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Why Sound is 10% More Important Than Camera

May 15, 2018

 

Every year we receive emails from potential clients that go something like this...

'Hi. I was wondering if you could help us out with with sound on an upcoming project. Last week we booked this great space and hired a DP to film an interview with two Arri Amiras. The video looked amazing! Problem is we thought we'd save money by also having the DP run sound. Long story short, the levels weren't set correctly and now everything sounds like a hot garbled mess. We are now looking to re-shoot everything tomorrow with sound. Last min I know, but Are you available?'

Unfortunately stories like this are more common than you think. Recently a world famous martial arts instructor posted this his to social media account.

 

In the case of both these situations both projects had to be re-shot costing production thousands of dollars. 

What I'm about to say next may shock you...


SOUND IS 60% OF YOUR VIDEO
 

 


Shocked ? Let me explain...

The best cinema camera will not save a project from poorly recorded sound. In todays world of the YouTube star, people will tolerate content filmed on an iPhone as long as the sound is reasonably clear. However if the sound quality is poor, most people will not watch regardless of image quality.

In an interview with Dark Knight Director Christopher Nolan, Nolan stated that:

"If we started with the first scene in a very controlled environment... Where we knew we could get good sound.You could begin the film in such a way that people weren't immediately alienated by the quality of the sound." - Christopher Nolan From 'Conversations Inside The Criterion Collection'  

Unless a project is purely visual in nature, capturing high quality sound is essential to the success of a dialogue driven project.

Or if we do the math...

No Sound + Video = No Message



How-to Find a Great Sound Person


If ever you've been the victim of a bad hair cut then you know that some people are just better at their job than others. 
 

  
Cultivating a relationship with an experienced sound person is one of the best investments a producer/director can make. 

Here are a few key tips to help you with selecting a Sound Mixer for your next project.
 

 
1. Personality & Professionalism

The nature of film and video work often results in long production days. Finding someone with a professional demeanor and personality that works well your crew is an essential part of a well run production.  Often times (before working with a new client) I will arrange a phone call or meeting to get an idea as to how they like to run things. 


2. Technical Ability

When selecting a sound mixer you want to hire somebody with a deep knowledge of microphones, wireless mics, recorders and camera systems. In addition to pure technical knowledge, being an effective problem solver is a must for working on set.The ability to stay calm and quickly find solutions is quite honestly half the job!

To gain insight into a mixers technical/problem solving ability, ask them for recommendations from previous clients. Another option is to ask your potential sound person to provide you with examples of how they solved on set challenges in the past.

Recently I was hired to work on a series of interviews for a major ad agency. When we arrived on set the room was small and suffered from extreme reverberation (echo). To make things worse directly outside our window was a massive exhaust vent that could not be switched off.  To solve this problem I selected a microphone that was able to filter out much of the ambient exhaust noise. To treat the room reverberation, we opted to place acoustic treatments around the subject in order to deliver a clear focused sound for the interview.

Problems solved = happy clients!
 

 

3. Gear

A professional sound mixer should have PROFESSIONAL gear. 

Look for mixers that use industry standard gear brands such as Sound Devices, Zaxcom, Cantar, Lectrosonics, Wisycom,DPA, Schoeps, Sennhesier,Sanken, etc.

Brands like Tascam, Zoom, and Rode are great for low budget projects but really have no place on a professional level set. 

Be sure to budget appropriately for a kit fee as often a professional sound package will cost as much as an average camera package.


4. Ask For A Reel

This one is a bit of a trick statement. Early in my career people (when I was working on more low budget projects)   Producers would regularly ask to see my "sound reel" as proof of quality. However when I graduated to the world of full rate commercial work, I was shocked to discover that most producers 

NEVER ASKED FOR A SOUND REEL. 

Why?

Because sound (unlike camera) is not an art. It is purely a craft. The job of a Sound Mixer is to capture quality sound in a variety of challenging circumstances. The final product that makes it to the end viewer does not provide accurate an representation of a mixers actual on set ability. The sound heard in the final edit has been heavily modified by the editors and the post production team.

Seasoned Producers know this and thus tend to rely on professional recommendations & projects credits in order to ascertain a mixers professionalism and technical ability.  

In Closing

Sound is the main conduit through which language and ideas between humans are exchanged.

Without it we'd all be back to making silent films.
 


As seen in the examples above, not budgeting for sound may just be the $10,000 mistake no Producer ever wants to make. Even worse are the once in a lifetime moments lost that time can never repeat. 

- JW
 


Joseph Wolensky

NYC Production Sound
Owner & Production Sound Mixer

Phone: 646 820 7757​
letsroll@nycproductionsound.com

 

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