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In search of a quiet set.........


Simon Hayes
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We have just started a new movie and i thought i would share some of the issues we have encountered and how we dealt with them.

 

This movie is shooting 35mm handheld on 2 cameras.The style is that both cameras will be on wide lenses close to the actors.

 

Because the movie is 90% handheld a decision was made by the DP to use Arri LT (lightweight) cameras which are 4db noisier than an Arri ST (studio) camera.

Creatively the DP has also chosen Fuji stock,which is always noisier than Kodak,due to the perforations sounding 'pickier'.

The movie is not a huge budget so the Producer has decided (and this is very common in the UK) to shoot 3 perf,which means a 25% reduction in the film stock budget.What this means for Sound is that although the frame rate is still 24fps,effectively the camera is doing 25% more work,so it sounds like a 4 perf movement running at 36fps.

 

Basically we are dealing with the 'golden triangle' of camera noise- Lightweight cameras,fuji stock and 3 perf.The camera noise is doubled because there is 2 cameras and it is compounded by the fact that the camera are shooting close to the actors.

 

We recognised the issue in prep and started working with the camera team to do everything possible to reduce the noise.The camera dept have been incredibly helpful and let us work on their cameras.

 

The first issue is that LT cameras do not have 'blimps' (AKA 'Barney's),because they are lightweight the thought process from Arri is that there is no point making blimps because it will make them heavier........

Having encountered this issue before and then noticing on a shoot in Iceland suddenly their were 'cold weather covers' on the magazines.So,i asked for the cold weather covers to be supplied (they are leather and not as good as a blimp but better than nothing.

We then lined the inside of the cold weather covers with sound blankets.

 

We then stuck 'tessa tape' (sticky neoprene) to every surface on the camera possible,and doubled the layer where we could.The most important parts are the 'door' to the gate and the movement and the area just under the lens.

 

The 1st AC's (focus pullers) are all using off board focus controllers and so wherever possible they allow us to wrap the lens in a 6 inch strip of sound blanket too (not pictured,)

 

Camera with 'blimp' and neoprene

camera6_zps181b659c.jpg

 

The area under the lens with neoprene stuck to it.

 

camera3_zpsd09b1299.jpg

 

Inside the cold weather cover,the sound blanket

 

camera1_zps82365f34.jpg

 

The 'door' to the movement with neoprene stuck to it.

 

camera5_zpsabd28321.jpg

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When we recce'd the sound stages,which are 'old school' and very quiet we noticed that the electrical supply is working quite hard and is a bit old fashioned resulting in a noticeable hum when it is under load.

 

We spoke to the gaffer and he had the rigger build a frame around the box out of scaffold tube which we then draped with our rubber backed carpets.One end of the frame is left open to allow the box to breathe and air to circulate.The open end is the one furthest from set.This has worked and we cannot hear the hum anymore.

 

The following pictures show 2 sound stages we are shooting on.

 

Carpetts1_zps944c3f37.jpg

 

The 'open' end

 

carpets2_zpsbec7a8fa.jpg

 

The other stage

 

carpets3_zps5b860b3c.jpg

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Did you guys consider the Dynamat material used for deadening car bodies (esp after having a big sound system installed), or did you figure it was too heavy for this application?   Love the rubbery blankets.  Will they allow an optical flat to be used in front of the lens--I always found that to be the most helpful thing of all re film transport noise.

 

phiulp

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Production made some interesting choices on how they want to shoot this film that I wonder if they will later regret in post. Besides the cameras and their noise issues, 2 wide angle shots in close to the actors won't be easy to cut well. Seems an odd way to work to me  but better paid minds have made these decisions so now Simon and his crew will have to do the best they can. I'm not telling Simon anything he doesn't already know already, but for others who might not, I've found that with noisy cameras in close to the actor sometimes a lav/radio mic is worse than the boom mic if the boom op plays the null part of the pattern well to reduce the camera noise. Not always easy to do, especially with 2 cameras in close. The problem is the lavs face the cameras in these scenarios and pick up more of the chatter of the film camera mechanics than a boom will. Of course there are a million variables to this kind of scenario. This is one shoot that 2 Alexa's would be better for the good ol sound crew. Thanks for sharing Simon. I look forward to more posts about the show.

CrewC

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Production made some interesting choices on how they want to shoot this film that I wonder if they will later regret in post. Besides the cameras and their noise issues, 2 wide angle shots in close to the actors won't be easy to cut well. Seems an odd way to work to me  but better paid minds have made these decisions so now Simon and his crew will have to do the best they can. I'm not telling Simon anything he doesn't already know already, but for others who might not, I've found that with noisy cameras in close to the actor sometimes a lav/radio mic is worse than the boom mic if the boom op plays the null part of the pattern well to reduce the camera noise. Not always easy to do, especially with 2 cameras in close. The problem is the lavs face the cameras in these scenarios and pick up more of the chatter of the film camera mechanics than a boom will. Of course there are a million variables to this kind of scenario. This is one shoot that 2 Alexa's would be better for the good ol sound crew. Thanks for sharing Simon. I look forward to more posts about the show.

CrewC

 

 

Very good points and the Lav's definately have more camera noise than the booms,but the scenario has forced me to use Super CMITS 100% of the time,when i would have preferred to use Schoeps hyper cardioids on the interiors if it wasn't for the camera noise.

