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Get a Crash Course in Production Sound from 'Parenthood' Mixer Nicholas Allen

03.1.13 @ 2:11PM Tags : , , , ,

Getting good quality sound on-set can sometimes feel like an impossibility, especially on lower budget productions. While the sound mixer can often go underappreciated on many of these productions, their job, if done correctly, is right up there with the 1st AC (or focus-puller). If your movie is not in focus it’s going to distract the audience, and at the same time, bad audio will be even more distracting. SoundWorks Collection has profiled professional sound people from all across Hollywood, and today we’ve got a video that goes in-depth with Nicholas Allen, who is the sound mixer on NBC’s Parenthood.

If you’ve got bad sound on set, there are only so many ways that you can fix it in post. The best way to avoid that possible time and added cost in post-production is to get the sound right in the first place. As Nicholas says, “If you get it at the time, you don’t have to worry about getting it later.” I really like the way he talks about getting sound on set, and working to be a part of the production. Sound people don’t get nearly the credit they deserve when they do their job right, and I’ve been on a few productions where people don’t really understand what the sound mixer is trying to do, so they feel that person is getting in the way.

Like Nicholas, whenever I have the time and the resources I like to put mics on everyone regardless of whether they are currently on camera. This ensures that you’ve got extra audio to play with in post, and very often if the actor’s performance is similar, you might be able to lay in that off-camera dialogue over short bits of on-camera dialogue. Anything you can do to get good sound on set and avoid having to ADR in post will end up saving time and money, and for lower budget productions, both of those are in short supply.

What do you think? Do you know good sound mixers with a musical background? Have you tried to learn the sound mixer’s job as much as possible so that you understand what they are trying to do on set?

Link: Production Sound Mixer Nicholas Allen — SoundWorks Collection


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  • Allan Crocket on 03.1.13 @ 2:18PM

    Well the old statement is that an audience will accept some marginal footage, but NOT marginal sound.

  • Amazing! What a dude! I work in technical theatre and rock and roll as well as film and I can honestly say the biggest problem all these industries have is elitist mentalities that conflict across departments. I know so many lampies that hate noise boys and visa versa and have some complex about how much more important their job is when everyone is on the same damn team! Any product created by these industries would benefit so much more if everyone understood and appreciated more what the other person does, I truly believe that! It’s the separation between something being a job you once worked on or a work of art that you were a part of.

    Also, Allan ^^ Totally agree dude, did you see the test that I think R0DE did which was was to show two large groups of people the same piece of crappy footage. One group were shown with audio straight from camera and the other with audio from something like an NTG-3. They then asked both groups what they thought of the IMAGE quality and the group that saw the one with decent audio said it was fine while the other group who saw the “from camera” footage said the image quality was terrible! Goes to show that people will not only show little forgiveness for bad audio but they will also take a dislike to the entire film! Have to say I believe this completely!

  • These are the kind of people I love watching and listening to, those who are not interested in generating any buzz about themselves but bring incredible skills and expertise.

  • Interesting that he’s mixing straight to 2-track on set. Is that a reference copy for cutting? Or does he use the multi as a safety if he doesn’t get his mix right?

    • marklondon on 03.1.13 @ 3:54PM

      Its a reference mix for edit. Depending, they would go back to the multis for the final mix. But if they don’t have to, that’s the dialogue mix you’ll hear. And I’d put sound recordists above focus pullers. Sorry.

      • Joe Marine on 03.1.13 @ 4:04PM

        If your movie is out of focus, or pulls are constantly off, that’s not something you fix in post. Worst case scenario is that you can ADR with sound, but bad focus is not fixable. Either way it’s apples to oranges, they are both important.

        • marklondon on 03.1.13 @ 4:59PM

          Yes they are, and I fully take your point.
          I’ve just had many projects, my own and others, suffer from poor sound. It’s a sensitive issue for me.
          Don’t mention ADR to a serious recordist – you’re likely to get hit with a boompole. :-)
          We recently fixed a shot in a major film where the end focus on a move was a tad soft in one scene. Took a while, but can be done. Would have been easier to use another take or cut out of the shot, but it was very late in the process, so someone felt it was worth trying.

          • Ironic, because apparently focus pulling isn’t an important job because it was good.

        • Peter Kelly on 03.1.13 @ 5:40PM

          ADR is never a guarantee, depends on your actors. Sound recordists have much more responsibility then focus pullers, they are equal with DOP for me, sound is half the film after all.

      • Peter Kelly on 03.1.13 @ 5:37PM

        +1, no competition

  • Excellent post!

    My post sound mixer came from a musical background and he worked wonders with what we managed to get on-set (we used H4N with Senn 416′s, no mixer). We also had complete newbies running the sound (yeah, yeah, rookie mistake).

    The short of it all is that we lucked out and made it work but I wouldn’t repeat the process. Proper on-set sound is worth every penny of a stretched dollar.

  • Thanks for the post Joe, I really enjoyed it.

