Awesome Sound Design on a Tight Budget, Part 2

In part one of this double feature, we talked about designing a sound plan for your film, including music and background sound. Now let's look at how to collect and execute the various components of that sound design.

Dialog
If you don't have clear, easy-to-understand dialog, you don't have much of a movie. Few things are as frustrating as trying to understand what the characters are saying because:

  1. Ambient Noise is too high

  2. The dialog is not well captured

  3. Recordings have intrinsic noise, like hiss or clicks, due to cheap equipment or bad connections.

A separate but equally important consideration is the actor's enunciation, personal accent and prosody. The latter is what encodes so much information to the words. Prosody is very important in film as it concerns things like intonation, tone, stress and rhythm. Prosody conveys information about the speaker through emotionality, the structure of the words (such as a statement, question, command or reprimand), any irony or sarcasm present, type of emphasis, or other elements of language that are encoded in the dialog—but not by grammar or word choice. Be aware that body language and dialog work together to create the message.

Zack Forsman's producer is holding the boom on a micro-budget production

Zak Forsman's producer holds the boom on a micro-budget production

Dealing with Ambient Noise
Whenever you record dialog in the wild, you are going to get more than you want. The best way to deal with it is through digital manipulation. Remove the parts you don't want and enhance the parts you do want. It is called “sweetening” the audio. This can be done in the deep wild without standard electrical connections using iOS and android apps or software running on laptop PCs and Macs. But it's most likely that you will do this back at your base of operations on the powerful desktop computer you will be using to edit your film.

You will need to have a sound editor or learn to be one yourself. Don't rule out the latter. With modern software, you will be able to perform like a professional sound editor of just a few years ago. I use Adobe Audition because I'm a Creative Cloud subscriber, so the software is already available to me. Audition is a powerful tool for cleaning up noisy dialog recordings.

Capturing Usable Dialog
I've said it before, and I will say it again: do not use the audio you capture with your camera in your final track. Use it to sync up the other audio streams you capture using high-quality mics and digital recorders. You'll use an electronic “clapper” beep to help with all the dialog synchronization.

Mics
On a low-budget film you'll want to stick to three types of mic. The lavalier is very useful in many circumstances, as are the boom mic and stereo digital recorders with quality integrated mics. Your stereo or multichannel tracks will be artistically assembled and refined by your sound editor from clean components.

The lavalier mic is your friend. It is a close mic that can capture presence and is easily hidden by wardrobe. Here is a rundown of inexpensive lavaliere mics.

Lavalier Microphones

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Don't go the DIY route anymore. Until very recently, you could build a cheap, workable lapel mic by buying an inexpensive handheld mobile earphone-and-mic combo and cutting off the earphones. They cost about $10-$20 each and the sound varied greatly, with mostly soft presence. Don't do that. The best way to get excellent cheap clip-on mics, with a bit of DIY, is to buy Neewer's 3.5mm hands-free computer clip-on mini lapel mic and modify it slightly.

Neewer

Here's the deal: this is an excellent microphone cartridge in a crappy plastic-clip housing with no strain relief on the cable. The wire servicing the cartridge transmits even the slightest touch directly to the mic, making it very noisy. But you can fix that.

shoe-gooHere is what I recommend. Get a tube of Shoe Goo. It's a glue-like plastic used to repair worn sneaker soles. But it is a great product for many other uses. In this case, you can create a strain relief where the wire enters the plastic housing by forming Shoe Goo around the cable and the housing. Smooth the Goo down along the cable, tapering it slowly for about a half inch. Place the unit on wax paper on a flat surface, with the cable straight out from the housing. Let it dry overnight.

This mic is so good that you'll want to buy two three-packs, modify them, and keep them in your kit at all times, especially in the wild. They'll come in handy. What do they cost? A little over two bucks apiece. Seriously.

You will want to plug this into your iPhone or one of the digital recorders I mentioned in my last post and tape it down to avoid any transfer noise.

The Cheapest Pro Lavaliers
With any lavalier, I recommend using a windscreen outside, especially in the wild. It makes sense to buy some high quality prosumer-level mics for your kit. They are not expensive and perform extremely well.

But you can buy some amazingly inexpensive and high-quality lavalier mics that will give you excellent sound. In fact, I find that some of these perform better, for my needs, than expensive professional mics. I discovered an excellent video by Blake (that's all I know him by), who tests and explains everything you need to know to get started with lavaliers. He also points out that a boom with an inexpensive Zoom mic might be better in many situations. Watch and learn.