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    I worked on a film last year with two handheld aaton penelopes all shot very close and with a VERY quietly spoken leading man.I radio miked and boomed every scene but sometimes it sounded like the cameras where running  on diesel .I do think that the lav's helped greatly due to the fact that the actors played almost all scenes so quietly.Quite often during the rehearsals I would stand on set with the Director and he would turn to me and say "did you hear that "and I would say truthfully "not a word"and these where not large sets and getting more level from the cast was definitely not on the cards.But I saw the film a few weeks ago and even though it felt like swimming through treacle to get those tracks it all sounded fine and there was almost no ADR.I suppose it showed me what good post can do .

Best John

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" I wonder if they will later regret in post. Besides the cameras and their noise issues, 2 wide angle shots in close to the actors won't be easy to cut well. "

just as Crew noted...

but is it good storytelling, or just art for art's sale (aka a triumph of style over substance) ??

 

gets me thinking of an episode the director insisted on shooting entirely with a 50mm Primo lens...no more reason than he believed he could do it, and was going to prove it.  drove the excellent, experienced, ASC DP bananas...

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Wow, brilliant story, Simon! Congrats on having the tenacity and skill to deal with each problem, one at a time.

 

On the rare film shoots I've done (getting rarer here in the States), I've asked for the DP to swap out the camera body to see if it was any quieter, and also for them to use a clear glass filter plate in the matte box to cut down on the noise coming straight out through the front of the camera. Each helped by about 5-10% (at best), but it was a noticeable difference. We also found out real fast that even with the A-level rental houses like Panavision and Claremont, they will work with you on making the intermittent movements quieter through internal adjustments. Most of these are beyond the simple tweaks an AC can do. 

 

I consider it a victory if I'm able to get them to move the light ballasts far away from the set, and I've managed to build a little tent out of a couple of sound blankets and C-stands just to kind of containerize the noise. Just doing that little bit has helped a lot. 

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Why was the LT chosen? By the time you attached all that stuff, isn't it just as heavy as a small sync camera? Curious.

Also, as a side note. I was on a 35mm project. I insisted the camera was noisier than it should be. The AC insisted it was normal. Shot with it for 1/2 a day, until another AC heard me talking about it with my boom op. he listened to the camera, opened it up, made a 5-second adjustment, and VOILA! Quiet. He apologized for the other AC.

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Last week I revisited the "Open Letter" by the venerable John Coffey et. al., and was dreaming about a day in my career where I would be hired during pre-production and have the opportunity of cooperating amongst departments like the wonderful examples that you've shared Simon. These "predictable" sound problems seem exponentially easier to address between departments in pre-pro, rather than discovering them for the first time on day one of shooting because nobody in production has the foresight to be thinking about their sound as an integral part of the film.

 

These examples give one hope Simon, and I thank you.

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Hi Robert,

 

The LT's were chosen because they are light.They are significantly lighter than an ST.They are also a 'sync camera' so it is very difficult to make a case for not using them (i.e. if they were suggesting shooting

on a 235 i could refuse on the grounds it is an MOS camera).

The same accessories go on the LT that would have to go on the ST,so when fully loaded there IS a weight difference between the 2 cameras.

LT's are designed for sync sound handheld or on stedicam.

The fact is,all of us probably shoot on LT's regularly and we don't notice because when they are running

4 perf and kodak they are fine.

It is the combination of 3 perf and Fuji with the LT that makes them unacceptable IMO.

 

Just to follow on the story,i asked for some of my dailies to be sent to sound post for assessment and they came back saying the camera noise was filterable but they would obviously prefer not to have to filter so aggressively.

I have asked the DP to switch to ST cameras and the answer was no,because he feels the weight of ST's will stop the cameras being used as freely in handheld mode.He is a friend of mine so we can have direct uninhibited conversations about the issue.

I would obviously not even consider asking him about his film stock choice,that is a creative choice.

So the weight of the cameras and the stock are creative choices.

Running 4 perf is not,it is a financial decision.

I have managed to negotiate a change to 4 perf for the rest of the sound studio portion of the movie,but we will return to 3 perf for the  exteriors and a few location interiors.

 

Regarding the AC you met who didn't know how (or didn't want to) adjust the pitch of the camera.It requires a hex key and about 5 seconds as you say.I have met guys like that but luckily they are becoming rarer.The AC's on the job i am working on are my friends and i have done a lot of shows with them and i consider them excellent technicians who bend over backwards to help the sound dept.

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I'm glad you clarified.

It's been a few years since I have worked with a film camera, sadly. At least I'm lucky the last 2 or so have been exclusively Alexa. I went on the Arri site to re-familiarize myself with the line. I have, indeed, used the LT, but not under the circumstances you describe. It's great that your producer and DP are working with you. Collaboration is so great, and the project always benefits when everyone works together.

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The quiet performance of a film camera will vary with the specific film loaded. Fresh film is usually quieter than recans. And there is even some variation between standard and high speed stock.

I don't know the current practices at camera rental shops but, for a long time, most shops tuned a camera for Kodak stock. But it's entirely possible to tune a camera for optimal performance with whatever stock the cinematographer wants to use. Cellulose base, estar base, thick emulsion, thin emulsion, b&w, color, all factors can be adjusted in tuning. This is similar to the pitch adjustment that a camera assistant performs but a bit more comprehensive.

My first suggestion would be to have a camera tech tune the camera for the stock that will be used. It won't make a lightweight model as quiet as a studio model but it should be possible to make it as quiet with one stock as it is with any other.

And, like Simon, I don't understand why a 3-perf pull down would be any noisier than a 4-perf configuration.

David

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