Let's talk about sound. Having just released a short in which we were forced to use some pretty "excellent" overdubbing I want to take a moment to address the issue because it's been in the back of my head yelling at me for the last couple of months. Film may be a visual medium but they are built out of images and sound. When both are okay, it comes down to the story. When one is lacking, it stands out as being "bad", and sound is usually the first thing that gets forgotten by people operating on a budget. Like us.
Knowing from the start that we would operate with minimalist crews, I wanted to get the audio directly into the video file. This meant not using an outside recorder, as we would have to track everything together in post production, and that sounded like a nightmare to us. Enter the Rode Video Mic.
"This thing is freaking awesome!" I think as I play with it in our spacious office. The sound is crisp and clear on my Sony MDR-V700's and lined up with the video perfectly (I was worried about frame-lag, but the canon is perfect). The camera mount fits cleanly, the wires don't get in the way of shooting, and when I'm wearing headphones the super cardioid pattern helps pull me deeper into the shot. I'm super stoked.
Upon returning from the set of The 700 Year Itch it becomes clear to me that while the RODE is the end all in on-camera microphones, it is not necessarily perfect for me as a user. It soaked our batteries pretty fast and they died in mid shot. Then I got worried about them. This took the form of turning the mic off between takes, but not necessarily remembering to turn it back on.
Now, I'm not usually the first person to admit user error, but I was 100% at fault for that, and had to cut around it on three scenes. Not a big deal for me as an editor and, all in all, it could have been much worse.
This spring we shot Freedom Fighter using the same setup. What's that saying? Hindsight is always 20/20? That. I stocked up on batteries with the hope of not running out. I didn't. While I'm happy to report that I learned my lesson, I'm afraid I learned a couple more.
Our conversations were not happening at the same distance to the camera, so it was tuned a bit differently and boy did that change the amount of traffic noise picked up from outside! Getting the edit back I ended up doing a double take at the huge level differences between shots. Nothing to make me feel more sheepish than a note from my editor about the sound. Good thing I can blame that on the sound guy...oh wait, that's me.
In retrospect, I should have gotten a longer cord for the Rode. Stuck it on a stick, and had one of our extras follow me around all day. Sure the boom would have gotten into the shot a couple of times, but at least my audio levels would all be about the same.
The one redeeming part was that Dave and I had asked our actors to sit around and record a dummy track. We had also picked up background audio at that location previously. Going forward, I'll try to get everyone in on that dummy track at the beginning of a project, when they're not worn out from giving their all. On Freedom Fighter we waited until the end of the last day of shooting because we were concerned about usable daylight and I think that was a mistake. It was a markedly different performance and recording than the live action, but BOY am I glad we had that to pull from when our master tracks were covered with cars and planes and crew.
Now, from reading this, one might think that I'm upset about the state of our audio on Freedom Fighter. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I understand the need for clean audio, as the co-director I'm also thinking about budget. On a micro-budget shoot like this one everything counts, so instead of buying the stick and extra cord, we fed our crew. But the bottom line is what you think of your movie as a whole. You can always find things you want to change or improve and if you keep chasing them you will never release your movie. Do you also want to spend your whole time focusing on the one thing that bothers you, or be proud of the product you put out as a whole? The key to being a filmmaker is realizing there is always something to learn and then applying those lessons to your next projects.