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working around the sweet spot


jaydgolden
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Hello,

I've been working as a boom operator for a number of years and have starting working regularly as a mixer over the past two years. My strategy as a boom operator was always to put the actor's voice into the "sweet spot" of the mic as best I could. If there were a number of actors this might require very stealthy cuing, a wider pattern mic, or two boom operators. My idea was to be a close as possible to the edge of the frame line.

As a mixer, I'm listening more for evenness in the overall scene, balance between the voices of the actors and some generally consistent sense of place as far as the sound goes. It seems preferable to having the sound of a voice come in and out of "focus" as the boom operator works the scene.

I wonder how other mixers and boom operators approach it.

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Hello,

I've been working as a boom operator for a number of years and have starting working regularly as a mixer over the past two years. My strategy as a boom operator was always to put the actor's voice into the "sweet spot" of the mic as best I could. If there were a number of actors this might require very stealthy cuing, a wider pattern mic, or two boom operators. My idea was to be a close as possible to the edge of the frame line.

As a mixer, I'm listening more for evenness in the overall scene, balance between the voices of the actors and some generally consistent sense of place as far as the sound goes. It seems preferable to having the sound of a voice come in and out of "focus" as the boom operator works the scene.

I wonder how other mixers and boom operators approach it.

Post will love you.

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I'm using a Schoeps Mk41 for interior booming...my best advice...listen for the warmest richest tone you can find in the voice...its not necessarily the closest placement...and try to hold that tone in all your placements.

BVS

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I'm using a Schoeps Mk41 for interior booming...my best advice...listen for the warmest richest tone you can find in the voice...its not necessarily the closest placement...and try to hold that tone in all your placements.

BVS

+ 1

It is seldom the closest spot to the actor IMO. Use your ears, not your eyes when operating a mic on the pole as it relates to the sound of the scene and all it's coverage. Most times it is not close to the frame line.

CrewC

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+ 1

It is seldom the closest spot to the actor IMO. Use your ears, not your eyes when operating a mic on the pole as it relates to the sound of the scene and all it's coverage. Most times it is not close to the frame line.

CrewC

Absolutely. As a postie, I want consistency. Playing the mic as close as possible ups the possibility of booming errors (off mic when the actor moves in an unexpected way) and changes in voice timbre and room reflection level if the actor moves upstage and you have to go up with the mic to stay out of the shot. If you are struggling with a small voice in a noisy location, then do what you gotta do, but otherwise I'd prefer a consistent if somewhat roomy sound for a whole scene than to have to add reverb to closer miced shots to get them to match wider pieces. I should say that this whole notion is rather out of fashion right now, in the era of "wire 'em all".

phil p

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Absolutely. As a postie, I want consistency. Playing the mic as close as possible ups the possibility of booming errors (off mic when the actor moves in an unexpected way) and changes in voice timbre and room reflection level if the actor moves upstage and you have to go up with the mic to stay out of the shot... - snip - I should say that this whole notion is rather out of fashion right now, in the era of "wire 'em all".

phil p

I mourn the loss of this philosophy, the mic ON the actor has no meaningful perspective or context, but it is unfortunately the only place the mic can be these days to accommodate the "style" of movie-making going on.

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When I started out mixing for movies, multiple cameras were only used for special days when we were blowing something up or doing something that would only happen once (like shooting a live concert). Everything was repeated for every angle needed for any given scene. One of the main things I learned, very quickly, was the importance of consistency, shot to shot, since all of these angles would be cut together when the scene was assembled. Our main job, besides recording sound at appropriate levels free of distorsion or other artifacts, was to provide tracks that could be cut together and seamlessly sustain the illusion for an audience that what they are seeing and hearing only happened once. I think I got pretty good at this specific part of our job and was gratified when I heard from Buz Knudsen (who was the first really A-list post-producton mixer I had the chance to work with) that I was doing all the right things (specifically he thanked me for NOT jamming the microphone right down to the frameline on every setup). I learned at that time that it was much more important to have the sound match from shot to shot than to have it match camera perspective perfectly. While writing this, I just had the thought that the prevalent use of microphones on the body actually can be thought of as liberating in some respects --- not only expediting the use of multiple cameras where it is not possible to preserve camera perspective as we used to know it, but providing a seamless consistency from shot to shot. Reflecting on this thought further, the big problem is it more often than not provides consistently POOR sound, at least as compared to the old single camera, properly boomed and mixed movies. The extensive use of mics on the body has unfortunately produced a whole generation of boom operators and mixers who will never learn the skills that I worked so hard to acquire over the years. Maybe it doesn't matter... sound for picture is going to be done the way it is done, today and tomorrow, and it will never see a return to the style of recording that I really love.

