Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bad News

I hate having to deliver bad news to people who want to videotape their shows at the theater. But nobody, not even your mom, will watch a videotape of your show.

Here is an edited version of a letter I had to send someone about their desire to make the sound better when they videotaped their wife's show:

"The short answer is that a videotape of a play is always unwatchable because of the sound.

"Viewers will think the picture doesn't look so good when the sound isn't very clear and present. They seldom realize that it's the distant-sounding dialog which they're viscerally reacting to.

"Typically, cardioid mics aren't going to help you unless you can get them within about 3 feet of the actors (on feature films they tend to use hypercardioids at about that distance). When you're as far as about 4-10 feet, one would tend to use shotgun microphones, again aimed exactly at the mouths of the actors who are speaking at any given time.

"But of course, your camera is further than 10 feet from the stage, and the actors on stage will end up being further than 10 feet from one another and from any given place on the stage. So putting a shotgun on top of the camera, or any given place on the stage, still makes for fairly unwatchable video unless you had a boom operator flying the microphone back and forth over the heads of the actors to get all of their dialog cleanly.

"One could: spend thousands of dollars and much effort to put wireless lavaliere microphones on each actor -- and have someone mix the show live (or better yet, direct to multitrack). Or one could put numerous microphones either along the lip of the stage (like Crown PCC 160's) or cardioids or hypercardioids up in the grid. Both of these options are expensive and complicated and require another person in order to mix them if they aren't being recorded directly to multitrack.

"One could find and use an automatic mixer but I don't even know who rents the very few of those which actually work and still it would require fairly sophisticated setup. (Incidentally, if one were to simply sum a number of microphones mixed together and recorded on the audio tracks of the camera, the effect would be similar to simply putting a shotgun on top of the camera because of all the extra "ambience" from all the microphones being mixed together.)

"So -- where does this leave you? Well, I'm basically telling you that it's impractical to even try to make a videotape which you'll want to watch. But the best of the practical sound solution is probably got from either placing a shotgun microphone on top of the camera (with the camera in the corner of the theater) or to place a pair of cardioids up the in the grid (together at a 45 degree angle from one another, or about 8 to 10 feet from one another and pointing straight down) with each mic feeding a separate channel on your camera.

"Many consumer cameras, however, don't have separate inputs for the "right" and "left".

"Sorry about the grim assessment!

"BTW, "cardioid" refers to the shape of the "pattern" of the microphone. A cardioid is a directional mic -- it tends to pick up sounds in front of it more than sounds to the side or in the back of it (and on a polar plot it kinda looks like a "heart"). A shotgun has a more pronounced effect of picking up sounds in front and not from the sides or back (typically with some performance tradeoffs). A hypercardioid is somewhere in-between. (There are also "figure-8" and "omnidirectional" microphones but they're not necessarily relevant to this discussion.)

"Hope this was... helpful!"

No comments: