Technique v Technology. Do you need expensive field equipment?

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When I interviewed Dirk Maggs on the Audio Drama Production Podcast the subject of field and studio recording was raised. I asked if he preferred to work in the studio. Dirk responded  “I don’t mind where we work as long as I can get the dialogue clean. But I used to think recording on location was pretty pointless because the microphones, the technology, really made everyone sound like they were in the studio anyway. That was the joke. But, as the equipment has gotten better, and certainly as digital technology has turned things around, I think it’s different now.

I think actually, you can do a lot with location recording. I did a play with Johnny Vegas called ‘Interiors’, which we actually recorded in Johnny’s house with a cast of about 9 – and we did that entirely on portable recorders, walking around with this group of people as Johnny, playing this character, was showing them round his house, and all sorts of dramas we’re being played out. 

I have to say, that was really enjoyable, and, having done that with Johnny, kind of confirmed for me that location recording is a different deal now. And with the microphones and digital technology you have, if you do it well, it sounds amazing. Very immersive, very good. 

That said – I still took it away and added layers of Foley, and backgrounds, and so on. Because, the way I work, the voices I’m recording are just the front layer, in a very layered world I’m creating. I believe you should have something that’s really immersive, and that beyond your foreground actors are your background actors, then you’ve got the immediate sort of street scene, then you’ve got the sky beyond, and the world beyond that… you know, you work back in layers, and as long as the dialogue is clear, and the backgrounds are sympathetic to the dialogue, you have created a world.”

Dirk said that when he is talking to people in our position as aspiring producers or students, “with no budget, who want to do audio stuff… create these movies for the mind, using audio. I recommend that they go out on location. Take a portable recorder like an H2 or an H4, or the Edirols, or whatever you can get. Take a portable recorder, and play with it.

Work out how to get the best result, the best balance of voices with background without it being too cattery, or too distant, or too echoey… because, you immediately remove one problem, which is setting your action somewhere atmospheric. You’ve already found that. So as soon as somebody says to me “oh I’d love to do it, but I can’t afford a studio”, I say you don’t need a studio if you have one of these little recorders, and once you’ve got one you can go anywhere, and do pretty much anything.”



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