A day of recording
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.
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.
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.
Sound Tests Update
In a few weeks I’ll have produced several pieces of audio drama, both studio recorded and field recorded.
Main Project: Time & Money (aprox 30 mins) – A hybrid, part 1 studio, part 2 field
Test Recording: Captive Minds (aprox 4 mins) – Field recorded version
Captive Minds (aprox 4mins) – Studio recorded version
The Discovery (aprox 3mins) – Studio recorded
John’s Body (aprox 3mins) – Studio recorded
The Accident (aprox 1min)- Field recorded
The Plan (aprox 3mins) – Field recorded
What would be an authentic way to determine which approach has worked better?
From a creating point of view…
What did the actors feel about performing in the field, compared to in the studio? Did they feel it enhanced their performance?
How did the recording process weigh up from one to the other? Is the extra time spent recording on location offset by the time you save in post-production?
From a consumer (listener) point of view…
Listeners will need to consume each drama in as similar conditions to each other as possible
1. on a decent set of over-ear headphones
2. Whilst not distracted by any other tasks, or visuals
3. Perhaps seated, indoors, and with eyes closed
What should the listener be looking for?
Authenticity – Perhaps, but what about the extremely fictional settings? For example, the conversation that takes place between John’s vital organs inside his body.
Believability – As above.
Immersion – Only fair to judge if listeners are consuming in almost identical ways.
Execution – The overall quality of the piece, from acting to production.
Field Recording Session
Not so much in a “field”, but in my house (kitchen, living room), garden, and car.
The aim was really to get used to recording this way. To see what worked best, and what didn’t work so well. Looking at different mic techniques and positioning, and looking at what sort of obstacles we’d face, and how best to deal with them.
- To identify good micing techniques an positions
- To see if actors working ‘on set’ together will increase performance
- To find out what obstacles we’ll face, and how we’ll overcome them
- To see if scripts flow naturally and authentically
- To test sounds of different locations, indoors, outdoors, in car
- To find out how much quicker and easier putting together location recorded audio in post production will be
- Actors responded well to each other, both said they enjoyed it
- Indoors, you can still be interrupted by external sounds (an ice cream van was doing the rounds, multiple takes needed)
- Retakes from indoor recorded sessions were easily edited.
- Retakes from outdoors was a different matter, passing cars, planes etc mean that flawless edits can often be impossible
- This has implications, not just on retakes, but on page turns too, which need to be edited out
- Homemade ‘boom pole’ must be handled with extreme care, the slightest movement is picked up in the audio
- Recorded was mounted on a stand or tripod whenever possible
- Even with the windjammer and low wind, sheltered conditions were essential
- We recorded in stationary car. Retakes needed when dog was barking nearby
- Recording outdoors will be extremely weather sensitive, calm days are essential
- Electronic versions of the scripts (on kindle or ipad) may prove more practical than paper
- Audio should ‘roll on’ for 20-30 seconds after the final line of the scene, to give me room to fade the scene out naturally
- Two H2 recorders may give better all round vocal audio, though this may require two sound people
I’m spending my Thursdays at Fife College who’ve kindly let me carry out my casting auditions there. I’ve taken the opportunity to record some very short dramas, so the auditions will have an “end product”. Lines for these dramas are about 60% recorded now, in a few weeks time I can start to mix them in post-production.
Obviously these will all be studio recorded, and I need to gain some experience on the field-recording front too, so I’ll be recording two very short field recorded dramas this Sunday. I’ve put together a field recording kit with a Zoom H2, “self portrait pole” and Rycote windjammer.
Fife College Acting & Performance department were extremely helpful in putting my casting call out to students and ex-students in the local area. The response was very good, and there was an encouraging balance between male and female actors, which will offer greater creative freedom when it comes to the scriptwriting stage. I was granted use of the Fife College radio facilities to carry out auditions on the 17th and 18th of December, where I invited those who had enquired about the projects to attend at set times.
