Finding a middle ground between the studio and the field

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I’ve been working in collaboration with the excellent Campfire Radio Theater to help record acting lines for their next production. I discussed the project with producer John and asked what his preference was in terms of how the dialogue would be recorded.

There were some considerations to make. 

1. The story was set on a remote location, so any recording in the ‘field’ shouldn’t have background noise that would contradict this environment (traffic, planes, etc)

2. The two characters were alone together in a story of rising tensions, so acting out the dialogue together was advisable to maximise performance.

3. The soundproofed studio only has room for a maximum of two people.

The decisions were

1. A ‘table read’ style recording would take place with 3 actors gathered around two zoom H2 recorders (this allowed for 2 copies of the performance to be recorded, and ensured that nobody was ‘off-mic’)

2. As there would be some reverb from the table recording, this would only be used for interior scenes (the building in the story would have a natural reverb anyway).

3. During these recordings, light movements of the head and body were used when necessary. These recording were done in stereo, so in a sense, they were closer to field recordings than studio recordings.

4. All exterior dialogue from the outdoors scenes were recorded in mono, in the soundproof vocal booth. There were only ever two characters outside at any one time, so this worked out well.

5. Whilst a more naturally-paced conversation would take place at the table, with actors overlapping each other and responding sharply, the studio recorded lines would need to be spaced out with no overlaps to allow for more freedom in post-production.

After recording

The studio tracks were recorded in stereo, with one actor/mic on either side. These were split to individual mono tracks in Adobe Audition. They were edited to remove any mistakes, page turns etc, by lining them up in the multitrack one under the other. The split tool was then used to delete unwanted material and, keeping both tracks in sync, They were individually mixed down after isolating the individual channels.

Both stereo tracks from the two zooms were edited in the same way, though there was no need to split stereo tracks into two mono tracks.

Conclusion

In a sense, this was almost a hybrid approach between studio and field recording. It was very practical, easy to record and edit, and favourable from an acting and performance point of view. I’d certainly use these techniques again in future if we are working with a script that allows for it.

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