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How to Select Better Sounding Wardrobe for Film

March 13, 2019

In the world narrative film-making, the goal of the crew/director is to create an immersive experience for the viewer to enjoy. In order for the film experience to remain immersive, it is imperative for things not belonging in the shot to never be seen. 

(Imagine how jarring it would be to suddenly go from Hogwarts to seeing this!)

This more immersive style of film making has made its way into the common practices of commercial,documentary, and corporate video productions. Now more than ever clients are requiring all lavs on subjects to be hidden. (even on non-narrative projects)

Hiding lavs presents a new set of challenges as the wardrobe of the subject quickly becomes a factor in determining whether or not a hidden lav will sound good. 

When preparing for a narrative project such as AMC's Breaking Bad, the wardrobe and sound department will work together in selecting wardrobe materials that meet both the creative and technical needs of the project. 

 (A hazmat suit, though perfect for the lab is a nightmare for sound. The polyethylene material creates a  "crunchy" sound whenever an actor moves. To combat this, the wardrobe department on Breaking Bad created a costume from a material that looked like polyethylene but was silent during actor movement.)

Of course not all projects have the resources to provide ideal sounding wardrobe to all of its cast. More often than not (especially in the doc world) productions will film the subject in whatever clothing they walk on set with. 

To help make the process of using talent provided wardrobe easier, here are some guidelines to help your subject select  better sounding wardrobe. (before they arrive on set)

1. Use 100% natural fabrics (when possible) as they tend to sound better than most synthetic counterparts. Fabrics that feature a mix of both natural and synthetic materials can also sometimes work.

A quick way to test a fabrics usability is to (in a quiet room) lightly brush your hand over the fabric and listen for any loud rustling sounds. Compare this sound against the sound of a cotton t-shirt. Is it louder?, quieter? or about the same?

2. General Material Guidelines
(Not exhaustive as new fabrics/designs are created daily)

Good Material Choices (natural fabrics)

 - Cotton
 - Wool
 - Flax

 Materials/Clothing to Avoid 

  - Noisy chains/ jewelry
  - Starchy button down shirts
  - Linen (certain blends can sound crunchy)
  - Silk
    - This includes silk ties and bras.
  - Spandex/workout attire materials
  - Rustle prone flannel
  - Leather tops
  - Acrylic
  - Acetate
  - Polyester
  - Polyethylene
  - Rubber

  - Track suits/shell suit
  - Any water proof material as this will be difficult for the mics to "hear"through. 

If a challenging piece of clothing is necessary for the creative direction of a project, please notify the sound department ahead of time so preparations can be made.

When in doubt consult your friendly neighborhood Sound Mixer.

Lets Roll!

- Joseph

 Joseph Wolensky

NYC Production Sound
Owner & Production Sound Mixer
Phone: 646 820 7757




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