BTW, neither I nor StudioDaily get commercial considerations for my recommendations. I simply recommend to the best of my knowledge. Someone complained that my blog is too commercial—bought and paid for. Well, no. That said, here is a link to what Blake and I both agree is an amazingly good microphone for the money, the JK MIC-J 044 condenser mic.lavaliere Audiotechnica

And here's a cheap but high-quality Audio Technica ATR-3550 condenser mic if you prefer.

Any of these will give you professional level sound pickup. Remarkably, so will the Neewer! So: no excuses.

Your Boom Kit
I would say you flat-out need a boom mic for most of your dialog capture. Professional models can be extremely pricey, but you can create your own boom kit for very little money. I built mine from a $25 22-foot extension boom with an angle head designed to be used to clean high windows and screw in light bulbs. It came with a cleaning and dusting kit from Costco. I attached my long shotgun mic from my younger days. It still has awesome performance. Alternately, you can get a nice RØDE boom kit for about $200.00 on eBay, a good source for decent cheap equipment. (For example, you can get a very usable pro light kit for under 100 bucks.) $T2eC16J,!wsE9suw)ypCBReWZJVDjQ--60_57There are other boom kits for under $50.00, but it's hard to say how good they are. Note: boom operation is an art and science of its own. It takes practice and knowledge. If nothing else, learn to always point the shotgun mic at the actor's mouth, not at their head or simply in their general direction. It's also an art to stay out of frame. Michael Wohl explains in this video.

A Trade Secret
I found a geat scene-saving technique for capturing great boom sound in wide shots when you can lock off the camera. You know there are times when there is a lot of ambient noise in a wide shot and you just can't get the boom close enough to the actor. Zak Forsman is a director who's had to work on micro-budgets. He lets the boom show in frame. Seriously. He even lets the boom operator get into the frame, because he also shoots a clean plate which he uses to matte out the boom and operator. This is a very simple technique in After Effects, etc., and can save you a lot of heartache in difficult situations.

Digital Recording Devices
There are professional recording devices (as mentioned in part one) that I recommend, and you can commandeer iPhones and Android phones from your crew in a pinch. Plug in one of the lavaliers and you're good to go. You can even buy used smartphones cheap and have a dozen quality digital recording devices on hand with practically no budget. There are unbelievably cheap and excellent sound recording apps available at $10.00 and under that can be particularly handy in the wild.

The advantage of the digital recording devices from Tascam and Zoom is that they come with quality stereo microphones, and you can plug in your boom mic. You can hide the recorders in the scene to capture dialog. You can also employ them in your quest for perfect ambient sounds.

Using Software to Sweeten Your Sound
The that you want to get your dialog as clean as possible so that it can be properly layered in with the environment and musical soundscape of your film. You will edit your music tracks as well, cleaning out any noise so that you have exactly the components you want to mix in the end. I do not like any of the free audio editors. They simply lack the sophistication you need to create clean audio tracks for your film.

In my opinion, the best overall tool for sound work on low-budget films is Adobe Audition. But that's not where I want to start. I'll get to it. First, there is an amazing audio tool that costs about $400.00. That's not cheap, but maybe it's doable.

SpectraLayers Pro 3

Sony-SpectraLayers-Pro-v2.1.32-free-download

It is the same software used by forensic analysis labs, the FBI and CSI and is probably the most powerful tool around for isolating and processing sound elements. It's good for many other sound-sweetening tasks, as well. You can separate sound into layers and manipulate them. There are many graphic display options to help you isolate sound you don't want, especially if it's mixed in with sound you do want. It is more powerful than the spectral analysis system in Adobe Audition—think of it as a finely honed scalpel for sound. The tools are often compared to Photoshop, of all things. It's not as intuitive as Audition, but once you learn the techniques it is really powerful at isolating sounds for enhancement or removal. Expect to spend some serious time online learning how to use it—mostly pretty exciting time, since you'll be honing your skills. Also, SoundForge Pro from Sony works very nicely with SpectraLayers Pro 3 to build a complete audio pipeline. But if you consider your budget, Audition may be the way for now because you can rent it by the month for $20.00. Better yet, for $50.00 you can rent the entire Adobe Creative Cloud suite.

Audition

Audition-1small

We've already talked about Audition.It is a general audio work environment with excellent, finely honed tools designed especially to work well with video.