Aim of Sessions
The actors worked in pairs, running through some short scripts with scenes involving two characters chatting in different scenarios (planning a crime, shopping, recording a podcast, and travelling in a car). The aim was to find out the range of each actor, and to give an idea of what sort of characters they would be more suited to. In total we had a turnout of 6, and there was a good standard of performance throughout. There was also a healthy distinction between each actor’s voice which can be vital when working together in an audio-only production.
Sessions were recorded through my own equipment, two SM57 microphones running through a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 preamp. This is a decent enough setup, though it does limit us to only two audio channels.
When we begin recording in 2015 I’d like to either pay travel expenses or offer to work with each actor to create a voice-reel for them that they can use in future auditions for other projects.
The next step is to tailor the sound test audio drama scripts around the range of voices available to me with each actor who attended the auditions. There were others interested in auditioning but they had pantomime and performance commitments until after Christmas, so another audition will be arranged in January.
Casting Update #2
I’ve been in discussions with the Acting & Performance department at Fife College and I’m planning on holding auditions in January. This links up well with the eventual test recordings as we’ll be working with the Sound department on that front. A venue for auditions has yet to be decided, but once I start to get emails back from interested actors I can gauge everyone’s location and choose somewhere that’s as central and easy for everyone as possible.
Casting Update #1
Looking ahead to finding some new voice talent to help bring the test recording audio drama shorts to life. I’m interested in going down the route of local auditions, inspired by an interview I carried out with Matthew Boudreau of Aural Stage Studios. This audio drama company, based in Buffalo NY, wanted to put together a pool of local actors to record their latest drama A Prophet’s Guide. In the interview Matthew talked about putting adverts in acting magazines, going through the audition process, recording, and the dynamics of having all the actors in the studio together. I also went on to interview Monique Boudreau of Aural Stage Studios and Betsey Palmer of HartLife where we talked about taking care of your acting talent if you can’t afford to pay them, or can only afford a small amount. In summary, providing an organised schedule and a safe environment, combined with offering creative input, and putting on food and beverages for your talent can go a long way to creating a productive and professional recording environment.
I’ll be looking to pay any actors that I use, it’ll be a very modest amount but will cover any expenses. On top of that I believe it will be a good experience that will lead to a great end product. I’ve been in touch with the Acting & Performance department at Fife College to see if we can set up auditions there amongst the students. Aside from this I’ve struggled to find any acting groups in the Fife area, and that’s something I’ll have to look into if I want to avoid using the same cast over and over again.
Aims, Objectives & Deliverables
|1. Case Studies of audio dramas|
|2. Analyse relevant peer reviewed literature|
|3. Create audio drama sound tests|
|4. Gather data|
|5. Present data in accessible format|
|1.1 Interview producers of each case study audio drama|
|2.1 Review literature in bibliography, use Summon to search for more|
|3.1 Write scripts for sound tests|
|3.2 Hire actors|
|3.3 Hire facilities and equipment|
|3.4 Carry out recordings, mix in post production|
|5.1 Present as audio documentary or feature show|
|4.1 Carry out survey using established producers to critically analyse sound tests|
|1.1a Audio interview evidence uploaded to blog in podcast form, key points transcribed|
|2.1a Screenshots of literature searches. Relevant literature analysed and summaries in blog|
|3.1a Script writing and casting process documented in blog|
|3.2a Documentation of casting as a ‘casting diary’ on project blog|
|3.3a Photographs and documentation of equipment and facilities on blog|
|3.4a Raw audio from recordings to be submitted in CD form|
|3.4b Completed audio test recordings and documentary uploaded to blog|
|4.1a List of producers and their backgrounds uploaded to blog|
|4.1b Full survey results published on blog|
|5.1a Full documentation of project to be submitted in dissertation form|
|5.1b Finished audio piece to be presented alongside photographs and screenshots|
I’ve approached James Bisset, Head of Creative Industries (Media) about recording two of my sound tests at the college. The sound production department has state of the art facilities and I’d like to carry out one studio recording, and one field recording in the college grounds. Provisionally this looks to be a goer, I’ve to put my proposal in writing and we can hopefully arrange two recording sessions in January or February.