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Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary

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Ty Ford
Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on May 25, 2008 at 12:36:02 pm

"Boom and Lav"

I was recently surprised to hear someone say that an Audio Tutorial DVD was suggesting that you boom and lav one person as an insurance policy. Maybe something got lost in the communication. Let's discuss.

I understand being nervous about audio and appreciate that you want to cover your bases. When that happens, do you have a dedicated person doing audio or are you multi-tasking? Are you listening to the audio as it's shot? If you're not listening to the audio critically, you're doing it wrong. If there's a problem, you'll hear it.

When I'm hired to do audio for a shoot, I'll usually try each to hear which one works best, unless it's obvious which one works best. For most indoor, sitdown interviews, for example, I'll boom to both channels because my Schoeps cmc641 boom mic sounds a lot better than any lav. I'm more concerned that there'll be dropout on the tape than that using a proper boom mic will cause a problem.

Lavs can be problematic; hiding them, placing them so you don't get clothing noise, invading the personal space of the talent. You need to know how to do all of these properly to make the lav experience a good one. If it's OK to see the lav, then life gets a lot easier, but I've found that more producers these days prefer not seeing the lav, if possible. It takes a combination of more time, better gear and more skill to do that.

We were outside on a one-shot last month. My first thought was that a 416 would be fine. Due to the amount of low (and not so low) level background noise; airplanes, helicopters, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, beep-beep backup vehicles, the omni lav isolated the voice better than the 416 because was closer to the mouth and the body was blocking some of the omni characteristics. (Remember, an interference tube mic is a lot more omni at mid and low frequencies.)

I didn't try a boomed hyper. Didn't have time. It would have been tighter than the 416. Maybe better than the lav, but the outdoor noise covered up the selfnoise of the lav just fine.

There is also the real possibility that someone will combine the tracks in post to the detriment of the sound. If you are a 1-person operation, that's less likely, of course.

The "combining boom and lav" approach presents some interesting possibilities. Sure, you do need to check to hear how much time realignment is needed, but I have to open a different thought process here. I also record and mix music for a living. I'm pretty familiar with blending mics and sources.

I didn't start with great gear. I built it up over time. I found that as I got better mics and preamps, my job as mixer got a lot easier because the better gear had fewer nasty peaks, edges, polar and phase issues. I think a lot of people try to minimize mic and preamp problems (as I did) by making mixing decisions that are as much about minimizing artifacts as mixing. So if someone's gear is entry or mid level, they can EQ and mix all day and not get sound as good as they could of they had better tools in the first place.

I was struck recently while listening (and watching) the latest "Pirates of the Carribean" movie. As I listened to the interior dialog, my ears perked up. Get the movie on DVD. Listen to the dialog with a good set of headphones. As it turned out, I knew someone who knew the guy who did the location sound for the movie. What you hear is one Schoeps cmc641 boom mic. Not to say it's always the right decision, but don't let platitudes (boom and lav) compromise your audio. Boom and lav has it's place, but if you have a good audio person, let them make the decision, or at least discuss it with them.

Enjoy the holiday weekend. Hey, maybe break out the audio gear and play with lavs, hyoers and booms with good headphones while you shoot the backyard cookout.

Regards,

Ty Ford



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bouke vahl
Re: Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on May 25, 2008 at 2:54:58 pm

[Ty Ford] "Let's discuss."

right. Will start.
Again, i am NOT a sound guy, i'm an editor that gets your stuff and does battle with it while you are already in the pub.

I prefer boom AND lav for a few reasons:
Clothing noise on lavs is a big problem. If you have the right gear (meaning, boom and lav of the same series) and background noise is low, you can seamless switch between them if needed.

BUT, i have 20+ years of experience, and have the right gear.
Not every editor is in this position. Shooting both lav and boom to two channels is risky, phasing issues are always there.

[Ty Ford] "my job as mixer got a lot easier because the better gear had fewer nasty peaks, edges, polar and phase issues"

This i don't get. Acousic phasing issues due to the distance between the source and the mic are ALWAYS a problem.
Keep in mind that you need an audio workstation to be able to mix and slip the sound to get both mics back in phase.
If the mixing is done on an FCP rig during the editing, probably both channels will be used.
Chances that the editor:
a) knows about the existence of phase issues
b) has correlation metering AND is doing dialogue with stereo output to the meters but with mono monitoring
c) Has time and tools to fix it, or at least is smart enough to phase reverse one of the channels in case of trouble...

are close to zero...
So if you're unsure who is going to finish the job, be afraid, be very, very afraid...

