Location scouting, sound and why loud BGs are a problem
There are hundreds of specific issues that need to be addressed when scouting for locations, but a very important one that is often payed little attention: Sound. The environment in which you choose to shoot will have a large impact on what is, and is not useable from a sound perspective. This mainly becomes a problem for scenes with a lot of dialogue, since fixing dialogue later is often the most difficult, and expensive, part of audio post.
I worked a project recently that shot a short scene with a few lines of dialogue around the Unisphere in Queens. It was an absolutely beautiful location with many fantastic backgrounds to lay out shots. The problem was, not only is the Unisphere about a half mile from Laguardia airport, but the Queens art museum just a couple hundred yards away was under construction and there was a landscaping crew on the other side of the park. To top it off, all of the water fountains started going just as we began to shoot.
Thanks to the beauty of directional microphones, the vast majority of the dialogue ended up being quite useable, but when there is that much going on in the backgrounds, you don’t leave yourself much wiggle room when trying to mix.
Which leads me to my other point: Why signal to background noise matters.
Without going much into specific metering and what a decibel means to you (maybe for another post?), I want to touch briefly on why loud backgrounds are a problem. Especially when you are doing long conversational scenes it is extremely important to pick locations with as little noise as possible. The reason for this comes into play when trying to do a mix in post. It’s all about options people, your dialogue is married to your background noise (yes you can reduce some noise in post, but it is expensive and time consuming). When you are mixing, if you bring up that dialogue, you bring up the BG noise with it.
Final mix priority #1 – Your dialogue must be clear and easily understood at all times. That Mack truck that was idling next to your actor trying to talk is going to kill you later in post. I realize that, this being NYC and all, good external and internal locations are very hard to come by, but don’t decide to write a four page dialogue scene in Times Square and expect it all to be useable later on.
Your friendly, affordable sound person,