In our final piece on the new Canon EOS 5D Mark II feature film “Dimensions: a line, a loop, a tangle of threads” we'd like to give you more details on the audio – nobody should ever forget the importance of audio on a movie! We hope to follow up on this as the movie progresses. Please let me know what you've thought about the series and whether you'd like us to do more like this – down in the comment section.
Sound Recording by Carl Homer
Sound Department equipment:
- Sound Devices 788T recorder with rotary and linear mixer panels
- 4x Audio Ltd radios and 2x Sennheisers (plus 5x IEMs) with COS11, DPA and Tram mics Schoeps CMIT5U and Sennheiser MKH60 shotgun mics
- AKG Blue Line hypercardioid & cardioid
- Big bag of secret, useful things made from household objects and gaffa tape
Two days before filming on Dimensions started, a helpful assistant on another shoot decided to plug in my kit for me. He plugged my faithful 1200 Schoeps shotgun mic into the mixer and fiddled with the power settings, going back and forth between 48v phantom and 12v T-power until finally the Schoeps died.
I gave Martyn Richards at www.soundkit.co.uk (where I make all my gear purchases) a quick call about how to get it repaired most quickly, as he is the Keeper of All Sound Equipment Knowledge in the UK. There was no choice but to send it to Schoeps in Germany. Because he’s such an extremely nice man, Martyn posted me his own MKH60 shotgun mic to use until the Schoeps came back. Martyn’s mic is on more slates of the film than any other, I suspect.
Period film production has become steadily more expensive from a sound perspective, as traffic becomes more omnipresent and microphones become more inconveniently high quality and sensitive. It’s very rare that a visually suitable period location is also remote enough to avoid at least a susurrus of traffic noise in the background, and an occasional aeroplane.
You don’t hear the distant hum of the M6 in your garden every day, because your brain edits it out as irrelevant, but it’s there. Wasn’t there in 1930, though. If you hear it behind the dialogue in a period film, your brain won’t edit it out, it’ll say, “hang on, this is all completely bogus!” and it’ll distract you from the plot.
Fortunately, on Dimensions, the distant dual carriageway was usually drowned out by the immediately adjacent barges on the river, trains on the Cambridge to King’s Lynn line, combine harvesters on the next field, cars on the road outside or aeroplanes from the local small airport. So the A14 was only a real niggle in night scenes. Unfortunately, all those other noises were undesirable, too.
There’s almost no avoiding these situations if you’re shooting period drama in England. That means that producers often rely on ADR to solve the problem. Most location sound mixers try to avoid ADR, not because we want our work to be heard even if it’s not perfect (in fact, recording guide track all day would be a very low-stress job, for the money) but because we like actors. We know that, although some actors are good at ADR, and some even quite enjoy the process, it’s not…well, many feel it’s not quite proper acting. They’re not inter-acting, or re-acting: there’s no buzz, as they’re on their own in a studio. And they can’t take a chance, or try something different (unless it still fits the lip movement exactly, so…). Though the result may be OK, actors usually feel a bit cheated, like half their work on the day got wasted. Sound mixers tend to agree.
On Dimensions, we didn’t want to lose the performances, or spend all that money on ADR sessions. On big-budget shoots, there’s a bit more time to do another take if there was a loud noise in the background during a line, but our schedule didn’t allow much slack, so we had to give ourselves as many options as possible.
We recorded everything on boom and hidden “plant” mics, but we also used radio mics a lot more that usual – though they’re not directional, like the boom mic, the voice-to-background ratio is sometimes better, as they’re really close to the actor’s mouth. We also recorded everything on separate tracks, so that the best-sounding mic for each line could be selected in post. More work for editor and post-sound (Adam Garstone and Alex U’Ren), but they rescued lots of performances that would have been spoiled by a car noise, for example.
We also helped Alex to set up an ADR room at the location, and communicated constantly about any scenes that had bad traffic noise during shooting each day. If we were concerned that a scene didn’t have a good take for some lines, Alex would whisk the actors up to his lair as soon as they were free, and they could re-record the lines while the scene was fresh in their mind, preserving as much of the vibe as possible.
Hopefully, the result is a dialogue track that captures the in-the-moment voices of lots of kind, bright and creative people spending a month together in one house and its garden, and the peculiar little world that emerged from all their work.
Recording the music
Here is a quick video from the Todd AO dubbing stage in Los Angeles. The dub stage is the last step in the audio mix – the place we go to get the sound ready for cinema release. Alex U’Ren (who also did ADR duties during the film shoot) and I worked on the mix in his studio before moving into the big room at Todd AO, where we worked with Aaron Levy and Alex Fehrman. The film is sounding (and of course looking) fantastic!
I found this clip particularly interesting (for those who have never seen this neat trick done – like me)
The Audio Mix
And as they say “that's a wrap!” – Please let me know what you've thought about the series and whether you'd like us to do more like this – down in the comment section.
I've certainly enjoyed reading thru this material and for those of you planning a movie, I think this is a great example of how to help get the word out about your movie. Ant and Sloane have created a lot of material for folks like me to use for promotion – and it also helps those who are wanting to learn. Sharing knowledge is a powerful tool!
All Dimensions posts:
- “Dimensions: a line, a loop, a tangle of threads” and an HDSLR feature film
- “Dimensions” – Ant Neely on writing
- “Dimensions” – Sloane U’ren on directing
- “Dimensions” – Simon Dennis – the Director of Photography and Color Grading
- “Dimensions” the final section on audio with Carl Homer
(cover photo credit: snap from the recording studio)