Case Study: Hungry Hollow

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“To me the most interesting thing about field recording is not capturing the ambient sound along with the actors voices, in fact more often than not it’s a nuisance, but capturing how voices sound and bounce around within a specific space when recorded in stereo. There is a “live” sound to it that’s difficult to replicate.”

In a recent interview on the Audio Drama Production Podcast, John Ballentine of Campfire Radio Theater revealed that he originally wanted to field record every single show he did, but felt that he wasn’t capable of doing it, as, at the time, he didn’t have a field recording rig, or enough local acting talent to pull it off. Instead, John worked in the home studio environment, using remote actors as backup.

“When it came time to do Hungry Hollow, I thought well ‘this is absolutely the best way to do this show, let’s do it as a field recording, let’s go out on location and do this because most of it takes place outdoors and I thought it was just an ideal story for that approach.

We used a Zoom recorder, it’s a Zoom H2N, and we actually used the built in microphones, we didn’t use an external microphone to record with. The Zoom is a handy little recorder; it does a lot of things really well, it fits in the palm of your hand, you can take it anywhere.

One of the things I thought my main use for it would be was recording sound effects and ambient environments for use in the show. The more I played with it I thought “well this thing sounds pretty good”, I think it sounds more or less as good as my studio mic setup.

So I felt pretty confident about taking it in the field, taking it on location, and trying to record a show with it. We put it on a tripod, took it out in the woods, and that’s how we recorded Hungry Hollow.

We sort of blocked some movement around the Zoom, and sat it on a tripod. We didn’t actually do any movement with the recorder itself, we just kind of kept it stationary and have actors move around it. And we didn’t do a lot of movement, not nearly as much as I really probably would’ve liked to.

We did some very basic blocking, and had an actor positioned off to one side, or another actor positioned more centrally, and then we might have somebody that enters the scene, and they might enter from the far left or far right, then somebody exits the scene and you have that movement.

There are all kinds of problems doing something on location. Whether it’s a film shoot or you’re recording audio drama, there’s always complications, there’s things that arise that sometimes you expect, and then there’s things that you don’t expect.

We recorded the main body of the stuff that we did in September, in the South Eastern United States, here in South Carolina, which is where I live. And it’s still very hot here, sometimes in September. I think it was about 90 degrees, and we were pretty deep in the woods, down a long dirt road, and we were dealing with stuff like mosquitoes and insects and stuff like that… and when it got dark you could start to hear the coyotes howling in the background. And so there was a lot of different things that we had to deal with in trying to get it recorded.

So there’s constantly things happening in the real world, even if you go out deep in the woods like we did. We still had things like aeroplanes flying overhead, and suddenly it sounded like we were near an airport or something, because every time we would turn around we would have to stop. So just be prepared to take a little bit longer than you normally would.

Ideally, when everything comes together and you sit down to mix, that process usually isn’t as long, unless you’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to take out some of the sounds in the recording that weren’t supposed to be in there. But the mix portion of it is more straightforward I think, when you do a field recorded show, and it’s easier and less time consuming.

Find out what works the best for you. Find out what works the best for the show you’re trying to produce. There is no one way to do things. You do what works best for you, whatever capabilities and resources that you have available to you, that’s what’ll dictate what you can do, and what you can’t do. Field recording is a great approach, if you’ve got the resources and people locally to pull it off, and I highly recommend it… at least try it!”

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