View Full Version : Bad audio in films

09-04-2011, 09:11 PM
Ive noticed.. or noticing more the bad sound in alot of the low budget films.. For example I was watching one called quantum apocalypse nd although the foley and fx seem ok. .the dialogue has alot of echo.. Any one have any "general" mistake they might have made in doing this...


09-04-2011, 09:24 PM
IMO the only "general" mistake is to release a film with bad sound. ;)

09-04-2011, 09:33 PM
I agree completely.. but.. not being a sound guy.. can you give any idea why so many have that echo sound.. jsut seems to be something alot let go..

09-04-2011, 11:06 PM
Basically, if a mic picks an audible amount of the same sound via reflective surfaces such as walls and hard floors, you'll have a good chance to feel the sound being echoed in the recorded audio.

In film making, a shotgun mic is almost unavoidable. To save money and/or time, many people may very well choose to use a shotgun mic everywhere, just as many of us love to use a zoom lens everywhere for saving money/time. Unfortunately, a shotgun mic cannot be zoomed, and is not good at rejecting low-frequency sounds, including echos reflected from walls and floors. So, if they use a shotgun mic indoors, you'll have a very good chance to hear echoing sounds in their recorded dialogues.

09-04-2011, 11:11 PM
that makes alot of sense.. thank you..

09-05-2011, 03:41 AM
I also think many low end production skimp out on their sound crew, both during and post. This is the real issue.Someone that knows what they are doing will choose the right gear for the job... Here as a general rule you should use hyper indoors. This is good advise for people that don't know what they are doing. My general rule is to use your ears. This is good advise for people that want to know what their doing.

09-05-2011, 05:22 AM
thanks guys for the advice.. I'm trying to learn all that I can here..

Stephen Hall
09-05-2011, 07:32 AM
There are lots of reasons for bad sound in indie films. I would say that the biggest two reasons are: mic too far away from the actor/speaker and wrong mic for the situation.

Lots of folks think "just use a shotgun mic for dialogue", but that's often NOT the best choice -- particularly for interiors. The mic of choice for those situations is usually a hypercardioid mic.

Use of interference-tube shotguns are often the cause of that hollow, boxy sound you hear in low-budget indie films. Some shotguns, like the Sanken CS-3, use a different principle to achieve directionality, so are not susceptible to the same sorts of problems.

To get clean dialogue, the first and most important rule is to get the mic as close to the subject as possible. That means riding the frame-line with the mic and risking the occasional (hopefully rare ) dip into the frame. A lav mic on the subject can go a long way toward "solving" the problem of a reverberant room.

I recently recorded a scene shot in a locker room: concrete walls, floor, ceiling and metal lockers. The room sounded like a train station with all the clatter and echo from normal movement and conversation! I used a hypercardioid boom mic and put lavaliere mics on the two actors who had lines. The results were clean and clear. The hypercardioid track had the faintest hint of room resonance, but was good and usable. The lavs sounded clean, with no hint of "locker room echo" at all.

Get the mic close and use the right mic. That's the hot tip.

09-05-2011, 08:38 AM
There are lots of reasons for bad sound in indie films.

The biggest reason for bad sound is not thinking about sound in the first place - "if you can't see it, it's not important" seems to be the attitude. They don't budget for it, thinking that hiring a production sound mixer is an exorbitant expense, and assuming that having a mic in the general vicinity of the actors is enough. By the time most projects get into audio post it's much too late too fix things, and there is an insufficient budget for proper audio post, much less fixing improperly recorded production sound.

Alex H.
09-05-2011, 08:55 AM
Much of this has been said, but you cannot generally blame bad sound on one thing or another. There are many factors that get botched in the production chain:

Not hiring a proper sound mixer/boom op. This is probably the best way to ensure sound quality, or lack thereof. Get some one on the crew who knows what to do and ideally has the gear to do it. None of the other production sound issues will (ideally) pop up if you have a skilled sound crew.

Improper mic selection. This is a killer. The general rule, especially for beginners, is shotguns outside and hypercardioids inside. Lavs are okay when absolutely needed, though they often have a much drier, less natural sound to them because of where they're placed. That missing ambience has to be added back in post. Wireless should be a last resort.

Improper mic placement. One of the biggest problems here is with small productions that have no sound person, and resign themselves to putting the mic wherever they can. On-camera is the absolute last place ever to place a mic for production sound. Get the mic off the camera and into the action. The effective working distance for a mic for on-camera dialog is 6"-20", and 20" is pushing it. The closer to the source, the more direct sound in proportion to ambient reflections will be recorded.

Improper recording levels. This usually goes more toward the low end, since it's much more obvious when levels are too high and distorted. Audio that is recorded too low is going to have noise problems later. Not only will the levels have to be raised in post, increasing the level of any noise in the signal, low audio levels also create problems when audio plug-ins and filters are added. Since low (digital) audio levels don't use but half, or less, of the available bits, processing through lots of things like compression and EQ can make the audio start to sound blocky (the sound equivalent of pixellated).

No headphones. Too many folks like to leave their audio to chance. "Hey, the mic's plugged in and the meters are bumping, so everything must be good. Right? Right?"
If you don't monitor your sound while you record, you have no idea what you're going to find when you edit. That can leave you with sound that's somewhere between terrible and unusable. You watch the monitor/viewfinder of the camera during recording, so why not listen to the sound as well?

