Placing Lav Mics on Talent Can Be Super Awkward: Here's How the Pros Do It

Placing Lavalier Microphones
Credit: Dollar Photo Club
Sweating profusely, you walk up an unsuspecting young lady that is about to be interviewed on camera. "Can I, uh, run this microphone up your shirt, miss?"

I'll be honest, I have totally been in this position. As an industrious, yet incredibly awkward film student a few years back, I helped out on a small local corporate shoot, mostly carrying equipment and such, but also doing whatever else was asked of me. I was told to go mic up the talent, a woman in her mid 40s, and I totally botched it. Not only had I never used those particular wireless lav mics before, but I minced my words and said something stupid along the lines of, "I'm pretty sure I need to put this up your shirt." I'll never forget the look that she gave me, a look which conveyed total confusion, as well as distinct sense of, "If you touch me, I will destroy you."

If only I had seen this handy video from The Location Crew prior to that experience.

Now, this kind of thing is rarely an issue in narrative filmmaking because actors tend to be used to all of the odd technical tidbits (like getting mic'd up) that come with the territory. However, if you're working in documentary or corporate production, where the on-camera talent are mostly average folks who are unaware of the technicalities of gathering audio, you will almost certainly want to go out of your way to make them feel comfortable and explain what you're doing. Otherwise, you might end up pulling a Robert Hardy and making an ass of yourself.

This video was an excerpt from The Location Crew's Camera Audio Simplified online course, which you can purchase through Vimeo On Demand for $150.

What are some of your tips and tricks for getting people mic'd up and avoiding potentially awkward situations? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

35 Comments

I'm sure it's just me, but standing in front of someone, holding their shoulder, looking into their eyes and then running a finger down their body, purring 'I'll be placing a microphone...just...here' really doesn't seem the way to ease their nerves.

March 12, 2015 at 5:31PM

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Agreed. He could of show it on himself.

March 12, 2015 at 11:32PM

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Einar Gabbassoff
D&CD at Frame One Studio
1388

You are right. He almost touched her breasts! :)

March 13, 2015 at 7:44AM

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What if we ask the person (Especially Women) to mic up by themselves by saying them how to do it.. Isn't that just simple.. That's how I have done it all the time (even with men!).

March 12, 2015 at 5:35PM, Edited March 12, 5:35PM

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Sudharsun Jayaraj
Editor, Cinematographer, Filmmaker
84

I know that's how I always do it. Nothing awkward about it. Nothing worth a "class" anyway...

March 14, 2015 at 12:31PM, Edited March 14, 12:31PM

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Best advice I got is to explain how to have them do it and then turn your back and work on your gear while they are threading the cords under their shirt.

March 14, 2015 at 4:01PM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
884

I can't count how many times I've said, "Can you drop this down your shirt for me?"

I always have the talent drop the cable down their shirt/dress/whatever, then plug it into the transmitter. While they are distracted trying to attach the transmitter to their belt, I adjust mic placement for the best sound and least visibility.

This has worked for hundreds of interviews with heads of state, CEOs, and normals of both sexes.

March 12, 2015 at 8:01PM, Edited March 12, 8:01PM

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Ben Ehrlich
Sr Creative Director, Video Producer
91

Yes, you ALWAYS drop the connector end down from the top. There is even a little weight gizmo for doing this. people are fine with fishing the connector thru their shirts out to the bottom. while you might need to reach in to tape or vampire clip the actual lav on the inside of their shirt or bra, tape mount between breasts, I'll often let them push the mic down… depends on if they are pro talent, or not. hopefully its a good placement on first try, if not, then if the talent is comfortable I may adjust, or if I sense they are fidgety about it, let them move it a bit.

of course then there was this one really weird experience. person was female political figure, nationally known. when I mic'd her up, threading mic top down, she acted like I was some amateur because I didn't thread the mic up from the bottom. seems like she was insulted I didn't run my hand thru her shirt when she said " why aren't you running it from the bottom ?" … and I came very close to offering her a retort that I really didn't want to come into contact with her… at any level. thankfully never worked with her again.

March 12, 2015 at 9:12PM

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Steve Oakley
DP • Audio Mixer • Colorist • VFX Artist
406

I have to lav talent up on the daily. I, too, ask if they can drop the wire down their shirts.... But I've also had to get my hands in awkward places on female talent and being a female myself makes it a lot less awkward. Usually, I poke fun at the situation and come off as comfortable as I can, taking on the persona of a close girl friend. It works great for me! (laugh all you want).

March 13, 2015 at 2:32PM

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Chelsea Lupkin
Director / Director of Photography / Screenwriter
181

Amber alert. Look at the body language, even the girl paid for the demo in the thumbnail is recoiling in horror. Allow me to phantom cup your breast while I trace the mic path on your body. If there's this much comic gold in the rest of the package I might just buy it. My wife and I were cracking up.

