Recommended for Year levels: 3-10
Learning areas: Drama, English, Media & Media Arts, Technologies
Capabilities: Creative and critical thinking, Personal and social capabilities
So you’ve got your script, shot list, and storyboard ready. You know what your film is going to look like. Your camera is ready to start filming. But what about sound?
Capturing audio on set is important and once you start filming you might find things get in the way of capturing your characters’ dialogue and other sounds clearly.
And, just like the quality of your film footage might differ depending on the camera you're using, so too will your audio.
Check out the types of microphone page to identify what microphones you have at your disposal.
1. Types of microphones
If you are using the microphone inbuilt in your camera, all of the above might pose a real problem because the strength and quality of a camera's in-built microphone varies from camera to camera. Generally speaking though they usually aren't as good as an actual microphone.
If you have a microphone that plugs into your camera, great! This might help you get better audio than your camera’s in-built microphone. But you might still encounter similar issues to those we’ve already listed. Some plug-in microphones are designed to sit atop your camera, but if yours isn’t you might benefit from a microphone stand so you can point it at your actors when filming, which is better than holding the microphone directly.
Using a boom microphone is best. The reason is because boom mics have furry covering or a padded shell that prevents wind from ruining your audio. Oddly enough this covering is sometimes referred to as a 'dead cat', which is a bit grim. Boom microphones usually come on an extendable pole so you can get the microphone closer to your actors. These are great if you plan on filming dialogue and sound outdoors, but they work well in all filming scenarios.
You still need to get the microphone close enough to record sound properly though, so proximity to your actors can still be an issue. However, a classic mistake is to accidentally get the boom mic in the shot, so you need to be careful when operating a boom mic, and whoever is behind the camera needs to keep a close eye in case the boom mic moves into the frame.
Also great for interviews, but they can work well on film sets if you can keep them out of shot. These microphones clip onto your actors' clothing around their chest. Lapel microphones can have wires or wireless transmitters, so you'll need to figure out how to use yours and use it well.
Great if you're conducting an interview but not that good for making films. These microphones need to be close to the person speaking and thus are hard to keep out of shot.
So, what kind of microphone do you have available to you? Can you list any of its strengths or weaknesses?
2. Getting the best out of your microphone
If you have expensive, high-quality microphones that's great, but the chances are you might have to use what you have available. It's important to know the limitations of your microphone, what audio you need to capture, and how best to capture it.
If you're using a not so great microphone, maybe the quality of your audio won't be up there with a Hollywood film, but you can still get the audio you do want, record lines of dialogue clearly, and avoid some common sound issues.
Here we'll help you find as much as you can about your microphone before filming your main project, and test your microphone’s quality by filming some practice footage with audio.
We know it's obvious, but make sure your microphone is turned on. With in-built microphones, you might have to check the audio settings of your camera to make sure it is. You would usually find audio settings in your camera's menu. Before testing your microphone, you might want to watch the section of this video on YouTube about the strengths and weaknesses of different microphones.
Get one or two people to act out some lines for you from your script, or simply make up some lines as you film. Make sure the microphone is directed at your actors.
Go outside and film your actors with your microphone and capture lines of dialogue. Record them close (within 3 metres), a medium distance (3-10 metres) and then far away (10+ metres).
|1. Playback with some headphones and listen to what you’ve recorded. Where were the actor’s lines most clearly heard?|
|2. What affects did background noise or wind have on the audio you recorded?|
|3. Head inside to a room and conduct a similar test. Record the lines with your actors close to the camera, a medium distance and then a long distance away. Make sure the microphone is directed at your actors.|
|4. Playback with some headphones and listen to what you’ve recorded. Where were the actor’s lines most clearly heard?|
|5. Did you film in a controlled space where there was no one else inside or an uncontrolled one where there were people and noise you had no control over? Describe the effect of the space you used on the sound you recorded.|
|6. Was there an issue with echoes with the audio recorded?|
|7. Was the audio from your characters loud and crackly in any of the shots?|
Directing the microphone
Film your actors with your microphone as they read some lines. Start with the microphone facing your actors, then move it to a 45-degree angle from them and keep recording for 10 seconds. Then move the microphone so it’s facing at a 90-degree angle away from them. If you’re using an inbuilt microphone or one mounted on your camera, this will involve you moving the camera away entirely. Don’t worry, you're just testing.
|1. Playback and listen to what you’ve recorded. What affects did moving the microphone away from your actor’s have?|
|2. Was the audio good at times, even when not pointed directly at the source of the sound you want?|
|3. Could you hear any unwanted noises, such as the camera or tripod moving, or people’s grips on microphone or microphone stand?|
Does your camera have a headphone jack? If so, try recording with headphones plugged in so your sound person can listen and hear if all the audio you're trying to record is coming through clearly. We recommend that you don't operate the camera and act as a sound person at the same time as it's a lot to focus on at one time.
Based on the activities above, what problems might you run into when recording sound for your film with the microphone you have, and how might you overcome them?
3. Ambient sound, room tone, and wilds
The secret to creating a great sounding film isn't just about recording character's lines of dialogues, it also involves recording background noises that can be mixed into the sound design of a film.
