Sound for documentary style horror film

I've heard different things about this. Some youtube videos say its okay to use your cameras mic as long as the subject isnt more than a few feet away. Others have told me, though that I need to use a sound guy. Since this is documentary/Blair With style, a sound guy isn't practical. If I buy an external mic that attaches to the camera (Sony FDR-AX53), do you all think that will be good enough for most scenes, as long as the characters are within a few feet of the camera? Thank you for any feedback.
 
I dont have much experience about documentary style but I did one short horror film as a sound recordist. For me, a good microphone will never disappoint you, but for some scenes you might want to produce a clear, audible sound.

Last year, a friend of mine shot a short film in the woods. The story was incredible but the audio was very disturbing because it was full of the sound of the actors walking on the grass.

Yes, I agree that in documentary style a sound recordist would be impractical. My suggestion is to find a good microphone for your camera, and have one or two lavalier microphone for your actors. There might be some dialogues, screams, or whispering that couldn't be captured by attached microphone.

That is just an opinion. For me, better safe than sorry. Good luck.
 
Since this is documentary/Blair With style, a sound guy isn't practical.
Yes, I agree that in documentary style a sound recordist would be impractical.
At what point did "documentary style" come to mean "sound recordist is impractical"? There are plenty of documentaries out there, as well as doc-style programming, that have used recordists and PSMs. You do what you have to do to get the sound right in production so you don't have to try and polish a turd in post. Plus, keeping your actors within a couple feet of the camera at all times is pretty constrictive to shot selection. That makes no sense.

And Blair Witch had sound support, so...
 
Just to back up AcousticAl, "Blair Witch" used a substantial amount of ADR; about $1million was invested in audio post by the distributor to make the sound palatable to the movie-going public.

As for
as long as the characters are within a few feet of the camera
If your shot is over the shoulder your subject is speaking AWAY from the mic.

Start with great sound. That way you have control over what type of and how much you want to "worldize" the dialog, rather than having to fight and compromise to get things intelligible.
 
I only did documentary once, i just want to put the previous comment into perspective. I think both of you (AcousticAI and Alcove Audio) gave better suggestion. Thanks anyway. Great lessons for me today.
 
Thank you for the replies, as you can tell filmmaking is pretty new to me. Does PSM have to do with wearing a mic? I think I'd rather do that instead of using a sound guy, if the quality is comparable.
 
Last edited:
Thank you for the replies, as you can tell filmmaking is pretty new to me. Does PSM have to do with wearing a mic?
Production Sound Mixer

This is the person who handles the sound mix and recording on set and on location. A PSM often works with a larger sound crew that includes a couple of boom ops, so the PSM sits at a cart with a mixer, wireless receivers, cable runs, video confidence monitor. The boom ops, obviously, swing the boomed mics.

On smaller scale productions, you may see someone referred to as a recordist, and that person is likely running from a bag that has a mixer and the wireless receivers and camera hops, and is also holding the boom. Kind of a one-person sound crew.
 
I'm still a bit fuzzy on this after researching mixers. Is using a mixer preferable to having a separate recorder for each mic? Once the mixer sends the signal to one recorder/camera, doesn't that limit being able to adjust volumes of the different elements?
 
Every situation is different. However, the recent "standard" is for a boomed mic and lavs on each actor with a speaking part. On a "professional" shoot the production sound mixer will record each mic onto a single audio recorder separately, record a combined "mix" track which the editor uses, and will probably send a mix to the video village, the camera (if it is digital) and to the DP & director.
 
Is using a mixer preferable to having a separate recorder for each mic?
Well, the two aren't mutually exclusive, but we're not talking about separate recorders. So I also want to clarify what Alcove said:

On a "professional" shoot the production sound mixer will record each mic onto a single audio recorder separately...
If, for example, there are three actors and three wireless systems, plus a boom op, we'd be talking about four individual sound recorders floating around the set. That's too much to handle, and there's no way for the PSM to monitor that many devices in any practical way.

What we're actually talking about here, and what I think Alcove meant to say, was that the PSM will record each mic onto an individual record track. There are a few ways to go about this:

Using a mixer such as the Sound Devices 442 allows the PSM to send a mix of the four inputs to camera, to video village, etc. The 442 also has direct outputs for each input, meaning it has an isolated copy of each input signal that is sent out of the mixer. Those direct outs can be fed to a multi-track recorder like the Sound Devices 744T.

