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Production Sound Department: Crafting Audio for Film and TV

We’re all captivated by the power of film and television, and the audio and dialogue creates a great production. But the one factor that makes a movie or television show complete is audio. Bad sound can ruin a film, and the production sound department ensures that the film or TV series has great audio. It takes great eagerness and skill to create quality production sound for a set and requires an education in the on-set duties and skills in production sound.

What Does The Audio Department Do?

For starters, the audio department handles production sound and records, monitors and levels the audio. During production, this duty falls on the production sound mixer. This person is the head of the sound department on productions. Under the sound mixer, they have the support of a crew of assistants, which includes boom operators.

Together, the department records and maintains the soundtrack for their project and handles any challenges. It’s a two-part process that requires a lot of planning.

Pre-Production

Before production begins, the sound mixer meets with the director and crew members. In this meeting, the group reviews the entire script. During this read, the team highlights key sections of dialogue that are critical to the production. In addition, the production sound team gets a list of technical requirements from the director.

Furthermore, the sound mixer assembles a crew which includes boom operators and sound trainees/interns. The entire department then goes location scouting. During this time, the team checks shooting areas and gauges production needs. If there are outdoor locations, the production crew also considers the atmospheric conditions.

What Equipment Does Production Sound Need?

Lastly, the sound mixer reviews and orders any equipment they the production sound team will need. The sound mixer researches and investigates several pieces of equipment to determine which will be best on-set.

  • Professional headphones are crucial for those situations on set where some interference might occur during recording.
  • Shotgun microphones are essential pieces of equipment in production sound. This is usually what’s seen on set, and uses accessories like a wind shield to filter out unwanted noise.
  • Lavalier microphones that can be affixed to the actors in production sound.
  • Additional equipment that the sound crew will need includes preamps, cables and connections, and other microphones.

Once that’s accomplished, the production team packs and loads the equipment to set after an inventory checklist is made that lists each piece.

Production

As production begins, the sound mixer records everything, with particular attention to dialogue. Before that can take place, the production sound mixer helps out with unloading all of the equipment and installing it on set. Referring to the shooting script, decisions are then made on which microphones to use for different scenes.

With everything set for recording, the sound mixer instructs the utility sound operator and the boom operator during shooting. Background sound that’s overheard on location is also captured, and it’s referred to as “wild sound” which is mainly used by the post-production for the final mixing and for reference tracks. This also includes mixing multiple sound channels throughout the production as well.

A keen ear is valued here during this process as the sound is being mixed in real-time, with the volume being balanced among other elements. Often times, there will be eight primary channels that come through a digital audio recorder along with other auxiliary channels. Many work digitally, although few employ the analog method of using a clapper. This helps to properly match the audio with the time code on the video footage.

The production sound mixer then evaluates every piece of audio after a scene, and will log each take. The mixer looks at this list at the end of every scene and checks that every scene. Then they’ll create monitor mixes for the director, producer and the script supervisor to review. If needed, the production sound mixer requests a re-shoot if there are issues with the audio.

Beginning Production Sound on Set

Direct communication is imperative on set, especially between the production sound mixer and crew. The 1st assistant director begins each take and calls out, “roll sound”. The technician then hits the record button, and replies with “speed” or “rolling sound” to announce they are capturing audio.

As mentioned earlier, the crew consults the sound recording sheet and checks if there were any issues. Some of these issues involves things like reverb, or the persistence of sound.

Foley Artists and Production Sound

Another thing that happens during this part of the production involves the Foley artists. The Foley artist recreates the effects in the recording studio and includes it with the other audio that has been recorded on-set. These tracks get blended together in the final mix crafted by the re-recording engineer.

A production sound mixer also takes the time to get feedback from the boom operator and sound mixer on each scene. Doing this ensures that everyone is on the same page. A production sound mixer understands the responsibilities of each of those positions, and supervises them throughout the shoot. With that under their belt, the production sound mixer makes sure that the recorded audio is backed up on external hard drives.

Audio Files and Back Ups

Another task the production manager does is to ensure files are in their raw format and delivers them to the re-recording mixer. Once all the scenes have been shot for the day, the production sound mixer helps the crew and breaks down all of the equipment. The equipment is then secured and loaded up and moves to the next location.

The production team then hands the audio off to the re-recording mixer and their crew. The crew then polishes and edits if needed in post-production. This last stage includes balances of the “wild sound” that was picked up during shooting as well as other sound effects.

Long Hours, But A Great Production

There are many moving parts that creates top-notch production sound while on a movie or television set. These productions come with a handful of challenges and surprises. The accomplishment and pride outweighs these challenges once the entire production is complete. These results are thanks to the work that’s put in by a talented group that carries the vision of the production on all levels.

Want to Learn More?

No production is complete without pristine sound to enhance the story that’s being told, and the process to provide these results is one that entails a lot of hard work & improvisation. If this kind of creativity appeals to you & you’re curious enough to learn more, take a moment to check out the Sound Design Program at IPR and the training that they provide on-site about the tools needed to succeed in that area.

Contact us today to learn more about the Sound Design for Visual Media program. Starting a rewarding career as a production sound mixer is closer than you may think!