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<<specifically he thanked me for NOT jamming the microphone right down to the frameline on every setup>>

Which I am sure your able boom op was responsible for and UNDERSTOOD the way to go - Don and others for sure?

<<Maybe it doesn't matter... sound for picture is going to be done the way it is done, today and tomorrow, and it will never see a return to the style of recording that I really love.>>

Jeff, it MAY come back. But by then - will you and others be there to teach them who want to learn?

Once again, my thought of a book + film on location sound comes to the fore... someone's gotta do it. record the thoughts, talk of the veterans of this art. I WANT to do it, but unfortunately I am not American OR European.

-vin

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I was not meaning to indicate that booming is dead (the 74 movies I have done including the last one which wrapped last month have all been boomed primarily). I was just talking about trends and I think we can all agree that the trends are in favor of individual body on the actor tracks. This trend has also produced significant changes in all sorts of other areas as well: choice of locations, time spent setting up and rehearsing, etc., and also the all important loss of an informed discipline necessary when you only have one camera and 8 or 9 hours a day to shoot.

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I was just talking about trends and I think we can all agree that the trends are in favor of individual body on the actor tracks. This trend has also produced significant changes in all sorts of other areas as well: choice of locations, time spent setting up and rehearsing, etc., and also the all important loss of an informed discipline necessary when you only have one camera and 8 or 9 hours a day to shoot.

Then your generation needs to educate the next to preserve good techniques, don't just give up. There are some of us that do pay attention what you "old timers" do and have done without formal direction. I've always paid attention to consistency mainly because I notice how important it is from my post days. There was a film I did last year, where I was really strict on this principal and whenever approached by the director, or DP about "why not lav them", or "but the boom looks too wide still", I just stood my ground and asked them to let me do my job. A year later, they approached me at the premier to tell me how happy they where during the editing process and how their expectations from my department were exceeded. Perhaps this "trend" is a result of poorly educated/skilled sound departments.

I mourn the loss of this philosophy, the mic ON the actor has no meaningful perspective or context, but it is unfortunately the only place the mic can be these days to accommodate the "style" of movie-making going on.

This understandable of course, however it does not mean to abandon good techniques and principals. If anything, I see this "style" being the go to "problem solving technique" to get through the scene but as soon as it's possible to get back to the preferred methods, do it.

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I see both sides of the argument, both "use the boom!" and "wire 'em all!"

To me, it's all about giving the dialog editor and post people as many options as possible. This kind of goes along with a prior discussion on off-camera dialog: should the other actor be miked? Should the boom op worry about swiveling around to get their dialog? Should we just forget it and assume they'll fix it in editing? Should we sweat about quality and getting the right perspective, or should we worry about non-technical people watching dailies who don't understand coverage?

I run into people so inexperienced, they freak out in dailies when they hear somebody off-screen talking off-mike. I could explain, "hey, you've got 20 takes of them from all the other angles," but they'll still question it. It's easier just to get a lav on the other actor and have them covered in the mono mix. No question, it won't be 100% consistent, but I can get it close at least in terms of level. I've worked in post on hundreds of episodic TV shows over the last ten years that were done this way; it's not ideal, but this has become more of the rule than the exception nowadays.

The other problem is overlaps, and I had a polite disagreement with a director on my last shoot about this. His feeling was, the scene is going to be chaotic and needed all three characters arguing at the same time; my concern was that this could really kill their choices in editing. He literally responded, "well, can't we just loop it?" I tactfully (and non-condescendingly) explained, "getting it right now will be 10 times cheaper than looping." I got my way, and we got some non-overlapped takes, plus some wild lines. One hopes the editor will be thrilled, but who knows... At least I can sleep at night.

--Marc W.

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So i can educate myself on what Jeff is explaining,

" I learned at that time that it was much more important to have the sound match from shot to shot than to have it match camera perspective perfectly." - Jeff

That means from the wides to the tights and everything in-between should all sound similar, to keep and stay consistent. And not to match the cameras perspective as if the it was a wide to stay back and then on the tights move in to get closer to the actors?

