Getting That PerfectGreat dialogues create great films

When we recount our most loved films to each other, we often repeat our favorite lines ad nauseum. Indeed, one-liners have defined careers and made actors unforgettable. It goes without saying that if you want to produce a great film, you need a great script.  Moreover, a great scripts needs great recordings.  No amount of acting and comic timing can save a botched audio recording.  Dialogue is the most important aspect of a film’s audio recording and, unfortunately, the most difficult to record.

Script Development

Once the script is in place, the actors are responsible for bringing it to life, and the directors for understanding how each actor interprets the dialogue. Depending on the size of the your project, you may have written your own script. If you are developing your own script, remember, it will be spoken before an audience. Constantly read your material out loud to check for pacing, timing, and content. Better yet, find someone who has had no prior exposure to the script and get him or her to read what you have written out loud. This will also help you identify if another person is able to convey the primary meaning and subtext of the script effectively.

The Delivery

When your script is finished and in the hands of actors, the same principle applies. Engage your actors regularly as they are developing their characters and allow ample time to work on the script with them. You can record the actors’ dialogue during script readings to listen for how they are presenting the characters and subtext. This not only provides you the opportunity to give more precise direction if required, but it may also broaden your own interpretation of the script and character dynamics. It may even lead you to ideas you had not yet considered!

On Set

You have now developed an engaging and well-rounded script.  The actors have spent countless hours perfecting their characters and delivery. You have arrived on set energized and confident that you are about to lock down the film’s most emotionally complex scene. Without a decent audio recording, your prior efforts will be all but a waste of time. It is imperative that every take has the potential to capture crystal clear audio. You will not only place unnecessary strain and fatigue on the actors, but also drain your overall production budget.

Minimize the chances of a re-shoot by having a technical rehearsal several days prior to the main shoot. Organize the required equipments well in advance of the rehearsal to allow ample time for testing their adequacy. Decide on the configuration of your audio team and assign individual responsibilities for operating the equipment. Record  test audio takes and review them in the editing room for sound quality and the extent of ambient noise.  Use this information to decide which microphones to plug into which cameras.

If you are filming with multiple cameras from multiple angles, be wary of the inconsistencies that can arise during subsequent sound synchronizations.  To prevent complications, always designate one camera to take the master recording, then  splice in additional audio taken from other sources to create a smooth finished product. However, if you are recording the audio independently of the camera, always use a slate or clapper board before each take. The slate will ensure a quick and seamless audio sync to your camera footage and save you a lot of time and money in postproduction.

Tools Of The Trade

While built-in microphones shipped with video cameras are certainly improving, they are far from being adequate. A standard built-in microphone will not be able to isolate the sound of your subject. It will pick up not only the dialogue of the actor, but also the sound of the camera itself, and everything in between. Naturally, the farther you are from your subject, the more your recording will be distorted by outside noises. Provided the resulting audio recording is even usable, this will heavily increase your workload in postproduction.

The quality of the recording will be further diminished by the automatic gain control used by most built-in microphones. Automatic gain control is similar to the automatic white balance control found on DLSR cameras. The microphone automatically equalizes the volume of all audio data it receives, leading to a poorer quality, which can be detrimental to vocal recordings.

Invest in an external microphone. It will send you hours in the mixing studio.  Needless to say, you don’t need to break the bank on a top range recording studio microphone. A lavalier microphone is inexpensive, easy to work with, and a perfect solution to recording tricky audio in busy, noisy environments. It is the small, black, clip-on microphone frequently used in talk show interviews.

If you are filming two subjects within close proximity to each other, you will need a boom microphone. A boom microphone is attached to a long enough pole that it can be kept out of camera frame and tilted towards each subject as they speak. It’s important to remember that, unlike a camera lens, you cannot focus on a particular type of sound as your record. The farther the distance of a microphone from a subject, the higher is the risk of increased ambient noise in the end product.