Here is an excellent tutorial on how to use notching to keep your dialog forward over the music. This technique is absolutely necessary to keep your dialog where it needs to be. By the way, nofilmschool.com is a very useful resource in general.

The Rest of the Field
Dexster Audio Editor ($45) is an inexpensive, less sophisticated audio tool that you can use for general sound mixing and editing. It has spectrum display, but not the critical tools for using it. There are others like Diamond Cut Forensics8 Audio Laboratory ($1499) and Audacity (free, open source) that you may want to check out. Each one works a little differently and you need to find one that meets your needs.

Working in Your Video Editor

Media Composer  

Once you have your sweet tracks, it's time to combine and sync them in the video editor. Here is where you use that clapper beep to sync your high quality digital recordings with your camera sound. It's where you adjust the volume level in a method called “rubberbanding,” where you increase and decrease levels on your several audio tracks over time to blend perfectly with your action. My advice is to never work with raw audio in your video editing program—you want to clean all audio tracks before bringing them to your video editing suite.

Here is a seven-minute tutorial on Audio Editing in Media Composer from Lynda.com to give you a feel for how it's done. If you're doing your own sound editing, invest in some courses from Lynda.com and DigitalTutors.com. It's the only way I can keep up with what's happening now.

Making a Mobile Sound Studio

You say you only have your Ipad for sound editing? We can worth with that. Several outstanding apps work directly with iOS-friendly sound equipment. Here is a rundown on working with film sound on your iPad, or even your iPhone.

Using IOS or Android Apps, you can do all your sound collecting and editing in the wild with no electrical hookup. I recommend using iPhones and iPads with the microphones suggested above to creatively to record all your dialog and both ambiance clips and sound effects. 

I use the iPad and iPhone for so many things, and this is one of them. I can plug a lavalier mic into the iPhone and slip it into the back of the actor's pants. I can plug my boom mic into the system also. I briefly mentioned manual mixing hardware in part one. You can learn lots more here.

Consider using the very reasonably priced (around $50.00) Behringer Q502 USB mixer, connected with your IOS device via USB adapter or your desktop, as your interface for professional mics. Here's a nine-minute introiRig also makes a number of mic adapters for iOS.

You will need some portable power cells, because you can't just switch out batteries. But that won't be a problem.

Google is your friend. I discovered that there are tons of videos with tutorials on how to use all the software and hardware for IOS and other platforms. Use it.

Now for iOS software. That's my focus, because that's what I use. There are more filmmaker apps than you can shake a stick at.

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I use iMovie. It has far more depth than you might imagine, but you need to spend some time learning how to use it. You can create professional looking movies, and it is killer for trailers. Don't use the trailer templates; create some of your own.

Here's a video on editing sound effects in iMovie.

You will find MovieSlate very useful for syncing your wireless recorded audio, as it will give you that sync click that is so useful. It will also help you keep track of your shots. Note the excellent Fire Field Recorder app has just been aquired by RØDE and is now called RØDE RecI recommend it. For more about audio apps, check out Kenny Myers' blog.

Odds and Ends

If you don't go iOS, you should still build a neat, compact and organized sound kit. I like the one below that has been constructed in a baby stroller.

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Use filmsound.org as a resource. It is a good place to learn current practices, vocabulary and more. Their Q&A section is very helpful, especially if you are new to video sound work.

If you're willing to invest $10.00 in learning to become a sound recordist, then I highly recommend Michael Wohl's Film Craft 107 – The location Sound Mixer course app for iOS. It will give what you need to know about equipment and techniques to get a good start. Michael's attitude: “If seeing is believing, then hearing is feeling.” He personally feels that two-thirds of the movie experience is auditory.

If you want to make a great movie, you'll have to either hire a great sound recordist or learn this stuff yourself.

ADR? Well, Maybe.

ADR is to be avoided when possible, but it isn't always possible. And renting an ADR studio is expensive.  So, here is what I propose.  It turns out that you can buy the Pyle sound shield for $99.00 and a really nice CAD Audio ADR setup from NewEgg for $109.00. The curved sound shield can be attached to the mic stand that comes with the kit, and the studio mic attached to the boom and placed within the curved shielded space with the included pop screen positioned between the speaker and the mic. Like this:

mic-setup

Not bad for $208.

Here's a quick video about ADR and how it's done.

