The Truth About Field Recording

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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Mitchell, writer, director, and producer of the cult audio drama The Truth. The full interview can be heard on episode 21 of the Audio Drama Production Podcast, but I wanted to take a closer look at the section where we talked about field recording.

I asked Jonathan if he ever used the studio to record, he replied that he had “but I don’t like to as I don’t think it sounds as good.”

He concedes that “It depends on the story, some stories need that because they are highly stylised. There was a story we did that took place on the moon, we recorded that in a studio because it doesn’t make any sense to do it on location.” and then went on to explain his reasons for opting to field record whenever the story allows for it, saying, “I feel like you get a lot out of doing location recordings, beyond just the sound of the place, in fact, it’s not even the sound of the place that I’m looking for. It’s how that affects the performances, how actors move around in a space, and how they will move in relation to a microphone. Like if an actor turns their head when they are talking, that can communicate something very subtle. If they’re bending down, and have to contort their body for some reason because they are crouching, that gives you aural information that helps you understand better what’s going on. I like these little subtle things that force actors into performances, I think it’s those little details that all add up to this really realistic embodiment of the story.

“I like it for example when we’re recording a car scene, I’ll always record it in a car. I don’t always have the actors drive but when I do, I always like it better. Even though it’s harder to edit because you have all these car and motor sounds that don’t match, so you have to be really careful and get lots of ambience that you can kind of mask these things, but it’s definitely possible to make that work. The thing it gives you is these little sounds like the creaking of the seatbelts, the turn signals… and he’s turning to see if a car is coming because he’s making a turn, and the steering wheel on his hands… all these little details that I wouldn’t think to add, or if I did they wouldn’t have the gritty reality, the sort of visceral impact of realness that I feel I get from a location recording.”

Listening to the sheer immersive and authentic quality of The Truth, it’s hard to find fault with any of Jonathan’s comments. Field recording isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t for every story, but here we see an example of someone doing it extremely well to great effect, and I have nothing but admiration for them.

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