Sound-wise, is this film doable?

I was planning on doing an 80 minute film in my hometown (I'm in the midwestern US), which is a beautiful place that's pretty empty most of the time. It would be the perfect setting for a film except for 1 thing: the sound. It's a quiet place but there are planes that pass overhead, dogs that bark and lawn mowing noises. I've been reading up on sound recording and apparently all these things make recording dialog very difficult. I was planning to shoot the majority of the film outdoors because of my lack of interior locations, but I'm not sure how well that's going to work out.

To make things worse I only have about $8,000 to spend on the entire production. I'm not sure if I can afford a professional sound guy, and even if I could, would they be able to work around the noise pollution?

Is making a dialog-heavy film on a few thousand dollars doable, if the majority of the locations are outdoors? Or is my only option to film a story that takes place mostly indoors? Thanks in advance.
 
It's a quiet place but there are planes that pass overhead, dogs that bark and lawn mowing noises. I've been reading up on sound recording and apparently all these things make recording dialog very difficult.

Yup, production sound is hard. That's why there are people who specialize in it.

Careful scouting of locations is extremely important. Since you are very vague about where you live it's difficult to give specific advice. Since you are probably in a suburban area (since you mentioned dogs and lawn mowers) I'll assume that it's a regional airport, not a major hub. Go to the airport security office, explain who you are and what you are doing, how the sound of jets is intrusive to your audio, and ask if there is there any way you can get air traffic patterns and times so you can attempt to avoid noise problems. The worst they can say is no.

As far as lawn mowers go most mow their lawns on the weekend, unless they have a landscaper do it. So here is a scheduling challenge. If your location is in a more affluent area see if you can get landscaper schedules. Otherwise plan on shooting during the week.

And, c'mon; dogs can't be that much of a problem.

I was planning to shoot the majority of the film outdoors because of my lack of interior locations, but I'm not sure how well that's going to work out.

Does the story absolutely require exterior locations? Of course, interiors have their own sound challenges.

To make things worse I only have about $8,000 to spend on the entire production. I'm not sure if I can afford a professional sound guy, and even if I could, would they be able to work around the noise pollution?

Working around "noise pollution" is the job of the location scout (selecting quiet[er] locations), the production sound mixer & boom-op, and the dialog editor. A great boom-op reduces the amount of ambient sound in the production tracks significantly.

Is making a dialog-heavy film on a few thousand dollars doable, if the majority of the locations are outdoors? Or is my only option to film a story that takes place mostly indoors? Thanks in advance.

It's a lot more doable than a visual effects heavy production.


Allocation of funds is the biggest challenge for indie filmmakers. My bias is pretty obvious - great food, spend the rest on production sound and post sound. :D.

If your film is dialog driven then you should allocate a large portion of your funds towards capturing great dialog. What good will it be if it looks great and it sounds like feces?


Your film will only look as good as it sounds, because
"Sound is half of the experience."
 
Unfortunately most actors on a very low budget are only free on weekends to work though, around their week jobs.

I suppose you can do a few takes and just pic ones that have the least amount of background noise. It's tricky cause most distributors I hear want clean dialogue tracks, for when they do their own mixing.

Be sure to get a lot of reaction shots, that way if you have to do ADR, you have lots of dialogue-less reaction shots, you can put the dialogue over top of.
 
Unfortunately most actors on a very low budget are only free on weekends to work though, around their week jobs.

I suppose you can do a few takes and just pic ones that have the least amount of background noise. It's tricky cause most distributors I hear want clean dialogue tracks, for when they do their own mixing.

Be sure to get a lot of reaction shots, that way if you have to do ADR, you have lots of dialogue-less reaction shots, you can put the dialogue over top of.

This from a person who has yet to complete one project in three years......
 
So basically what I'm hearing is that on my budget I've probably got to set my story indoors. Could I assume that I could use an intermediate-skilled sound guy if I was filming all (basic) interiors? I may know a couple people in college who'd be willing to help me out.
 
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I didn't say that it all (or any of it) had to be indoors. I said that indoors and outdoors each have their own issues/problems that need to be overcome. I said that you need to very carefully scout your locations so you are fully aware of the sound of the location as well as the look. I said that part of the scouting is also investigating how the sound varies from hour-to-hour and day-to-day. Being indoors isn't going to matter much if there's a motorcycle rally in the neighborhood on the day you shoot, or the landscapers are running thier mowers and leaf blowers, or you're under an airport approach.

I also said that the audio post team is also important to the sound quality of the final product.

Skill and experience - and proper planning - are what is needed to get solid production sound. It won't matter to an experienced PSM and Boom-Op team whether you are indoors or outdoors; they will give you the optimum sound quality allowed by the location and the shot. A skilled and experienced dialog editor and rerecording mixer will put out the best dialog performance and sound quality they possibly can from the production sound provided.
 
To make things worse I only have about $8,000 to spend on the entire production. I'm not sure if I can afford a professional sound guy, and even if I could, would they be able to work around the noise pollution?

Speaking from experience, if you're going to spend that money on anything then spend it on a Professional sound guy. and trust me, you can afford it, just shop around, even if it's a semi-pro at 100 a day, do it.
 
Thanks for the quality replies you guys. Dr. Stilly thanks for the advice- good sound's definitely my biggest concern

Alcove Audio, I took your response as a suggestion for me to film indoors because I have no way of stopping the noise around me. It would be great if I could work around all the planes and mowing times, but actors are hard enough to get as it is. That would be a scheduling nightmare.

