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Tuesday, 04 January 2011 19:04

Desert Sounds

Written by  Larry Sands
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AudioColumnRecording audio while on location when you can’t really control the environment is hard enough –– with all the occasional breezes, traffic, pedestrians and other various noises that come with the territory –– but working in bad weather can wreak havoc for filmmakers and their crew, as an environment that just won’t cooperate can make a difficult shoot more stressful.

Of course, it’s another matter when you’re shooting a film in which the weather serves as one of the story’s characters. You can prepare for this type of shoot knowing what’s in store, but you must also expect the unexpected. A desert location can be nice and calm on the day your crew arrives and the night before the shoot, but once you start setting up the camera and lights and the closer you get to shoot time, something in the air can shift –– and one gust of wind or roll of the clouds could mean contending with the elements for the entire production.

This is exactly what happened on Adjusting Honor, a movie I recently produced. When we shot in the Mojave Desert in Lancaster over a two-day period last May, the weather was pleasant, but for every other shot and setup we had to contend with the wind.  Luckily for us, we didn’t have to diminish the wind noise too much because we wanted to keep the sound as natural as possible, but we did need do some audio fixing and drop some of the wind when we had too much wind noise over the dialogue. We also needed to cover our bases by getting ambient wind noise, and we recorded the blowing, gusting wind to use later while syncing the scene together so we wouldn’t have wind noise in one shot and no wind in the next.

When shooting in windy conditions, it’s good to have a windshield for your mic. I found that the RODE Dead Cat Wind Muff for NTG-1 and NTG-2 microphones is the best piece of equipment to use in any weather environment. This type of windshield looks like a furry cat, which is why it’s often called a “dead cat.”

No matter what kind of weather or environment you’re shooting in, it’s important to record a good piece of ambient noise, be it rain, wind, a quiet room or fire (yes, fire makes a noise). Recording these sounds on location will keep you from looking for bits of ambient noise in scenes during postproduction as your editor tries to catch pauses between lines of dialogue. (This is not a good way to capture decent ambient noise, but it works if you’re not able to capture good ambience on location.) It only takes a couple of minutes to record ambient noise on set –– and it’s time well spent, as it will save you a lot of hours and anxiety once you get into the editing room.

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