Monthly Archives: August 2011

Welcome to the mental health hotline

Hello and welcome to the mental health hotline.

-If you are Obsessive Compulsive, press 1 repeatedly.

-If you are Codependent, ask someone to press 2 for you.

-If you are Multiple Personality, pres 3 – 4 – 5 – 6

-If you are Paranoid, we know what you are, and what you want. Stay on the line and we’ll trace your call.

-If you are Delusional, press 7 and your call will be transferred to the mothership.

-If you are Schizophrenic, listen carefully and a small voice will tell you which number to press.

-If you are Depressive, it doesn’t matter which number you press no one will answer you.

-If you are Dyslexic, press 69696969

-If you have a Nervous Disorder, please fidget with the hash key until the beep, after the beep please wait for the beep.

-If you have a Short Term Memory Loss, please try your call again later.

-And if you have Low Self-Esteem, hang up—all our operators are too busy to talk to you.

The Director’s Guide to Sound — Part One

A lot of people do understand that good sound is very important to creating a good film. No one doubts the ridiculousness of archetypical kung fu movies, loaded end-to-end with lip flap, fist hitting face sounding like a fish hitting a watermelon, or music that sounds like it belongs more in a spaghetti western. But there are a lot of directors out there who don’t understand (and don’t want to try to understand) what’s really involved in getting good sound. For the production sound, some think it is mainly a matter of mounting a shotgun microphone on a boom pole and plugging it into the camera and then having some kid (or whomever is not otherwise occupied by any important task – like going out for coffee) hold it over the speaking actor’s head–from time to time paying attention and adjusting it a little (when after paying more attention to the camera crew doing the really important stuff, he realizes it’s pointing at the wall). Well, that certainly beats using the crappy mic that’s built into the video camera–but not by much, actually.

Most dedicated production mixers liken the microphone to being the camera for sound. But unless you bring your own boom operator or are your own boom operator (itself not a really great idea), you’re likely to get little more than a yawn from the kid who is assigned to help you out and who does so begrudgingly, because there are already too many people standing around the camera. But it’s very much true. Sounds have color and tone and position and depth–just like images do. If you really want the sound and picture to complement each other nicely, you would push in the mic as you’re pushing in the camera (and the reverse when pulling back). This is one of the reasons why boom microphones are generally preferred over body mics.

Now why is it a bad idea to mix and operate the boom at the same time? Pretty much for the same reason it’s a bad idea for the same person to operate the camera and push the dolly at the same time. You just can’t focus on both tasks well, so you end up with a compromise—often manifested as the boom pointing away from the sound source while you adjust levels and clipping/noise as you walk along with the action, paying attention to where the mc is pointed. There’s only one justification for having a lone sound guy on the crew (or even no dedicated sound guy sometimes), and that’s in raw, hardcore run-and-gun style filmmaking, electronic news gathering, and documentary work. If you’re making a serious dramatic film, you owe it to yourself as a director to bring in a two-man sound crew (in Hollywood, they use three-man crews, with the utility person there to run cables, attach lavalieres to actors, and just be a general backup in case one of the other guys gets sick or something).

Finally, show your mixer/sound crew chief the respect to at least give him or her a copy of the script in advance to study. Invite her to the location scouting trips—she just might point out sound-related problems that no one else notices (like train tracks that might only be quiet at the time of the scouting trip, or maybe that the interior location has high ceilings and hardwood floors and plaster walls). Include him in a few pre-production meetings, when you’re going over the shot plan, to help him understand the blocking and camera movements—before he arrives on the set. If the extent of your interaction with your sound crew chief is to just tell him the crew call time, don’t be expecting fantastic sounding production audio every time. The sound crew need to know what is happening on set and in the story, if they are to capture dialogue that befits the film. This is not the place to get complacent and skimp.

Next blog: What can and cannot be fixed in post.

RG

Hello World!

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well not night, and not exactly stormy.

But I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express once. No, not really. Those places scare me.

Let me start again.

So I just got an iPad and it’s motivated me to start writing again.

I’m a novelist who hasn’t been published yet. I’m a screenwriter who hasn’t sold a script to Hollywood—yet! And I do other things too. I’m a guerilla filmmaker who sometimes does sound mixing for other filmmakers. Sometimes I’m a script supervisor. Recently, I’ve gotten my feet wet as a director. I play guitar and bass. I own a small recording and film post-production studio. I’ve recorded and run the mixing console at live concerts by up-and-coming bands.

No, you haven’t seen any of my work — not under this name. I work under a different name. That way I can objectively critique things without fear of never working in this town again. You may well have seen my work on YouTube or Vimeo or heard some of my music on Reverb Nation. Several of my screenplays have been turned into independent films. And I’ve edited and mixed the soundtrack for several others. And I love to cook, and I love to eat good food. I’m always open to a tip on a good local eatery (or drinkery!)

I started this blog because I like to share knowledge (knowledge is power—so they say) and we should all be empowering ourselves to enjoy life more. The world is crappy enough without denying ourselves the simple pleasures of good food, good music, good films, good books, and good company to share them all with.

I live and work in the so-called “Triangle” area in North Carolina. There is a lot of talent in this area — in Durham, Chapel Hill and from my neck of the woods — Raleigh. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of the very talented musicians, artists, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, actors, and sound guys over the past dozen or so years. To them I give my sincere thanks (except to a handful of cads to whom I give the Bronx cheer). Hopefully, I’ll continue to have the honor and pleasure of working with more of these great, talented folks over the course of the future (and good fortune of avoiding the cads).

I love storytelling in all its forms—whether it be a photograph, a watercolor, a short story, a stage play, a poem, a film, or a song. In fact even great cuisine tells a sort of story as well, so I consider cooking to be an art form as well. So here I go, embarking on my mission of sharing what I know and what I learn along the way, in this great adventure and journey we call life.

Cheers,

— Boris Chang
July 1, 2011