but there are reasons why recording onto the camera is not generally done for dramatic films these days: the increase in quality is very worth it.  Mediocre sound is one of the giveaways of a low-budg production done by inexperienced people.

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On 2/14/2017 at 4:19 PM, mainstreetprod said:

I'll be keeping an eye on the levels in the viewfinder, and the boom op will be able to also monitor levels on an iPad thanks to a wireless feature the FS7 has. Limiters will be engaged as needed. Audio level control can be assigned to a "wheel" control on the handgrip, enabling me to ride the levels if necessary.

As I said, a mixer isn't possible, but I would appreciate any other advice you can offer to help me achieve the best sound under the circumstances.

Consider what role you want to have with this film. Right now, I see at least three on-set roles: camera operator, audio mixer, and I think director. That's a whole lot to keep track of...Even Soderbergh and Rodriguez hire production sound mixers.  

So a couple specific suggestions:

-Think about how you can best help get the best performances, images, and sounds on set. I'd say functioning as a fully-focused director who's not distracted by other tasks is plenty of responsibility for anyone. Delegate so you can be the best director possible. 

-Don't buy that MKH50 and instead give your boom op/mixer friend both some more money and the responsibility to record audio to his recorder. Then he'll monitor and control audio quality and you can listen to your actors' performances. That will save you money in post and help you get the most out of your actors.

-If your budget doesn't currently allow you focus on "only" being the director, do a little more fundraising. You probably don't need much more money, so don't bother with kickstarter at this point. Open your copy of Shaking The Money Tree and hold a fundraising house party. http://www.warshawski.com/books.html 

-Making a film requires overcoming a huge number of challenges. Eliminate as many challenges as possible beforehand.

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34 minutes ago, Jim Feeley said:

Consider what role you want to have with this film. Right now, I see at least three on-set roles: camera operator, audio mixer, and I think director. That's a whole lot to keep track of...Even Soderbergh and Rodriguez hire production sound mixers.  

So a couple specific suggestions:

-Think about how you can best help get the best performances, images, and sounds on set. I'd say functioning as a fully-focused director who's not distracted by other tasks is plenty of responsibility for anyone. Delegate so you can be the best director possible. 

-Don't buy that MKH50 and instead give your boom op/mixer friend both some more money and the responsibility to record audio to his recorder. Then he'll monitor and control audio quality and you can listen to your actors' performances. That will save you money in post and help you get the most out of your actors.

-If your budget doesn't currently allow you focus on "only" being the director, do a little more fundraising. You probably don't need much more money, so don't bother with kickstarter at this point. Open your copy of Shaking The Money Tree and hold a fundraising house party. http://www.warshawski.com/books.html 

-Making a film requires overcoming a huge number of challenges. Eliminate as many challenges as possible beforehand.

Way ahead of you Jim, I emailed the boom op and asked what he would charge to mix/record and include his recorder. He's willing to do both, some of the sound pros I interviewed were not willing to and I understand why. Hiring a dedicated sound mixer would be ideal, but the day rate plus gear adds up to over $13,000 on an 18 day shoot. This is close to what we've been spending on an entire film- and that includes paying all our key actors and small crew. We must be doing an OK job quality wise so far, as all 4 films have gotten DVD and digital distribution, the last got a theater release, and we have over 40 film festival awards from the last two films. 

My wife writes and directs and I DP. Generally we have a grip, gaffer and PA as crew, and a boom op when recording dialogue. Our indoor sets are carefully selected for good acoustics, and I always turn off AC or fridge when nearby. Every piece of audio gear I use represents hours of research picking it out, even though it may be medium priced. The  weak link in the chain, so I'm told, is the camera audio section. What I'm trying to understand is that, preamps aside, how a recording from a 24 bit 48KHZ camera would sound inferior to a 24 bit 48khz recording from an SD recorder. Isn't digital digital?

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preamps aside, how a recording from a 24 bit 48KHZ camera would sound inferior to a 24 bit 48khz recording from an SD recorder. Isn't digital digital?

No, the AD converter affects the sound quality, too. And so can the line inputs to a lesser degree.
But you can't set preamps aside. Unless you're going to have a wireless boom, preamps will be different.

I hope your success in film-making so far does not create the impression that it is the right way to shoot with no budget. If you can be so successful on a micro budget, just imagine what you could achieve on a bigger budget. And how you could even pay your actors and crew a fair amount - something they could use to actually make a living.
Maybe shoot less movies, but with a higher budget

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35 minutes ago, Constantin said:


"No, the AD converter affects the sound quality, too. And so can the line inputs to a lesser degree.
But you can't set preamps aside. Unless you're going to have a wireless boom, preamps will be different."

 

I'm planning on going into the line inputs with a studio preamp I already own. I asked my friend who owns the camera (Sony FS7) and has done extensive test of the audio section his thoughts . His response:

 inputs Downstream of the mic preamps are stellar. They compare favorably to any high-end DAC that I've tested. I would have no problem recording a critical classical concert with the DACs in these cameras.

At this link is a complete test of the FS7 audio section: 

http://www.basspig.com/FS7 Line In (basspig).htm

If he's right, I'm not sure why I would need another recorder, especially with the problems with getting the files synced later.



"I hope your success in film-making so far does not create the impression that it is the right way to shoot with no budget. If you can be so successful on a micro budget, just imagine what you could achieve on a bigger budget. And how you could even pay your actors and crew a fair amount - something they could use to actually make a living. Maybe shoot less movies, but with a higher budget"

 

Actually, we are more than doubling the budget on this film. Just can't take the extra money and spend every penny on one sound mixer. 

 

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I'm sorry, what you are saying does not match my experience, and I have done a lot of work on FS7 shoots.  But you seem to have made up your mind, so you should move on to other challenges re your shoot.

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