On Set Sound – Part 6

By Danny F. Santos (doddleNEWS)

Getting good sound requires both shotgun and lavalier mics. While a shotgun mic is a preferred way of getting dialogue, you may find the need to use lavs as well.

Recording with Lavaliers

Lavs are generally best used for non-fiction filmmaking like news, corporate videos or interviews. Using them for a fictional film presents problems in that the mic will have to be hidden on the actor next to their sternum. The easiest way to hide it is to clip it to a shirt behind a tie but fabric rubbing against the microphone will ruin the audio. Sometimes you may be required to use medical tape and tape it to the actor’s breastbone or even hide it on a nearby prop.

One of the upsides of using a lav is that you can shoot audio for an extremely wide shot where there would be no chance of hiding your shotgun mic– or audio crew for that matter. Conversely, the opposite is also true like shooting in a cramped environment such as a car or anywhere with a lot of ambient noise like on a street. Lav mics are fairly weak so they won’t pick up as much ambient audio as a shotgun mic. Depending on the scene, this could be a good or bad thing as you’ll need some extra foley work on lav only scenes.

Also, beware of mixing lav audio with shotgun audio as they will sound very different from each other. Wireless lavs also have a habit of running out of power quicker than a shotgun, so make sure to have plenty of spare 9 volts on hand.

Recording with Shotgun Mics

The shotgun mic is the workhorse of on set audio. Using a highly directional mic pointed 45 degrees at an actor’s chest will usually give you the best audio not only for voice but also for the sounds they make when they move.

Some basic tools you’ll need to work with a shotgun are a boompole (no surprise there), a shock mount to reduce noise coming from the handling of the boompole and a wind sock for outdoor shooting. All quality shotguns use XLR cables but remember to bring backup cables just in case a cable goes bad.

Don’t forget to reduce any sound from anything touching the boom pole. Tightly wrap the XLR cable around the pole but make sure there’s a bit of slack at the mic end of the pole. Use electrical or gaffers tape to tape the cable at that end. While recording make sure not to move your hands on the pole as the mic will pick up the sound of your hands rubbing against it.

Previous articles in this story:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5 
About Danny Santos

Freelance writer, filmmaker, actor, musician, and visual artist. Writing online professionally for 4-plus years and has produced and performed in over a dozen films and webseries. He has also been everything from a social media consultant to managing a JUNO award winning musician.