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Chris R

whispering dialog...

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Quick little question about "quiet" performances by actors.

We all know we strive to get our levels to a certain point during recording but

how about those times where the level from the actors are just so quiet we cant get to that point,

and just cant go any higher on our gain without introducing way too much noise. (hiss)

Im curious as to what some of you find as an acceptable level in this kind of situation before

you ask the actors to speak up.

Speaking mainly of digital recorders, in my case a 744T.

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I deal with this all the time. I have on occasion used a wire for close ups which was the only way I could obtain a decent level of dialogue. Mixed in with a little boom of course to wet it down satisfactorily. I long ago gave up requesting more level from the actors. Knowing them like I do after eight seasons lets me know which requests will make sense to them and which ones will go in one ear and out the other. They are not mutually exclusive of course. They're a great bunch by and large and their thespian choices notwithstanding, they come up with the goods.

You have a few choices, ie wires, waiting until ECUs to get a boom in as close as possible etc etc but as you know each scene has its own variables and no one answer will satisfy your question. I'm sure that the guys will have all sorts of resolutions to offer so take the ones that work for you and apply the ones that succeed.

Good luck mate

Mick

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Hey Chris, a wise old mixer named Jeff told me once when I was a cable man, that you don't have to move the meter much to make a good recording. If it sounds right then it is. As Mick pointed out, asking a actor for more level is often pointless, but it never hurts to ask. As for mic's, again I would have radio n boom at the ready, and then trust my ears. Then again we could mulitrack 4 or 5 mic's iso'd and let someone else deal with it.(just kidding)

CrewC

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A Film I was working a few years back, there was this scene where a couple are having a conversation in the middle of the street & Camera (Mom's POV) is looking through a window inside the House, but the "whispering dialog" was there at all the times ...things like that I was struggling to make the actors (& Director) understand that if they could please talk a little bit louder it would really help a lot. Specially if they don't want to be called back for ADR...

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Another trick, which you've already touched on, is to make sure the Dir. or AD understand that if they speak up it will improve the signal to noise ratio (and they love buzz words that make them sound like they know something). Especially in an outdor scene, the post people can bring it down and effectively bring down the ambient noise floor as well, improving the overall signal.

Doug

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I guess more specifically what im getting at is..

Not how to get the actors to speak up, but how to deal with it when thats just

not happening.

Are you guys content in delivering a lower volumed track, such as a -20 or even

slightly lower for those low speaking dialog parts?

I'm on a show right now where this happens more than a few times a day.

I have no issues asking for more volume but I often feel im crossing that fine line.

So im just curious if perhaps im concerning myself a little "too" much on getting a stronger level

with these guys, and shouldn't be.

I realize every situation is different (IE: heavy background, etc) but all things being equal whats the

lowest you'd even concider turning in for low level dialog on an average job w/ this situation?

Perhaps this is more a post sound question, as to what we can get away with.

---

On these sets, I've gone the route of my CS-3.

The mkh60 is horendous with the reflections..

The schoeps just isn't pulling in the dialog at the distances we need to play it.

The Cs-3 sounds great, is great at the distance we are at..

but man, its a noisy bugger when you gotta gain it up high.

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Hey Chris, it is hard to answer your question with an absolute when there are so many unknowns. Have you had any negative feedback from post? Does it sound like it looks? Does the director like it as you have recorded it? When it is played back on the tv from video assist does it sound intelligible? We as mixers always turn in tracks we wish were more to our liking but are not. We all want fatter tracks, more S/N, more controlled, but that is not always the case. I personally have recorded some tracks that I thought were not useable and been very surprised at how well they worked at the end of the project. (No they were not looped). I have also turned in work that shouldn't have been used and was. It's not easy being a sound mixer, if it was I'd have even more family members in the biz. It is a good question, but hard to answer.

CrewC

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I am usually quite happy to simply go to my director and say to them words along the lines of...

'I understand why they are doing it, but I cant hear what the actors are saying'

It is both simple and honest. It is in fact the truth.

What the director then chooses to do is up to him or her.

Kindest regards,

Simon B

Hey Chris, it is hard to answer your question with an absolute when there are so many unknowns. Have you had any negative feedback from post? Does it sound like it looks? Does the director like it as you have recorded it? When it is played back on the tv from video assist does it sound intelligible? We as mixers always turn in tracks we wish were more to our liking but are not. We all want fatter tracks, more S/N, more controlled, but that is not always the case. I personally have recorded some tracks that I thought were not useable and been very surprised at how well they worked at the end of the project. (No they were not looped). I have also turned in work that shouldn't have been used and was. It's not easy being a sound mixer, if it was I'd have even more family members in the biz. It is a good question, but hard to answer.

CrewC

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Guest Eric Lamontagne

All the above posts have excellent info and all I can add is my own experience.

