Saturday, 22 February 2014

An Emotional Experience

"A film should first of all be an emotional experience. It should make you laugh, or cry, or be scared, but it should also inspire and provoke you and make you reflect." ....... William Friedkin.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The “Filmic Look” and why DSLRs are not the best choice for shooting video.

It is amazing how easy it is for people to succumb to the power of the internet, blindly following word-of-mouth advice and information passed on by people who happen to be regurgitating the latest fad with no qualifying proof or evidence to support their argument.

Many years ago a few, mainly American, film-makers were anxious to save money by shooting on video rather than film but were disappointed by the overall look that video had at that time. If they could shoot video as progressive 24 frames per second and transfer the edited piece to film for distribution they could save a fortune in production costs and, at the same time, get a little closer to their Holy Grail, “the filmic look” fro a video camera.

Television, and thus video, in the U.S. is broadcast at 30 frames per second, with each frame made up of two interlaced fields. Film, on the other hand is shot at 24 complete frames per second and projected at 48 frames per second at the cinema. Each frame has to be projected twice to reduce the very annoying flicker inherent in a 24 frames per second film.

The camera manufacturers saw a gap in the market and duly obliged by producing video cameras that could shoot 24 progressive frames per second. Unfortunately, 24 fps shooting began to be adopted by less informed people who were not even transferring their video to film. They were under the misguided belief that they needed to do this to get a filmic look but all they succeeded in doing was to increase their post production costs with an expensive and unnecessary standards conversion. In most parts of the world television is broadcast at 25 frames per second, not 30 frames as in America and Japan. This is only one frame per second more than film, so the difference is insignificant. The difference, however, between progressive frames and interlaced fields is significant.

Shooting at 25 frames per second would be more in keeping with most national video and television standards and prevents the expensive conversion costs associated with shooting in 24P. However, do you really like jittery pictures when you pan the camera? Frame jitter is an artefact of film production that viewers find irritating and cinematographers would very much like to see the back of. Because television uses two interlaced fields to make a complete picture frame, such motion jitter is reduced substantially to the point of insignificance, but at the expense of clarity in the image.

One solution is to take progressive images off the camera's imaging device and record these in an interlaced form – 25P at 50i. This helps towards achieving resolution with less flicker and is compatible with most national television standards around the world but is still not perfect. An improvement on this would be to adopt a system of 50 progressive frames per second but, for the time being, broadcasting in the UK at least, is strictly 50 interlaced fields per second. Standard definition is PAL 720 x 576 anamorphic at 50i and HD is 1920 x 1080 at 50i. If you shoot or edit your production in any other format it will have to go through a conversion process that could suffer some quality loss issues, and will certainly add to the post-production budget.

The filmic look has several components, some good and some bad. Frame jitter on pans is one of the unwelcome artefacts due to shooting 24 progressive frames per second and should be avoided.

Dynamic range is one of the major desirable aspects that film has had over video and is one area where the technology has improved over recent years in a bid to match the contrast range offered by film.

Kodak Vision 3 film has a measured 14.5 stops of dynamic range although Kodak only claim it is 13 stops.
Your typical DSLR is rated at less than 9 stops which is close to CCD television cameras with their dynamic range of 8 or 9 f-stops. Many digital cinematography cameras using CMOS imagers are a little better at about 11 stops but some such as Arri and Red claim to be in the range of 13 to 18.

The main thing that differentiates film from video productions has been the restricted depth of field due to the 35mm (and 70mm) film formats used for feature films. The 16mm film format used for documentary work, however, has a similar depth of field as a 2/3 inch CCD broadcast television camera. Unfortunately, most peoples' perception of video cameras comes from the use of prosumer models with small imaging devices. Your typical domestic camcorder only has an 1/8 inch chip, whilst your average journalist camcorder has only 1/3 inch chips. These small chips give extended rather than shallow depth of field. Many years ago, the manufacturers used to make 2/3 inch cameras for broadcast, ½ inch cameras for industrial, (corporate), or medical use and 1/3 inch chips for consumer cameras. The television news channels chose to adopt “prosumer” camcorders as they were a fraction of the price of 2/3 inch shoulder mount cameras, were more portable, and could be used by journalists with little training. Educational establishments followed suite and ever since then our perception of the video image has been coloured by this extended depth of field inherent in small chip camcorders. Now, all the new kids on the block seem to think that you can only get shallow depth of field from a DSLR or digital cinema camera.

