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Cloverfield-style shooting?


Cory Kaseman
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Hi all.

I'm hoping some folks here might have a few tips for me.

There's a good chance that I'll be working on an upcoming film which is shot entirely in the POV style of such films as Blair Witch, Cloverfield, etc., and honestly I'm a little intimidated.

Almost the entire film will take place inside one house, and according to the script, many of the scenes will have nearly 360 degree coverage of the rooms.  It's also an action-heavy script, with a lot of fighting and wrestling between characters.  And of course due to the "reality POV" style, every single scene in the film is a one-shot.

Because of the location and the large amount of camera movement I think that boom may be out of the question, but because of how much action there is in the script, I'm worried that any lavs I use will just be chock full o' clothing noise and impact sounds.  Plant mics may or may not be feasible due to the location/set dressing.  I haven't had a chance to scout it yet so I'm not sure.

Is it even possible to do fight scenes and such with lavs on, without just being inundated by clothing noise?  Maybe I have no choice to but use plant mics for the whole shoot?  Like I said, most of the film takes place in one house, and mostly within 2 or 3 rooms of that house, with lots of movement around the rooms and between them.  For the majority of the film there will be 4-5 actors in each scene.

I haven't seen blair witch but from what I know it was extremely low-budget and probably shot exclusively with the camera mic.  Something bigger-budget like cloverfield, I assume would have had the time and money to build plants in to their sets, extensively choreograph the movements of a boom op, and possibly even do a lot of sound in post.  I got severely motion-sick in the first ten minutes so I wasn't exactly paying attention to how the sound might have been done.

Gear-wise, this show probably doesn't have the budget to rent any more gear.  They're barely able to cover my own kit fee, so additional equipment is probably out of the question.

I have 4 radios, 2 boom mics, a couple 57s and an NT4.  Obviously I'll be running separate sound, and tracking in to my 788t.  So I guess covering the room wouldn't be a huge problem, but I'm almost never happy with the dialogue quality in plant mic situations.

If anyone has any advice or ideas, I'd really appreciate your help.  I'd especially love to hear from any of the sound dept in Cloverfield or a similar POV-style, action-heavy show.

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What about a shotgun mic actually mounted to the camera w/ a wireless transmitter to you?  You might be able to blend it with your lavs to get something good.  Was on a small pilot a while back - no budget for lavs (i brought a couple in case) - and they had this 360 circling shot of 5 women speaking around a table.  I mounted a CS-3e to the camera and let it go.  Production was happy with the results.

-Greg-

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I have done a similar POV feature.  The "advantage" is that the story dictates the sound to be perspective to the camera, so you can justify a lot of natural sound.  Without the need to cut between coverage, background noise is less of a problem.  The hardest part is keeping the crew around camera quiet, making them understand the need for a cleaner production track on this  genre of movie, because of the lack of cuts.

The type of camera you use can make a difference to your course of action.  If it's a prosumer HD, then you can mount a short shotgun or hyper cardioid to the camera (Rode makes a nice shockmount for a shoe), and/or use the built-in mics.  Some of these cameras allow for 4 channels of audio.  You can put the shotgun on 1 & 2 with two different gain settings, then put the stereo built-in mic to 3 & 4.  If it's 2-channel, then I suggest the short shotgun approach only, or perhaps your NT4 for a wider spread and XY stereo.  If you are stuck with the RED or other big camera, then my guess is that there will be all kinds of crap attached to the camera.  It might be a challenge to get a mic in a good position.

With on-board mic "set", you can use your boom and follow behind camera getting "better" audio, and using your creative instincts to get what you think the audience might want/need to hear.

The problem with plants and lavs in this case might be getting false perspective, or even worse, reverse perspective.  It might make sense to occasionally employ a plant or lav for a specific purpose on a case by case basis, but I wouldn't make this my standard course of action.  If you can't lav everyone all the time, then it'll be weird to mix and match, and you have mentioned the action will make lav placement challenging.

These kids of shoots can be fun, often with you and the operator being the only crew in the room.  It gives you a chance to really think about your craft and recording what makes sense to the story.

Good luck,

Robert

P.S.  BE SURE TO TELL EDITORIAL, AND FOLLOW UP WITH POST AUDIO, THAT THERE ARE TRACKS ON THE CAMERA (2 or 4) WHICH NEED TO BE CONSIDERED IN THE FINAL MIX.  I WENT TO A LOT OF TROUBLE ON "CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE" TO GET STUFF ON CAMERA THAT I WASN'T ABLE TO GET ON THE BOOM OR LAVS.  "TELECINE" TRANSFERED THE TRACKS TO NEW HD MASTERS, BUT POST AUDIO NEVER KNEW THE TRACKS WERE THERE.  THE DAILIES SENT TO EDITORIAL ONLY CONTAINED MY MIX. TRAGIC!!

