How to evaluate a location for sound.

It’s very rare that the sound department is brought along on the tech scout for smaller productions. Therefore, it’s the small productions that usually end up with sound problems that they can’t afford to “fix in post.”

Sound is more physics than art so you can reduce how good or bad your sound is going to be to a few things.

  1. How noisy is the location going to be on shoot day? Pretty simple stuff that gets ignored by DPs and producers who are more concerned with how a location looks and how much it costs. A location on a Saturday morning may sound entirely different on Monday morning. There may be flight path issues, traffic issues or construction/industrial sites that are dormant on one day or time of day and not when you load in on shoot day. How locations, camera, producers and directors miss this stuff is beyond the people in the sound department but it happens all the time.
  2. How reflective is the environment? The other day we were shooting in glass operating room. Glass is extremely reflective. Not a great spot to shoot but the producer insisted it was important so we did our best by treating the room and using very careful mic placement. In the end, it was acceptable but not ideal. With a little work in post the audience was likely very happy.
  3. Is the environment treatable and is there time and materials in the budget to treat it? I keep “sound blankets” in my work vehicle all the time because I know that I will encounter environments that need some sort of treatment to improve the sound quality of the room. But sometimes there just isn’t time to improve the room. Or significant soundproofing is needed to isolate from the outside. Like your location is next door to a trucking business or railroad. The location still can be perfect it there’s significant time and budget to build sound barriers.
  4. Do you have the proper equipment? Having the proper equipment on set can make all the difference between acceptable and bad sound. When the mixer shows up unaware of the noisy environment they won’t have time to rent a Cedar DNS or bring a mic that may reject more background noise or do better in a reverberant room.
  5. Having a flexible camera department. I’ve worked on many shoots where the camera department wanted to shoot superwide on every shot in difficult audio locations. And also worked on shoots where the DP is cognizant that their decisions affect other departments. The later make for a much happier editor and producer in post.

If you keep these ideas in mind you’ll be on your way to great sound on all of your productions. If in doubt, Ask the Mixer.

Posted on: September 15, 2019, by :