This summer has been a busy one, at least as far as productions go. I’ve spent the better part of the last few months prepping, shooting and directing a number of pieces, including a few passion projects which I plan to share here on the site in the near future. Some of you have been e-mailing and tweeting me, asking about when you can see some of these projects, and I will start to share them soon – once they are ready to be released publicly.
The first of this series of recent passion projects was a teaser for my upcoming feature film, which was shot in a Super 16mm film style on the Digital Bolex. I also shot a very short narrative film titled Starlet, on which I got to test out the Panasonic Varicam LT… And most recently (earlier this week) I shot a film on the URSA Mini 4.6K titled “Beach Bum”, which is what inspired this post.
Unlike many of my productions which are fully, or at least partially crewed up, on Beach Bum I really wanted to strip things down and experiment with shooting in a cinema verité style, using documentary tactics. To take this to extreme, I decided to shoot this project completely on my own and without any production support, which ultimately helped me capture the ‘fly on the wall’ mood I was after.
My goal with the last few shorts I’ve made has been to experiment with different shooting styles and directing techniques, in hopes that I’ll find some more creative inspiration that will trickle over onto my upcoming feature film. Having been quite drawn to a lot of French cinema lately, I was looking to shoot something in somewhat of a modern verité style, as a creative exercise to explore this style on a small scale production. This would mean I would be focused exclusively on the camera, story, and performances, and not at all on capturing coverage, managing crew, or even relying on music in the edit.
With that in mind, I set out to write a film that I could direct, DP, and run audio on myself, effectively working as a one man crew.
Here are some of the graded dailies:
For anyone that’s going to ask – I shot this on the URSA Mini 4.6K in 2.4:1 aspect ratio, with the ProRes 422HQ codec. I used some vintage Zeiss Superspeeds (which were incredible), and I’ll be sure to do a more detailed camera post on this in the future…
While I’ve directed and DP’d simultaneously many times in the past, I don’t often run audio myself, so going into this shoot I knew that would be the biggest challenge… Not only because of the environmental factors (we were shooting at the beach, very close to the Pacific Ocean), but also because I knew I would have no soundtrack to hide any imperfections in the audio. As I touched on above, I wanted to challenge myself to create a film that did not rely on music for any emotional motivation, which of course made capturing pristine location sound that much more important to get right.
When prepping for the shoot, I realized that the vast majority of the scenes only needed natural sound. There was really only one heavy dialogue scene (we’ll get to that later), so my first priority was to figure out how to best capture the ambient textures, and natural sounds of the environments – ideally straight to camera.
Initially my plan was to mount a shotgun mic to the camera that would run via XLR into the URSA Mini 4.6K. After some experimentation though, this didn’t seem like it would work out as well as I planned. The shotgun I was using (a RODE NTG2) was too directional, and just didn’t seem to have a wide enough reach to capture the texture that I would need for the background textures. Not to mention it’s a large mic, and once it was rigged up on the shock mount and with the wind screen, it was just too bulky to operate.
In the end, the simplest and most effective solution was to use my Zoom H6.
I used the Zoom’s Mid-side mic on the H6, as it would ultimately give me the most flexibility from a sound perspective. This is a really powerful little mic that actually allows you to adjust the width of the sound in post, which gives you a lot of options when it comes time to edit your audio track.
As for the Zoom H6 itself, I simply mounted it straight onto the camera with a Noga arm.
My rig wasn’t the prettiest looking, but it got the job done:
I recorded the audio on the Zoom using a backup track (at a lower DB), which was my fail safe. This let me keep my levels high, and not worry too much about clipping if anything got too loud. I also ran an XLR from the zoom straight into the URSA Mini. This would allow me to use the camera audio if I wanted to for convenience purposes, or at the very least give me a really great scratch track.
About 70% of the film was shot this way, and it wasn’t until I had to record my main dialogue scene that the setup changed.
This film only has two characters in it, and the vast majority of their dialogue is limited to one scene. I knew right off the bat this scene would be the trickiest part to figure out (audio-wise), since I would be shooting guerrilla style with no boom op, and would also be operating the camera handheld.
As you might imagine, using wireless lav mics were really my only option. This part of the shoot was a bit of an experiment unto itself, as I was using two of my new wireless mics for the first time – the Rode VideoLink Filmmaker Kit wireless lavs:
Having never used these mics before, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. In the past, I’ve predominantly used the Sennheiser G3’s, but I was shocked to find these Rode mics (which are substantially less expensive at about $400 each), sounded just as good to my ear. Their construction is a bit more plastic-y than the G3’s, and they aren’t quite as small. But they produced crystal clear sound, and worked unbelievably well – even on a relatively windy beach.
On a side note, I would highly recommend these lavs for anyone that needs to run their own audio, but needs a fool-proof system to do so. As simple as mics like the Sennheiser G3’s are, these are even easier to use. You literally just turn them on and they sync up and work. There are no other controls, and there is virtually no menu system at all. They are either on or off, and you have a few buttons on the side that let you adjust the level/gain control.
They’re not going to be the perfect mics for professional sound recordists that need fine tuning control over settings on their transmitters/recivers… But for many filmmakers that need a really high quality audio solution that is going to get out of the way and do the job, I would highly recommend these. Back to the project –
While shooting the dialogue scene, I had 4 channels running. Channels 1 and 2 were still hooked up to the on board Mid-side mic, which I was using to capture the ambient sounds for mixing purposes later on, and Channels 3 and 4 each had one of the lav mics plugged in.
I didn’t capture a shot of the mics on set, but this is essentially how they were set up:
While shooting this dialogue scene, I wasn’t able to run the audio back into the URSA Mini based on the angle of shooting I was on, and the fact that at one point I had to get up and track with the actors. So instead, I just turned on the onboard mic on the URSA Mini to use a scratch track for syncing purposes later. This setup ended up working out really well, and I was really happy with the quality of the dialogue recording once I heard it back in the edit suite.
On a larger shoot, there is absolutely no substitute for a dedicated sound recordist. That said, there are some situations where you just need to run your own audio, and it’s liberating to know that even with prosumer tools like the Zoom H6 and RodeLink Wireless Lavs, you can capture really, really great results.
At the end of the day though, it’s really your technique that matters above all else. Better gear always helps us to get better results, and sometimes makes our lives a bit easier… But poor technique will always yield bad results, no matter what kind of kit you’re using.
Be sure to check back soon as I’ll be releasing this film here on NoamKroll.com, as well as a behind the scenes video that was shot simultaneously.