“The audio is more important than the video.” This is a common refrain I deliver to my students when we’re talking about shooting an interview. If you had a choice: super bad video with good sound, or super bad audio with good picture, the choice is obvious when it comes to shooting an interview. Content is definitely king. But you may as well shoot a beautiful image and make the person look great while you’re at it. This blog post will cover a simple approach to acquiring professional audio when a person is talking on camera. You can see the video companion to this blog here. Look for other installments of this series where I discuss ‘The Shot,’ Lighting and Interviewing Techniques.
Rule One for professional sound is “proximity;” get the microphone as close to the source as possible. Using a lavalier, or clip-on, microphone is the simplest way to mic an interview. You’ll want to run the cable inside the clothing and dress the cable at the mic. If you want to hide the mic, you can wrap tape around it so the sticky side is facing out, and stick it to the inside of the garment. This is risky because of the chance that the clothing will make a rustling sound on the mic as the interview subject moves. Some mics come with a “vampire” clip, which is a pin that attaches the mic to the inside of a garment. I prefer the safer and simpler technique of clipping it on the outside and letting the mic be seen.
Another way to hide the mic is to use a shotgun microphone on a boom pole. Often, sound techs will use BOTH a lavalier and a shotgun, so the editor can choose the best sound in post-production. The shotgun is much more directional than a lavalier, so pointing it directly at the mouth is critical. It’s attached to a boom pole, which is held by a boom operator or mounted on a stand. A boom operator will obviously be necessary if the subject is moving. For a stationary interview, mounting it on a C-stand with a boom-pole holder is the most common technique. The cable is attached to the pole to keep it from dangling into the shot, and the microphone – usually coming in from the top – is positioned just out of frame, getting it as close to the subject as possible. Remember: PROXIMITY!
The mic can also be positioned from underneath, but you will almost always get better sound pointing it downward, because the sound gets baffled or cushioned better into the floor than with the empty space up to the ceiling. You also pick up more sound from a heater or an air conditioner when the mic is pointing upwards.
Always monitor the audio with your headphones to make sure everything is working correctly, there are no buzzing sounds or connectivity issues, and that you’re listening to the correct microphone. Set the audio level so that the person’s voice peaks at about minus-12 on the digital audio meter.
For the editor, you should record about 15 or 20 seconds of “room tone,” which is the sound of the environment where the interview is taking place. That way, you can fill the gaps in your editing timeline with the ambient sound. If you don’t do that, the final audio will cut between voice-with-ambience and the absolute silence of an empty audio track.
That’s it for basic sound techniques. Look for the other parts of this series, where I discuss ‘The Shot,’ Lighting and Interviewing Techniques.