Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recording Audio for a Feature Film

Here are a few tips for recording audio for movies using a directional mic:

Where to point the microphone
  • Imagine that the microphone is a flashlight, with a beam projecting straight out from it.
  • Aim the imaginary beam directly at the mouth of the person who is speaking (not at their chest, not at their forehead).
  • If the mic is close to the actor you may need to adjust the angle slightly. For example, if you’re getting plosives or sybilants, adjust it upward or downward slightly... such as, angling up slightly past the mouth (toward the philtrum) or toward the chin. (If possible, aim it from in front of the actor, from above or below his or her mouth. So the mic will be pointing at the actor’s mouth, but he or she won’t be speaking directly into it. If you come in too much from the side, or miss the mouth, it may sound okay to you, but be missing some frequencies and sound tinny in the movie. If the actor is speaking directly into it, or is too close to the microphone, some consonant sounds like “s” and “p” phonetics may be distorted.)
Generally speaking, the microphone should be held as close to the actor as possible without being visible in the frame. It’s also important that the mic’s SHADOW not be in frame.

If you hear anything other than crystal clear audio during a take, let the director know. (That means, buzzing or hissing, vehicles going by, footsteps or creaking sounds when the actors are speaking, distant voices in the house, etc.) The mic picks them all up, at much higher sensitivity than the human ear, and they can make a shot unusable.

If you hear any buzzing, let the director know about it. Usually buzzing is caused by electrical interference. Make sure that if the if the microphone’s cable is near any cord with current running through it, that it crosses it at a 90 degree angle, rather than lying along side it.

Have fun making movies! The attention you pay to audio will make a big difference in the quality of your finished movie.

Nils Osmar is a Filmmaking Instructor who has worked as a fine and commercial artist, book and magazine illustrator, portraitist and cartoonist. His artwork has been published in the United States and Europe, and featured in several national magazines. In addition to his work as a visual artist, Nils has been active in Seattle's theater scene as an actor, director and playwright.