The Dangers of Sound

HDSLR’s have a problem.  The problem I am told is sound.  No the reason I say told is, is I don’t believe it. HDSLR’s and by that I predominantly speak of the Canon’s are lacking in the sound department, with the inability to manually control or even monitor the sound as it’s recorded.  On top of that internal mic is not great and it only has a single 3.5mm mic input jack.  So on paper the camera is as I am told rubbish when it comes to sound and people moan about it, or more over bore me to death about what it can’t do. It is worth remembering it is a stills camera that shoots video and not a video camera that takes stills. I actually think this is all positive and here is why. Having sound attached to the camera can be simply dangerous.

Some years ago I was working as an AD on a corporate shoot for the army. We were shooting on DigiBeta and had a small crew that included a sound man who mixed the sound using a separate mixer before the sound was recorded onto tape in camera.  Now under most circumstances this is the usual set up for ENG and most video production. Why? Because it’s convenient for the post production work flow and also cheaper. Speed is important for the news, syncing up is time consuming but for most video production it’s more about the money. It’s way cheaper not to just have a camera than a camera and sound recorder not alone actually have a dedicated sound man which on most low budget gigs is the first thing to go.  Anyone can hold a boom after all and if you have wireless lav mic’s you don’t even need that just a hair of headphones and have an eye on the camera onboard meters.  Now where is the down side in all this I hear you ask?

Well we were shooting a shot of a Challenger 2 tank coming towards us. Now these tanks weigh about sixty tonnes and on the flat can do sixty miles an hour which makes you quite glad they are on our side. As the tank was heading towards us it went over an estate car and took off which was very impressive. What wasn’t so impressive was it changing direction in the air and was now heading directly towards us, to our previously save spot. Our DOP of course carried on looking on looking down the camera unaware of the real world situation unfolding. The tank neared and finally our DOP looked up to see the tank bearing down on us. It was at this point we all decided it was time to get out of there. Chris our DOP of course grabbed the camera and we all headed for safety we didn’t go far before the cord liking the sound recordist and the camera got entangled and the three of us ended up on the ground in a pile.  Some may say the danger was the impending tank I say it was the cable into the camera.  So there you go unlike climbing when being attached to another person is good for your own safety being attached to the camera is not always a good idea.

Sound is far to often over looked, after all it’s the first sense we get and may say they last we loose in death. Cheerful thought I know. And despite my earlier comment about holding a boom, sound recording takes great skill and training to get right, not everyone can just have a go and get it right.

Most showreels I have seen recently have been let down by poor quality sound with distracts from what is going on screen. There was a train of though years ago I was told that when you are on interviewing someone the most important thing was to get the good clean sound then worry about the image. Not enough consideration goes into sound recording which only causes complications further down the post production pipeline. True you can re-record dialogue but to do it well and make it sound like original recording is much harder and more expensive at that.

Well that’s the theory. But we will in a world of ever decreasing budgets and compromises. I shoot quite often using only a Rodevideo mic on top of my Canon 5D. Ideal no, a good pragmatic yes and I know the limitations of it, given the choice I’d always have someone else concentrating on the sound and separate at that. The Rodevideo mic suits the style of shooting I do on those jobs, not so polished and shinny, having a gritty realism to them, but it wouldn’t suit Downton Abbey. It all comes from the right tools for a the right job. 35mm film cameras don’t record sound and it we are all striving for the “film look” (see previous post) it is worth remembering what a Film Sound is and how it’s produced ,and that is sound not recorded onto the camera!