March 12, 2015 at 11:05PM

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Howard Roll
Boss
219

I completely agree with you Howard! This video can't be serious... Maybe a great example of what not to do.

March 13, 2015 at 10:25AM

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John D. Smith
Cinematographer
344

Dear nofilmschool: this video is shitty. I would fire this guy on the spot if he acted like that on one of my shoots. Consider this: no news is better that shitty news. Please go back to the informative articles and slap Robert upside the head for lacking judgement. Thank you.

March 14, 2015 at 12:37PM

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I keep saying that the NFS articles are getting worse and worse, but my comment get down-voted.

Screw it, I'll keep saying it.

And yeah, maybe all it'll take is a little friendly slap... But anyways why is it that every single entity or individual, when reaching mainstream and reaching mass market, starts sacrificing quality for quantity?

It's a strangely common pattern and there are so few exceptions.

March 20, 2015 at 12:13AM

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Raph Dae
Screenwriter & attempted director
581

LOL. Same here- I burst out laughing at the totally unexpected cupping motion. At least he could have pointed at her collar... so bad I thought it was a farce.

In Israel (where I live), things get even tricker because there are religious divisions that often make it improper to touch someone of the opposite sex at all, at least without their explicit consent. What I found was that it's best to kindof show them on myself, ask them to do it themselves, and then once they get it mostly there ask honestly if I can adjust it. Oftentimes the answer was "yes" (the religious guidelines of not-touching are complicated... the element of intention is a huge part of it), but when it was "no" I would just describe what to do. Never required anything more than that.

Was hoping this would give better advice... not quite, but good for a laugh

March 16, 2015 at 1:36AM

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I've just witnessed a sexual harassment scene. NFS should of rate this video as 18+ :)

March 12, 2015 at 11:37PM

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Einar Gabbassoff
D&CD at Frame One Studio
1388

I felt so awkward a watching this. A woman's perspective here! "Personal Space". Heard of that? I've always been told/taught that if you need to be in physical contact with another person, you must always demo on yourself first while explaining what you will be doing. Personal space is a hidden rule, never invade it, a shake of the hands is enough to introduce yourself. Then go ahead and use yourself to explain where the mic and pack will be placed. If I had a stranger approach me with a whole hand coming at my chest like that, I'd probably kick up a fuss way before he had a chance to trace his hand down my body and hip.

March 13, 2015 at 4:03AM

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Priya
91

Yeah I try to be as much hands off as possible and make sure I am in their personal space as least as possible. I ask them, especially women, if they want to put it on themselves first while making sure they know the most important thing is to hide the wiring. But I agree, it is always awkward and will always be a different experience per persons.

March 13, 2015 at 5:42AM

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Ha! I'm glad I wasn't the only one who mistakenly thought this video was an instructional on eye rape. The guy did make some great points though. What I have always done is educate the talent a bit about the body mic and how it will be placed. Then allow them to go to a restroom or something to run the cable through their shirt and clip the transmitter on the back of their pants. Once they return they have the mic hanging from the top of their shirt and I then clip the mic in an appropriate spot.

March 13, 2015 at 6:06AM

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Brandon Blackburn
Videographer / Editor
207

He had some good pointers but his body contact and shoulder thing was way off base. I work with med students, I help them learn how to perform exams that require some physical contact. Anything beyond what's needed to do the job is a no-no. No shoulder touching, no finger tracing, just use your words.

But yes *Eye Contact* is super important guys! Seriously, don't look at someone's chest just because you're talking about placing a mic there. I say it to every student again and again.

March 13, 2015 at 9:41AM, Edited March 13, 9:41AM

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Jas
81

Agreed with everyone else here. This guy would not put me at ease with all the introductory touching. I usually ask them to run the wire themselves as well.

Also, did this really need to be over nine minutes long?! I spent most of my time scrubbing trying to get to the points.

March 13, 2015 at 1:06PM

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Anna Gustafson
Video Producer
86

I've mic'd up a lot of very famous people over the years and this is absolutely ridiculous. Grabbing someone's shoulder so they feel trapped, a quick movement with the other hand that phantom gropes their breast, then a creepy movement down towards their crotch? This is absolutely NOT how the pros do it.

March 13, 2015 at 2:45PM, Edited March 13, 2:45PM

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KP
86

Not pro at all. This guy went for her left breast immediately...wow...

March 13, 2015 at 3:16PM

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Well to be fair, that dude does talk and dress a lot like a sex offender!

March 20, 2015 at 12:21AM

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Raph Dae
Screenwriter & attempted director
581

Mmmmm... very intrusive behavior, and very "touching".
Hey, at 2:14 you can see an boom in a dangerous position. This is educative? OMG
Ernesto

March 13, 2015 at 4:53PM, Edited March 13, 4:53PM

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Ernesto Figge
Sound recorder, editor and mixer. Teacher
93

As other guys pointed out already, this tutorial is the WORST idea ever. Using your thumb confuses the hell out of people, because NO ONE expects you to point out something with you THUMB! And almost cupping the woman's breast was the WORST intrusion to someones private space. Touching shoulder?!?! All wrong moves.