When we say background noises, we're talking about the following: ambient sound, room tone, and wilds.
Say you have a scene that takes place next to river among trees. In the shots you film, you might capture those natural sounds around you (so the river, birds in trees, the wind etc) but from as you move from shot to shot, the quality, the volume, or the consistency of that audio will change.
To overcome this, record separately a longer audio track of ambient sound. You can film with your camera and the microphone if you have to, you don’t have to use the footage, you just separate the audio track later when your team edits. If you can record ambient sound directly to an audio device then that's great also.
Later, when you have that audio recording your settings ambient noises, you can place it into the scene you’re editing. That way the ambient sounds will be consistent and clear throughout your scene.
Room tone is similar, although there might not be as many obvious sounds like there are outdoors. However, even shooting a scene inside a controlled space like a room can result in inconsistent sound from shot to shot. If you capture room tone separately, when everyone is still and quiet, you can edit the audio of the room into your scene so the audio differences from shot to shot aren't as obvious.
Watch the video explainer from Vimeo below:
Wild tracks or ‘wilds’ as they’re known, are more specific sounds you record and add later when editing your film. Wilds can include environment sounds from the location your scene takes place in, such as birds chirping or the sound of a basketball being bounced; but more often than not they're more prominent in your scene such as a door slamming, or a coffee mug breaking on the floor - sound you want to stand out in your film.
If you try and recording these sounds at the same time as you're filming, you might not capture the sound effect well enough. This is why recording wilds can really improve the sound design of your film.
|1. With a camera and your microphone, film ambient sound and some wilds for an outdoor setting, and then room tone and wilds for an indoor setting. We suggest filming a really short scene for each setting. It doesn't have to have dialogue or even make much sense, but you should use a variety of camera setups and shots (don't just leave the camera in the one place for the entire scene).|
|2. After you've recorded the footage for your two short scenes as well as all your audio, you'll need to use some editing software to really see how these sounds help you create great sound design.|
|3. In your editing software, put the film clips for your scene in order and edit them quickly so the scene is working (even if it's really simple).|
Watch and listen closely to the scene, what do you notice about the sound quality and volume levels as the scene moves from clip to clip?
If you used a microphone that's plugged into your camera you'll need to separate the audio from the video so you're left with just the audio. You can do this in your editing software, but you might have to look up how as it might be different for different editing software. If you recorded sound separately on another device, get those audio files into the library of your editing software.
|4. Bring the ambient noise and wilds you shot outside and place them into your timeline. Do the same for the room tone and wilds you recorded for indoors. You might have to alter the volume levels of your audio files and the sound from your video files, so keep adjusting until you feel the different audio tracks, including your actors' dialogue feel like they are mixed together well.|
|5. Reflect: how much better do your scenes sound with ambient noise, room tone and wilds?|
|6. Next time you make a film, do you think you'll record extra sound besides dialogue? Why? Why not?|
Feel like testing yourself? How much do you know about audio and audio recording? You might like to take RØDE microphone's Golden Ears test here.
4. Overcoming audio challenges
Overcoming audio problems can be challenging and a lot will depend on what type of microphone you have. Watch this video over at Vimeo to found out a little more about types of microphones and how proximity of your actors might affect how well you capture sound when filming.
Here are some common problem you might encounter, with some potentially being more of a problem depending on what microphone you have.
When shooting outdoors, wind messes with my audio
- Find a place where the wind is blocked and isn’t blowing directly into your microphone.
- Think about moving the scene to a controlled setting, meaning, somewhere where the wind won’t have an effect.
I can’t hear what my actors are saying
- Move the camera or microphone closer to your actors when they are saying their lines. This might affect the type of shot you were planning on using, so you'll have to decide what is more important.
- Make sure your microphone is pointing at your actors. If you're trying to get dialogue from more than one actor in a shot, you might find it difficult to record both clearly, particularly if one has their back to the microphone or if one is further away from the microphone than the other. You might have to rethink how you record the scene, or how you want to position your actors.
Sound and dialogue is really loud and crackly when I playback my video and audio
- If outside, crackling might be because of the wind – try to block the wind or shoot somewhere where wind isn’t blowing into your microphone.
- If your microphone is too close to your actors, or your actors are yelling and whilst quite close to the microphone, the sound might be too loud for your microphone. Try getting your characters to tone it down a little, or move the microphone a little further away.
My microphone picks up unwanted sounds and drowns out the sounds I do want.
- Reposition the microphone so it’s close and is pointing at the source of the sound you want to record.
- Move to a controlled environment, somewhere you can control who is ‘on set’ or somewhere you know is quieter.
Background noise changes and other audio levels change dramatically between the clips I've filmed for a scene
- You might want to record ambient sounds when on set, sounds that your editor can later use to help disguise dramatic changes in sound and volume from one video clip to the next. This is a bit more advanced, but basically, if your sound person captures extra sounds (even if it’s using the camera, you can always get rid of the footage and keep the sounds when you edit your film) then it can go a long way to help the editor produce great sound design for your film.