Before you go out on location to record sound make sure you have all the equipment you need, and that everything is working as expected. For example, check all frequencies for transmitters and receivers, check that all cables are in good condition etc. Contact the camera department to check what cameras are being used and that your timecode equipment works with the camera - do you have the right cables/connections etc? If needed, schedule a meeting with the camera apartment well in time before the shooting starts to check that the equipment that is to be synced with the camera/cameras are working. You need to have all these technicalities set before the shooting starts, as you will need to be focused on the actual sound once the camera rolls.
You will also need to read the script thoroughly so you know what is coming. Do you have enough transmitters/receivers/lavalier microphones? Is there something going on in the scenes that need extra preparation? Maybe there’s a reporter in a shoot and you can record the actual prop microphone? Will the scenes be filmed with more than one camera? Can you cover the timecode sync needed for multiple cameras? Do you need to call in an extra boom operator to cover all the action? Etc...
Well on set, make sure to start your equipment as soon as possible to make sure your frequencies are working. You might have to re-scan the transmitters/receivers for available frequencies. You do not want to find out that you have bad transmission once the camera is rolling!
Have a humble and polite attitude towards the actors. When hiding lavalier mics you will get into their personal sphere and we need to respect that. Talk to them, tell them what you need to do and ask them if they are ok with it. If they seem uncomfortable, introduce the idea of letting the wardrobe department help you rig/hide the equipment. However, unless there’s a special reason, you should be the one making sure the actual microphone is mounted in the best possible way.
Lavaliers and transmitters
A good spot to hide transmitters on actors are by the ankle. This works well in most situations but on certain occasions you will need to move the transmitter to a higher spot on the body in order to get better transmission. Make sure the antennas on the transmitters are not accidently folded (which can occur if the actors are wearing tight clothes, for instance) as this can cause bad transmission and even damage the antenna. Also make sure there is no tension on the lavalier microphone cord as this can damage the microphone/cord. Tension on the microphone cord can also introduce unwanted “cord sound” in the recording.
Placing lavalier mics
A good starting point for the lavalier microphones for both male and female is the chest, in the lower part of the chest bone right above solar plexus where there’s a natural cavity which helps concealing the microphone and it’s concealer. If possible place the mike in a concealer on the actor's body. Do not place it on a thin shirt as the concealer (and/or microphone) most likely will be visible through the fabric as the actor starts moving. If the actor is wearing multiple layers of clothes, place the microphone under the top layer of clothes, to avoid muffled sound.
On clothes with zippers, (hoodies, thinner jackets and such) a good spot to place the mike is right where the zipper “opens”. Talk with the wardrobe apartment and try to agree how open the zipper should be, preferably not fully closed but not to open. In generall try not to place lavalier mics too close to the neck/ throat as the sound tends to get unnatural and “throaty” that way.
Shirts can be problematic depending on the fabric. For starters try to place the mike in a concealer just under one of the buttons on the lapel of the shirt. Here there’s usually a natural “open space” for the microphone. Some shirts though, like starched ones, are harder to avoid rustle sound. Try to remove the concealer and hide the microphone underneath one of the actual buttons, as close as possible without making it visible. In this situation you might need to try a smaller microphone , maybe something like the Countryman b6. If nothing of the above works, and you still get rustle sounds, you might have to to improvise and try placing the microphone elsewhere - maybe the actor is wearing a jacket? However, when it comes to shirts - try to avoid the collar since, again, it’s really hard to get a natural sound that close to the throat/ neck.
If an actor is wearing a tie this can be a good spot for a lave mike. Remove the microphone from any concealer, place the microphone in the actual knot of the tie so that it’s just barely not visible. Secure it with some Sticky Stuff. This technique requires some extra work with Sticky Stuff and/or tape to hide the cord but if done the right way (depending on the fabric of the tie) prefered since the tie itself introduces problems if the mike is hidden somewhere where the tie itself might cause rustle.
Sometimes, especially when it comes to women who might be wearing jewellery and/or “posh” clothing/accessories, it’s more or less impossible to avoid rustle or muffled sound. Of course, the best way to avoid this is addressing the problems to the wardrobe department at an early stage, before the camera rolls. But if it’s too late (maybe the director tor called for a last minute wardobe change?) maybe some of the jewellery or what not can be removed? Another solution might be to hide the mike in the actors hair, but that is usually something that takes a little time and will most probably have to be prepared by the make up department.
Thick coats are a real challenge. Ask the wardrobe department if it’s possible for the actors to have the jackets and coats as open as possible. With a thick winter coat with the zipper/buttons closed it is really hard to get an open and natural lavalier sound. Sometimes the best solution is to (with the permission from the wardrobe department of course) simply make a small hole in the jacket where the microphone can be placed.
