When recording dialogue that involves the actor shouting, how do I avoid distortion without making it sound like it was recorded from across the room?
I have always used a omidirectional mic, preferably one with extreme SPL handling like Sanken CO 100k, on short screems. In my opinion you will need the room, depending on the room of course but with such short transients you will get a more realistic feel on the screen. Check your recording level and mic handling with a SPL , and go for it. By the way sometimes a bit of distorce will make your recording warmer, but you will have to record with another mic, closer to the subject, and mix it in afterwards. Good Luck
The short answer is verify your mic choice, placement & gain staging before an actor is anywhere near performing.... Anyone can scream (to varying degrees) so you can surely rope in a few people to audition your choices, but always make sure you have a foolproof mic/gain path available, even if someone steps up with 140dB voice! As an example on a film years ago we had some ADR recorded at another studio, I warned them some of it was screams, they used a 416 with no other options & distorted every take! Thanks for nothing useable on those cues, FFS... sheesh.... We had a loop group session in my studio the following week, so I set up a bunch of mic options and of the 10 women we asked to scream, the ONLY unclipped option with 2 of them was via a dynamic mic - they overloaded the shotgun & condensor mics I had running in parallel... Check the max SPL of the mics you are using, nowadays I KNOW my 8040 or 8050 can handle 150dB so thats just about gain staging, but not back then... DO NOT rely on a 416 to cope!!
Also suggest having honey, whisky & milk available for alt takes... Unless they are heavy metal singers then you'll get only a few takes before their voicebox starts to break up.....
There are two main elements to this answer-
1) Room- This is VERY important. I recorded an actor screaming (should've brought my earplugs!) in a wardrobe room. The room was small but not too small and the hanging clothes worked pretty well for difusion. We checked out a few different rooms and found this one to be the best. Not too dead and not too reflective. This is vital because the actor needs to be a good distance (we did about 17ft) from the mic so as not to distort your preamps.
2) Directional Mic- You have to use a shotgun microphone. I record VO in a very nice booth for commercials and TV shows and I ALWAYS use a 416 when recording shouting/ yelling. If you use a regular cardiod condensor you're going to hear the room.
Do your best to capture the performance during the shot. If you can't, make sure to find some time to do wild lines. Or, find a similar location and set up a time with the actor(s). Make sure to have some kind of playback system so that both you and the actor can listen and get as close as possible to what was initially recorded.
If the room is a recording room (i.e. well treated acoustically), then you can usually push the actor back from the microphone enough without getting too much room echo. Increasing the distance between the actor and the microphone leaves more air between, which compresses the voice before it hits the microphone capsule.
You can also have the actor shout slightly off (e.g. on top of or over) the microphone capsule (so that you also avoid making it too off-axis), rather than directly towards it.
Picking another mic for the shouting may be problematic, because then you'll get different frequency response, so the voice may sound considerably different than with the other mic used for normal dialogue.
I'd try to get enough natural compression using the microphone and the distance between the actor, because otherwise the dynamics may prove problematic (you can't necessary compress/limit much or you will mess up the natural gain envelopes).
You can also use a limiter or hard compressor to avoid clipping.
You need another microphone. It's good practice to always carry around a second mic which can handle high SPL's. I always carry around a dynamic like an SM58 just in case, though I don't really location dialogue (more general field recording). Be curious to know what mics everyone uses for this?