Jay is thinking that going and giving the different perspectives is favorable,

This thread has created a few different discussions and im trying to figure out the original concept.

Cause i would like to know, as a boom opt i want to make sure im supplying the best sound that i can for my mixer, and if you guys that have 30 years on me then please elaborate more on how you feel the boom operators should be handling this.

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So i can educate myself on what Jeff is explaining,

" I learned at that time that it was much more important to have the sound match from shot to shot than to have it match camera perspective perfectly." - Jeff

That means from the wides to the tights and everything in-between should all sound similar, to keep and stay consistent. And not to match the cameras perspective as if the it was a wide to stay back and then on the tights move in to get closer to the actors?

Jay is thinking that going and giving the different perspectives is favorable

I guess I wasn't really clear. The ideal for me is to have every angle (shot) reflect camera perspective but with respect to the practical side of doing this I meant to indicate: if the wide shot for whatever reason forces the sound to be TOO wide in relation to the cut that may come after, you don't want the sound perspective to change so drastically that it seems like a mistake (except in those instances where the picture editing wants to convey a drastic change). Bottom line, the sound needs to be consistent not so much in its perspective but in its character vs. background sounds, variable miking techniques and so forth, to sustain the illusion of the reality of the whole scene taking place at once.

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Thanks Jeff for elaborating on this.

So boom with the perspective of the camera then you add your wireless to help the consistency of the scene, from shot to shot. Now the other discussions in this thread make more sense. Wide and tight is very normal in the shoots of today.

Last time i did a single camera shoot, it was just as bad as the wide and tight. The short film was shot with a super wide perspective for a custom museum theater, in boston. The depth was so large i had to fly high and use an neumann 82 for the extra reach. Good thing it wasn't dialog heavy.

I digress.

cheers.

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I think this topic actually deserves a more considered and careful post on my part. A little history of movie-making: when I started out, almost every movie was made with 1 camera, very rarely were microphones on the actor's bodies, there was no multi-track for the production sound (single track mono) and for the most part, the shooting process was fairly predictable, never straying from the basic techniques. A master for the whole scene was rehearsed, blocked out in a manner that would provide the sort of coverage the director knew he or she would want, and then we would shoot "the master" (the shot that would usually have all the characters and the entire scene). We would generally boom the master with one microphone on a boom or fishpole and the sound would usually be quite "big" (wide) because keeping the mic out of the wide shot made for a distant pickup. Often this sound was not very good, even if it did reflect the wide camera perspective, and I'm not just talking about quality of sound. The actors were just discovering the scene, the lighting had not yet been refined, the director is thinking about the pace of the scene, etc., etc. The shot was often so wide that the sync sound that we recorded did not have to be used in the movie (and more often than not, the sound that would be recorded on the first bit of coverage AFTER we shot the master, the sound from the coverage, would be "cheated" into the master shot visuals. If the wide sound from the master was good, appropriate to the image and would lend a certain dimension to the overall edit of the scene, the sound would be used. When this was obvious or deemed likely, when we "moved in" for the next angle, the first coverage shot, we would move the microphone in closer but not necessarily as close as the frame line. This is what I meant when I said we do not follow camera perspective perfectly but rather it is followed within reason while still keeping a sort of consistency. The shot that comes after the wide master shot should sound "tighter" but not so tight as to feel that we are now somehow in a different locale, a different scene (and in some instances the feeling that we are listening to a different character!).

So, I've said a lot of things now, but most of this is HISTORY ... the introduction of multiple cameras, wireless mics on actor's bodies, multi-track recording and a whole host of other changes, makes this discussion largely academic.

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...

So, I've said a lot of things now, but most of this is HISTORY ... the introduction of multiple cameras, wireless mics on actor's bodies, multi-track recording and a whole host of other changes, makes this discussion largely academic.

I don't agree that it's now academic, Jeff, since the principles are still valid and are still the ideal. It's more of a "jumping off point" than it used to be, but remembering and referencing those principles will still help deliver a better end product IMO. It helps me and I'm sure it does others.

In my sphere of the world, with smaller independent films, there are a few talented directors coming up that understand and appreciate the naturalness, reality, and character that a properly boomed track can contribute. And some of them actually get how much that adds to the overall experience of the film, and that sound is an equal partner. These people may be few and far between, but, to be fair, so are people who fully understand story and its importance.

I'm in post with one such director now and am so glad that she edited the project herself, as she is now so much more in touch with issues like overlap, matching acoustic environments, etc.