DSLRs will give you shallower depth of field than a 2/3 inch shoulder mount, but this can actually work against you. Many cinematographers have cried out for extended depth of field denied them by their 35mm format. In order to achieve extended depth of field they have had to stop the lens right down which meant having to use much more light and thus more power and the need for generators on location. The desire for shallow depth of field should not be an end in itself. I have seen many productions ruined by shallow depth of field. Corporate productions featuring “talking head” interviews are often marred because the shallow depth of field causes the subject to have one eye in focus and the other out of focus......or the tip of the nose is soft......or they constantly go in and out of focus as they move about on their seat. Throwing the background out of focus makes them appear anonymous whereas an in-focus background reveals more about them and their environment. In a corporate video, the message should be more important than the look. Only the cameraman and director appreciate the filmic look, the client and their customers are more interested in the content, including any information that can be conveyed in the background of the shot. I have also seen several indie film shoots marred by an inappropriate use of shallow depth-of-field and poor use of focus. All of these have been shot on DSLRs.

A common myth being propagated on the web is that all television programmes are now being shot on DSLRs. This is total rubbish. Yes, DSLRs have been experimented with on certain TV programmes, but the producers have always gone back to using proper broadcast cameras afterwards. There appears to be a virus spreading amongst film-makers that causes them to think that DSLRs are better than video cameras. Well here are few reasons why DSLRs are not the best tool in the drawer for film-making:

1 Maximum aperture is often much smaller than film and video lenses especially at long focal lengths. Most TV lenses are f2 throughout the focal length range.

2 Lens build quality is generally poorer than film and TV lenses

3 Aperture is more likely to ramp during zooming

4 Auto focus is too erratic compared to video cameras auto focus systems

5 Aperture changes in click stops and is not continually variable

6 Lens breathing. Focal length changes during focussing causing image size to change.

7 Zoom lenses are often not true zooms but are more accurately called vari-focals as the focus changes through the range. TV lenses have a back-focus or rear-flange adjustment which makes them maintain focus throughout the zoom range.

8 Most stock DSLR lenses are of a cheaper plastic build to enable fast auto focus servos. You have to spend a lot more money on decent lenses.

9 Many stock DSLR lens elements often jerk into place causing a jump in the image.

10 Lack of substantial large focus ring makes accurate and stable focusing harder.

11 Lack of tv zoom servo precludes nice slow zooms

12 Lack of film-style smooth damping mechanism on zoom rings makes manual zooming flaky

13 Physical lens sizes are enormous when compared to 16mm film, 2/3” broadcast, 1/2” professional or 1/3” prosumer cameras.

14 Lack of decent wide angle zoom drama lenses (a 2/3” 3x WA drama lens costs about £12k whereas there are no stills lenses to compete with this quality)

15 Lack of long telephoto zoom lenses for sports and wildlife only incredibly bulky fixed focal lengths

16 No built in 2x extender. TV lenses have this built in. No SLR lens has this.

17 No built in macro switch. Most TV lenses have a physically switchable macro function to enable focusing down to a few centimetres. With pro-sumer video cameras, this switch is electronic and enabled in the menu. DSLRs require extension tubes to be fitted for this functionality with greater light loss.

18 No built in ND filters. Need to buy separate filter sets for each lens or an expensive matte box on rails.

19 No auto-knee or DCC function to compress highlights forcing the need to use graduated filters in front of the lens.

20 Lack of decent tripod mount to prevent twisting

21 Range of tripods are more limited and lack the engineering of high end video tripods that enable smooth movements and accurate balancing cams.

22 Lack of mass and inertia make steady hand-held virtually impossible

23 Lack of decent focus aids such as continually variable peaking on CRT viewfinders

24 Lack of decent viewfinder makes focussing, framing and exposure difficult in live view mode, especially in adverse lighting conditions. You need to buy an expensive add on viewfinder loupe.