Wind can cause problems with all microphones, and the problem with lavalier mics is obviously that windjammers are bulky and (might be) hard to hide. Of course “overcoat” style windjammers can do the trick, but sometimes a faster and easier solution is to use the actors' actual clothes as “natural” windjammers. If possible try to place the mike under another layer of clothing. The sound might get more muffled but that’s prefered over a sound that is damaged due to constant heavy wind.
Beanies, caps, hats... If possible, hiding a microphone in a beanie, cap or such can get great results.
A good routine is to use surgical tape to make sure not only the actual microphone but also the microphone cable is not visible through thin clothing. Also, try to tape the cord so that tension is released as tension can cause sound to be reproduced through the cable into the microphone.
The best way to avoid noisy and problematic locations is of course to be a part of the preproduction. Visit the locations, talk to the location scout/ director and discuss what problems might be encountered on the locations. Do they want to shoot a scene that is supposed to be in an abandoned house in the countryside, but there’s a highway rumbling right next to the location? How is the acoustics? Is the scene supposed to be in a small apartment but the location is in a warehouse? You'd be surprised how something that for you as a sound engineer is an obvious problem is overlooked by the rest of the crew. With this said, be prepared and always bring carpets and blankets to help with acoustics and hard floors. Always keep in mind what kind of scenes will be shot in the different locations. What seemed like an “ok” location can turn into a nightmare when it turns out there will be 20 extras in high heels serving drinks. Speaking of carpets, always have one or two close by for scenes on gravel and/or other noisy floors. Talk to the SAD, and don’t assume that the extras understand that they need mime, and be careful with footsteps, slamming doors, cutlery etc. Make sure you know what is in frame, if the extras or the actors are making noise outside of the frame you have to address this.
In general there will be no room for a sound engineer in a moving car. You will have to hide microphones in the car, put lavaliers on the actors and leave the recorder running in the car. Try to prepare so that you still at least can follow the sound from a following car, so that you listen to the transmitted mix hence hear if there are problems that need to be fixed. You will need to gather all information you can of how many actors are talking, what direction the lines will be. Maybe an actor is occasionally turning his/her head, speaking to someone in the back seat..? Let the FAD know that you need time to prepare and rig, and that you need to recive as much information as possible in order to get the best sound as possible. Remember that the actors will probably have seat belts on - do you need to adjust the lavalier mics for this? Make sure that the fan is off when the camera rolls. Find out in time if the camera crew wants to have a window rolled down, so you can address and solve this (for you) obvious problem. Usually, if you are ahead of time, these things can be solved as long as all involved are aware. When it comes to hiding rigged boom microphones in cars, a good place to start is placing small mikes (like the Sennheiser 8040 or 8050) in the sun protection shield right above the actors heads, keeping in mind what direction the lines will be spoken. On most cars the cord can be hidden in the rubber edge by the car door, and the transmitter can easily be hidden wherever there space.
Two (or more) cameras
If you are working on projects with two (or more) cameras filming at the same time it’s of even greater importance that the lavalier microphones are reliable. Depending on the style of the DoP and director, you will have a harder time getting good sound in the boom mike. Sometimes it is crucial to use two boomers, especially if the cameras are shooting at different directions at the same time. You have to have full control over what the different cameras are shooting, how they are framing the shots, to be able to judge if you are recording sound that will work later on. Be prepared that the camera department will probably try to shoot both wide and tight framings at the same time, sometimes without informing you. You will constantly have to be on your toes, making sure that you will get good sound in the boom. Sure, sometimes the lavalier micrrophones sound good enough to hold the scen, but your aim should always be to get the boom as close to the action as possible.
The sound engineer
The sound engineer is often expected to work without being noticed. In most situations that is true but when the sound doesn’t work you will have to let the director know this. When needed, make yourself heard! If you need another take because of bad sound let people know this loud and clear. If you suspect that you will need wild takes give the FAD heads up early on and remind him/her. In general it’s prefered to address the problems with the FAD or if it’s possible directly to the director. If you for example have an issue with an actor slamming a door in a spoken line, address this to the FAD or the director first - maybe the director wants this for the sake of the acting? Or if you think an actor is delivering blurry lines, you might confuse both the actors and the director if you address this only to the actor.
The equipment used by Nordic United
For generall interior scenes, the prefered microphone is Sennheiser MKH50 and for exterior the Schoeps CMIT-5U. The CMIT-5U is great for interior too, but the Sennheiser 416 also works great especially for exterior. The preferred lavalier microphone is the Sennheiser MKE-1. The DPA consealers works great with the MKE-2, but you will have to use some sticky stuff to attach it since the head of the mike is too small. There will also be other concealers avaliable, so use common sense and experience to choose what’s right for the scenes/situations. There are also DPA lavalier mics available, and they are good sounding mics too, but our experience is that the Sennheiser MKE-1 not only works better in conjunction with the boom mics, but also produces less “cord sound”, less rumble, manages wind better etc. On occasions the DPA is a better alternative, for example on loud screams. The above mentioned Countryman B6 is a good alternative when you need a really small microphone, but in general it requires more processing in post to work.