Film Evolution: Phase 5
Have you been tracking along with us? Identified a phase that you’re on yet…
PHASE 1: 1895 CINEMA IS BORN - the first phase of every filmmaker wherein we shoot everyday life, devoid of narrative and capture a ton of moments on film, a small percentage of which is genuinely usable, entertaining footage.
PHASE 2: 1902 FILM AS THEATER - Capturing limited stage-like drama (wedding videos, church plays, a friend’s joke, etc) – these are films with a linear plot as the action happens.
PHASE 3: 1903 EDITING IS BORN - Shooting with Post-production in mind, telling a narrative with shot selections, and shooting/assembling your film in a non-linear fashion.
PHASE 4: 1908 INCREASING YOUR FILM LANGUAGE - The Ultimate Film School. Making short films every week. Experimenting with the visual storytelling process and various genres.
Or perhaps we haven’t gotten to your Phase, yet? Alrighty then, Mr. Big Shot…let’s keep moving right along…
The Jazz Singer is a 1927 U.S. musical film. The first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences, its release heralded the commercial ascendance of the “talkies” and the decline of the silent film era
“Singing in the Rain” was a great recap of that transitional time and its’ inherent problems:
- What if your star didn’t have a good voice?
- Charlie Chaplin held out until 1940s “The Great Dictator” to make his first talkie because he was afraid his audience would reject a talking tramp
- The Camera was less “free” than before because of accomodating the microphone – camera techniques changed, lighting techniques changed, set etiquette changed
I know, I know you’ve got your shooting style down to a science. You wave your Canon 5D around on a Monopod for some awesome Matrix-like Camera angles. You attach your GoPro to everything including your Poodle to get REALLY creative shots. You shoot next to waterfalls and fountains, you shoot next to train tracks, you shoot wherever the heck-fire you want to. You’re free. You’re liberated. You’re NOT doing synchronous sound. M-O-S.
M-O-S is most fun to define as “Mit out Sound” and then you say it like zee Ghermans and it humours the whole crew and life is good. But technically, it means “motor only sync” or “motor only sound”. Do you want people to talk and their lips to match their words? That is sync sound. Are you slamming a car door and people are walking up a gravel driveway? Sync sound.
Of course we’re used to Video Cameras doing much of the work for us. They’ve spoiled us actually. They even come with microphones right on them. You hit record and it marries the audio and the video all on to one lovely card or tape. Lovely. That is called SINGLE SYSTEM SOUND.
A lot of people are filming events with Canon 5Ds and such. They’re recording picture with the Camera and only an audio scratch track on the camera. Then they’re plugging a Zoom Audio Microphone into the Sound Board of the venue and then using software like Pluraleyes to sync the audio with the video. This is DOUBLE SYSTEM SOUND. Sound recorded separately from picture.
One thing is agreed upon by all. Sound slows down production. Because now you have to make sure you have a microphone close to the talking actor. The further you are, the more ambient or room sound is picked up. If you attach a lapel microphone to someone’s clothes you have to watch for clothing rustling or other movement. If you’re using a boom microphone, you have to worry about keeping it out of your shot or lighting.
And Audio peeps are notoriously per-SNICK-ety! Like it’s their job. Cause it is. Some common complaints you’ll hear from audio:
“Wahhh, there’s an airplane passing by overhead. This sound is unusable garbage. We must wait 20 minutes for it to round the curvature of the earth just to be safe.”
“Wahhh, an Air Conditioning unit just kicked in mid-answer in that interview. The sound from that take is unusable garbage.”
“Wahhh, we can’t film beside this Highway/Ocean/Rock Concert/Sports Event/Generator/Crying Baby/Barking Dog/Cicada Swarm because the sound from that take will be unusable garbage.”
“Waahhhh, the actor yelled his line this time instead of whispered, so the sound from that take will be unusable garbage.”
“Wahhhh a butterfly just sighed heavily in the next county over as it alighted upon a carpet, so the sound from that take will be unusable garbage.”
One way to speed up production is to unplug your Sound Recordists headsets which cuts down on about 98% of problems for him/her to complain about. Just let them know it can all be “fixed in post!” They love that.
Speaking of Post-production, once you’ve gotten pristine sound recorded in the field, your job is only half over. Usually there is a bunch of sound design, effects, music cues, etc to be woven into your film or video after it’s edited together. Here is a great behind the scenes from JURASSIC PARK which explains some of the intricate (and fun!) sound designing process.
And here’s some more behind-the-scenes videos from “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings” (Part 1)…
And “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings” (Part 2)…
That’s Phase 5: Audio. Instead of just music and moving pictures on the screen your work now contains interviews or actors’ dialogue. With dialogue, you’re able to move away from theater or pantomime acting to genuinely nuanced performance. You’re now being mindful of how you acquire audio in the field so instead of on-camera mics, you’re using lavaliers, boom mics, handheld mics, etc, to record the sounds you want, and weed out the sounds you don’t want to take with you into Post. You’re also thinking in terms of music and Sound Design.
Musically, you’re setting a tone for a scene with the score you’ve selected. You’re cutting shots to the music beats. You’re allowing music to be a participant, a character in your story. Is your music orchestral and pastoral? Is your music brassy and ska-like? Is it a cute-sy little guitar and/or ukele riff played by an equally cute-sy hipster twenty-something whose first name may or may not be named Zooey? Or is the “music” for your scene just a heartbeat?
Your Sound Design is also helping you fill out a 3-dimensional world around your characters. Your film takes place inside an apartment but you can hear neighbors constantly arguing next door. Or the El Train rumbles past every morning at oh-dark-thirty. You add general office-y type sounds to an office scene to sell the illusion that your film and your story extends beyond the borders of the screen we are watching. Phones ring, Elevators ding, Birds sing, Cash-registers cha-ching, uh…Elvis is king. Okay, got caught in a rut there and couldn’t pull up in time.
Anyway, this is the dimension of Audio. Another Powerful Tool in your filmmaker toolkit. And when to use sound or music or dialogue becomes equally as important as when to use silence.