Share the Wealth
I've just scratched the surface of film audio and how important it is. I didn't even mention how you can use recorded ambiance to provide continuity between shots done at different times. Things like this you will learnand, if you're really creative, you will come up with even more creative ways to use sound to enhance your film.

Share your ideas with us. This blog gets pretty heavy readership, but most of you seem shy about sharing your wisdom with us. Take a shot. If somebody gives you a hard time for no good reason, we'll take them on. If they are right, learn from it. But please share your wisdom. Tell me where I'm wrong. I hate it when I see comments about my blog, especially negative ones, in places where I can't comment back. That's poor form.

Wrap
This series on micro-budget filmmaking continues next time with a look at the latest amazing ways to shoot stunning film on the cheap. Technology is advancing so quickly that it's hard to keep up. We'll take a look at how the Sundance-favorite feature Tangerine was shot. We'll talk with Scott Cahall, developer of the iPhone anamorphic lens. And we'll look at shooting techniques that will give your production a high-end look (even using DIY equipment) and maybe even look at affordable aerial shooting platforms.

Until next time, get out there and start shooting.

-P-

Awesome Sound Design on a Tight Budget, Part 1

It's been said over and over again that film is a visual medium. Please don't buy that crap. Film is a gestalt medium wherein the whole is much more than the sum of the parts. A gestalt is an entity made of many parts that by themselves have value, but when they are put together in a specific, ideal way, the sum value skyrockets. That is what happens when a film is well made.

Sound is a major component of your low-budget film. I'll go out on a limb and say it is co-equal with the visual aspects of film. It's not simple, not trivial, and not easy. It is however, essential. Sound can make or break your film and it's going to take a lot of planning and careful editing to get it right. It's not just the quality of the audio in your film, not by a long shot. It's all about sound design.

You absolutely must nail your sound if you want your film respected and appreciated. How do you do that? Well, let's talk about it. Clearly, I can't solve that problem for you here. But I can point you in some useful directions and perhaps inspire you to think more about the sound component of your movie. Start out believing—with me—that sound is more important to your film than most people ever imagine. That's because the best sound design is inconspicuous, powerful, and often subliminal.

iRigPRE_mic_iphone_angle_640

As a baseline, you have to have quality dialog pickup. That really requires a variety of mic options. You might want to consider hidden lavaliere mics attached to a digital recorder tucked in the back of the actor's belt. Consider using an iPhone as a recorder for example. Good dialog capture is essential, because you don't want to pay for ADR.

But that's not really what I mean by sound design. Let's assume you have amazing pickup for dialog. Right? That has to be a given. You would not even consider putting your time and effort into a movie that doesn't have it. Right? Sadly many new filmmakers do just that, and it kills their work in the end. I've seen first-time efforts where understanding the dialog was literally impossible. But, again, this is a quality issue, not a design issue. Design is all about the invisible sound elements that create environment, emotion, transition, and further the story. Proper sound design enhances the dialog, expands the set environment, and sets both mood and place. You can quote me on that.

I get aggravated when I see a filmmaker who pays little attention to sound design, and I stop watching. It has happened too many times. So let's look at what sound design entails.

Your Overall Sound Design
To get started on an overall sound design, study your script and think about how you can employ sound to further your story. Do this early on. Each scene should be blocked out with sound notes. Make note of your thoughts about sound transitions between scenes. I'd keep a separate script just for sound notes.

Note how you might use background music. Think about how you can use ambient sound to enhance a scene's impact without going overboard. Don't forget subtle sounds like footsteps, twigs snapping when walking in the woods, and cars going by. Do you want a particular sound to remain in the background, or do you want it to stand out as it might in battle scenes, or at a shock moment in your horror film? (Please don't make a horror film. Most of them are horrible. It's been done.) This will give you an overall plan. Don't stick to it! You'll find that, as your production rolls along, new ideas and new possibilities will occur to you. Keep making notes. Good judgment helps here, as always.

Let's look at some of the pieces you'll be working with.

Dialog
Dialog recorded in the wild (any place outside the studio) will always have ambient background sound with it. This is good and bad. Ultimately you want to have total control over all ambient sound in your film. Plan to record the cleanest dialog you can in front of that lovely Victorian row house in San Francisco. Then listen to it, and hear birds, airplanes, cars, a motorcycle blubbering past, and a bee buzzing by the mike at a critical moment. You will need to sweeten these tracks.