  • yep. thanks! I had real sound problem in my first short! :/
    hope you guys publish more about sound and equipment for those starting making their first narrative work too! you can save life by doing so, Joe! :P

  • john jeffreys on 03.1.13 @ 8:03PM

    Great article.
    I feel that production sound gear is that one thing that has not been “democratized” like cameras have. As in, you can pay 1000 dollars and get a simple camera that has a look that rivals big boy equipment- where is the little recorder and boom mic combo that sounds super clean and is super easy to use and is under 700 dollars? The h4n was a step in the right direction.

    • I disagree. First of all, I can’t think of a $1k camera that “rivals big boy equipment”, but I could put together a solid recording rig for $1k and still stock craft services for a coupla days.

      You can get excellent multitrack software for cheap or free (hello, Reaper), high quality A/D converters for not much. There’s a whole range of good-to-excellent mics for $100-$300, and a modest laptop is going to be able to keep up with the processing needs of an on-set multitrack recording. Of course you can spend more in several areas (good wireless mics!), but it’s not mandatory, and things can be replaced going forward.

      The first high quality preamp and LD mic I bought both cost more than a BMC. The difference in quality between those and what’s available for under $300 today isn’t huge.

      • john jeffreys on 03.2.13 @ 3:33AM

        can you name me some models/brands that can steer me in the right direction? marantz (sp?), etc.

        oh, and whats a good boom pole to get? one that has the cable running inside it so i dont hear the “thump thump” of the cable hitting the pole in response to arm movements

      • Will Meadows on 03.5.13 @ 7:06PM

        I disagree with Colin on the following:
        1. Good A/D converters for not much
        2. a whole range of good-to-excellent mics for $100-$300

        Having worked in post and production sound since 1990, I can attest to the age old saying of “you get what you pay for”. Yes, you can buy a $300 mic. When comparing to the early 90′s and what a mic for $300 would get you then, there is certainly more variety these days. However, quality will always trump quantity. Especially when you listen to the sound in a critical listening environment (mix stage) and compare, say an ME66 to a MKH60 or 70. I love the fact that you can put a quality production sound package together for $10,000 as a starter package and add on as you go. Where as, a camera package with quality lenses will be significantly more.

        • Absolutely agree. Will’s statements set me on edge. I am sorry but an Oktava or Audix DOES NOT COMPARE to a Schoeps. Not even in the same league. Top of the line A/D converters can cost up to $9,000 per channel. PER CHANNEL!!!! The problem with the democratization of cameras is they only lowered the barrier to entry for one piece of the collaborative effort that is film. Great so instead of a $75,000 camera, you bought a BMCC. Great, but the camera budget is a small part of the overall gear/rental budget. Frankly, the camera only puts a small dent in that. So, now that a wannabe has a camera, in order to achieve their dream, he/she will invariably look for shortcuts for the rest Sound often gets the short end of that stick.

  • Glad to see more stuff written on sound. Us film folk love to focus on cameras and the visual aspect of film, but audio is a stronger 50% of it. We can live with sub par video if the sound is great, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Thanks for the info!

  • I find it interesting that there is not a huge uproar over the sound guy saying he is there to serve the actors/production/creatives needs. this thread is nothing like the Andrej Parekh article, when essentially they saw themselves taking the same role, one of servant to the production. Did those other people (who get in uproars) not watch this video?

    For the average movie watcher, the top two take aways are story and performances, and all these other elements (though not always, but more often than not) when done right ,fade into the background so the audience can see the story and performances. And if the performances are operating well they even fade into the story. Generally the only time these elements (sound, lighting, focus pulling, rigging, VFX, camera movies) stand out is when they are bad, or they are trying too hard.

    And I agree with John Jeffreys above. If you want good sound, I’ve found you have to pay for it. The $300 boom mic does not compare to the $800 one and definitely not to the $2200 one. I’m not saying, if it is expensive it is good, but I haven’t seen the same trend in sound that we’ve seen in Cameras. if you use it right, a T3i will get you a picture on par with a 5Dmkiii. a BMCC can get pics on par with the Alexa or the Epic. Now let me define par, for some of the nay sayers. The images are not perfectly the same, they may have things some people see as flaws, but when used properly, and light properly you can get images that are just as beautiful. You can’t use them in every situation necessarily, and you many have to use a flaw to an artistic bent, but the images are on PAR with each other. A ME-66 will never get you sound like the MKH-416 which won’t get you sound like the Schoeps CMIT5U.

    Maybe that’s because there are fewer features with sound. DSLR<Alexa/Epic not decidedly because of the sensor but because of all the features and options surrounding the initial image capture. The RAW, the codecs, the way it connects to other equipment like monitors and sound inputs. It's easier to strip away these features get a cheaper camera, than it is with sound equipment? Is that a possible explanation? Outside the obvious of companies taking the opportunity to make money.

    Good post. It was nice to hear from his experience.

  • Aw, this was a actually nice post. In concept I would like to put in writing like this in addition – taking time and actual effort to make a pretty excellent article?- but what can I say?- I procrastinate alot and by no means seem to obtain some thing completed.

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