Sound Advice: Why You Need An Audio Pro On Video Shoots

audio for video
Put away your laptops, class, there will be a pop quiz today. Those of you who read the homework will have no doubt noticed some of the clues left in the text. For those of you coming in late, I shot what was objectively the most beautiful cinematic tour de force since Citizen Kane, yet nearly ruined the whole thing with rookie errors.

The entire project was so rife with errors, technical, conceptual and otherwise, that it’s a miracle it came off at all. We’ll certainly delve more deeply into them as the weeks pass here, but the first, the elephant in the room, the mother of all errors, was sound.

See that beautiful, blowing hair, waving beautifully in and out of focus? How do you think we blew that hair, achieved the sophisticated and cinematic effect right in the camera? Oh, yeah, with a big, fancy, totally filthy $20 box fan. Placed right in tight, for maximum wind flow. So tight that, not only was there maximum noise from the wind, but the whine of the motor competed with the rush of the blades and the turbulence of the wind. Looking at the rough shot on the back of the camera I was ecstatic, applying for my Cecil B. DeMille filmmaker beanie right on the spot.

The moment I played the footage back at home on my computer, I was stunned to realize it was basically unusable. What are the reasons? Let me count the ways: used the built-in camera mic; didn’t have anybody listening to or caring about sound in the first place; put a giant, random turbulence-combined-with-rhythmic-noise-making machine right between the actor’s lips and said crappy mic; and never once paid even a scintilla of attention to sound.

Movie people will tell you casting is everything. Second is sound. They will also tell you about a Swedish study where the same video is shown with good and bad sound. Of course, the one with the bad sound is rated worse by viewers, even if they can’t tell you why. You’re used to dealing strictly with the visual, but now, in addition to moving subjects, moving cameras, editing and all the other myriad issues you’ve never considered before, you have to consider the aural. It’s so important that if you’re going to pay only one single expert on your set it should be the sound person. And, if you’re not paying anybody, fine, at least designate somebody to pay attention to matters of ear.

Next week: How did I fix that noise? I didn’t, but I’ll tell you all about it anyway. There’s also the issue of that leap out of focus our friend Flower does, but that’s a tale for another day.

Photographer and filmmaker Chris X Carroll has been fired upon by Norwegian whalers north of the Arctic Circle, swum naked with REM, taught Viscount Charles Spencer to sail, and turned to ask Elizabeth Taylor if the melon he was holding was ripe at a grocery store before realizing who she was and nearly passing out. Visit Chris at www.chriscarrollphoto.com, and follow him on Instagram @chrisxcarroll and on Facebook at chrisxcarroll

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