Assuming your micing is excellent (suggestions for that will come in part two of this piece), you still need to clean up the dialog. On a budget, find a student with a background in sound editing. She can do a spectrum analysis of the dialog tracks to see what can be done to clean them up.

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You'll be amazed how good current Sound editing software is. With a sound application like Adobe Audition, your sound person will be able to surgically remove most of the background noise like pops and airplanes and coughs, giving you relatively clean dialog tracks to begin layering your film's soundscape. A good sound person may do things like enhancing “presence” and making dialog feel more rich. If you can't afford Adobe Creative Cloud membership (you can do it on a month-by-month basis to get access for a very reasonable rate), you can buy the Dexster Audio Editor for $45.00 and it is excellent. It even has spectrum analysis for noise removal. (More suggestions to come in part two.) In any case, we now have some nice, clean dialog tracks—probably duplicates from different mics, including lavaliere, shotgun, and boom, depending on your budget.

Ambience
This is all the sound that isn't dialog but contributes to the “atmosphere” of the shot. Again, most people don't consciously notice this, but it plays a huge roll in your storytelling. Unfortunately, a common practice is to let ambience lay where it lies. That is, let whatever you pick up at shooting time be the ambiance in the shot. In most situations, this is a truly bad choice. We want to craft the ambience to create a sense of mood and place, so we will use layers of sound to enhance the emotional experience of the film while also giving the dialog a complementary background. Yeah, it's a lot to think about.

A creative use of resources might be to keep the sounds you remove from the original dialog. You can use it later on, perhaps in a different project.

Remember to record about three minutes of ambient sound at your shooting location with no one there. This will give your sound editor a reference. His editing software can reference this ambience track to remove background noise from your dialog. Use the very same track to build background sound elsewhere if you like.

It's just nice to have a collection of ambience tracks that you can sweeten, edit and use for bits and pieces when you need them. I've even used a contact mic screwed into a tree to record strange sounds that can be used at a very low level to sync with what's going on. This can all be done using excellent-but-cheap mics and reasonably priced audio editing software.

How Human Brains Handle Ambience

illustration-depicting-brain-activity

Our brains are far more complex than we realize. There is a lot going on outside of our awareness that contributes to our gestalt experience. Ambient noise would be extremely annoying if we couldn't put it someplace out of our attention range, so we do. People who live under an airport approach don't really hear the planes passing 500 feet above their houses. It would drive them nuts if they did. What's important in filmmaking is that even though we don't actually "hear" ambience, we do process it. A subliminal part of our brains keeps track of these invisible sounds and feeds our brain with information. This information shapes our emotional experience. For example, walking down a country lane chatting with a loved one, we don't necessarily "hear" the birds chirping, but they do add to the experience by creating a comforting sound environment. Another thing that happens unconsciously is that, as movie viewers, we can differentiate between diegetic and non-diegetic sound without thinking about it. That is, we process sounds that we know the character in the film can hear, as opposed to the parts of the soundscape we know are there for us alone, like the musical score. Diegesis is a word you should know. It refers to the world experienced by the characters in your film narrative. The creative use of non-diegetic visual and audio material to tell your story can be very useful to you.

Let's take a look at crafting a multilayered sound environment

An Example
We have a close up on a pretty woman's head and sad face. She has long hair against an out-of-focus sky background. A slight breeze moves her hair. There are no visual cues as to where she is as she stares distantly at something, the camera slowly pulling back.

The sound:

Layer one – a soft layer of distant surf rolling in.
Layer two – a few sea gulls screeching in the distance.
Layer three – a church bell rings in the distance then stops
Layer four – a soft wind almost unheard blows from time to time
Layer five – a jet plane roars by in takeoff mode.
Layer six – we hear children playing joyously screaming and splashing.
Layer seven – a dog barks once.
[Camera reveals palm tree and surf in bg]
Layer eight – ice tinkling in a glass
Layer nine – Off-screen dialog: Male Voice: “I don't really want to talk about this right now…”
[Camera continues to pull back, revealing she is sitting at a small beach table drinking a mojito with an attractive man her age who is speaking.]

These layers are positioned beneath the dialog, where you feel they strategically do the most good for the scene. That is the art of it. If you can't figure that part out, find someone who can.

You could have a hidden TASCAM DR-05 portable digital recorder, with its quality condenser mics, hidden in the table centerpiece, or you might have lavaliere mikes in place for all the dialog, or both. They plug into the digital recorder or perhaps a shotgun or a boom—or all three.

