Professional Sound - Indepth

Practical Tips for Film Audio Pros, pt. 2

Mark Edward Lewis is the owner of online education website Cinema Sound. He has over 30 years of experience writing and producing musical scores, re-recording, mixing, developing sound design, editing, writing, and directing. Through Cinema Sound and its production partner, MZed, Lewis has created over 85 hours of audio education videos for independent media creatives. He was the post-production supervisor on Marvel’s Avengers STATION interactive experience and, in 2016, led the Sound Advice tour through North America and Australia where he taught over 1,200 filmmakers to improve their production value with better sound.

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PS: What are common causes of poorlyrecorded dialogue and what are the fixes for that?

Mark Edward Lewis: The most common cause of bad recordings of dialogue, or anything, is bad location scouts. Bad location scouts look like, “Oh, we want to get this shot,” and everybody shows up – all the department heads – and they’re like, “Oh yeah, we control the roads and there are no cars and it’s going to be great.” The audio person is like, “Yeah but… but…” and nobody wants to listen to the audio guy. He is like, “Um, there’s a compressor over here,” and they’re like, “Yeah, but it’s really quiet.” “Yeah, but the compressor is live and it could come on at any time.” “Oh, don’t worry.”

Or, we’re right on the runway path of the airport or, “Hey, we’re right near a park.” “Yeah, but it’s 9 a.m. and it’s really quiet.” “But it’s not going to be quiet at 4 p.m. when we’re shooting and there’s going to be children everywhere and children are never quiet.” You can’t make children quiet. They are just noisy and they get all over your recording. So that is the primary reason: bad location scouting.

The second most important thing that gets in the way on bad recordings is bad microphone placement. We spend hours in the Cinema Sound education talking about why most people put lavaliers in the wrong place.

We also spend several hours talking about where you should be and how you should be pointing a shotgun to avoid both the reflections from the ceiling and the floor, but also the wind from the air conditioner that is coming from the walls and the ceiling. And, obviously, to be able to point the mic properly as the boom operator, make sure that you memorize the scene so that you know when to turn that microphone and point it at the actors’ mouths.

The other thing is bad microphone choice. You know, it’s hard to find a truly bad microphone these days. Maybe 20 years ago it wasn’t too hard, but these days, microphones are great. But each one has its own use. If you knew that you had actors that were going to be running around while talking or doing a lot of motion, you really wouldn’t want to use something with a super narrow polar pattern. You’d probably want to get yourself something like a Rode NTG8, which, although it’s a super cardioid, they specifically made it very wide to accommodate boom pole positioning. But you suffer because it’s not as good at rejecting the noise around the room because it’s a wider polar pattern.

But if you knew that your actors were going to be reasonably stationary, like doing an interview, getting a Saramonic SR-TM7, which to me is one of the most narrow polar patterns in the world, is the perfect item because you can put it on a mic stand and no one is going to move anywhere and they’re not out of its polar pattern pickup range and you’re going to get a fantastic sound with a huge rejection of bad stuff that is off-axis.

PS: What are some useful tricks for cleaning it up poorly-recorded dialogue?

MEL: I think it’s 16 hours that we spend in the Fix volume of the Cinema Sound education going through just about every iteration of bad sound – trucks, sirens, animals, surface noise, bumps, everything – and each one of those has its own solution.

Almost all of them find a solution in some kind of spectral analyzer program. Adobe Audition is one of the only DAWs that has one built in. And for reasonable to slightly unreasonable problems, Audition will handle it for you. For everything else, like wildly unreasonable down to no problem, you’re looking at iZotope RX. Both those programs do especially well because they are spectral analysis and you can look at it like Photoshop and erase stuff for anything like a bump or a transient or a siren.

If it’s general noise and you want to add that nice Hollywood compression-type feel, and you don’t mind renting something for $100 a day or buying it for $10,000, you’re into Cedar. Cedar does a wildly great job of making audio sound great that has general noise, general hiss, and general rumble. I don’t know how it does it, but by the time it comes out the other end, it sounds like Hollywood.

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Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Musician, Canadian Music Trade, Professional Sound, and Professional Lighting & Production magazines. He also hosts the Canadian Musician Podcast.
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