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" an upcoming film which is shot entirely in the POV style ... "

OK, I'll ask the obvious:

do the movie-makers know what they are doing, and is there a real budget??

(I trust you are getting paid appropriately...??)

If they know what they are doing, like Cloverfield, there will be planning, and blocking...

and a budget to do what will be required in post.

If it it is like Blair Witch, then Camera Mic's...

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Almost the entire film will take place inside one house, and according to the script, many of the scenes will have nearly 360 degree coverage of the rooms. It's also an action-heavy script, with a lot of fighting and wrestling between characters. And of course due to the "reality POV" style, every single scene in the film is a one-shot.

I should've used this concept in my "Sound Mixer Hell" cartoon!

I suspect the actors aren't going to talk and fight the entire time. I've used the trick of pulling up a wireless mike on the other character when there's clothing noise, provided they're close enough. If the scene is in a real house with low ceilings, and they're spinning the camera around 360, hiding the lights and the boom op (and grips and PAs) is going to be a real challenge.

Plant mikes can work provided the scene is rehearsed and you can count on the actors hitting their marks. This definitely sounds like a "reality TV" kind of situation where you're going to have to use a little bit of everything to get it to work.

--Marc W.

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OK, I'll vask the obvious:

do the movie-makers know what they are doing, and is there a real budget??

(I trust you are getting paid appropriately...??)

Yes, no, and yes.  What??  Yes; this incredibly microbudget film is actually paying me, the sound mixer, my asking rate.  I nearly passed out when the producer agreed to it without ANY argument or haggling.  He said, and I quote: "I know how important production sound is, especially on these indie shoots where we don't have the budget for post."  I feel like I just hand-fed a unicorn.

Thanks for the advice, everyone.  I think I settled on a combination of the camera's stereo mic, and one of my shotguns mounted on camera with a wireless to me, and maybe handgrip a shotgun where I can, to cut down on some of the handling noise for the more intense scenes. 

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" the producer agreed to it without ANY argument or haggling I feel like I just hand-fed a unicorn.. "

or a lamb being led to slaughter!

Glad you are getting a fair rate, but the other edge of that sword is that you 'may be' dealing with an inexperienced wanna-bee idiot who hasn't got much of a plan, and will stick to it!  he figures that without understanding all of the technical issues, and doing some problem solving, that he can just hire you, and do all the crap he wants and expect to have excellent production sound, with no post work needed.  I can easily see some dissapointments down the line for both of you, when you don't do miracles, and get the laws of physics repealed for him/her...

there is a reason why they call it the moving picture Arts and Sciences...

break a leg!

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If you want to do it I'd get in there with the lightest doco rig you can manage, do a wireless ref feed to the camera and record as many split tracks of lavs, your boom, and wireless plants as you can.  Shooting this way involves a fairly serious compromise for production sound and will require a great deal of work on the dialog in post--if the producers and directors don't know this already they will know it soon.  All departments will share pain with this approach (focus will be a constant issue) but this MO is quite common nowadays and it is doable.  There's no reason to beat yourself up because your recordings won't sound like a high-end Hollywood feature, just treat the show like it is a documentary and keep your head in the scene you are shooting now.

Philip Perkins

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he figures that without understanding all of the technical issues, and doing some problem solving, that he can just hire you, and do all the crap he wants and expect to have excellent production sound, with no post work needed.  I can easily see some dissapointments down the line for both of you, when you don't do miracles, and get the laws of physics repealed for him/her...

Sounds more or less like the circumstances of at least 50% (and I'm being generous there) of all jobs on any level.  This notion isn't limited to tiny indies...

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Yes; this incredibly microbudget film is actually paying me, the sound mixer, my asking rate.  I nearly passed out when the producer agreed to it without ANY argument or haggling.  He said, and I quote: "I know how important production sound is, especially on these indie shoots where we don't have the budget for post."  I feel like I just hand-fed a unicorn.

Am I alone in wondering what your "asking rate" is?  I'm pretty sure they would have told me to f-off if I had given them my asking rate, which is what I usually do to avoid these types of fiascoes.  And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Robert

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Am I alone in wondering what your "asking rate" is?

I am a victim of my circumstances, and my circumstances find me as a newbie sound mixer in a town populated by film makers who aren't exactly known for paying fair wages (or paying at all, in most cases) or giving a goddamn about sound.  My rate for most projects is $300/day, which doesn't quite have me rolling in dough, but if I quote any higher than that I definitely wouldn't get much work here.  Even as it is, 90% of job offers I get start with the other guy trying to talk me down to about $60/day

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I am a victim of my circumstances, and my circumstances find me as a newbie sound mixer in a town populated by film makers who aren't exactly known for paying fair wages (or paying at all, in most cases) or giving a goddamn about sound.  My rate for most projects is $300/day, which doesn't quite have me rolling in dough, but if I quote any higher than that I definitely wouldn't get much work here.  Even as it is, 90% of job offers I get start with the other guy trying to talk me down to about $60/day

Zoinks!  Dare I tread even further by asking if that includes gear, and for how many hours you are expected to work for the $300?

