So… audio. Gosh, this is a can of worms. Audio can either make or break your project. You could shoot the most wonderful video footage with stunning scenes comprised of the most beautiful lighting or special effects, but if your audio sounds like you recorded with a cassette tape recorder circa 1983, you are in very, very,……..very bad shape. There is absolutely nothing you can do to fix badly recorded audio. No software in the world and no sound engineer in the world can fully repair poor audio. Images make up half of your movie. Audio makes up the other half. Both work in tandem to create the artistry you hope to achieve. You cannot have a good film if one of these two elements is lacking.
“So, the built-in mic on my camera isn't good enough?”, you might ask? Absolutely not. If you want all your dialog to sound like monkey poo, then fine, go ahead. Otherwise you are going to have to invest in some additional resources to get that high-quality, professional sound that people expect to hear.
You have probably seen behind-the-scenes movie footage of someone next to the camera holding a long pole with a microphone attached to it. Why does the dialogue in movies sound so good? Because of that guy right there. He is pointing a highly-sensitive, directional microphone right at the chest (That’s right….you never point mics at people’s mouths. You point them at the chest.) of the actors to capture what you hear on screen. Sure an audio engineer will sweeten things later in post-production, but this guy (called a “Boom Operator”) has one of the most important jobs on the set.
If recording good audio for major blockbuster movies is imperatively essential, then your small-time operation better follow suit. Audio will help distinguish your videos from others whose audio quality appears very poor and amateur. Plus people will appreciate the extra time you put in before filming to make sure audio levels are good and that there are no unwanted background noises. Keep in mind that high quality microphones are much more sensitive than your ear and therefore hear things that you do not. This is why it is essential to have a good set of headphones with you so that you can listen to the environment as well as to the dialogue.
To help you get started, here is a rundown.
Since you will most likely be recording audio to an external source, this means that you will have to sync your audio and video together in your video editing software program. This can be a painstaking process, but a vital one nonetheless. People will find it distracting, comical, and frustrating if you don’t have your audio track properly synced with your video track. This is very unprofessional and just a big “No-No” that you must avoid at all costs. There is software available that can sync your two files together, but none should be trusted completely. It is also best to manually check and not just assume that the software got everything right. Me, I always go for manual syncing.
Now, there is a good/easy way to go about syncing and there is a bad/hard way of going about syncing. If you want to go the easy route then it takes just a teeny, tiny step during filming to make a ginormous difference in syncing.
You’ve all seen the guy who holds a slate in front of the camera just before filming. He often says something like “Scene 5, Take 8” and then claps the slate together. Well, the slate performs two functions. One, the slate identifies the Take so that during editing you can easily identify which footage you want to use AND the actual clapping noise that the slate makes serves as an audio marker!! Holy Cow!! Amazing isn’t it?! So, all you have to do is match up the audio clap with the video frame where the slate comes together and…..VIOLA!! Tracks synced!! Easy as pie. Then just watch the rest of your footage (especially towards the end) to double check that everything looks right. Pay attention to people when they say letters like f, m, v, p, b…any sound where the mouth closes since the sound and action of the mouth is more recognizable.
Slates can be bought pretty cheap and make a world of difference during editing. If you don’t have a slate, or forgot to bring it with you on a shoot, then just use your hands. Stand perpendicular in front of the camera, extend your arms out in front of you and give a big clapping motion by moving your arms. Make sure your hands can be seen by the camera. This serves the same purpose as the slate for creating an audio marker. Then, go through the same process in your editing software for syncing the tracks together.
If you fail to do an audio marker while filming…….then I’m sorry. There’s no easy way to say it, but you are going to have one heck of an experience trying to get the tracks lines up correctly. Use the method explained above in looking at letters people pronounce. You may also be able to find a sound effect somewhere in your audio footage that could serve as an audio marker. Something like someone putting a glass on a countertop or a balloon popping. Matching an abrupt sound with a very precise action in the video will help you in this regard. However, it is going to be painstakingly time-consuming. So be warned and be prepared!
Please note that when syncing audio and video tracks together, it is best to zoom in on your timeline so that the time increments change to individual frames (you might have to zoom in a few times to get there). That way, you can make the smallest adjustments possible to get the tracks lined up as perfectly as possible. Depending on the program you are using, you might have to change the actual settings in your project to display frames instead of time. Most programs change automatically once you have zoomed in far enough.
Next to your camera, good audio equipment should be your most important investment.
Please see the accompanying post for Audio Formats which will give insights into which formats will give you the highest quality, which are compressed and uncompressed, and which are universally accepted by most software programs as well as DVD players.
Copyright 2018 Steven Vest. All rights reserved.
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