25 Lack of adjustable viewfinder on most DSLRs makes low angle and high angle shots difficult

26 Inability to ride focus easily when following a moving subject

27 Inability to adjust exposure easily whilst following a moving subject in variable light

26 No ability to switch smoothly from outdoor to indoor white balance on the fly

28 No decent audio recording forcing the reliance on dual system shooting methods

29 No decent on board audio pre-amps for audio recording

30 No pro-audio balanced XLR connectors to interface with quality pro mics

31 No phantom power capability for P48 mics

32 No decent headphone amplifier for audio monitoring

33 No decent audio level meters

34 AGC causes audio to breath up and down

35 No time code read or write for synching to other cameras or recorders

36 Incorrect aspect ratio of most DSLRs for tv requires cropping and re-sizing in post

37 Large CMOS imager causes “jelly vision” on fast pans

38 Bayer prism single chip imager causes moire patterning in fine detail. Pro video cameras have traditionally used 3 chips, one for each colour, R, G and B.

39 Cameras overheat on long takes so not suitable for shooting corporate events, live concerts etc

40 Restrictions that shallow depth of field imposes (good point - bad point).
Citizen Kane is regarded by many as the best film ever made, and one of the stipulations that Orson Welles made to cinematographer Gregg Toland was to make sure that everything was in focus within each scene. Welles hated shallow depth of field and thought that the viewer should be able to make up their own mind as to what part of the shot they should be looking at......much like in the theatre. They would only be looking in the wrong place if the direction was bad.

41 Dual system recording (separate sound and picture) slows down the edit process and increases production and post production costs.

42 The codecs used in DSLRs are not generally approved for broadcast HD television delivery.

43 DSLRs use 420 colour space not the 422 colour space required for broadcast. 422 colour space takes 2 red minus luminance (R-Y) and 2 blue minus luminance (B-Y) samples for every 4 luminance samples. 422 colour space gives superior results in chroma-keying, vfx and colour grading although high end HD will use 444 sampling. 420 is not allowed for HD broadcast as it isn't good enough quality.

People who promote using DSLRs seem to be totally mis-guided, obsessed with “the filmic look” and “shallow depth-of-field” at the expense of everything else, and continually spread dis-information such as..........”television programmes and feature films are all being made on DSLRs”, which is completely untrue. DSLRs are sometimes used for TV and film but they are certainly not replacing traditional equipment nor methods of working because their numerous disadvantages will continue to outweigh the advantages. If you want shallow depth of field, stick a DOF adapter on your video camera, or use a proper digital cinematography camera and real film lenses.

Where DSLRs are being used as viable alternative to professional video cameras, they are often accessorised with a lot of additional expensive add-ons in order to make them function like professional cameras.........shoulder mounts, better lenses, follow focus rigs, add on focus aids and viewfinders, microphones and mounts, audio amps with bodged agc defeat signals and third party software or firmware.  None of these, however, make them qualify for professional HDTV use and all tend to negate the cost savings made with the initial camera purchase.

If I'm shooting an indie film, I'd rather use a digital cinematography camera. If I'm shooting a documentary, sports, wildlife or corporate video, I'd rather use a 2/3 shoulder mount or a journalists camcorder an I would use a DSLR for some time-lapse, some music videos, some commercials, some underwater filming and some news journalism.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Lav Mics – Mounting On Talent and Using Plant Mics

The best way to record location sound is from a boom held about a third of a metere above the actors heads, but for various reasons the shoot may require that the actors are fitted with radio mics. Getting good audio from radio mics is never easy and cannot be relied upon for perfectly clean sound, usually due to noise issues.

Causes of Noise;

Contact – clothing rubbing on mic.
Acoustic – clothing rubbing against itself and beard stubble on shirts.
Cable noise – Mechanical noise transmitted up the cable.
Contact Wind Noise – wind striking the mic capsule.
Acoustic Wind Noise – wind blowing through trees, wires or buildings.

Basic Rules For Deployment;

Choose the right clothing.
Modify the clothing.
Shave the actor.
Imobilize the clothing around the mic.
Put a strain relief in the cable.
Secure the cable.
Consider alternative hiding places.

Choosing The Right Clothing;

Cotton and woolens are the quietist fabrics.
Avoid silks and synthetics wherever possible as these are very noisy.
Avoid starched clothing.
Avoid heavy pendent jewelry.
Avoid wrist bangles.