(Much more on your sound equipment in part two.)

 Tascam digital recorder

Important note (picture this in all caps): You will not use the camera's recorded sound in your film. You will use it only to sync the digital recordings, which are much higher quality.

The Sound Reveal
Okay, what did this background sound alone tell you? Notice how it leads each visual reveal. We continue to hear the dialog layered in over the ambient tracks, and we follow the situation as it develops. You could add in a little visual— maybe the place is called Lonely Jack's On the Beach, but from your camera angle you just see the word: “Lonely” in the background, and it goes with the woman's sad expression. You could also layer in a moody contemporary song about loneliness. 

See how much you don't have to reveal through blatant exposition? I hope you're starting to see how exciting and important sound design is, and how it must work with your whole production to help form that gestalt. It is your best tactic for indicating off-camera action critical to the story, and it's a hell of a transition tool. As a rule of thumb, always place audio transitions just before the visual ones.

Use background sound to presage action to come. For example, our couple having drinks by the ocean are chatting seriously when we hear a subtle commotion off camera. The male looks off to the left to see what's happening. Next we hear a gunshot. She jumps and he ducks in reaction. We hear a woman scream off-camera. Again, we've built an entire sequence of events, clearly understood, without relevant dialog or description and off camera.

So learn to respect and use ambient sound as your friend and one of your best tools for establishing and clarifying both off-camera and on-camera situations.

Music
Didn't plan to use music? Have you ever wondered why everybody uses music? As I type, Love It or List It, a Canadian home remodeling show, is playing on the TV. They are chatting about redoing a house in Vancouver. The background music is tracking the conversation. Now, as the female lead is chatting, the sound designer is laying in musical hits to emphasize her dialog. People watching it are 98 percent unaware. In fact, if you asked a viewer if there is background music played on that show, they would likely tell you a definite “no.”

So how do you use music? Depends. You can go with background music and/or vocal tracks. The latter is very popular in contemporary teen soaps and TV drama.

First, start collecting sound tracks. You should probably subscribe to a license-free music source. But those generic film scores are widely known and a little too generic for me. There are alternatives. Seriously consider visiting and exploring SoundCloud. It's a Swedish sound distribution platform where you can find all sorts of really bad music and a little but of really good music that you can often get permission to use. Some is posted as public domain, but most is copyrighted. Again, people will do remarkable things to be associated with a movie, even yours. There is no explaining why, but use it! Offer film credits.

On SoundCloud, the easily available sound has a download link attached. Type in “ambient” and you should find something called “Dawn Part 2” by MrSuicideSheep. Seriously! It's very good. You can download it. Contact Mr. Suicide before releasing it in your movie. But you can certainly use it for free as a placeholder while you're setting your movie sound up. Example tracks are often used to sketch out a sound design. In most cases, you'll only use a few seconds or minutes of a track.

Now, in the same list, listen to Funieru Mihail's “Best of Buddah Bar Ambient Chill Out.” Some very nice stuff to track in behind the couple as they begin their seaside chat. Very mellow. But you can't download it. You can certainly record it as it plays (if you have the app for that). But if you love it, you should contact the owner and negotiate. Start with screen credit.

So what do you do after we hear the gun shot? You change the music abruptly. Go harsh. In SoundCloud type: “violent” and get a list of upbeat tracks. One of them, “I See Stars – Violent Bounce” has some really disturbing moments, one of which might enhance the emotions after the gunshot. Oddly enough, I typed in “Uplifting” and the first track, “NCS:Uplifting,” was quite disturbing and might even work better. Try different tracks until you get the emotional response you're after. Try it on friends and recruited strangers to get a feel for the general response.

Use a Film Composer  

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Now that you have your musicscape sketched out, search out the SoundCloud Film Scoring Network. It was started by Berklee College of Music film-scoring students. It is a treasure trove of cinematic music. Some of it is downloadable and much of it has a “Buy” link. For example, “Glimpses of Eternity” by Lex Dumitru (right), a talented composer, costs only one Euro for specific rights—but not film rights. Lex is a real film composer. Sure, he lives in Bucharest, Romania. You could probably steal his work, but don't. Contact him. He can create a true original film score for you that you very well might be able to afford. Forget screen credit here. Come up with some coin. He's an excellent artist who should be paid and given screen recognition. He'll be worth it. Lex is a good guy, speaks English and may be able to work within your budget. I like his tagline: “Emotion is my craft.”

