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Would you like to be a location film sound recordist?

A post by David Mellor
Monday February 21, 2005
On one project you could be boiled alive in the Sahara. On the next, frozen solid in the Antarctic. Such is the life of the location film sound recordist...
Would you like to be a location film sound recordist?

Let's be clear that you're not doing it to meet film stars. Yes, you'll probably enjoy it at first, and you will meet them and talk to them in the course of your daily work. But after a while the novelty will wane and the most fun you'll get from that part of the job is when you meet someone at a party and they ask what you do for a living...

A location film sound recordist could work anywhere in the world, on projects from TV documentaries to Hollywood feature films. Don't expect home comforts. You could be almost boiled alive in the Sahara on one shoot, or frozen solid in the Antarctic on another. You will need to be physically resilient for this, if not necessarily tough.

Location film sound recordists start their career by operating a boom mic (a boom is sometimes known as a fishpole). To do this successfully you will bear three things in mind...

  • Point the microphone at the actor's mouth.
  • Keep the mic and pole out of shot.
  • Keep the shadow of the mic and pole out of shot.

While you are fulfilling this role, you will be keeping a close eye on what the recordist is doing and learning the trade.

Location film sound recordists don't use big mixing consoles, neither do they use computers for that part of their work. Instead they generally have a trolley, with wheels for mobility, with a small mixer - maybe just four channels - and a portable hard disk recorder.

In the old days of film sound recording, sound was pretty much last on people's list because it was so hard to do it well and fit in with the needs and schedules of shooting the pictures. So most, and sometimes all, the dialog was re-recorded in post-production.

Now, with a variety of tools such as personal microphones, multiple wireless channels and multitrack portable hard disk recorders, it is possible for the location film sound recordist to cover more possibilities, and come back with usable material.

One thing that hasn't changed over the years is the preference for a physical storage medium rather than the internal disk of a computer or hard disk recorder. DVD-RAM has proven very useful in this context. DVD-RAM, unlike DVD-R and DVD+R, is enclosed in a protective caddy, which is vital for professional standards of reliability. Of course, the recordist can keep a copy on hard disk too, just in case.

Location film sound recordists enjoy their work and strive for the best. For example, how would you set about recording a cannon?

The easy answer would be don't bother and use a sound effects library - they are packed out with all kinds of gunfire.

But a location film sound recordist will probably use a tough-as-old-boots mic close up to capture the direct sound, a couple of mics placed progressively further away. Another mic to capture any slap-back echo from a nearby hard surface, and one to capture the sound of the projectile entering the target (if the armorer is so bold as to use real ammunition!). Each mic will be recorded on a separate track for later mixing.

If this sounds enticing, perhaps you could consider a career being a film sound recordist.

A post by David Mellor
Monday February 21, 2005 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)