No room tone. There's sound that exists behind the dialog, whether or not you notice it. Traffic outside, refigerator or AC noise, the hum of lighting ballasts or hard drives... whatever it is, it's the natural sound of the room. We call this "room tone". Where room tone comes into play is later on in post. Cutting dialog together requires some continuity of sound, and when taking a clip from take 1 and a piece from take 2 and cutting them together the room tone will be needed both to smooth out the edit (so that the room tone doesn't disappear between lines) and often to keep continuity of sound between takes. If the traffic goes away, bugs start/stop chirping outside, or the room tone otherwise changes between takes, room tone is how you recover. Be sure to record :30 of room tone for each scene, and record it again if something changes. After the last take, ask everyone to stay still and quiet, and record in the same space with the same mics and with all the same equipment running.

Post production negligence. This is the other big killer for sound. Nothing that is done properly during production is going to result in the big-budget, "in-your-face" sound that you know from the big screen. Sound needs just as detailed a regimen of post-production is picture does (though it does start with clean production sound). Dialog editing that's smooth and concise is great, but there's so much more to it than that, and simply adding the music underneath. Ambient sound beds add realism to the background. SFX and Foley replace all the sounds of people walking, moving, handling objects, etc. (none of that is actually recorded in production, where dialog is the only focus). Layers and layers of audio come together to paint the big picture.

These seem like easy answers, but much of what I've said is the over-simplified, condensed version. Nonetheless, it's a starting place. The rest is up to research and experience (and budgeting for the proper crew and equipment).

09-05-2011, 08:49 PM
Alex that was awesome!

09-06-2011, 08:54 AM
Alex pretty much nailed it. Many of the low budget films I have ended up posting only came to me because at some point they realized that they couldn't fix it in FCP. Many low budget films make very bad sound choices. You can see it in postings all the time. They often read like " I have this film I just finished and it just needs a little clean up and I need to submit to XYZ festival next week".

So in order I would put Didn't bring on a sound person who knew what they were doing before they locked locations. Didn't have a sound person who knew what they were doing during production. Didn't plan on having anyone do sound post. Didn't allow enough time for sound post. If they did have a sound post it was triage.

The echoyness comes first from wrong mic or bad positioning but also because with out a real sound post the "world" is not filled out and the production tracks just sit there bare.

The usual "fix" on low budget films is to then slather music all over the place to try and fill things out.

That doesn't work very well because if you just have music it starts to feel like a music video. In a film that has thought about sound even the places where music dominates there are still hard FX and Foley that poke through so the audience stays IN the world of the film.

BTW since nobody mentioned it it's Foley not foley. It's always capitalized out of respect because it's someone's name.

So it starts with getting a sound person who knows film sound (music is really a very different specialty and folks who have done only music recording often make bad production recordists till they learn the weirdness' of production film work).

Once you have good production tracks you need to have someone who knows what they are doing work on your post sound. And post sound takes time. Your post person should ideally be "on" before you start shooting, but at least once you start editing.
The reasons to have post on early are that they can often save you money with solutions they can do in post and you don't have to waste time on in production. They can also remind you of what you don't want to record like gun shots. Once you start editing they can "feed the edit" with sounds that will make the edit go smoother. If joe comes in and slams the door to make a point and production sounds like cardboard it can be hard to know if the edit works. Have post send you a door slam and instantly that cut has the impact it needs and you can move on rather than trying to generate the impact with a mush sound. They can also tell you if some clip that you love but sounds off can be salvaged so you can use it rather than the one that sounds better but lacks performance.

Film is a team sport and the better and bigger your team the better your chances are of "winning".

09-06-2011, 12:32 PM

Whats interesting about this trailer (if it is in fact the one the OP is talking about)
is the dialog does have a lot of reverb on it but definitely sounds like it was laid in after the fact.
The space just doesn't sound real to me at all and at the same time the dialog does sound like it was close mic'ed.

Might just be the youtube compression but the amount of phasing in the dialog is a bit uncomfortable as well.

09-06-2011, 02:33 PM
It's all been said, but I also think the first most important thing is: having a GOOD soundguy (not your grandmam, neighbour kid, or not even the son of the guy who's giving 84064086040683040384$, except maybe if he's a good soundguy). and a GOOD boomoperator. Good booming is as important as good leveling.

And when you have good soundguys, they'll provide good material also and record roomtone or other sounds needed.

09-06-2011, 03:37 PM
Whats interesting about this trailer (if it is in fact the one the OP is talking about)
is the dialog does have a lot of reverb on it but definitely sounds like it was laid in after the fact.
The space just doesn't sound real to me at all and at the same time the dialog does sound like it was close mic'ed.

Might just be the youtube compression but the amount of phasing in the dialog is a bit uncomfortable as well.

I haven't seen the film but maybe it's taken from someone standing at a podium speaking into a PA for a large room?? (obviously reverb added in post to sound like this) I do hear some digital clips, and when he says fellow americans it makes me cringe every time. It sounds like they just increased the gain on that line and you can clearly hear that before and after.

09-06-2011, 04:48 PM
I have to agree with Ripple, the VO has had reverb added probably to make it more "godlike". The very short clip with the woman sounds more like bad production but it's hard to tell.

The biggest thing to me that screams low budget is that they tried to go over the top Hollywood with the trailer. And they certainly have hit the cliches, but as OTT (Over The Top) as your typical action trailer is it is also very well crafted. This is OTT but cheesy and not in a particularly fun way.

Zander Burstein
11-29-2011, 03:22 PM
Oh man. I actually think the woman's voice is from a wild line. Not once in the trailer do they cut to anyone speaking. They show a visual of the woman after the line is already delivered.