Also (and I'll have to do some logs to confirm this) I'm pretty sure there isn't a time during the day where people aren't making noise. People mow the lawn at random times here, they don't have a lot to do!

So let me rephrase my question: You said that a quality sound crew would get me " the optimum sound quality allowed by the location". My question is if I'm shooting in a small town with unpredictable sound, and I don't have the finances to control any of those variables, is the sound guaranteed to be poor, despite the skills of my crew?
 
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Once again, you have to scout for sound, and that includes the scheduling of events, etc.

For example... I live near a regional airport. It's busiest in the very early morning, late evenings and weekends. About half the people in my neighborhood have a landscaping service, so from April through October on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10am to about 2pm there are mowers and blowers. Morning and evening rush hours are relatively loud (there's three major roadways within three miles - I95, I287 and the Merritt Parkway). So if I want to record any sound effects outdoors I need to schedule around all that noise.


... if I'm shooting in a small town with unpredictable sound, and I don't have the finances to control any of those variables, is the sound guaranteed to be poor, despite the skills of my crew?

You are very ignorant when it comes to sound; this is not an insult, it's fact. I wouldn't know an F-stop from a bus stop; I'm completely ignorant about cameras. But that's not my job; my job is sound-for-picture. Your job is to direct a film.

Although they are not miracle workers, a great production sound team can achieve amazing things. Skill and experience!!! Have your production sound person make the rounds of your locations with you - after s/he's read the script, of course. Consult with him/her; their job is sound, rely on their ears and talents.

Think about it; hundreds of films have been shot in extremely noisy Manhattan, yet they have solid production sound. It shouldn't be a problem in your small town.
 
Am I coming across as a smug know it all? Because if so it's accidental I assure you. I don't know anything about sound, that's why I'm here! This film hasn't even started pre production, I'm just trying to find out if it's even possible to make a movie with our kind of budget.

I know people can get great sound in Manhattan, those filmmakers probably had more a couple thousand to make it sound nice. And sure it'd be optimal to schedule around all the noisy periods of the day, but when you can only shoot on weekends and you've got 8 pages of script to cover per day, you probably can't afford to work around both rush hours and landscaping schedules. Forgive me if I'm missing something, but that seems like a nightmare.

Having said that, the price of a decent sound editor is so steep this discussion is probably pointless anyway. But thanks for your time!
 
You're missing the point entirely. (And no, you're not coming across as smug.) My point is/was that you should do everything that you can within your limitations. I'll put it simply.

Airport routes are fairly consistent. So if the route passes over the southeast side of town try to secure locations northwest. You'll have reduced the impact of aircraft.

Spend a weekend in the neighborhood where you want to shoot; see who is mowing when. Most folks are understanding of ambitious people. Ask if they would all consider not mowing on the Saturday you want to shoot, or or mowing first thing in the morning while your setting up, or waiting until late afternoon.

Lots of people are attracted to the "glitz and glamour" of the film industry, no matter what the budget. Many a location has been secured just by saying "I love the outside of your house; can I use it in my film?"

Most municipalities have a listing of events; get it. It would be a shame to schedule your shoot the same day as the skeet shooting competition.

Rely on those who have expertise. Ask the advice of your sound person.


As indie filmmakers we have problems caused by insufficient budget. We do everything we can to mitigate those problems as much as we can.
 
So let me rephrase my question: You said that a quality sound crew would get me " the optimum sound quality allowed by the location". My question is if I'm shooting in a small town with unpredictable sound, and I don't have the finances to control any of those variables, is the sound guaranteed to be poor, despite the skills of my crew?

Except in real extreme situations there are no guarantees with sound, just probabilities. Recording an actor's dialogue 100ft away from a jumbo jet at full throttle is guaranteed to get you unusable sound. Recording in a perfectly silent acoustically treated room, with an actor who has a good voice, being able to get the mic in close and a highly equipped, highly experienced production sound team is guaranteed to get you very good sound, pretty much anything between these extremes is a probability. There are all sorts of variables which can move the probabilities in your favour and it's your job as a filmmaker to manage those variables as much as possible and balance your budget (whatever that maybe) wisely so you end up with the best film you can make.

You can't afford good equipment or a good production sound team, that moves the probabilities against you unless you can compensate, say cut out any background sound/sound reflections. But, you can't do that either because you can't schedule around the worst of the sound, the probabilities are moving further still against you. Maybe you can compensate somewhat by getting the mic in close and having your actor really project their voice? You're slightly improving your odds if you can do this but the probability is still quite heavily against you getting usable dialogue recordings.

And sure it'd be optimal to schedule around all the noisy periods of the day, but when you can only shoot on weekends and you've got 8 pages of script to cover per day, you probably can't afford to work around both rush hours and landscaping schedules. Forgive me if I'm missing something, but that seems like a nightmare.

I don't know all the variables of your shooting location, equipment or the skill levels of your personnel but from what you've said, the odds are very much against you getting usable production sound. If this is the case, you will have three options:

1. Re-shoot the scenes for this location.
2. ADR these scenes, which is going to degrade your actors' performances and cost you time and money, perhaps quite a significant amount of both if your actors are not very experienced/talented at ADR.
3. Just use your film as an exercise in cinematography and live with the fact your dialogue is incomprehensible in places or throughout.

I presume all of these options are unacceptable to you? If so, your statement shouldn't be that you can't afford to schedule around the noise but that you can't afford not to! No matter how difficult, surely scheduling around the noise (if possible) is going to be cheaper/easier than scheduling an entire re-shoot or scheduling ADR for days (or weeks if your film is set in this location a lot)?

G
 
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