She's loving the organic and natural feel of the tracks we recorded during production. This director is a huge fan of just the type of sound character that we're discussing (she already was, but now so much more), and I'm glad to say that she's extremely talented, totally dedicated, and hard working, and will likely be doing greater and greater things. I happily mention this since so much of the time we lament the issues we encounter, and it's nice to know that there's a positive side, too -- and there is hope. Even if it only occasionally surfaces.

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I use lavs when I don't think I can get complete coverage, but I try to make my boom track usable 100% of the time. I always ask myself why would they use the boom track over the lav tracks-- and I try to give them a good reason --even when the lav tracks are decent. The biggest reason is usually that the boom track sound matches better. It sounds like the people are in the same space. Often the lav tracks-- even when they are good--don't match very well.

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Delightful discussion.

Not much to add except this: one of the only things I find myself saying to boom operators on the closeups is, "Can you back off just a little bit to better match the medium shot?" Also end up saying that when (for example) one of the characters is reclining and the other standing. The reclining subject will often be obviously more 'on mic' and I ask that they soften that angle to match the other standing character.

It's as if post is sitting on my shoulder, and I try to listen with their cutting ears.

-- Jan

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" it's all about giving the dialog editor and post people as many options as possible "

eeeh... It depends.

sometimes we can, or at least ought to be able to detect that the production may actually suffer from too many options...

I know of a production that uses both lav's and a boom, with the boom usually sounding better than the two lavs mixed, on the second camcorder track. There are several editors working on these shows in FCsP, and it seems each one has a different way of dealing with this relatively simple, old fashioned (we did this a lot on stereo TC Nagra's) technique. One actually picks and chooses from the options, while others mix the tracks hard left and hard right, and still others mix both channels straight up center.

Then a flash of "as many options as possible" with the three camcorders, so all ISO's are sent to the various camcorder tracks, and...

chaos + anarchy!! Bottom line is post is pushed hard (rushed!), and none of the editors really wants to do sound post, which is pretty poor at best isong only FCsP!!

" try to make my boom track usable 100% "

SOP for many of us, even with all the ISO's.

" most of this is HISTORY ... the introduction of multiple cameras, wireless mics on actor's bodies, multi-track recording and a whole host of other changes, makes this discussion largely academic. "

I don't think it is all so academic...but our jobs are certainly more challenging with today's styles. speaking of history: When Robert Altman called for overlapping dialog (and thus also got multi-track recording) he had something different and specific to add something to his storytelling, he knew what he wanted, why he wanted it, and how it was different from the norm. He, of course, also had the resources to deal with it. Unfortunately, some of these things seem to take on loves of their own, and now it is just part of the new style, (like the gratuitous 360 shot as made popular by QT) and thus often not only a PITA, but also a distraction from the story-telling. (how many times have you heard an overlap that was out of place, if only because the overlapper was reacting to the line that wasn't fully said?? These problems are made all the more prominent by the wanna-bees who insist on style over substance.

Hello,

I've been working as a boom operator for a number of years and have starting working regularly as a mixer over the past two years. My strategy as a boom operator was always to put the actor's voice into the "sweet spot" of the mic as best I could. If there were a number of actors this might require very stealthy cuing, a wider pattern mic, or two boom operators. My idea was to be a close as possible to the edge of the frame line.

As a mixer, I'm listening more for evenness in the overall scene, balance between the voices of the actors and some generally consistent sense of place as far as the sound goes. It seems preferable to having the sound of a voice come in and out of "focus" as the boom operator works the scene.

I wonder how other mixers and boom operators approach it.

going back to the OP, the first thing that comes to my mind is that the mixer and the boomer are on the same small team, and should be working together, and the boomer should be concerned with doing their job the way the mixer is trying to do it, and their priorities need to be in alignment, not divergent!

" as a boom opt i want to make sure im supplying the best sound that i can for my mixer, " YEP!

" y.OUR generation needs to educate the next to preserve good techniques, don't just give up "

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another interesting factor that's come into play on my current show is the timing of mic cues.

I find myself "surfing" the scene, smoothly cueing from character to character as the actors are fine-tuning their comedic pacing...

I guess you could say that it's not only a "sweet-spot", but a "sweet-rhythm" too, that helps with consistency.

(loosely scripted, duelling RED cams, single boom + multiple wires to cover off-screen overlaps/mega-wides)

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