Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sound is important

by Nathan Stout

Steven Spielberg said that sound was 50% of the movie going experience (or at least I heard he said this).

Sound sucks.

I mean making sound work in a video. Sound IS very important to a successful video (of any sort). If you have bad or inconsistent audio you production will seem cheap and cheesy.

Let me take you on a trip through one of my most difficult sound experiences.

In Season 2 there is a scene (a few actually) where the different characters are in the Fort Worth Water Gardens talking. For those of you who don't know what the Water Gardens is I will enlighten you. In 1974 (one year after I was born... you see it was a tribute to my greatness) Fort Worth had the Water Gardens built. It is a city park that is like 90% concrete and 3% grass and 7% water (maybe a little more water than that). It is quite unique and neat. It is really big too. It was used in Ursla Le Guinn's 'The Lathe of Heaven' and 'Logan's Run'... it's that neat. A

Anyway... we needed to shoot there. I wanted the location for the neatness, the fact that Chris and Miguel had filmed some of their original show Sniffles there, and it is a public park so we couldn't get thown off the property (like we often do).

The one problem with the location is the noise. I30 is right near buy, downtown Fort Worth is right there will all it's busy streets, and noisy children abound in the park. This was going to make audio editing the final shots very challenging.

The scenes go something like this: Chris shows up and talks to Miguel. Nathan shows up and talks to Miguel. Miguel talk to Nathan and Chris (in costume). Lots of talking, lots of editing. This is a taste of how the shooting went. Keep in mind that there is a constant dull roar of traffic and water flow in the background.

Nathan: Ok, ready, action!

Chris: Oh, hi Miguel. I need some advice. Nathan and I ha... [BUS ROARS BY]...

Nathan: Cut!

Everyone waits...

Nathan: Ok, ready action!

Chris: Oh hi Miguel. I need some advi... [PLANE ROARS OVERHEAD]

Nathan: Cut!

Everyone waits...

Nathan: Ok, rady action!

Chris: Oh hi Mig... [KIDS SCREAM]

Believe it or not that is the easier issue to deal with. You cut the scene and do it again. You keep doing it until there are no interruptions. The real issue comes later. We wrap up the day and head home. Afterwards I load the footage and begin editing.

The real problem are the cuts between actors in a scene. You have a scene where one actor speaks and the camera switches to the other actor who gives their response. Its the audio consistency during these switches that is the killer. Even after working hard at it I still don't feel they are very good. Here is the bit, what do you think?

The trick here is to attempt to blend the two VERY different roaring backgrounds to together. Then you have the issue of the cars and annoying kids in the background. You can't have them blathering on and then instantly cut off when you show the other actor responding to the first actor.

Another trick to making the editing process seem seamless (as if there are 2 cameras filming the actors talking at the same time) is to overlap the speaking parts. That is you see Chris talking then you see Miguel listening but you still hear Chris talking then Miguel replies. This little trick makes it seem like Chris is right there talking at that moment when in fact he is not. Well, when you do these cuts you need to over lap audio and that creates even louder roar. You have to edit the audio independent of the video and make very precise cuts.

I did all this with that video you saw above. Even with all that it still sounds somewhat cruddy. With all that in mind imagine what real movie and television productions go thorough to get perfect audio. That's why you have academy awards for audio work.

Many times audio can be just as important to selling a scene to the audience as the visuals are.


  1. One way to get the background noise to work is to crossfade between the audio tracks from one cut to another. The noise from one shot pots under as the noise from the next shot comes up to take it's place. The ear/brain processes it as a noise that is evolving into this other noise and the transition isn't so jarring.

  2. Oh I do use it. One issue with it is when the person reading the opposite lines starts too quickly and you can't fade the sound, you have to work around it.

  3. One possibility in that case is to take some clean background noise where no one is talking and paste it onto the beginning of the shot where the person starts talking.