Sometimes and often I run into this for whatever reason. After asking the talent and chatting with the Director, I still have that problem. Firstly, I thank my lucky stars that I record 24 bit as even lower level clean audio can be brought up nicely. Second I ask my boom operator to engage the "Whisper Switch". On my Scheops CMIT there is a High Frequency Boost, we have nicknamed it! Please forgive the non technical approach! It's great for cutting through the furry on those windy days, but it's also great for getting that breathy performance which travels three and a half inches before falling flat. Scheops also makes a "blue dot" preamp, not having used it I cannot comment but i believe it gives more gain for low level recording.

Often the lav doesn't work as when you turn up the gain the clothing also comes up.

The best times have been when the director has requested that sound be up in his/her comtek for the blocking as the actor's speach was unintelligible! Take good notes.

Good Luck!

Eric Lamontagne

post-0-130815075251_thumb.jpg

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Hey guys,

I appreciate the advice, I do think my original question must have been misworded or not understandable or something.

I wasnt looking to find out how to get actors to speak up..

or how much noise is too much noise..

Just a specific question on final delivered sound level on a quiet scene.

When is a level on your recorder "too" low to deliver before you ask for an actor to be louder.

CrewC gave a very helpful reply to what I was looking for.

Hey Chris, a wise old mixer named Jeff told me once when I was a cable man, that you don't have to move the meter much to make a good recording. If it sounds right then it is. CrewC

I realize there are many factors that can create 10 different answers.

I do appreciate everyone who took the trouble to post.

There is some helpful info in here that im sure will help others.

I'll quit while im ahead ;)

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apart from using the best equipment in terms of bit rates,sample rates, AD conversion etc., which all helps in the end, what you should be listening to is 'intelligibility'.In other words, do you understand what they are saying.I find that sometimes, actually often, a whisper is easier to understand than a low level voice. There are many things that affect intelligibility and only one of them is level . things like reverb time and the accoustics of the place will all affect how things sound and really, because the equation is so complicated and there are so many parameters, only you can judge with your ears. learning how to do this and to trust your judgement takes time and experience and a lot of listening with and without the pictures. The other issue is of course whether the level is going to fit the picture so i often ask for level changes with regard to how i imagine someone would really talk in a given situation rather than asking for more level. on another note, isn't it weird how actor's levels drop as the camera gets closer!

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The best times have been when the director has requested that sound be up in his/her comtek for the blocking as the actor's speach was unintelligible! Take good notes.

BTW, Eric, that's one of the best-looking Sound Report forms I've ever seen. That looks like it would be incredibly useful for post, particularly with the camera roll numbers right on the page. Good job!

--Marc W.

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Guest afewmoreyears

If and when I run into this situation,  having a hard time digging the dialog out of a world of noise, I will mention it ONCE to the director. If a louder read IS possible, only he or she can make it happen....

  I will then do what I normally do with all the tricks in my bag to get what I am trying to..... normal stuff,  mics closer,  radios etc.....  like others mentioned....

Once in a while, while everyone is scurrying about, I will have my boom op say to the talent.....  You are far too quiet!!!!  we can take you down, but we can't put more of you in....Please speak up,  and we never told you a thing.... is that totally clear.....!  It works 75% of the time.....

  When this fails,  thats what ADR is for......  it is then out of my hands.......  all you can do, is all you can do.....

  I always somehow GET IT!

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I should state at the outset that I am VERY reluctant to ask for more oomph from an actor. As much as possible I try to avoid doing the director's job and, in return, expect him (her) to resist the temptation to start pushing faders. All the little technical things we ask of an actor can't help but have an effect on the performance. And the authenticity of that performance is the valuable thing we are all trying to capture. If necessary, the scene could be looped. That has its own performance altering aspects, of course but, presumably, it is employed only after all other remedies fail. Also, I find that when I do ask for more level, I often get a bit more in the first take and then the second take is only marginally more than the rehearsal. By the third take the actor has settled back to the original level. I'd rather reach a bit and test the gain of my system.

Of course, sometimes it just so low, in such a noisy environment, that I don't get anything useful even with the channel gain way up. Then I'll ask the director if I can request more level. If I have a chance to talk with the actor directly, I'll often ask that they don't so much speak up as lower the register a bit. When whispering people often permit their voices to become thin and brittle. Lowering the register a bit yields a more attractive voice that is often audible even when the delivery is still very quiet.

On the other hand, if it's supposed to be a noisy nightclub/helicopter/whatever and the actor is quiet because they aren't in the actual environment, I'll be quick to alert the director that people ought to be speaking over the noise.

David Waelder

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Another technique that I have successfully used in this situation is to ask (Through whatever appropriate channel) the actor for a "stage whisper" which I was clued into by another actor. Their reasoning behind using that term is that it's a Broadway term, which (some, many?) actors respect for one reason or another. It's kind of like a crewmember asking you for a headset thingy versus asking for comteks. Either way, I'm not saying always say this, but if an actor is an especially actorly actor, then this might be the way to go.

