Chapter 4: The Impossible Technology (Part Three)

Let’s talk about sound.

I consider sound to be more important than your visuals. One can create great visuals for a particular scene; but even if the scene is shot with a consumer camcorder with available light, if the acting is right and the script is taut, then it wouldn’t matter. The only thing that can ruin the performance and flow of the story is sound. There is either sound that works, or sound that doesn’t.

There are three ways to go about creating sound. One is recording sound on location and strictly using only what is recorded for the final mix. The second is dubbing everything (ADR or looping) and creating effects in post production, and the third is using a combination of the above. Only films with sizeable budgets can afford the last option. There are various pros and cons of both methods – Bollywood almost exclusively uses the second method while Hollyood uses the first. The first is more difficult and time-consuming because a take might be ruined due to bad sound, and locations have to be selected based on its sound characteristics. More time obviously means more money. Since most cinema theatres in India have poor sound (even the Dolby Digital ones in Multiplexes which have bad sound designing or cheap speakers), filmmakers in India don’t find it necessary to concentrate on sound until it’s time for release.

However, for my production, I didn’t have the luxury of doing post sound in ADR or Foley (Creating sound effects in a studio). All sound had to be recorded on location and then mixed in post without any additional studio work. Natural sound, which one gets on location is far superior to looped sound. Imaging a live guitar verses an electronically created guitar sound.

The single-most important weapon a production can have is a good boom microphone – protected by a windshield/windjammer kit and a case (Microphones are very sensitive). The most widely used manufacturer of boom mics is Sennheiser, and the boom I used for my production is the ME66/K6 Combo – which is a fabulous microphone tried and tested in Indie conditions and general broadcasting. Of course, there are better mics available but I decided to buy mine. I also had to buy protective gear and for that I bought a Pro-tek windshield/windjammer kit. On hindsight, buying these was a dumb decision. I should have used the money to hire a good sound recordist with his own equipment. For our production, the camera operator doubled up as sound recordist, and an AD was the boom operator.

Sound Equipment
Sound Equipment

The other four important things in a sound recordist’s arsenal are lavalier mics (wireless hopefully), good headphones, a boom operator and a mixer. I used the camera mixer to mix incoming signals via an XLR cable, and lav mics were only used sparingly. But they are a life saver. If your production can only afford so much – the boom is the way to go. It’s sound is unsurpassed.

All sound was recorded properly in production, and any issues we had in the mix were not due to faulty equipment, but to the people using it (Isn’t that true for everything?). I will cover the issues we had in post production when we come to it. But the thing to remember most is: Do not skimp sound. Have a fixed and practical sound budget (sometimes it might be more than your camera budget) and stick to it. It will make you happy one day.