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I teach audio in a film school, and when I was talking about proper production dialogue recording technique, a student said he had heard that the shotgun mic should be pointed toward the actor's chest rather than his face.

This seemed screwy to me -- I would think the crispest, most intelligible parts of speech would come from the mouth rather than the chest. But I thought I'd run it by this august group to see if anyone had run across this before. Anyone?

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The best sound is not from neither the mouth nor the chest, it's from the golden spot in between. See, the mouth gets you all the treble you need, and then some, whereas the chest is all core and bass. By forgetting your eyes altogether, and giving all your focus on the sound using the eyes for nothing but coarse guidance, you can find a softer, fuller, more natural, and in less need of a polishing sound. Too much mouth, and the sound will get thorny, thin and sibilant - too much chest, and the sound will get muddy and distant. The more the editor will have to do afterwards, the more of a failure the recordings has been. When using song-microphones we don't have this problem, these microphones are mainly modeled to avoid excessive sibilance, especially large diaphragm ones, and the proximity effect takes care of the thinness. In movies, we never ever get that close, and if we do, we better not use it.

The downside though is that you must keep that very spot no matter what - The same distance, the same angle, the very same position to the sweetspot. Even small deviations lead to great changes in sound characteristics, meaning you have to know what your doing of it will end up unusable. If you can't get a clear line of sight, and can't move freely, then you're in serious trouble. Same goes for if you use a too long a boom and can't direct it with enough precision. This is an artform in itself.

It's not an easy thing to pull off, you have to mind both the camera, lighting, acoustics, and a lot more variables than I care to line up right now, but there's a reason this is a real job and it's the dumbest idea imaginable to not be using a dedicated and trained boom-operator for booming sound.

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In my experience it depends on the microphone, voice of the actor and booming experience. The low end of a voice is created by the chest not the mouth. For intelligibillity the mouth is important, S an T's are pronounced at the lips. If you're a great boom artist, you can point at the chest (from above) in line with mouth. This way you get the best of both worlds. But there's always the matter of taste..

Experiment and use your ears, not the tips you read online ;)

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Unless proximity/breathing/pops are any concern, then point the mic at the sound source - i.e., the face.

The only reason I could think that anyone would say different is to preclude extraneous ambient noise.

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I'm not aware of any reasoning in this regard. If it was the case that pointing at the chest is better, then we'd be far more likely to clip lapel mics to people's belts and we wouldn't make headset mics at all.

The only reasoning I can think of is if they also were trying to get the sounds the actor makes outside of just dialog, such as footsteps and such. If you are trying to record without foley or without having a room mic, then pointing at the actors chest would ensure the center focus of the pickup pattern covers the actor.

Realistically, it isn't going to make a whole lot of difference from far enough away to be off camera as pointing at either the head or the chest is going to be well within the pickup pattern of all but the most extremely hyper-cardioid mics. The question would just be if you want to hear things like foot steps or if you prefer to exclude those sounds at the cost of picking up more sounds from beyond the actor.

Update: This article makes the argument that the reason for pointing at the chest is to put the mouth off center so that poor technique or unrehearsed movement doesn't result in hard falloffs in sound level.

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