Filmmaking Tips from the Pro's

Above: Sound experts Robin O’Donaghue (Love Actually, Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas), Peter Snelling (all round filmmaker) and Alison Bown (The Proposition) giving their tips and hints for creating a film with quality sound.

Top Sound Tips

Here at First Light we have the great pleasure of watching loads of films that have been made by projects around the UK. One of the main problems we find when watching films is with the sound quality. Poor sound can often ruin an otherwise fantastic film, and often gets neglected in the filmaking processl. SO, here are some tips to avoid such disasters:

  • If you have a large enough team, it might be an idea to have someone whose specific role it is to take care of sound
  • Check the noise on your location before you start shooting and try to eliminate any interference
  • All microphones are sensitive to wind so a gun microphone needs a foam or fluffy shield when filming outside
  • If you have to shoot somewhere with lots of background noise then make sure you put the noise into context and show the viewers why it is noisy

Sound Settings

The automatic sound settings can be used without a problem in most situations, but where very loud or very soft sounds are expected it can be best to use the manual sound setting.

Try to constantly check the audio levels when filming. They should peak at around -20 decibels.

If the audio is too low you will need to adjust it manually or get closer to your subject.

When the source is too loud the audio levels will distort and go off the scale. The Mic Attn setting is good for this as it cuts the level before it reaches the tape. Sound distortion can’t be fixed at a later date so it is best to check this at the time of filming.

Types of microphone

Different microphones have different pick-up patterns and will record sound differently. It is important to consider the directionality of the microphone you are using – the areas of the microphone which are sensitive to sound, and consider how wide or narrow the range is for the purpose that you need it for.

Collects sound from all directions. Clip microphones are omni-directional and need to be close to the source. Care need to be taken as they pick up close sounds such as clothes rustling and heavy breathing.

Probably the most common type used in film production. They are most sensitive to sound in front of the mic, slightly sensitive to sound on the sides and they pick up less background noise, which is useful when filming in a noisy area.

Hyper cardoid
Commonly referred to as “in-line, shot gun or mini shotgun”, these microphones are great for isolating sound in front of the camera.

Super cardoid
These microphones are the best at isolating the sound from one particular spot in front of the microphone. They are often called “long tube shotguns” or just “shotguns”.

Some great best practice tips can be found on the BBC Academy website

There is an interview with Lisa Ausden, Executive Producer of BBC Vision talking about sound here

Links to Post Production Tips and Careers links on the right hand side.

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