Film may be a visual medium, but nothing pulls you out of a cinematic experience faster than bad sound. From foley to dialogue to soundtrack, possibly nothing helps construct a living, breathing film world better than sound.
The first piece to getting great sound does not start with choosing microphones, but with the location scout. Ideally, the Production Sound Mixer (Head of the Sound Department) or other member of the sound crew should be on set with the location scout so they can see and hear the space where the shoot will take place.
If they can’t be in attendance, it’s always good to note certain things about the set so that you can avoid the headache of a loud location.
Location Scouting for Sound Checklist:
Highways or Busy Roads: High traffic areas can be a pain for sound because of the constant whirring and whooshing of passing cars and trucks, but even worse is one of the natural predators of good sound: the car horn.
Refrigerators & Air Conditioners: These are the sneakier culprits of bad sound, as the drone of these appliances tends to subtly blend into the background. But beware, that same droning sound will ruin clean audio unless the appliances are unplugged.
Distance to or Prevalence of Airports or Planes: Planes are incredibly loud and their sound can last for a long time. Making sure you are out of earshot of any flight paths can really help your shoot run without having to be interrupted by sound.
Creaky Floors & Other Old Location Characteristics: This one is tougher to control as certain houses are just old and will have creaky floors. When you’re scouting, pay attention to where in the location there are creaking floors, doors, and windows that could interfere with, or ruin sound takes.
Construction Sites or Road Work: Making sure you’re away from these sites is more difficult, as you have to scout a radius around the location. This is important, however, because a jackhammer or crane can easily ruin your shot and potentially even your whole shoot if the work continues on.
Hospitals: You should already know where the nearest hospital is from your call sheets, but another important thing to keep in mind if you’re shooting near a hospital is to plan for the occasional siren to go off. Understand that there’s nothing you can really do about it besides keeping that possibility in mind while scouting.
Dogs: This one is harder to figure out but when you’re scouting, take note of any dogs you hear barking in the area. The increased noise and size of a crew may excite neighborhood dogs. A tirade of barks is a good way to ruin a take.
After you’re done with the checklist and everything is as good as you can get it sound wise, there are two last steps to take for your sound.
Room tone: This is when the sound crew records a minute of silence in each setting. The sound must be recorded with all the crew members present because the way space is taken up by the bodies on set influences the recording and the room tone must match the takes. This can be used later in editing to keep consistency.
Wild lines: This is when each line of dialogue is recorded separately after the on-set shooting is done to allow for dubbing over of bad sound takes in editing.
A responsible filmmaker understands the importance of sound and should always be keeping it in mind when searching for locations. The last thing you want to do is have to re-record all of your audio because of bad takes!