Monday, September 10, 2012

Audio and You

Here's my post where I disagree with virtually everything Stu Maschwitz says in his blog post on production audio. Well, not really. But I think he's put the emphasis on the wrong things in the world of production audio. And I have some time before my next render is uploaded.

Aren't you excited?

My basic thesis here is that it's not the recording tools that are hard to use, it's actually recording that's difficult. The reason is that your brain cannot do both things at the same time. And even though your production sound is half the quality of your final movie, nobody puts half their effort into sound, and by-and-large resent having to do anything non-picture-related.

Stu says:
I love filmmaking. I love shooting. I love everything about the on-set experience.
Except recording audio.
Let's then be looking at why this might be. Now, not to protest too much with my bona-fides but I am a production sound mixer. I'm a lazy and cranky production sound mixer, but I am one. And I have re-recording-mixed (meaning: post-production mixed) numerous features which have been distributed to markets around the world which are renowned for being a pain-in-the-neck as far as taking deliverables.

So, having got that out of the way, what's the big difference between audio and everything else on set?
The sound department is the only department not working for picture.
I’m a pretty smart guy. I truly get, in my bones, that poor production audio is the quickest way to sink an indie production. So I’m motivated to learn more about audio. I’ve tried, and tried. But it doesn’t stick.
I'm a DP who started as a sound guy. I can make professional quality stuff in either picture or sound.
You'll note I said either. Because when I'm on set as a cameraman I absolutely cannot do sound. I can "see" the audio path in my mind (microphone, cable, mic preamp, A/D converter, etc.), I can look up and see if the microphone is too far away to record adequate dialog (although my accuracy is not always 100% at that.) But I cannot do sound when I'm doing picture.

And neither can my computer.

So it's not you.

  • Sound is very difficult
  • On the other hand, sound is very simple
  • Sound is expensive. A big difference between sound and image is that the minimum basic requirements for good image are lower than for good sound. 

This picture has nothing to do with this essay.
Sound is difficult because it's completely abstract. You can't look at some part of sound and say "make this more blue". You can literally see everything that's wrong with picture. "There's a flare, there's not enough light on her face" etc. With sound it's like "Well, it seems a bit band-limited but it may not make any difference once the music is in."
Sound is simple because in production audio all you have to do is put a microphone within half a meter of the mouth of the person talking. Make sure the meters are in the middle without any part of the sound going above 0dBfs. Make sure you've pressed "record". Make sure there's no other noises than people talking. That's it. If you can do those things then you've done a professional job of recording sound. It's very simple.
Sound is expensive for a couple reasons. Actually a whole bunch of reasons. One is that there's not much of a consumer market for being able to record production audio well -- which is why all those portable recorders are aimed at recording bands well.
Post isn’t easy, but it’s much more forgiving than production.
No. No it isn't. Post is where the movie is made. It is not forgiving at all. 
Apparently I'm the only one who thinks this. But the fact is that my distributor yells at us about image artifacts and Foley more than anything else. 
Come up with stuff that makes my ideas seem trivial and silly. 
Okay. If you could make it so that you had an artifact - free method of extracting dialog from the yuk of production noises then you could use the mic on top of the camera -- the one with the automatic compander you don't have to set. But right now the best noise reduction is neither automatic nor as selective as you really want. 
Other than that, the fact is that a Sound Devices 702, a dumb slate, an Oktavia microphone, and someone who pays attention to dialog exclusively on set is all you need.

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