How many crew members do you need on set? If the answer is less, you should still think twice before giving your sound guy the chop. In this blog we'll take a look at why the role might still be best filled by a dedicated and experienced pair of hands.
Cutting down on production crew
In a small country like New Zealand, it's a simple fact of most productions that budgets are going to be stretched thin across a number of different departments. Some of these are more easily able to absorb the blow of less cash to splash (location scouting for example). Sacrificing other departments though, can result in a significant degradation in the quality of your end product if not properly budgeted for (such as post-production software). Of all these different departments the ones that are held up as most sacred and absolutely necessary are usually on the production equipment and technology side of things.
More and more projects are attempting to cut costs by getting rid of production departments altogether.
It's not hard to see why this might be the case. After all, you can't make a film without a camera, and the difference between a good and a bad lens is far greater than that between a rented costume and one handmade from scratch. Even so, more and more projects are attempting to cut costs by getting rid of production departments altogether, or at the very least minimising them.
We've all been on shoots where the first AD is responsible for holding up the reflector, or the producer has to leave halfway through to sort out lunch, but one of the biggest trends at the moment seems to be roping sound recording and microphones into the responsibilities of camera operators.
Do we need a sound guy?
The death of the sound guy on independent and low-budget productions has been largely driven by some massive leaps forward in audio technology. While ten years ago, the onboard sound capabilities of most cameras weren't anything special, most of today's top models have the ability to record crystal clear audio if supplied with the right input. Onboard mics are still commonly regarded as insufficient, but small, affordable shotgun mics like the Sennheiser MKE 400 have meant that it's now possible to simply set and forget a high quality recorder to the top of a camera and record whatever the lens is pointed at.
Another benefit of this is that the sound is automatically synchronised with the recorded video, so you won't have to spend precious time in the edit suite painstakingly getting your actors' mouths and dialogue to match up. If you're working on a budget and don't have unlimited time to burn in the edit, this can be a great way to speed up the process of post and get straight into the meat and potatoes of editing and grading.
We definitely need a sound guy!
There are many who value sound recordists among the most important roles on set – at the same level as the cinematographer and perhaps even higher. The logic behind this is that bad footage can be cut and manipulated (to a certain extent) far more effectively than poor audio can.
Whether it's hiss, constant airplanes flying past or low levels, bad sound is very difficult to repair without introducing issues such as additional noise. You might be able to get away with a bit of shaky camera work as handheld verisimilitude, but you'll almost never find an example of a professional-grade film with anything less than crystal clear dialogue. Of course there are always options like dubbing and ADR if you want to go back and redo everything, but it's an expensive process that not many indie projects can stretch to.
Your camera operator will have far more work to do than if they were left to simply operate their usual equipment.
In addition, there are no real excuses for not having a dedicated soundie other than the cost of paying him. There are plenty of decent quality microphones on the market, and handheld recorders like the Sony PCM-M10 mean that bulky and complex equipment simply aren't necessary in most scenarios.
It's also worth keeping in mind that if you go down this route, your camera operator will have far more work to do than if they were left to simply operate their usual equipment. Even in the simplest of situations, modern 4K cameras have more than enough bells and whistles to keep any DOP occupied, and if you add more responsibility into the equation, the work of both departments could suffer as a result.
Ultimately whether or not your production springs for a soundie is completely up to the specific situation and budget. If we had to make a recommendation though, we'd say that if at all possible, bringing one on board could just be the difference-maker that shoots your film ahead of the pack.
For more information on getting the best results out of a tight budget, get in touch with DVT today.
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