Some tips for getting the best from your audio
Many an independent film is marred by terrible audio, here I am going to offer a few tips to help get the best sound you can on a budget.
What to record
The Problem with sound is that although we hear sounds distinctly that is not what gets recorded, our brains are incredibly good at isolating the sound we wish to focus on and tuning out unwanted sounds but microphones do not have the same abilities, they will record everything.
The aim of production sound is very simple: get the dialogue and nothing else, film sound is all about layers and the location audio should only be the first of those layers. It is very easy to add sounds to a mix but extremely difficult to remove them later so if you can record only the dialogue you will have a clean base to build on.
Have a look at the Fix it in post article for more info.
Plan your shoot (and even your film!)
This is of paramount importance, make sure you know your equipment and its limitations. For more info on budget equipment equipment go here.
The main thing is to try to get as quiet a location as possible, you need to be thinking about this when selecting locations. If you film next to a busy road you will get traffic noise ruining your audio there are no two ways about it, making a compromise on your location can save you enormous amounts of time and money later (ADR is expensive).
Try to film at quiet times of the day even indoors you will get traffic/street noise if you are filming in the centre of a city but filming at night or very early can reduce that immensely
Turn everything off! Fridges, AC, the TV next door and of course mobile phones (even on vibrate) our ears tune these sounds out but I can guarantee you will get home and hear things you didn’t even know were there. Before filming stop for a minute and have a listen and try and focus on as many sounds as you can hear, try it now it can be quite a surprise as I write this I can hear the fridge in my kitchen, the fan in my laptop, church bells down the road and birdsong and I live out in the country.
Make sure everyone understands what silence really means, people need to be still and even whispering can come out clear as a bell in a quiet moment, it is amazing how much noise people can make whilst thinking they are silent.
Get the microphones as close as possible, they should ideally be only a couple of feet from the talent this is another place where you might need to compromise, If you do not have radio mics you can put on the talent you will not be able to record them during a nice distant shot in the middle of a park sorry. If you are indoors then get creative with where you can hide the mics.
There are going to be times when it is necessary to give the actors cues, such as for events happening off camera, if this is the case then just make sure you don’t make noise over a line of dialogue. If it is a distinct sound it can be edited out but one voice cannot be seperated from another in post.
Extras and Crowds
Keep them quiet If you are filming a restaurant scene then make sure all of the extras are silent, this allows you to capture only the dialogue and add in background sound later.
Once the scene has been shot then record just the sound of the extras, conversation, cutlery scrapes etc. having this as a seperate track will allow you much more flexibility in the mix later, whilst we are on the subject:
Capturing Non-Dialogue audio
As mentioned above it is very useful to get other effects whilst you are on location, nothing else will match quite as well.
Things you might want:
Car start + stop
ticking clock (turn it off during the shooting)
In fact anything you can see happening in the scene, it is much better to have sound you don’t need then to suddenly have to record the sound of that lovely V8 car you had, only for one day, the week after you have returned it.
Room tone is the faint and subtle mixture of sounds that you get in any place which go largely unnoticed but if not present make a scene feel unnatural such as the rustling of leaves in a park or the distant hum of a city.
When shooting aim to get a couple of minutes of room tone so that when you edit out unwanted sounds you can fill the gaps with a realistic background rather than silence. Almost no-where is ever truly silent and so this room tone needs to be a constant bed beneath the dialogue.
Firstly, a quick disclaimer:
I am not a copyright lawyer and as such this is intended as a general guide
only, it is a brief overview of copyright legislation which is an enormously complex field with many exceptions and details which are impossible to cover here.
This article is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such.
Now that that is out of the way,
Do I need a license to use this music?
The answer is almost cerrtainly yes, all music is covered by copyright automatically as soon as it is written down/recorded and these rights belong to the composer (jointly if there is more than one or composer and lyricist etc.)
Anything that you produce for public viewing, regardless of whether it is for profit or not and regardless of whether you are a student (with a few small and very limited exceptions) that includes the music of someone else needs there permission in the form of a synchronisation license.
When you are using music there are actually two aspects to consider
How long does Copyright last?
The copyright in the musical work itself.
The copyright in the recording.
These are two seperate things and you need to ensure that you are covered on both counts, for example Beethoven is out of copyright however you cannot simply grab a CD from the shelf and use the music because there is still a copyright interest in the recording.
When will The Work (not the recording) be out of copyright (public domain)
In 1986 The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic works established a degree of uniformity around copyright
law as almost every country has signed up to it.
The duration of copyright is based on a period of time after the creator (whether they be author, composer, photographer etc.) died plus a set period of time (life +__)
The Berne Convention sets a minimum term of copyright of at least life+ 50 years (except for photographic work which is life+25 years), however many countries have gone for a longer term including all members of the European Union and the US who have a copyright term of life+70 years, with a few exceptions which I have mentioned below
If you wish to be able to show your product around the world then this is the best figure to work from however, if you are creating something for a specific location you can check the length of copyright in various countries here.
Isn’t 1922 the cut off date?
Many people will tell you that 1922 is the magic date before which everything is out of copyright it is important to note that this is only the case in the United States.
The US had complex copyright laws before signing the Berne convention but between 1923 – 1978 copyright lasted for 95 years from publication and from 1978 it is life+70 years.
For countries other than the US use Life+70years.
There are a lot of small exceptions and oddities surrounding copyright law so if the work you wish to use is from around these dates I would strongly suggest you seek legal advice but they are a very good ballpark.
When will The Recording be out of copyright?
The length of the copyright in the recording is different from that in the work.
The European Union has only recently (last year) decided to extend the duration of copyright in recordings however this has yet to be introduced to law so currently protection is for 50 years from the date the recording was made however in the United States I’m afraid things are a little more complex.
The United States introduced The Copyright Act of 1976 which ensured that all recordings made on or after the 15th February 1972 were covered by the standard copyright term I mentioned above, unfortunately recordings made before that date are still (and will be up until 2047) covered by state law which can be different from state to state.
Complex as all this your safest bet is to go for the life+70years calculation which means that almost any usable recording will still be in copyright in the US but if you are working in Europe you can use recordings from before 1961, but only if the author/composer died more than 70 years ago so that there is no longer any copyright in the work.