The time has come to once again talk about sound. In 2016, I’ve had the privilege of reviewing hundreds of films, speaking with hundreds of filmmakers and being part of an amazing community of artists but the one thing I’m still hearing, over and over, is bad audio in films.
There’s really no excuse why this should be a regular trend in independent film and web shows today, there really isn’t.
Over the next few months, I’m going to be putting together interviews, podcasts, and tutorials from some of the top sound engineers in the film business and I’m kicking it off today by simply saying that even though technique is extremely important and vital, the gear you choose to record with is going to play a major part in how good your film or show sounds.
If you’re a long-time reader of Film Fervor, you’ll no doubt know I’m a big supporter of the Rode NTG-3 and what all it can do for a lower budget film. It’s got great sound, awesome maneuverability and a solid track record that really puts it above and beyond a lot of alternatives out there on the market. However, if you want to step it up into the big leagues and really put a lot of effort into crafting professional dialogue scenes with incredible crispness and sound, I will always recommend the Sennheiser 416 Shotgun (Affiliate Link). This microphone is head and shoulders above the others on the market and, by far, it is the most recommended that I’ve come across.
A dual-system is when you have an external microphone and an external recorder, completely separate from your camera set up. It’s what all of the professionals use and it’s the only real way to get great audio. When it comes to a recorder to put the microphone in, there are a lot of inexpensive options that are really, really good and can absolutely get the job done. I myself use a Zoom H5 (Affiliate Link) to record my podcast and have, from time to time, used it as a recording device for short independent film projects as well.
However, if you really want to step up the game and make sound a priority you’ll want to invest in a solid Field Mixer like the Sound Devices 633 Field Mixer (Affiliate Link). For multiple inputs and handling both wired mics and wireless lavalieres, you really can’t go wrong with the 633. It’s a professional set up that, in the right hands, can make your film sound its very best.
However, please keep in mind that the best gear in the world can’t make up for poor technique or a lack of understanding of how that gear works. It’s always a good idea to keep learning, keep trying, find new and better ways to record and, above all else, ask for help when you need it. A good sound engineer will make or break your production, no doubt about it, and becoming a good sound engineer isn’t something that you do overnight.
Ultimately, with the expense of getting a good film kit together these days and the proliferation of new filmmakers putting out productions, a lot more care and attention needs to be given to the audio department of the films. Sure, we can forgive some shaky-cam and some poor ISO settings in low-light, but one thing we can’t forgive is unbearable audio. As soon as the actors sound like they’re talking in a tin can or a mile away from the microphone, with a whole bunch of background noise and nonsense going on, the experience becomes tainted and the whole film is ruined.
So, please, listen for the sound of failure and do something to correct it. It’ll be good for your career and good for all of your would-be fans.
Justin’s Notes – Keep in mind that just because I’m linking to affiliate products in this post does not mean that I am influenced in my opinion by financial gain. I’ll never “Sell-out” an opinion based on any type of recompense or sponsorship. Every product I recommend will be through careful study, review and hands-on use by myself, regardless of if it makes me any commission or not.