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I have been asked to be a sound man on a short independent film. I have only recorded dialogue in a studio before under perfect conditions. All of my field recording has been for SFX or atmospheres, so this should be a good challenge. I understand the basics of boom operation, but can anyone provide advice that could be useful for myself and others?

Some of the dialogue will be recorded outside near the sea and in other locations. For this I have an Audio Technica BP4071 or an AT897 condenser mono shotgun mic that I can use on a boompole with a professional Rycote wind jammer going into sound devices 702T. I presume this will be sufficient and that I am right in thinking that most film dialogue is captured with shotgun mics on a boom, when the space allows?

Now with the indoor scenes I have been told there are a lot of large glass surfaces (big windows etc) which I am thinking could be a problem. Would different mics be used here e.g hyper-cardioids or can I get a good result with the equipment I have by micing as close as I can to the actors?

There will also be a scene in a car recording an actor talking and atmosphere. I was going to use an NT4 for the atmosphere, I am guessing this would not cut it for any dialogue in the car as it is stereo, mabye I could set up the AT897 in there, or would you recommend lav mics for these kind of situations?

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Here are some tips based on what you asked (and some you may not have thought of yet):

  • Shotgun mic outdoors, hypercardoid indoors or in a location with a lot of reflections. Schoeps MK41, as Ryan said, sounds great. I have an AT897 and I've been happy with it - not the greatest pickup pattern due to its size, but it does pretty good. Don't use wind suppresion unless you need it. Anything you put on as a filter effects the quality of the sound.
  • You've got another input on that recorder - use it! Get a pair of wireless lavs and a 2 channel mixer. Or get one lav. Or get a wired lav - anything to get as much coverage as possible. If your director doesn't have the budget for a boom-op, he won't have the budget for ADR.
  • Capture ambiance and SFX seperate from shooting. If you try to get everything at once, you'll end up with poor quality of everything. Leave lunch 10 minutes early and go capture some sound. Talk to the director or 1st AD about keeping the set locked down for a few minutes when there's a break so you can get what you need.
  • For recording in the car, there are a lot of methods as mentioned. I've seen lapels (like the Countrymans) taped to the dash, in the hairline, etc. Use your hypercardoid. It's going to be noisy. If at all possible, ask them to do a few sound only takes with the car off and in a quiet location. Those few wild lines could save you in post.
  • On booming specifics - get in close. Work with the DP on finding the top of frame. Always be moving your mic to get that "sweet spot" of sound.
  • Last of all, make sure you have and maintain respect as the production sound person. Talk to the director ahead of time and make sure he knows the importance of what you're doing. Make sure if you say "Hold for sound" he doesn't overrule you. Once the director stops giving you respect, you will get none from the rest of the crew. If there is a noisy piece of equipment, make sure it gets moved, muted, or removed before you continue. There's no excuse for getting bad sound when the problem sources are fixable.

Hope that helps, and please ask any other questions when you think of them. Also, if you wouldn't mind, give us a report on what you learned and any followup questions after the shoot. I learn something new on every set!

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Great advice, like the look of the countryman mics, seem to be great quality for a lav too. – Lenny May 18 '10 at 11:18

I've done a fair bit of dialogue recording in vehicles. Watch a rehearsal if at all possible to see which way the actors turn their heads.

Make sure the A/C in the vehicle is OFF (double check before rolling on every take as actors like to fiddle with the console between takes).

Make sure the radio is OFF (see above).

Make sure widows are up (when appropriate of course).

If the vehicle is not moving for a scene (parked, etc.), shut the engine off where appropriate. You can always record engine idle and other sounds wild for use later on. This can also apply if the vehicle is being towed.

I've used everything from plant mics in the visors (good until the actor turns their head away from the mic) to actually booming the actors while sitting in the back of a Suburban. I've also been able to get a decent recording of two actors by mounting a cardioid between the two of them (again watch out when they turn off mic).

In any situation, you should use multiple mics (usually a boom and lav(s)). You never know when one mic will be unusable for one reason or another. Laving the actors in most situations is a good idea.

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I'd be weary of just using the shot on the beach. Your goal is for the dialog editor to love you enough that s/he'll beg of your name. In an outdoor situation, using a good shotgun mic is ideal if the noise level allows. But the problem with a beach is the noise level (and texture) is totally inconsistent. Unless you're only dealing with closeups far away from any waves, it'll be a total nightmare to edit.

Everyone knows lavs sound awful, but I'd really recommend it for the beach. And be a hard-ass on production about getting good audio. Editing background waves is hard. I've done it. It sucks. Sucks sucks sucks.

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I second that! I've been there! Get at least 5 mins of the waves in the clear and pray the advertising-prop-plane or lifeguard speedboat doesn't go by. – Utopia May 15 '10 at 21:12
Thanks for the advice. – Lenny May 16 '10 at 10:17
There are some nice lavs out there - just shot with the Countryman B6 and it's got a great sound to it. They're so small, it's worth the little bit of frequency loss you'll get. – VCProd May 17 '10 at 13:58

First question, can you hire a good boom operator? An experienced boom op can make a huge difference. And here is a bit of wisdom I received when I was a trainee operator. Don't really worry about reflections, or for that matter shadows. All that matters is that shadows and reflections should not be visible in the camera's frame. Befriend the art department, the gaffer, and the camera operator. They can help your boom op chase shadows and reflection just outside the edge of the frame, if it comes to it. Mostly it wont.

Ryan is right. Try not to use shotgun mics indoors especially with hard reflective surfaces. Much better off using a cardioid.

Also, try not to use too many different mic types and techniques within a singe scene. This includes alternating microphone positions (from above, below, sideways etc). Consistency is sometime more valuable than individual shots sounding perfectly noise-free. A lav mic shot will not cut very well with a boom.

Hope this helps.

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Thanks for the info, dont think they will pay for a boom operator. – Lenny May 16 '10 at 10:22

I have no idea if this might be relevant or if my advice will count as I am only a student but what I have heard from another person working in the industry is to use a Hyper-cardioid mic and to get as close as possible to the talent with enough space for the sound to breath. Booming for above aiming at the sweet spot (just below the throat and above the chest) seems to be the best option as booming from below causes the dialogue to have more bass as you find yourself closer to the chest. As for recording in a car I worked on the pilot episodes for a series and had to record a couple inside a car. I rigged one Lav mic on each of the visors of the car and got great dialogue.

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Thanks Wesley, I am looking into some quality lav mics – Lenny May 18 '10 at 11:04

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