Making any kind of film is time consuming and expensive. A large part of the cost comes from buying, or more realistically for a student crew with just a handful of people, renting high quality equipment. Not least because insurance could make the rental prohibitively expensive.
Of course, hiring engineers who supply their own equipment would solve this problem, but if you don’t have the budget even for this, your production is going to be torn between deciding whether to prioritise quality or cost.
To help you resolve this difficult compromise, we will investigate how to get great results from lower budget equipment, allowing you the opportunity to give your film the level of audio it deserves.
It might seem that the obvious solution could be in your pocket. The rapid improvement of HD recording on modern smartphones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy have made recording in high definition and even 4K available for all.
With intuitive and capable editing suites available directly on the handset, it could be tempting to think that a smartphone could be all you need. However, despite the power and visual strength of these devices, there is a major issue with the audio on all smartphones.
No matter the quality, number, or placement of microphones on a smart device, every single one is an all-in- one solution. If your camera operator were to move, not only is it likely their movements would be recorded, but the sound level would vary as they move closer or further away from the subject. For this reason, a separate microphone is essential.
An adaptor like the iRig would allow you to connect an external microphone to a smartphone.
While this would offer a number of benefits over the built-in microphone and save money on an elaborate sound rig, you are still left with the expense of microphones to consider.
At this point, the most important thing to do is consider your location and the type of microphones you will need. Spending a fortune on the wrong type of microphone could spell disaster for your budget, so choose wisely. Even if it is not top of the range, using the correct microphones will make a vast difference to the quality of your sound recordings.
As a money saving measure, senior theatre sound technician, Robert Hearn, has a simple recommendation, “Microphones with large diaphragms are ideal as they are much more versatile.
Because they can switch between signal patterns they are perfect to use in a range of situations. They might be a little more expensive, but it means you only need to buy one microphone rather than three or four.”
But which signal patterns will you need? Quiet, or interior scenes demand directional, or cardioid, pattern microphones. These are designed to pick up sound from directly in front, while picking up very little from the sides and behind. This type of microphone is perfect for recording a single instrument or, in this case, one voice. Used with a boom, you will be able to gather most of your dialogue on an interior shoot with little difficulty.
It might seem like omnidirectional microphones would be best for capturing conversations, as they are designed to pick up sound from all directions, but this will bring a lot of incidental noise into your recording which is close to impossible to remove later. To avoid this, a Figure-8 pattern microphone would be a better fit. Essentially like a pair of cardioids back to back, a Figure-8 will collect sound from the front and rear, but limit sound from the sides - perfect for capturing a tense conversation, a gentle heart-to- heart or anything in between.
Shooting outside creates additional challenges but, as Duncan Geddes, Joint Managing Director of Technical Foam Services, explains, “Microphones are sensitive equipment and need to be protected from harsh environments. Using a foam windshield will not only preserve your equipment but will protect the recording from unpredictable interference from an exterior environment, high quality foam will offer this protection without compromising on sound quality.”
Handheld audio recorders
Even if an individual microphone is well priced, buying a number could rapidly erode your budget.
If you need alternative, do not despair, there is still another solution. In the past, they were known as dictaphones but, as technology has developed, audio recorders can offer incredibly high quality recording, often through multiple microphones. Primarily designed for recording interviews, these microphones would suit small room dramas but would need some strategic placement to make sure they aren’t shown on camera.
Another slight drawback to handheld recorders is that you will have to synchronise the audio and video when you come to editing. While this is a potentially time consuming job, it is much preferable to low quality audio with unwanted environmental sounds and dialogue that fluctuates in volume.
As you work on your project it is important to remember that the key thing that separates a home recording and a low budget film is not the picture, but the quality of the audio. If you choose to use a built-in microphone, no matter how good your story and visuals are, it will feel like an amateur production.
You might be limited by a strict budget, but you don’t have to give away quality. This comes through attitude as much as equipment. So, don’t cut corners or leave anything to “fix in the mix” later. Regardless of your method of capture, if you take pride in your audio and treat it with the same importance as visuals, you will be delighted by the results.