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Workflow for basic coverage of 2 actors talking.

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Hi all, I'm just starting out in the filmmaking world, so please forgive my lack of knowledge. I have no-budget film I'd like to make, and I'll be doing everything myself. I can't seem to wrap my head around the audio side of basic 2-actor coverage. That is, filming the over the shoulder shots, and the medium shot. Could someone break this down for me as though they're explaining it to a child? 


If I have the camera set up for an over the shoulder shot, and I'm booming the actors, am I booming both actors as they each speak? Or just one actor, and then the other actor when I do the reverse shot? And then for the medium or other shots? And then how should I piece the dialogue together in post? 


I have a reasonable knowledge of some aspects of filmmaking and post production, just can't get the logistics of this right in my head. 




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This is one of those questions that bedevil regulars on this site because there is no good answer. How to treat an interaction between actors is an artistic choice and also inextricably involved with the grammar of film. The question is analogous to asking how one would light the actors, who should be in shadow and who in light, etc. It all depends (to use the motto of a frequent contributor here).

But, as I am not actively involved in production at this time and have no "dog in the fight" or reputation to protect, I'll try some general guidance. 


How much of the downstage actor is seen in each shot is a decision for the director and the D.P. but actors move and shuffle about even if you nail their shoes to the floor. (As they should) This means that even if the camera were almost directly behind the downstage actor, one might see an outline of the chin when he/she speaks. It's risky to count on replacing all the dialog of the downstage actor with lines recorded when it's their turn to be directly on camera. And, there is the issue of ad-libs that may mean that a line is never exactly repeated in the alternate angle. 


On a big show, e.g. episodic TV or a studio picture, there are at least three people on the sound crew. The dialog can be covered with two booms deployed by the primary Boom Operator and a Utility Sound Person or a dedicated Second Boom Op. Ideally each voice might then be recorded on a separate track so the audio of the "on camera" person is not cluttered with any noise or vocalizations from the downstage actor.


If you don't have the personnel for two booms, you'll have to improvise. Sometimes, if the players are close together, a single Boom Operator can successfully record both voices, cueing back and forth. This can work very well if there are rehearsals or the Boom Op is well familiar with the dialog. Usually, a skilled Boom Op will hesitate to cue all the way back to the downstage actor and will swing the pole only partway and aim the microphone between the two speakers. This will usually yield a satisfactory recording of the downstage player and keep the microphone close enough to optimum position on the primary person to be quickly adjusted to best advantage.


This advice is well known to most everyone here but, as you admit you are new to the game, I'll share this trick: actors will usually move their mouth slightly before they speak. So a Boom Op will usually keep eyes on the primary player even when adjusted back to get the downstage player and then, using this "tell," quickly adjust the microphone to capture the coming line. In this situation, getting an excellent recording of the person facing the camera is primary and one can risk losing a word or two from the other. (After all, one will probably get a better opportunity when that person is "on.")


If distance or some other factor makes it difficult to record both players with your boom, satisfactory results can be achieved by putting a radio microphone on the downstage player. Remember that because the camera will primarily see only that person's back, there is no need to hide the microphone. It can be out in the open, free from being muffled by clothing.


If the actors are stationary, one can sometimes rig a second boom pole on a C-stand using a boom support bracket made for that purpose. This is a bit risky because, as previously noted, actors can't be relied upon to hold a position. (And shouldn't have to) But, it can often work just fine and is a good option when there isn't enough equipment to use radio mikes and not enough people to boom everything.


And, sometimes a Production Assistant can be drafted to simply crouch down and hold a microphone at waist height in front of the downstage player. In an over-the-shoulder shot it shouldn't be too difficult for the assistant to stay out of the picture.


And, sometimes you just have to punt.




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19 hours ago, HarryR2 said:

I have no-budget film I'd like to make, and I'll be doing everything myself


It's really worth rethinking that. Maybe think of it this way: Since you'll have actors, you won't be doing everything yourself. Expand that into a circle of other people to work with you on your film. Maybe you work on their films in exchange for their working on your film. Even if you're all beginners, you can break up tasks. One person focuses on sound, one or camera, one on editing, etc. And you all get to write and and/or direct when it's your turn. Maybe be clever and put your film at the end of the line so you all have a bit more experience making films. But so many things need to be done well to just finish a film, let alone make a film that -anyone- would want to watch, that trying to do everything yourself will (1) be painfully frustrating, (2) greatly increase the chances that you won't get the film finished, and (3) super-duper greatly increase the chance that the film won't come anywhere near where you want it to be.


19 hours ago, HarryR2 said:

I have a reasonable knowledge of some aspects of filmmaking


More important than knowledge is experience. And judgment. My favorite aphorism:


Good judgment comes from experience.

Experience comes from bad judgment.


Form a band of filmmakers and get some experience. Then you can take advantage of David's fantastic advice.

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Wow!  I was just trying to get it together to respond to this question and then I get to read David's and Jim and  John's responses! I am impressed and again grateful for their participation, their wisdom and generosity. They are  what makes this site so great! Thank you.

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Yes, dramatic film making is a team sport.  I work (in post ) for lots of doc filmmakers who work solo, but while there are some tricks that can get them through simple sit-down interview and verite shoots, drama is a much higher bar for production sound.   One of the most valuable talents a filmmaker can have is a gift for getting people to work on their projects with them, often regardless of the compensation involved.  Charisma, having a "reality-distortion field", just exuding a leadership vibe; exactly what it is that makes otherwise sensible crew people want to follow and help a filmmaker (or any other artist) is very mysterious but also very real.   For newbs often the draw is getting to do a job or work in a position that their experience doesn't really qualify them for yet.

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Wow! Sincere thanks to everyone who replied. The information is invaluable and I truly appreciate it. I'm going to read these posts again and again. 


David - you have made me realise why I couldn't work it out. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain this to me. I have so much to learn. 


Jim - your advice is excellent and has made me realise a lot. You've given me much to think over. Most appreciated. 


Phillip - thanks for chiming in. Time to re-asses my approach to this craft. 


Best regards, 






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