One of my pet peeves, WRITE DOWN ON THE TAPE LABEL WHAT IS WHAT. It is not uncommon for an editor to get a huge amount of different sources. It is also not uncommon to do a rough cut based on content, without listening to the sound qualtiy.
If you switch channels during a shoot, it WILL go wrong during the edit if this is not properly labeled on tape WITH A LOT OF EXLAMATION MARKS!!!!

So, if you do record both Lav and boom, write down your preference for the channel to be used, and mark the tape like:
Ch1 lav
Ch2 boom (ONLY FOR BACKUP) / cam mic during B-roll

and this is just when shooting one person...



Bouke

http://www.videoToolShed.com
smart tools for video pro's


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Ty Ford
Re: Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on May 25, 2008 at 6:15:24 pm

[bouke vahl] "[Ty Ford] "Let's discuss."

right. Will start.
Again, i am NOT a sound guy, i'm an editor that gets your stuff and does battle with it while you are already in the pub.

I prefer boom AND lav for a few reasons:
Clothing noise on lavs is a big problem. If you have the right gear (meaning, boom and lav of the same series) and background noise is low, you can seamless switch between them if needed.

>>> If your primary mic has to be a wireless lav because of the action, then using a boom mic as a backup because of clothing noise is your choice. I'd rather get the lav right. But I don't know your exact situation and that's my point. Each situation is different. The "Lav & Boom edict does not always apply.


BUT, i have 20+ years of experience, and have the right gear.
Not every editor is in this position. Shooting both lav and boom to two channels is risky, phasing issues are always there.

>>> sure but a good audio post person can realign the tracks and get some EQ going to minimize the difference. I hear it on TV and in movies. Ooop! they went to the other mic for that line! That could also be ADR. It's not usually a line that has to be changed because of USA TV censors, although I hear them as well.

[Ty Ford] "my job as mixer got a lot easier because the better gear had fewer nasty peaks, edges, polar and phase issues"

This i don't get. Acousic phasing issues due to the distance between the source and the mic are ALWAYS a problem.
Keep in mind that you need an audio workstation to be able to mix and slip the sound to get both mics back in phase.
If the mixing is done on an FCP rig during the editing, probably both channels will be used.
Chances that the editor:
a) knows about the existence of phase issues
b) has correlation metering AND is doing dialogue with stereo output to the meters but with mono monitoring
c) Has time and tools to fix it, or at least is smart enough to phase reverse one of the channels in case of trouble...

>>>a lot of less expensive boom mics have weird pattern edges and peaks inside the pattern. There's really nothing you can do about that in post. These are design flaws in the mics. I'm referring to one mic being used, not interaction phasing among multiple mics.

>>>>If you are doing work with audio post people who regularly do ABC, that's great. But this forum is read by a lot of people who will never see the inside of a comprehensive audio post facility. They probably don't own the best gear.

are close to zero...
So if you're unsure who is going to finish the job, be afraid, be very, very afraid...


>>>>Yes! Be very afraid. :)

One of my pet peeves, WRITE DOWN ON THE TAPE LABEL WHAT IS WHAT. It is not uncommon for an editor to get a huge amount of different sources. It is also not uncommon to do a rough cut based on content, without listening to the sound qualtiy.
If you switch channels during a shoot, it WILL go wrong during the edit if this is not properly labeled on tape WITH A LOT OF EXLAMATION MARKS!!!!

>>>>Yes!!!!!!!

So, if you do record both Lav and boom, write down your preference for the channel to be used, and mark the tape like:
Ch1 lav
Ch2 boom (ONLY FOR BACKUP) / cam mic during B-roll

and this is just when shooting one person... "

>>>>>Can be, but if I know for sure the boom will win, you'll be getting "boom-boom" from me. :)
Thanks for your additions, especially on a holiday weekend. If we ever get together, I'll buy the first drink.