Modify The Clothing;

Static Guard can be used to lubricate some problem materials such as where jackets rub over shirts.
Heavy starch conducts noise so wet down starched areas around the mic and any areas not seen on camera.
Make holes in pockets and ties to enable cable routing between mic head and transmitter.
Secure any swinging ornamentation, as found on some period clothing, with tape.
A cotton slip or vest worn under a t-shirt can sometimes be beneficial.

Modify The Actor;

Get the actor to shave off any beard stubble if possible.
Have the actor shave their chest to prevent noise generated by cloth rubbing on their chest.

Materials Required In The Kit Bag;

Wet-wipes/hand gel for clean hands.
Dental floss for making strain relief loops.
Sticky tape inside out for alternative strain reliefs.
Gaffer tape triangles used in pairs for mic mounting.
Moleskin in pre-prepped pieces to stick mic capsule to fabric.
Scissors for cutting moleskin.
Small safety pins.
Static Guard/anti-static spray to wet down starch and other problem materials.
Foam tip from tape head cleaner for wind suppression or,
Foam make-up wedges, or “Hush lavs”.
Rycote Stickies for static interviews.
Rycote Undercovers for static interviews.
Rycote Overcovers for wind protection and in-vision mounting.
Cheesecloth over foam for wind protection.
Patch of cloth or felt to match wardrobe for wind suppression.
Double sided tape, tit tape, wig tape, toupee tape, Topstick.
Medical tape – Blenderm/Transpore in place of moleskin at a pinch. Keep some in mixer bag. Use to tape cables to skin or fabric.
Cloth or felt swatch to camouflage mics in plain view.
Fine elastic cord made into headband/tiaras.
Hair extension clips fitted with short piece of elastic cord.
Blue-tac to attach to props and sets.
Tan fabric dye such as Rit or cold tea for staining white or flesh coloured mic cables.
Marker pens such as Copic Ciao art markers in skin tones to camouflage cables.
Tesa Tape to put on shoes in order to quieten footsteps
Sound blankets/furniture removers blankets to deaden sound reflections/ cover noise sources etc..

Strain Relief:

Make a loop 1/2” in diameter just below the mic capsule.
A second loop may be used occassionally.
Tape 1” of cable to the fabric just below the mic capsule.


Safety pins can be used to anchor Gaffa triangles or moleskin in place if the mic needs to be In place for a long period of time and there is a risk of it coming adrift due to moisture from rain, humidity or perspiration. As the adhesive loses hold an audible fizzing can be heard. Not an ideal solution but worth considering.

Wind blocking:

Outdoors, wind plays havoc with Lav mics and only the lightest breeze is easily suppressed. Wind will pass through T-shirts, polo shirts and dress shirts and will affect mics hidden in ties and hair. Various methods can be tried to reduce wind noise. Placing the capsule inside a foam protector made from tape head cleaning sticks or make-up wedges, before wrapping in Gaffa triangles or moleskin may work. An oversized grill off a larger microphone or additional layer of cheesecloth may offer further protection but the bigger the solution, the more difficult it becomes to hide the mic. Some wind noise, like traffic noise, is part of the environment and can be ignored.


Sandwich the capsule between Gaffa tape triangles and attach to the shirt near the centre of the chest.
Place cable loop opposite a button.
Tape 1” of cable to shirt.
Beard stubble abrading the collar can be an issue so make sure the talent is clean shaven where possible.
A COS 11 on a rubber mount can be mounted between two shirt buttons on a strip of TopStick or wig tape. After buttoning the shirt the top layer of material need to be pressed onto the remaining exposed tape. This is more durable than Gaffa tape triangles.

Moleskin with pin:

Wrap moleskin strip sticky side out around mic head.
Insert open safety pin and wrap again.
Use a strain relief loop as above.
Secure 1” cable as before.
Can also use sandwiched between tape triangles.

Polo Shirts

One of the easiest garments for hiding Lavalier mics as the capsule can be hidden in the placket close to the sternum which gives ideal placement.


Avoid high-necked T-shirts as the mic will be to close to the throat or easily visible if placed in the centre of the chest. With a lower V-neck neckline the capsule can be taped to the back of the hem in the point of the V and the cable routed along the hem following the neck-line and over the shoulder to the transmitter mounted in the small of the subjects back.

