Audio is arguably the most important component in every video. Unfortunately, it is often taken for granted by many believing the picture is worth a thousand words. But think about it, without sound our world is a lot less exciting.
We recently sat down with Brian Garfield, a professional location sound mixer of 21 years, whose work spans all genres from film and TV to corporate promotions. Brian is one of the best in the business, bringing his friendly energy and expertise to every shoot. He shared his thoughts on gathering sound on location.
ELM How important is the location to gathering sound?
Brian While often viewed more importantly for the picture because of the necessary visual aesthetics of the shot, the location is critical for sound gathering as well. It’s easy to forget about the necessity of silence as our ears and brains are so accustomed to noises in our everyday life. So much so that when you are put in an anechoic chamber, a room devoid of all sound, it’s said that you can lose your mind!
ELMWhat do you look for or listen for when you arrive at a location?
BrianAs a location sound mixer, I often walk into rooms and I am immediately critical of noises that are heard that location scouts may not have noticed. It’s not because they can’t hear them, but because their ears are used to the constant hum of an air conditioner, the noise of the elevator, or planes flying overhead in the background. When scouting, the person helping to make those location decisions needs to consider the importance of the sound in the project. Scout the location at the same time of day that you anticipate the production to occur so that you can find out the traffic patterns. There are not only traffic patterns for cars, trains, and planes. There are traffic patterns for footsteps, deliveries, and mumbling. There are traffic patterns for flushing water, elevator dings, and doors opening and closing.
ELMYou work in a lot of different scenarios with many different clients. What is a common question you get on location regarding the noise?
BrianMany people think our microphones only pick up what you’re trying to record. In reality, a mic merely focuses on what you’re trying to record. And while it does that very well, background noises are still heard. So this is where you have to determine what those background noises are and how they play into the scenario and picture.
ELMDoes the location need to be completely quiet?
BrianNope. I’m often warned of a particular scenario that I’m going into when it’s going to be blatantly noisy, a factory for example. My first question is, “Will we be seeing the factory and the activity in the shot?” If the answer is yes, then I’m not worried as the sound lends itself to the picture in a perfect harmony to the human brain. If the answer is no … well … then we have a problem. In general, the sound must match the picture for the entertainment of the piece to work, otherwise it can be confusing. This is why that interview in the corporate office doesn’t work well if there’s a horn honk, a siren, or a plane flying overhead. Within reason … if you can see it, it’s ok to hear it. If you can’t see it, I don’t want to hear it.
At ELM, we are always working toward perfecting our craft, and our biggest takeaway from working with Brian has been that great sound supports and enhances the stories you are trying to tell. What challenges have you faced in gathering sound on location? Brian will periodically contribute to our Method section so send along any audio topics you’d like to hear more about.