More current offerings from SD (688, 644, 633) combine the mixer and the multitrack recorder into a single device, so you could have 6 mics coming into the mixer, recorded to isolated tracks, plus a mix recorded to a master stereo track pair, plus outputs from the mixer sent to camera, video village, etc.

Those are for bag work. On larger, cart-based productions, you may have a standalone mixer that feeds direct outs to a computer for multi-track recording through a program like Boom Recorder.

There's a catch here, though. Some of the higher-end wireless systems (have like Zaxcom) have wireless transmitters that also record the signal. This provides a failsafe, though, and is rarely used as a primary source. It's a backup in case of transmission interruption.

I see a lot of amateurs, and a lot of low-budget folks who work alone, using small recorders planted on actors, or for weddings on the bride, groom, and priest/pastor, and let them roll unmonitored. This is clumsy and unreliable. I'd never want to trust my sound recording to something I couldn't monitor the whole time. Tascam makes a small recorder that is designed to run as a throughput from some wireless transmitters, between the lav and the transmitter, but again that's just a failsafe and should not be the primary or only source of recorded sound from that mic.
 
Last edited:
Thanks again for the great replies everyone. I was talking with a friend who's shot decent short films, and he was saying that if using lavs, I should have a professional sound person attach them to the actors? Also, he said this setup may not work to well even if I do use a pro sound person, because if the actors have to move at all in the scene the mic will probably pick up too much noise of their clothes moving, etc. I hope I'm making sense here, thank you for any replies.
 
I was talking with a friend who's shot decent short films, and he was saying that if using lavs, I should have a professional sound person attach them to the actors?
If you want good sound results, hire a pro.

Also, he said this setup may not work to well even if I do use a pro sound person, because if the actors have to move at all in the scene the mic will probably pick up too much noise of their clothes moving, etc. I hope I'm making sense here, thank you for any replies.
If you use a pro sound person, that person will know how to bury a lav in the actor's wardrobe so that it doesn't rub when the actor moves.

Lavs shouldn't be the primary source, though. Wireless transmissions will fail. Sometimes the actor may sweat through the adhesive holding the mic in place. Most of all, lavs have a distinct sound that isn't interpreted as very "natural" by the viewer's ear. A shotgun, or a hypercardioid in some situations, on a boom pole is the first and best option. Lavs and wireless systems are great when the shot makes getting the boom close enough an impossibility, or as a backup if the boom ends up off-axis or for some other reason sucks for a moment.
 
If you don't have enough money & crew to get the audio right on the shoot, you don't have much choice. But the external mic attached to the camera is usually better than the built-in mic.

I would suggest doing a 1 to 2 min. scene at the location as a test. Do a scene where you have people close to & far away from the mic. Do it with your camera mic, & then with the external mic attached to the camera, & then other mics if you can borrow. You won't know what works & what's acceptable to you until you hear the audio in the edit yourself. Compare the sound in your edit with Blair Witch or whatever film you like. You'll figure out whether you prefer running your audio through noise reduction apps, or doing ADR, or getting good audio at the beginning. Fixing the audio in post can double your editing time (at least) so you want to avoid that on a long film.

Or since you're starting out, just jump in & maybe you just want to focus on the images & you'll work on better sound in the future. Keeping the dialog to a minimum will help. Either way, I would suggest keeping this film really short so you can learn what you can from it & get better for the next one.
 
I've been making low to no-budget films for the past several years, and as a result worked with some inexperienced crew. Sound was always pain to fix in post and ended up being cheaper to invest a little money up front than to fix in post.
 
Last edited:
Sound was always pain to fix in post and [it] ended up being cheaper to invest a little money up front than to fix in post.
!!!!!!

When it comes to low/no/mini/micro budget projects every dollar/minute you spend on production sound saves you 10 dollars/minutes in audio post. Cleaning up and repairing poor production sound without the expansive toys (i.e. Cedar systems) is very time consuming. That's what eats up your audio post budget. It becomes a rescue mission rather than a creative process.
 
!!!!!!

When it comes to low/no/mini/micro budget projects every dollar/minute you spend on production sound saves you 10 dollars/minutes in audio post. Cleaning up and repairing poor production sound without the expansive toys (i.e. Cedar systems) is very time consuming. That's what eats up your audio post budget. It becomes a rescue mission rather than a creative process.
Absolutely!
 
Top