Audio Production Engineer

You can’t fix audio in post  I mean, you can. Assuming you have the money and the time to record ADR and hire a group of audio professionals, you can probably fix some of your audio. But as guest poster Tony Tartaglia shares, having a skilled and thorough audio production engineer is an essential part of making a quality, polished film:

As an audio production engineer, I have viewed a lot of independent films and documentaries, and the one thing that stands out more than the quality of the filming and special effects, is the soundtrack, or lack of a proper one. Many independent films and documentaries sound weak or hollow, and in others, the music bed overpowers the dialog tracks.

What makes the audio weak or hollow? Most low budget film makers use a quality camera with an attached microphone, so the distance from actor to camera is the same distance from actor to microphone, greatly reducing the sound pressure level arriving at the microphone while allowing other noises to enter the microphone. The further the microphone is from the source, the more open and hollow the sound is.

Try this experiment. Video a friend speaking any lines at a distance of two feet, now do the identical shot from a distance of twelve feet. It should be quite obvious which one sounds better. The shot from two feet will sound better but look bad, while the one shot from twelve feet will sound bad but look great.

A common remedy for this bad audio is to add music to the track. All this does is further bury the dialog, making the film a chore to listen to, and detracting from the essence of what is being said. In some cases, there is so much noise in the audio tracks, that the film is not even worth watching.

Just to be fair to the videographers out there, I researched two Sony professional handy cameras: the DSR-PD150 which retails for approximately $1300, and the HVR-Z7U which retails for approximately $4000. I found a very curious fact. The two cameras sport the same microphone: the ECM-XM1 which retails for $129. Apparently, the extra $3000 for the HVR-Z7U went into the video capturing and not the sound capturing. Why?

Sony, as with all of the other professional camera manufacturers, realizes that the onboard microphone is for reference audio, and not for the sound track. On board microphones that are rigidly attached to a camera body pick up every noise that is generated within the camera and, worse yet, every noise that is transmitted through the camera, the “handling noise.” For anyone who’s been to a live event and someone bumps into a live microphone or tries to grab a live mic out of a stand, you know what I mean.

Professional sound companies use two microphones that conform to industry standards: The Sennheiser MKH-416 which retails for just under $1000, and the Schoeps CMIT5U which retails for $2100. These microphones are used in dialog acquisition by the boom operator for the sound recorder, and the purpose is to place the microphone closer to the speaker or actor than the camera. Trained boom operators can move the microphone to and fro without generating noise, thereby getting a cleaner sound. This is where it starts, getting the cleanest sound possible into the film.

Next time we will look at the roles of the on-set sound team.

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Tony Tartaglia holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree awarded from the International Academy of Design and Technology in Tampa, Florida and owns his own mixing and editing studio. Tony can be reached for consultations and audio production through his website at [email protected]

What Screenwriters Can Learn From The Inbetweeners

In Britain all the film talk is about a low-budget film that’s been breaking UK box-office records. I think it offers some lessons on how to make a successful indie film.

It’s “The Inbetweeners,” featuring characters from the three-season TV show of the same name. That’s three of the UK version of seasons: a total of 18 episodes. The show was successful, but at the end of the 18 the creators and cast felt they couldn’t go on without repeating themselves. (Yes, they do things differently over here…). There’s a US version in production for MTV.

The show and the film feature four young guys: one nerd, one likeable but not very bright guy, one bullshitter who claims great familiarity with the female of the species but is a virgin, and one relatively normal guy with a major crush on a girl who is a social level or two above him.

Lesson One: It helps if you have a variety of characters so your audience can identify with at least one—or see their friends reflected in them. Of course it works best if your group is realistic, not thrown together for audience appeal. Adolescent boys do hang out in little cliques, although maybe typically they’re not quite as mixed as this one.

The stories are all based on highly-embarrassing adolescent moments, many of them gross (vomiting, nudity, farting, etc.). The film takes the boys off to a cheap holiday in the sunshine to get very drunk and try to score with girls there.

Lesson Two: As with the characters, plots in which the audience can find their own experience reflected are appealing. The Inbetweeners reminds us of our own horrible teen, with the advantage that probably ours were never as embarrassing as the ones we see here

The movie has even more gross moments than the series, and that has made it a huge hit with the teen audience.

Lesson Three: Comic or dramatic set-pieces are great because they feed word of mouth. The more that people are likely to say, “You have to see the scene in which–”,the better.

Naturally the film benefitted hugely from already having a loyal audience via the TV series. Shortly before the film was released, there also was a TV special of a road trip the actors took for charity, in which they had to visit as many places with rude names as possible in a limited amount of time. They travelled in the rust-bucket Fiat Cinquecento featured in the series and although they used their real names they behaved pretty much in tune with their characters (fart jokes, etc.).

Lesson Four: The more you can pre-build an audience, the better. Of course having a successful TV series is a huge task in itself, but it’s also possible to create a web series, maybe some events that tie in to a charity, and so forth, to build up awareness.

If you’re not easily offended, have a look at the series and/or the film. You can buy the series DVD or watch it on YouTube. In my opinion, they both demonstrate lesson five:

Lesson Five: It really helps if the product is good.

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Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of TV, several TV movies, the feature film, “The Real Howard Spitz” starring Kelsey Grammer, and has been a script doctor on films starring Eddie Murphy, Kim Catrall, Michael Caine, Walter Matthau and others. His plays have been produced in New York, London, Berlin, and Los Angeles. He is the author of 9 books including “Your Writing Coach” and “Creativity Now.” If you would like to find out more about “The Seven Things That Are Stopping You From Writing And How To Overcome Them,” check out Jurgen’s screenwriting website: www.ScreenWritingSuccess.com