Regards,

Ty Ford



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Peter Perry
Re: Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on May 25, 2008 at 7:05:03 pm

This discussion brings up one of my pet peeves. If circumstances require a lav, why do producers insist on hiding it? I can understand when the situation calls for it, when shooting a feature or something like that, but for an interview?
People aren't stupid, they know that you have to use a mic. And most of the time, hiding the lav means compromising the sound quality. I can't understnd why you would accept often less than ideal sound for the sake of hiding a mic. It seems to me to be a totally unneccessary compromise.
OK, that is the end of my rant. Please continue to talks amongst yoursevles. LOL
Peter



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Will Salley
Re: Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on May 26, 2008 at 4:02:15 am

[Peter Perry] "People aren't stupid, they know that you have to use a mic. And most of the time, hiding the lav means compromising the sound quality. I can't understnd why you would accept often less than ideal sound for the sake of hiding a mic. It seems to me to be a totally unneccessary compromise. "

Revealing the mic in the shot would make it hard to support the 'suspension of disbelief" expectation in dramatic works. In other work it is simply a preference of the director or producer and, in my experience, it is usually preferred to hide the mic only if it doesn't compromise quality dramatically. There are many techniques available to achieve that with a hidden lav - most we've discussed in this forum, some remain the secrets of a few. As Ty mentioned, having the proper and best gear available for the situation is often part of those secrets.

Regarding labeling tapes - In years past, it was a common practice to label field tapes with mix information but not so much anymore. Here are a few of my guesses as to why:
- With the advent of NLE editing, most tracks are batched in and so the editor has all the tracks available for preview. Having mic information is ancillary since the best track should be decided upon based on an actual listen.
- Many "reality" shows and documentary styled shows have a spec sheet for sound that dictates the primary source on channel 1. In most cases, this will be a boom, but can just as easily be a lav.
- Most sound mixers I know, including myself, provide a sound log for all double-system shoots and most dramatic and/or commercial shoots. With most documentary, reality, or interview type shoots, there is often little time to be labeling a tape or completing a log.
- Try labeling a P2 card!

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Ty Ford
Re: Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on May 26, 2008 at 10:05:40 am

Thanks WIll,

Suspending disbelief.... I have to think about that or it comes out suspend belief. :)

People aren't stupid: Of course we are! Otherwise we wouldn't pay $3 to throw basketballs at an undersized hoop at the carnival so we can try to win a $1 prize.

And about Bouke's not wanting to ruffle Scorcese by having to do something about a changing sound problem. Of all people, actors and directors with experience know exactly what's going on. If your sound situation changes that much, I doubt a lav is going to help much.

Do you want to hide that mic or not? If you do, you're going to have to spend more time rigging it. In the "making of" featurettes I see that come on most DVDs now, I don't see a lav, I hear a boom. Concern and being careful is one thing, but I think there's a line. Do you also shoot two cameras in case one screws up? Not in the crews I work with. There may be a second or third camera (in a very few cases), but they aren't shooting the master shot.

Bouke, I'm not suggesting you change what you do. If that makes you sleep better at night, go for it. I'm sure your experience has led you to where you are. Mine hasn't. I just get a little twisted when I hear about a DVD tutorial that makes a broad statement that you have to do boom and lav, when in my (and other's experiences) it's not necessary. Again, I'm not saying there won't be times when I will boom and lav when the situation calls for it.

Regards,

Ty Ford




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Asmund Voll Tesdal
Re: Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on Jun 2, 2008 at 8:12:25 pm

- With the advent of NLE editing, most tracks are batched in and so the editor has all the tracks available for preview. Having mic information is ancillary since the best track should be decided upon based on an actual listen.


Just thought I'd throw in a couple student-loan-cents:
I'm not really aiming to be a sound guy, but when I've been doing audio post or edit in school projects, and not doing the location audio myself, there have been times when I wished there existed some sort of audio log. Sure, you have to listen to what sounds best, but my impression is at times I could have saved a fair bit of time sorting out what to use if I knew what each track was at all times.
For example: "In this clip, track 2 is just a bacup cam mic and sounds much worse than track 1. In this well-written audio log, I can see that ALL shots on that location used the same setup, so unless there is a problem with track 1, I can safely mute track 2 on those clips." :-)



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Will Salley
Re: Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on Jun 2, 2008 at 9:34:55 pm

Asmund,
Yes, having a sound log is helpful, especially when you have hundreds of hours of synced footage to work through. I still provide a sound log on every film job and any double-system job. My point is that with the dominance of NLE and it's workflow, more producers are saying "forget the tape label, let's get on to the next shot"- of course, knowing the time saved here will be time spent there. And so, another change in our business is that more production companies are editing on their own gear, which means they can take the extra time in the edit, rather than time on location - where they are paying a lot more for the crew.

Another part of my post also discussed the other possible reasons for the trend away from tape labeling. The obvious one is the move towards solid-state acquisition. It's pretty hard to label a data file. Maybe a better practice would be a verbal slate at the beginning of each scene. I've actually been doing this for years. In the days of the Nagra, after tone, a verbal note on everything including mics, tape speed, bias, pilot tone, machine model, and of course, the sound roll, film roll, and scene number.

