Reality TV Audio

We really should have a separate forum just for audio questions, tips and techniques.

On to my question for the resident audio gurus. If I end up shooting my fake reality show myself, I need to know how genuine reality shows are recorded. I know that there is a boom operator (or several) to record the audio in field. I am primarily concerned with post audio/foley. What kind of sound design is used in reality shows? Do they do much Foley work or ADR?
 
The success of the "Reality TV" format is based on a very low cost of production against a relatively large audience and therefore a very high return on investment.

The standard workflow has been to have a relatively limited, controllable and reusable set/location, which allows for a considerable number of permanent plant mics and the extensive use of lavs is also common. Costs are reduced greatly in audio post by usually just employing a Sound Editor and Re-recording mixer. Any additional Foley or SFX required are sourced from sound libraries by the sound editor, rather than the time and cost of using Foley artists. Sophisticated noise reduction and dialogue clean up tools are used by the Re-recording Mixer which along with all the various different mic recordings allows for the elimination of time consuming and costly ADR and there is usually little or no sound design on reality TV shows.

This workflow requires spending serious money on a highly skilled and experienced Production Sound Mixer, Sound Editor and Re-recording Mixer and doesn't result in high audio quality. However, it does produce acceptable audio quality which, most importantly, complies with the technical TV broadcast audio specifications. Overall it saves a great deal of money because the time and number of audio personnel required to create a final mix is massively reduced. Would you rather pay 3 or 4 people $800 a day for a few days or 7 or 8 people $400 a day for a couple of weeks? This workflow is most similar to the workflow of soap operas and is what allows for the very high turnover of episodes.

All Reality TV shows don't have identical workflows though. The workflow is usually adapted to the precise style and nature of the show, for example, some are more or even entirely based on a live broadcast workflow.

G
 
Last edited:
A.P.E. covered it pretty well. Just to add a few things...

There is nothing real about most reality shows, they are as set up as most TV shows.

Reality shows use KILLER production sound teams (as are the camera teams). As A.P.E. mentioned this saves huge amounts of time and money on the back end.

They do not do much in the way of sound FX and Foley, instead filling up the spaces with score and other music.
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
Reality shows use KILLER production sound teams (as are the camera teams).
Yes they do (and thank you AA)

I have shot a lot of reality TV. On "The Amazing Race" each team is mic'd with
wireless lavs and a recordist/boomOp follows us. That guy works much harder
than I do. "Survivor" is more difficult because the contestants are wearing
very little clothing. Audio is almost all done with the on-camera mic and a
recordist/boomOp.
 
"Survivor" is more difficult because the contestants are wearing
very little clothing.
A bit off topic.... Lectrosonics recently announced a new waterproof wireless transmitter that will apparently be much smaller then their SMV (Super Miniature Variable) series, which are 2.3 x 1.8 x 0.64 inches. Just as a point of comparison, the Sennheiser G-3 transmitters are 3.5 x 2.5 x 1 inches.
 
I have some Sennheiser G3s already. I would need a couple more to shoot this myself. I've been watching a bunch of reality shows lately to try and figure out the audio workflow and wasn't having much luck. Would you guys recommend adding ambiance background sounds to enhance the "reality" of the show? I'm think rustling leaves and snapping twigs, wind, moans, etc. to up the tension. Keep in mind that there is absolutely nothing real about this show, it is 100% scripted, it's just going to be shot in the style of a reality show.
 
I have some Sennheiser G3s already. I would need a couple more to shoot this myself. I've been watching a bunch of reality shows lately to try and figure out the audio workflow and wasn't having much luck.
You've got it now though, right? I would seriously recommend retaining someone who knows what they are doing, both production sound and audio post.

Would you guys recommend adding ambiance background sounds to enhance the "reality" of the show? I'm think rustling leaves and snapping twigs, wind, moans, etc. to up the tension. Keep in mind that there is absolutely nothing real about this show, it is 100% scripted, it's just going to be shot in the style of a reality show.
Since you don't have a deadline like an actual reality show does you can take all the time in audio post that you want. Treat it like any other film. You and the sound designer/audio post supervisor will have to decide how closely you want to adhere to "real" reality show sound.
 
If I end up shooting this myself, I will be hiring professionals as best as I can. If the networks don't pick the series up, I'll be footing the bill for the whole project out of my own pocket. I naturally want the best quality product, as I'm used to working on Hollywood productions with a much better budget than I would have. I would just be writing/producing/directing and hiring out all of the other positions. I suppose that I should look for an audio pro that has G3s in his kit so that we could use my gear to augment his/hers.
 
Okay, when I place the add, what do I ask for in terms of equipment? What is that cart called? What would a ball park day rate be for someone with that level of gear and (more importantly) the skill to use it? The sound guy that I usually use is a music guy that is branching out into film audio but doesn't have the proper gear to do this type of project.
 
The best place is to start with your budget and contact Production Sound Mixers. You say you are shooting a faux reality film and want a sound team that can handle that kind of project. Tell them how many days and how much money you have allocated for sound. Let them worry about what kind of equipment should be used; they know a heck of a lot more than you do.

Just be prepared to fork up healthy daily or weekly rates. Most will also have an equipment rental fee. Depending on how big your budget is they may also provide set comms, etc. (monitoring for the director and a few others, walkie-talkies, bullhorns and the like).

This is Jeff Wexlers site for sound professionals, everyone from ultra-experienced Hollywood and TV pros to up-and-comers.

http://jwsoundgroup.net/index.php?
 
Now that I have the information that I would need for this project, let me pose another question. Suppose I was an aspiring sound guy who wanted to work on an indie reality show. What gear would I need (minimum/good/better/best) and what would a typical post workflow look like? Plus, any tips & tricks to get better sound.
 
It's all going to depend upon the reality show. You're going to need a lav and wireless system for each participant/person. You're going to need a mixer that will handle all of those wireless lavs plus (most probably) a boomed mic (a selection of shotguns and cardioids), and a multitrack recorder that will record each channel separately (lots of these guys use redundant systems - a laptop plus a multitrack). You'll need to be able to break out mixes to the camera(s), the director, and probably a producer or two (and supply all those folks with headphones). You'll also supply set communications; walkie-talkies, bullhorns, etc.

And, of course, you'll need all the dozens of accessories to make all of that gear work, to connect it all together, keep it organized and protected. Take a look at the carts in my previous post; many of them easily go $20k to $30k.

BTW, they would NEVER hire an aspiring sound guy. Reality shows are intensely complex and require someone with a great deal of experience. S/he will also have a boom-op and an audio wrangler they work with on a regular basis.
 
I was thinking more along the lines of a bunch of non-professionals getting together to do their own reality show. I see now that it would be highly unlikely that it could be done on a low budget.
 
All of my current projects are scripted. I am gathering information so that, if I shoot the pilot myself without network support, I will be the most informed customer that I can be when I go shopping for sound crew. As for the follow up questions, that's just me being curious. I always like to learn new things and the whole art of motion picture audio is fascinating.
 
Top