Hits: Your Baton
Now we get to how you can add emphasis to the music score with hits.

Hits are generally percussive sounds that blend with the background music. I insert them to emphasize action. I also use sound effects (SFX). Video Copilot is an excellent source of information on how to use hits in your work. They have two reasonably priced DVDs that will help: Pro Scores and Sound FX. They come with excellent tutorials on using sound and music to enhance your video by Golden Pixie winner Andrew Kramer.

You can download the BBC sound effects library from many places on the web, but it's not legal to use it in published works because all the sounds are copyrighted and thus require a license for use. So if you can afford it, buy the library. It is pricy. But I use it, along with other resources, to sketch in SFX both as part of the ambience and as hits in the music. I created a short bit of draft animation in After Effects as a demonstration. In it, I change scene a couple of times and use music, hits and SFX to give it a feeling. I tried it several different ways and haven't decided my favorite yet.

This is the first one…it's a bit harsh in places, but does bring a little drama, calm or excitement depending. Then all sound stops and you can see what a difference sound makes. There are some rough visual transitions, but this is just a draft. I'm also including a capture of my After Effects screen.

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Note the sound layers and placement. I've closed dozens of animation layers so you can see the sound part.

So go for it. This stuff is all fun and exciting and requires a level of skill and attention that can really show you off as a filmmaker if you take the time to learn and do.

Wrap
Sound is such a big topic that I've divided this unit into two posts. In the next post, I talk about how you can afford to capture good dialog using inexpensive equipment and how to edit it. That includes all the stuff like affordable software to remove hiss and noise associated with cheap mics as well as jets and coughs and motorcycles going by. I'll show how to mic up your actors and where to find what you need. I even have a short piece on how to make your own decent lavaliere mikes if you can't afford to buy or rent them. I'll also talk about other hardware you may need that you can afford and how to use it all in an iOS pipeline in the wild with no line power.

I hope you're finding these posts helpful. If you have any suggestions on sound or any other part of this series, please post your thoughts below. We all appreciate your input. We are a community and we need to support each other.

While you're waiting for part 2, check this link out. Get involved. And go over this slide presentation.


-P-

Seven Ways to Save Money After NAB

The big story at NAB is always workflow, but everyone knows that money and efficiency are inextricably linked. The latest and greatest technology is undeniably exciting — but so are the price breaks that can bring high-end gear within reach of a budget-conscious production. Here are some of the price cuts and other impressive deals that caught our eye at NAB 2015.

Assimilate Scratch 8.3

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With early support for high-resolution finishing on Red Digital Cinema cameras, Assimilate Scratch was one of the original leaders in 4K workflow. Competition is heavy and desktop computing power is increasing, which means that high-end software like Scratch can be had for a fraction of what it once fetched. At just over $50/month for powerful software that once demanded tens of thousands of dollars, it almost feels like stealing.

Was: $5,000/year
Now: $650/year

Atomos "Bare Bones" Shogun, Ninja 2, Ninja Blade and Samurai Blade

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Atomos is trying to save filmmakers some bones with new "bare bones" versions of its recording systems. The savings aren't huge, but for users who already have Atomos accessories in their toolbox, the new reduced prices makes it less expensive to get outfitted with multiple recording systems. A complete "battle ready" system will be available at the original $1,995 price, but the "bare bones" Shogun comes stripped down to an SSD media case, AC power supply, and soft carrying case for $1,695. At the low end of the line-up, a bare-bones Ninja 2 sells for just $395.

Was: $1,995 for Shogun
Now: $1,695 for Shogun Bare Bones

Avid Media Composer First

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Avid isn't giving away the farm — it's clear that pro editors will still need the full-blown Media Composer Software package to get any work done — but it is looking to raise its profile, especially among younger editors who may gravitate naturally to Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, with a feature-limited version of its standard-bearing NLE that stores its projects (but not media) in the cloud.

Was: $1,299 for a perpetual license or $49.99/month for Media Composer Software
Now: Free feature-limited version

Blackmagic Design Ursa

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Blackmagic Design solidified its reputation as the most prolific camera manufacturer out there, introducing new designs including the Blackmagic Ursa Mini as well as a new version of the full-sized Ursa with a 4.6K Super 35 sensor. At the same time, it cut the price of its existing Ursa models by $1,000, making them a better deal for shooters who don't feel like they'll miss those extra pixels. 