And so to get back to Ty's original comment on should it always be lav & boom, my opinion; A well-placed, high-quality boom will always give a more natural and pleasing track than a lav. Yes, a lav is often less noisy because of its proximity, but it often has a sterile, throaty sound when an overhead boom will not. The ideal arrangement is both a boom (and operator) along with a well-placed (visually hidden but acoustically open) lav mic going to isolated tracks for each person speaking on camera. And don't forget the value of a plant mic in situations where the talent may be stationary and otherwise impossible to boom and lav. Automotive interiors and swimmers are good examples.

More often than not though, a compromise will be necessary and you will have to pick a single technique. Knowing which one to use is something that takes experience and knowledge, but isn't some closely-guarded trade secret (well, some sound guys think it is). Just think the through the blocking and action of the scene and listen to the room or space with no one else around. Think about the affect of clothing, wall surfaces, external factors like planes and trains, lighting and how a boom might produce shadows, or how a lav might not fit inside a skimpy outfit. And also, very important, think about the scene that will come before and the one that will follow, and try to match the feel of the dialog of those adjacent scenes. Just because you used a lav or particular cardioid on one scene doesn't mean you have to use the same thing on the next, it just needs to sound consistent.

Sorry for all the rambling...

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Rob Neidig
Re: Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on Jun 4, 2008 at 10:28:15 pm

I find all this very interesting. I come from the school of lav on CH1, boom on CH2. That's just the way I was trained, I guess, but it does make sense that you give the editor the choice. It also makes sense to just get the best possible audio you can. I am speaking about sit down interviews mainly. In the ENG world, shooting for the news magazines, etc. that's the way it seems to be done - at least around here. For satellite uplinks (live), I usually have both set up, but only use whichever sounds best with the other there in case of a problem. Dramatic pieces are a whole different ballgame.

An example of how using both the lav and boom can bite you, though, is a shoot I did on the west coast for a production company that was on the east coast. I don't know whether the shooter labeled the tapes to show CH1: lav, CH2: boom. I do know that the editor was not paying attention, though, because when I later heard part of the finished product, they had used BOTH! It sounded o.k., but a little strange that it was kind of stereo, not really phasing going on, but definitely different.

Have fun!

Rob


Rob Neidig
R&R Media Producttions
Eugene, Oregon


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Ty Ford
Re: Is boom and lav always the way to go? Audio Commentary
on Jun 5, 2008 at 1:16:00 am

Hello Rob,

In the specific situation of recording sitdown interviews, as you say, I think there's merit to a "safety net" if you have had bad experiences with a particular set of gear.

Sit downs, at least the ones I've done, are staged with great care for lighting, background and sound. When I do audio for that kind of job, even if I've never worked with the producer or director before, I'll bring their attention to sound problems as we walk around in search of the best spot.

They begin to like a spot and I say something like, "Yes, but it's right under the HVAC duct. Listen. Is that going to be OK?" I say it calmly and with a smile. As long as I think I have a shot at getting good sound, I don't say much other than, "works for me."

In the vast majority of cases, a Schoeps cmc641 to my Sound Devices 442 mixer to the camera or recorder works beautifully and no lav can touch it, in this particular situation. Notice I said cmc641....not an interference tube shotgun.

I do travel with two cmc641 and a Sennheiser 416. On one occasion, about 5 years ago, I was doing sound for HGTV for a show called "Small Space, Big Idea" , or something like that. We were in the studio shooting sitdown interviews. I heard some low level ftzzes that seemed only to be happening when the person was speaking. They seemed to be electronic, but I'm still not even sure it was a mic problem. Between each question, there was considerable discussion. During the next discussion break, I calmly walked up and swapped to the other Schoeps. I didn't say anything because it would have interrupted the conversation. The problem went away. That was one occasion.

Your comment about mixing the boom and lav by mistake is great. I have heard it before. I have also heard of people who "PREFER to mix the lav and the boom." I have never been there to hear what that sounds like, but I have never needed to mix the two together to improve the sound.

This makes me think about people who buy a graphic equalizer and make a "smiley face" with the sliders. They are boosting the bottom and top....of everything, even if it doesn't need it, because they like bottom and top. Not everyone who can turn a knob should turn a knob. :)

Regards,

Ty Ford



Regards,

Ty Ford




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