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I just can't believe there are still people who invest a few hundred thousand to produce some VERY crummy films, with little or no chance of getting anywhere beyond the festival circuit.  These are the guys shelling out $100-$300 per day for the crew, I guess.  How do these films make any money?

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I just can't believe there are still people who invest a few hundred thousand to produce some VERY crummy films, with little or no chance of getting anywhere beyond the festival circuit.  These are the guys shelling out $100-$300 per day for the crew, I guess.  How do these films make any money?

They don't. They're discovery films. Hopefully the producer/director/writer hope that their festival entry film will generate enough interest to get them "discovered" and get them the coveted  "3 picture deal" with a real budget.

Eric

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Back to possible solutions.

Wig mic, ear mic placement.  The main person, the one we never see because he is the POV for the movie, use his head to mount a stereo set of lavalier mounted on glasses and run it to the camera or wireless tx to you.

My two cents.

Pascal

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I think if we're talking about a movie which is paying $300 per day for sound, then the plan should be simple in production and simple for post, as well as costing our friend here very little in gear.  I believe a mic mounted to the camera  and a roving boom recorded to a single track is the way to go. If there is an off-camera "operator", whose voice would be justifiably on-mic, then a lav to a second track would be a reasonable idea. 

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Yeah that includes gear. Though I'm sure I have far, far less invested in gear than most of you guys, so it's probably not as bad as it sounds.  What's a standard rate for bag work in LA?  Like $5-600/day?  I've never worked outside of AZ so I honestly don't know.  I have 552, 788T-SSD, 5 sets of UWP radios, and pairs of ME66 and ME67, and all the stuff you'd expect to go along with it all.  I mostly do industrial/interviews/educational and run-and-gun stuff.

What I've decided on for this shoot: the camera has a stereo mic on it, which I'm going to feed wirelessly to my recorder for reference and redundancy.  I'll also be placing a shotgun on cam with radio to me.  The behind-the-cam person will probably have a headband lav, since he's hardly ever in front of the camera.  For some of the more intense action stuff like fight scenes and camera drops I will probably try to come in near cam with my NT4 or a boom, or both, in order to save my gear the abuse, and have post add camera handling sounds.

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Do you own a Sanken CUB boundry mic? It's seriously one of my favorite mics. If you buy one, I suggest getting it from a qualified location sound company (like Trew Audio). I say that because they can add a TA5 to TA5 breakaway so the CUB can plug into a standard wireless bodypack for an extra $36 (as opposed to the stock XLR plug). They are great for planting on a table, in a car on the visor, or other situations where you can't really wire the actor(s). It's one of those unique problem solver mics you will constantly find new ways to use.

If you already own ME66/ME67 mics you could pick up a ME64 cardoid capsule for under $200... or a Oktava MK012. Either of those might help with booming 5 people in a wild setup.... or could possibly be ceiling mounted overhead.

Just for reference, I'm pretty sure much (all?) of Blair Witth was shot with consumer handhelds. Their success was mostly to incredibly clever marketing.

Cloverfield wanted to convey that it was shot like that, but (I was told) they used Sony F900s for much of the film. They put a lot of work into giving the perception of cheap camerawork with cheap consumer equipment that was actually incredibly planned out. Whatever they shot on, they built some sort of rig so they could run and tumble with the camera.

good luck! Have fun with it and I'm sure you will learn a lot. You will probably have a lot of those "next time I'll try this...." moments. It sounds like they are experimenting a little with this, so you should too. You have a 788, so you can place as many mics as time allows and keep them isolated so there is no harm done.

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Just for reference, I'm pretty sure much (all?) of Blair Witth was shot with consumer handhelds. Their success was mostly to incredibly clever marketing.

I've been told by some insiders that there were all kinds of plant mikes and wireless on Paranormal Activity, despite the fact that they make a point of referring to the camera-mounted mike during the opening scene. Not sure about Blair Witch, though I know there was a good deal of ADR here and there.

The problem with the success of movies like this is that inexperienced producers don't "get" that there was a ton of post later on, all of which was done to make the movie seem like it was 100% natural. In a way, it contributes to the cluelessness of newbies who try to imitate doco-style features like this. It's kind of like the old story about Robert Rodriguez excellent film El Mariachi, shot for $4000... but with a $100,000+ union mix at Sony Pictures (and almost 100% ADR).

--Marc W.

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