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Rigging Up My URSA Mini With Wireless Audio For A One Man Band Film Shoot

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.

noam-kroll-behind-the-scenes

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:

noam-kroll-short-film-1 noam-kroll-short-film-2 noam-kroll-ursa-mini-footage-2

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.

noam-kroll-bts

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:

one-man-band-audio-recording

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:

roke-videolink-filmmaker-kit

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.

rode-videolink-behind-the-scenes

noam-kroll-one-man-band

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:

zoom-h6-rode-videolink-setup

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.

For more content like this, be sure to follow me on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter!

 

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

19 Comments

  • Devon Stanczyk
    January 14, 2018 at 6:05 am

    Hello Noam! Ive been soaking up your blog the past few hours. WOW so much incredibly useful information! Thank you for the time you put into the blog to let the rest of us into your process.

    Anyway, how/where did you hide the mic on your actors? Did you hide them under their shirts? If so, How do you keep the fabric from rubbing on the mics?

    Thank You!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      January 18, 2018 at 6:37 am

      Thanks Devon! So glad you’ve been enjoying the site. To answer your question –

      I just hid the mics under their shirts and used double sided gaffer tape to sandwich the mic in between their skin and t-shirts. The tape was folded over a couple of times so it would act as a cushion as well as an adhesive. It was really simple, but effective!

      Reply
  • Kayode
    April 9, 2017 at 7:55 am

    Hi Noam

    Thanks for being open with your process. I am on the verge of hitting the buy button for the Ursa 4.6K but feel a bit hesitant on an issue I just discovered – audio drift (or out of sync). I the Ursa 4.6K’s audio drifts from that of an external recorder (a lot on the BMD forums), did you find this to be the case and if so how did you resolve it. I hear it happens mostly on long takes (interviews etc).

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      April 13, 2017 at 11:02 pm

      That’s interesting to hear – and no, I actually haven’t experienced it myself. That said, most of our takes were at most 5 – 10 minutes, so I’m not sure if that’s something I just didn’t experience because of the limited record time on any given clip. Thanks for letting me know either way!

      Reply
  • Zeke
    December 31, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    How did you avoid the dialogue from overlapping on the h6 stereo and lav while recording them? Im aware they were separate tracks but for sound editing purposes did they just layer perfectly on top of each other so they weren’t noticed?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      January 4, 2017 at 7:41 pm

      Great question!

      In the mix, I actually would just choose one or the other… Either the lav mic, or zoom. Sometimes that meant I had to add background textures (beach, waves, etc.) from a library so that I didn’t need to rely on the zoom, as theoretically it could have posed issues with overlapping as you suggested.

      Reply
  • Ben
    December 8, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    It’s mid Dec 2016 now, and I was wondering if you still use the Ursa Mini 4.6k on shoots. It seems like you had problems earlier in the year, and now getting better results in September. I’m looking into buying the Mini 4.6k over the FS7 this month, but wanted to see if the bugs have been fixed (since 4.0) and how ergonomic this camera is for filming. Have you had any more negative experiences with the camera since this last shoot?

    Reply
  • Arnie
    October 31, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    Wow, that was a great short. Impressive one man production.
    My question is about the processing of the audio in the mixing phase. What kinds of things did you do to get it to sound like that?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 3, 2016 at 5:50 am

      Thanks Arnie! I spent a lot of time in post dealing with the audio. I augmented the natural sound from the camera with ocean sound effects from a library, as well as foley (such as footsteps), which took a while to choose and place properly. As for the dialogue, I did a basic EQ to roll off the low end, and push up the vocal range. I’m by no means an expert on audio editing, but it was certainly a learning experience and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  • Matthew
    October 10, 2016 at 1:25 am

    Well done Noam what a great short. May I ask what frame rate did you shoot this on?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      October 10, 2016 at 5:40 am

      Thanks a lot Matthew – this was shot in 23.98.

      Reply
  • James
    October 5, 2016 at 10:44 am

    As a result of your latest post re; Beach Bum (thank you!) I re-read this one and I was hoping that you might be able to share where you found the cables (XLR to Mini) that are running from the Zoom to the Ursa?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      October 5, 2016 at 4:57 pm

      Hey James! I actually borrowed that cable from a friend as this all came together so last minute. That said, I believe you should be able to get one on Amazon really easily. They’re only about $10, depending on the length that you need.

      Reply
  • m s khan
    September 23, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Hi Noam,
    i am 5d m3 shooter, after watching your BMD videos i inpired and purchased URSA mini 4.6k to use with my zeiss ZE series 21,35,50,85 & canon 70-200 lenses, Dji Ronin. i need help regarding how to use Luts in the camera. do you made any to use in URSA mini camera ? send me the prices.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 28, 2016 at 10:10 pm

      Congrats on picking up the URSA Mini! Are you trying to figure out how to load LUTs into the camera? Or how to use them once they are loaded?

      Reply
  • Julio
    September 21, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    Hey good article and nice setup idea. I will try it on why next shoot.

    What are your thoughts on the audio inputs/setup of the Ursa Mini in general? I really wish you could run external mics and use the internal mic at the same time (i.e one lav mic and the internal mic for wild sounds). Or better yet 4 channels of audio (i.e. 2 external and 2 internal tracks) – like lots of current Sony models (I understand the Ursa Mini is not really meant to be an ENG style camera though). Maybe a future software update could correct this.

    Anyways other than the audio I love the camera and your setup may help with some of my audio gripes about it so thanks again.

    p.s. are you running the latest software (4.0)?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 28, 2016 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks Julio! I agree – it would be awesome to have the internal mic recording (even just for a scratch track or backup), while the external mics are recording onto 2 additional channels… Who knows, maybe that’s something we’ll see in a firmware update.

      Glad you’re enjoying the cam! Thanks for the note.

      Reply
  • Ash Tailor
    September 19, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Hey Noam,

    Was looking forward to this. Thank you for posting. I’ve ended up doing something similar as I honestly find myself doing it solo more often than not. Audio is definitely one of the most difficult issues because without good sounding audio, you may as well not even bother.

    Would be great to get more depth on how you rigged up the mics, if you used any special tapes or materials to make it look natural but also get sound.

    In addition, it would be great to actually get a list and opinions on your Ursa Mini rig. I just got mine and am looking to get some decent accessories which may not necessarily be the official accessories from BM.

    Thank you dude!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 20, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Hey Ash! Thanks for the feedback, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Great idea about going a follow up post focused on some of the recording techniques in more detail. For now, I can tell you that I used gaffer tape to attach the mics to the actors shirts. I created two double sided triangles, and placed one on each side of the mic. This allowed them to stick to the shirts/skin of the talent, while also protecting the mic capsule from any rustling from the clothing.

      As for the rig – I’ve mainly been using standard Blackmagic accessories – the EVF, shoulder kit, and most recently their 4K video assist. That said, if you’re looking for anything 3rd party, let me know what you’re in the market for and I would be happy to make some recommendations.

      Reply

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