You stand one more step back. Show everytnig ON YOUR SELF, with INDEX FINGER. Drop the line from the top AND TURN AROUND while they do it, or have them do it somewhere in secluded room ( bathroom if needed ) . It's best if there is a mirror and asking them to conceal the wire.

When you going to adjust the mic, you will tell them first what exactly you going to do, stand AWAY from them and reach with your arms, not going with your whole body in to their private space.

Who is this guy?!?!

March 14, 2015 at 7:23AM

4
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Poly
194

He's a "sound guy", but maybe not the brightest "sound guy", even if he knows relevant things like "in some cultures, pointing with a finger is wrong". Well, "sound guy": in our culture, it's perfectly ok to point with a finger. It's also ok to show people how to run a cable down their shirt using yourself as an example and staying away from their breasts.. What an idiot...

March 15, 2015 at 11:33AM

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Man, that intro is WAAAYYYY too long. Are all the classes like that ?

March 14, 2015 at 12:30PM

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I did not even watch the video and can tell you that the best way to mic non-professional talent is to use a boom mic. I shoot tons of interviews with non-pro talent and can tell you that when I edit I use the boom mic 95% of the time. I think the interviewee is way more relaxed if they can simply walk in, sit down, and not have someone get in their personal space. Your results may vary...

March 15, 2015 at 8:23PM

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For interviews, you are right. Also the sound is usually better with a good directional mic.
But for documentary or tv, there are many many reasons why you'd need to lav someone when they are not sitting still for an interview but you still need their sound.
A good sound guy can boom these situations as well, but I often shoot without a sound guy so there is no other option than to put a lav mic on people.

Also, I have been working as a sound guy on shoots where I had two lav mics on two different people while holding a boom mic so I wouldn't miss anything. With non-professional talent in documentary situations this can sometimes be the only way not to miss anything...

March 16, 2015 at 4:46AM

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For us, the hair and makeup people place mics and the sound guy will do any tweaks necessary. Usually with minor coaching, a person can place the mic on themselves.

March 16, 2015 at 9:05AM

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William Stewart
Director of Photography
567

All good information but... never put your hands up anyone's shirt or blouse.
Pass the mic cable down from the top of the garment or have the talent do that for themselves and fish the plug end out the bottom of the garment, before attaching the transmitter.

March 17, 2015 at 1:03PM

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The dude in the video forgot the most time-efficient trick of all. I've used it so many times and it works every time.

What you do is: 1. you walk up to your 'talent', 2. you blast them in the face real quick, 3. while they're unconscious, you quickly put the lavalier where it needs to be put, 4. when the talent is propped, you slap them gently and repeatedly on the forehead until they wake up, 5. once full consciousness is regained, you tell them to "watch out for boom poles next time!", 6. recording is on.

March 20, 2015 at 12:17AM, Edited March 20, 12:17AM

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Raph Dae
Screenwriter & attempted director
581

Sometimes I read NFS just for the comments. Should there be a "I survived NFS" t-shirt? Perhaps, perhaps so. Today I learned why making pay for view videos may require a thick skin, but also where else do you get all the free advice and the hopes of a Daniel Tosh Web Redemption. I would re-shoot that instructional, re-evaluate all other instructionals. Make needed changes. Then ask for a re-match!

March 22, 2015 at 9:22AM

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Gilly
244

Here's another vote for NOT doing it this way. He was practically groping her!

I also always ask the talent to just drop the wire down their own shirt by themselves. And I'll use my own shirt as a reference (i.e. "let's clip the mic right here, between the second and third buttons...").

Also important: tell them how to turn the mic OFF so that they can go to the bathroom, talk privately during breaks, etc. I always show them how to flip open the little battery door on the Sennheiser lavs I use and press the OFF button.

March 29, 2015 at 8:14PM, Edited March 29, 8:14PM

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Benjamin Reichman
Post Supervisor/AE/Editor
319

I have to say that I've put lavs on hundreds (maybe thousands) of people and have never once felt the need to put my hands under their clothes.

May 15, 2019 at 6:16PM, Edited May 15, 6:16PM

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William Streeter
Filmmaker
197

What I would do is ask them permission politely to put in on their shirt. I would hand them the microphone and politely ask to insert the microphone in themselves then I would take over in clipping it on their sleeves or placing some plaster tape above their chest. if its a girl i would prefer another girl would do that but if I have no choice then I would carefully instruct the talent herself or himself to do it, i would demonstrate it and let them do it themselves. The key thing is always be polite in asking and people would always agree. Besides when the talent have already agreed to the interview then there is a mutual understanding that it must be done at all cost, but of course, with respect to each other.

May 15, 2019 at 9:38PM, Edited May 15, 9:38PM

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Aristeo Joseph G. Valdez Jr
Videographer
74