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  Ha ha love that stage whisper ploy!  But I agree with David that any interaction with the actors is a risk.  It's always depended on the actors, some who are green can't think beyond the character and don't want anyone other than the director speaking to them.  Others (generally the more accomplished ones) already know all this stuff since they've been through many ADR sessions and have worked with tons of sound mixers.

  I had a scene recently where the 5-page dialog was SO quiet that not even the camera op (3 feet away) could hear the lines.  Luckily their clothes were really quiet and the Sankens were picking up the lines, and it was nice because you could tell from the tone that their voices were actually really quiet.  I mean the tone of their words were a tone that you only hear when someone's speaking quietly and you're right next to their ear.  One of the characters was telling the story of how his little daughter died, I wasn't about to go ask him for more level!  (It didn't sound unnatural since a voice at that level sounds real low-endy and boomy anyhow.)

  In this case I did go to the director and mention that more volume would be good, though usually I only go to the 1st AD. 

  The damn noise floor was really high, I mean like -40 or something!  But when I turned down the headphones to the point that the component noise/hiss went away, I could still hear the lines so I deemed the sound usable.  I did put in my notes that the lines were really quiet and that there was a lot of noise!  Hopefully post can work their magic and reduce that hiss.

  Dan Izen

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Don't be afraid of the meat puppets... I mean talented thespians.

I find there is no harm in asking for more level when you need it, but don't be the boy who cried 'wolf' or you won't get it when you REALLY need it (same goes for other problems we encounter on set).  Only experience can help you know when it's better to ask the actor or the director.  I was on one movie where the camera op needed comteks for panning singles, because he couldn't hear the actors.  His ears were not more than 3ft from the actors.  The director did not want to lose the "intensity" of the performance in the actor's eyes, so said he'd loop the scene if he had to, but would not risk the performance by asking for an audible level.

In terms of what's an acceptable level, I don't set my headphones very loud, so I trust that if I hear the quiet dialog clearly without too much background noise introduced, then the level on the meters is not all that relevant. 

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Never fear the meat puppets or anyone for that matter. We are all on the same team trying to make the best product we are allowed to. Know your stuff, make your point, and let the better paid minds make the call. Sometimes it is personal, mostly it is the level of experience and professionalism that makes the correct or wrong call. Don't get mad, make money,, have overview, and enjoy the short time we all have. I love doing good work, don't we all.... I'm not wild about sub par work, but that is the way things work in the real world. Enjoy it while you can.

CrewC

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But if you are asking the actors to lift their levels but the director is happy with their performance then you tread a fine line.... You can make yourself fairly unpopular with both the thespians AND the Director. You can really only mention to your director that in your opinion the location sound is unuseable due to background noise and ask if they are happy with replacing it in the ADR studio, but you should not suggest that the actors lift their levels (which will totally change their performance). As location sound folks, we collect, we comment, if it's no good we flag the problems, if it's still bad and you've had your say then leave it to ADR.

Don't sweat it. If you have mentioned the perceived problems then that's all you can do. It's not going to reflect on you if there is a good well recorded guide track and heaps of background noise. Such is life.

Ray

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Ray, et al.

  Your point is well taken, but how many times does camera change blocking to suit their ever-changing shot, and/or lighting? They make actors contort into uncomfortable positions, and to hit extremely precise marks over and over again. Props dept often has the actors using flimsy, awkward items in scenes that distract them from the performance. They manage to get through pretty much all the oddities that are requested of them on a regular. Raising ones voice is something that is taught at theater schools as well, so it is a tool in some of their bags of tricks. In a way, it's the essence of acting. They are acting like they are whispering, when they are loudly whispering. This is not to say that it's not a double standard, but occasionally it is a technique that can be employed under the right circumstances.

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right, Tom,

it is one of the sciences portion of the "Arts and Sciences"...

and telling the actors how to act is not sound mixing, it is called "Directing", and thus is not my job! talking to the director is part of my job!

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.....Your point is well taken, but how many times does camera change blocking to suit their ever-changing shot, and/or lighting? ........

But the difference is that these changes to action are requested in front of the director. My point was that if you are talking to the actors directly (as in without the director involved...) you are effectively changing the action/performance in a backhand way which can cause major bad karma to the sound department :- possible interference issues etc etc. Better not to go there. As I said, if you can raise the issue with Actors and Director present then all good but otherwise tread the safe path and keep your job and reputation intact.

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All points are valid, but with the epidemic of first-time directors getting studio films with experienced actors, sometimes I find that I can be more subtle in requesting a slight increase in level to overcome BG noise.  The director I'm working with now simply said, "The sound mixer wants you to be louder."  I never asked him to communicate to the actors on my behalf again.  And I don't know what sets you work on, but I often see and hear camera operators, AD's, props, and other departments request things of the actors that are all part of getting the requested shot, with or without the director present.  Establishing relationships with the actors is part of the job.  Actors are paid to deliver the performance the director wants at the same time as hitting marks, not blocking other actors, holding props at the correct height for the lens, etc.

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