Sweaters and Sweatshirts:

Mount under collar and feed cable around the back.


Ideally use front address mics like COS-11, B6 etc., not side address mics like TR50s.
Route cable over shoulder and under collar. Feed through back of tie to hide capsule inside the knot pointing downwards. Use Transpore tape to stick the capsule to the tie, and also to secure the cable where it comes out of the collar at the back of the neck. Useful if subject moves a lot. Secure both strands of the tie with wig tape. Loosen the tie to reduce strain in collar.
You can also use moleskin as a soft layer for the lav to be mounted on if the cloth is particularly stiff or noisy.
A COS 11 or similar wrapped in moleskin and Joe's Sticky Stuff wrapped around the moleskin so it sits perfectly still inside the knot.
A side address mic like a TR50 can be used lower down inside the fabric of the tie. Use a vampire clip and ensure that the mic grill faces inwards to prevent the grill being abraded by the material.
One thing that works is a sandwich of a cos-11, Garfield Hush lav, Topstick, then moleskin (sticky side out) attached between the layers of a tie about 4 inches down from the knot. Lots of people also find good use of corn pads (i cut them in half) to build up an "air space" around the mic.
Hide mic in standoff stuck to back of tie further down sound less boomy and more natural.
With active talent, bring the cable out of the shirt front and tape it up the back of the tie to finally be hidden in the knot.


Under collar wings/lapels. Not good for Tram mics. Heavy coats block sound so the mic needs to be brought out into the open and disguised with a random swatch of cloth or felt. Disguise by rubbing dirt over random patch.


A Tram on a vampire clip under a lose fitting collar.
Clothing noise often comes from the inner jacket lining rubbing against a stiff dress shirt,


Womens cleavage offers a natural pocket that helps keep clothing away from the mic capsule. A Gaffa triangle can be used flat-side up, pointy end down placed inside the bra at the cross point where the cups meet. Alternatively, a vampire clip can be used at this point, facing inwards.


Transmitter at one side of strap. Mic on vampire clip in middle or to one side of centre. Route cable under cup, then wrap tape around wire and strap at 2 inch intervals all the way around the back.

Synthetic Materials:

Use Topstick (wig tape) on the cable below the capsule to attach to the material. On really noisy material put the tape on the actual capsule. Put a Rycote Undercover directly on the tape and another thin piece of tape over the Undercover. This is to secure the loose garment and prevent it moving around and rubbing on the undercover

Hat Brims:

Cable needs to route down the back to the transmitter, although it may be possible sometimes to hide the transmitter in the hat.
Trams and side addressed capsules are good for mounting on the inside or under the bill of the hat.

Spectacle Frames:

With thick framed spectacles the capsule can be taped to the frame with Blewnderm or Transpore tape.

In The Hair:

Placed above centre of forehead or placed over ear the cable is routed through the hair and down into the back of the shirt/dress. Cables is held in place with fine elastic attached to hair extension clips. Alternatively the capsule can be tied to an elastic loop worn like a headband tiara.

Inside Pens:

Holllowed out platic pen placed in jacket or shirt breast pocket with cable routed through hole in bottom of pocket.


Hide in pockets
Clip to bra straps especially if wearing a tummy shirt exposing the midriff.
Clip to belts/waistbands and face inwards to avoid LEDs being seen
Cover with condoms or cut balloons for water immersion protection.
Mount in pouches on velcro straps for use with evening dresses/saris.

Plant Mics;

Hide inside handheld props such as purses, clip-boards, flashlights and cups using a wad of tape or Blue-tac to float the capsule away from the objects surface
Hiden in a cars sun visor, one mic can pick up driver and passenger.
In a centrepiece on a table such as a flower vase or in an office desk set can pick up both sides of an across-the-table dialogue.
Mounted on a door jamb where a boom would be difficult to place.
Fixed to the headboard of a bed.
Mounted on telephone handsets or inside telephone kiosks.
Fixed inside practical, (period), microphones.
Stuck on the out of shot side of a computer screen.
Use sticky tape pad or Blue-tac to reduce vibration


Use a shotgun as a bleed mic to improve perspective and pick up footsteps and reflected ambience.
Use one lav to record two people, especially in loud club environment to avoid phasing problems