Was: $5,995 (EF) or $6,495 (PL)
Now: $4,995 (EF) or $5,495 (PL)

DJI Ronin M

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If you've had your eye on DJI's popular Ronin stabilizing gimbal but balked at its weight, the new and less expensive Ronin M may be the model you're looking for—especially if you're just looking to fly a smaller camera like a mirrorless or a DSLR. The Ronin M weighs just five pounds (compare to the more-than-nine-pound Ronin) and can carry up to eight pounds of camera (versus the 16 pound payload of its predecessor). Factor in a price cut that should bring the Ronin M below the $2,000 mark, and you've got a product that makes more sense to more DPs.

Was: $2,499-$2,999 for the original Ronin before NAB
Now: $1,999 (per No Film School)

JVC 4KCAM

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JVC has carved out a piece of the market selling cleverly designed cameras that aim for a strong balance between performance and pricing. Their cameras may not make the prettiest pictures, but their clients don't need footage that passes muster in a high-end DI suite while an A-list director strokes his chin thoughtfully and asks for more teal and orange. For those customers, JVC's highly affordable 4KCAM line-up, first announced in 2014, has finally arrived — with modest price cuts, to boot. The GY-LS300, with a Super 35 sensor and MFT lens mount, is the flashy one, but the other two are strong offerings at even lower prices.

Was: Announced at $4,450, $2,995, and $2,495
Now: Shipping at $4,395, $2,995, and $2,195

Pixar RenderMan (noncommercial)

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Life got more interesting for aspiring animators with the announcement last year that Pixar's RenderMan would be free for noncommercial use. But it might help out working artists, too, who will be allowed to use a free copy of RenderMan at home for personal learning or to try out ideas and techniques for a paying gig—you just can't use it to generate the final content for a commercial project. If you create media for a church or other nonprofit organization, the rules get murkier—see Pixar's FAQ for more details.

Was: $495 per license
Now: Free for noncommercial use only

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VideoBlocks Opens Direct Sale Stock Video Marketplace to Public at NAB

VideoBlocks officially opened its new stock-footage marketplace to the public. Contributors of footage receive 100 percent of the revenue for their submitted work which translates to savings for stock footage customers, the company said.

The popular subscription-based seller of royalty-free stock video, backgrounds and After Effects templates announced the marketplace in January and is launching it with some 200,000 available premium clips curated from its top-level contributor community. 

Unlike many other stock footage sources, VideoBlocks takes no commission on marketplace sales, with the company says allows it to pass a savings of about $30 per HD download on to the customer. To date, VideoBlocks users have downloaded more than 30 million video clips from the site's existing Unlimited Library.

In order to buy clips directly within the new members-only marketplace, users must first subscribe to the main VideoBlocks library. Packages are $79 per month and $99 per year for unlimited downloads. A premium subscription of $198 per year includes access to 4K content, batch downloading and Dropbox integration. Current marketplace prices are $49 per HD clip, $199 for 4K footage, and $19–$49 for a template.

Watch Video of Furious 7’s 2nd-Unit Heroes Free-Falling over Arizona

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If you thought your last shoot was hairy, spare a moment to consider the camera operators who captured a key action sequence in freefall for Furious 7.

On Furious 7, which opens in U.S. theaters tonight, the idea during production was to capture as much of the film's oversized action as possible in camera, keeping CG to a minimum. And so, when it came time to shoot a scene where the film's heroes parachute — with their cars, of course — onto a mountain road to hold up a convoy, the decision was made to shoot actual cars being dropped out of an actual airplane.

Watch the scene here:

Under the supervision of second-unit director and stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, stunt coordinators Andy Gill and Jack Gill, and second-unit cinematographer Igor Meglic, the action unit went airborne for the first section of the film's "snatch-and-grab" caper sequence. Three aerial camera flyers — JT Holmes, Luke Aikins, and Jon Devore — jumped out of a Lockheed C-130 cargo plane flying over Arizona at 10,000 to 12,000 feet, with Red Epics and what look like GoPros strapped to their heads to grab footage of the cars that were dropped along with them. (The majority of the film was shot with the ARRI Alexa XT digital and ARRICAM LT film cameras.)

Watch all the looney second-unit action:

 

Vin Diesel famously predicted that Furious 7 will win a Best Picture Oscar at next year's Academy Awards. It's hard to see that happening. But if the Academy were to add a category for stuntwork, well then, Furious 7 would be a prime contender.


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