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Sound Guidance For The Wardrobe And Production Department

Getting good quality production sound is not alway possible with boom microphones and it is often more practical to hide Lavalier radio mics in the performers clothing. One of the downsides to this is that the microphones often pick up clothing rustle or that the clothing rubs against the microphone itself. In order to minimise these problems it is helpful if the actors concerned, and the wardrobe/production department observe the following list of "dos and don'ts" where practicably possible.
DOs:   Cotton is by far the best material to wear as it has the least chance of creating rustling sound on its own.
For men, polo shirts are a good choice for casual wear and can be used in most environments. Thin T-shirts can be a problem as they often show the mic placement, thicker ones are better. Dress shirts can be good as long as they are not starched. Again, cotton is preferred over polyester, and plain rather than embroidered. Men with chest hair would help by shaving,
Heavy jumpers and sweaters can be a problem as the fabric blocks high frequencies. 
For women most cotton blouses are good if they allow a mic to be placed on the skin usually on the sternum. Optimum mic placement is in the cleavage or pinned to the bra where the cups join. Avoid lace bras if possible as the coarse material will be heard rubbing against the neighbouring layer of clothing.

If the actors can bring a cotton undershirt or vest along this can sometimes help with placement. 
DON'Ts:   Silks, nylon, and heavy wool garments can be a real problem. They create a rubbing sound that can even be picked up by boom mics at close quarters, let alone on a Lav mic a few inches away. Similarly, embossed t-shirts, or t-shirts with plastic iron-on designs can be a problem. T-shirts with high necklines can be difficult as the mic needs to be placed low down on the chest and will probably be visible under the shirt. Starched shirts and other garments can also generate noise. Extremely thin material can show mic cables unless the cable can be hidden by taping along the seams. Jewelry such as heavy pendant necklaces and wrist bangles can be a source of noise problems as well.

The radio transmitter will be placed out of sight, in a pocket, on the belt or waistband, or on the bra strap of the actor. Alternatively a pouch on a velcro belt can be used around the waist or thigh, where there are no suitable places on the actors clothing. This is usually the case with long evening dresses and saris.
Soft fabric ties are better than synthetics such as polyester, which can prove to be a source of noise problems.

Where tape is used to secure the mic cable to skin, such as when routing the cable under a bra, Micropore or Transpore medical tape is used that is designed to be used on skin and has hypo-allergenic properties.

Period costume pose many additional problems which need careful consideration and discussions with the sound department ahead of production could prove beneficial.

For scenes that involve the actors performing dynamic movements such as action/fight scenes, scuffles, embraces, crawling, running, rolling on the floor, or carrying shoulder bags or rucksacks, there may be no alternative other than to use a boom mic. Meetings with the sound department ahead of production can help highlight any mic placement issues that may occur in advance of the shoot. It takes up precious production time hiding microphones on set and in actors clothing so plan your shoot to allow for this prep time. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Sounds Good?

Quote for the day;

"The success or disappointment of your final soundtrack is decided by you, before the cameras even roll, even before you commence preproduction!"

David Lewis Yewdall

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Best Picture For Sound Design

There are numerous films that are worth mentioning when looking at good sound design; Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan, Wall-E, Apocalypse Now, Das Boot to name just a few. Generally speaking they nearly all fall into one of the four categories of Sci-Fi, Horror, Action or Animation. Understandably, each of these categories has sound design requirements but one film that doesn't fit any of these categories and a film that superbly illustrates sound design principles is the Robert Zemeckis film Cast Away starring Tom Hanks.

As an added bonus the DVD features a "Director & Crew Commentary Version" which discusses many aspects of it's sound design and visual effects.

The film has no music for most of it's running time, and very little dialogue. Most of the location sound of Chuck Noland stranded on a remote island was unusable because of the all pervasive sound of the distant breakers. The bulk of the reconstructed soundtrack contains wind, rain and wave sounds, all of which are, in themselves, difficult subjects to record. And of course, all Chucks movements were re-recorded in Foley and all the location dialogue (or should that be monologue) was replaced by ADR.

All in all, the film is a masterpiece in natural sound reconstruction, and the special feature commentary is a must for anyone interested in how Hollywood features manage to produce such exceptional soundtracks when presented with such impossible location conditions.