Private: Production Sound Recording

A film crew's sound recordist captures production audio using recording equipment.

Sound is one of the most important elements of film; it allows recorded media to closely resemble or outstrip real life, allowing for fluid storytelling and artistic embellishment. Clear, audible speech is key to any filmed dialogue, and getting clean, workable sound can kick any production's quality up to the professional level. Producers and directors may be forced to make all sorts of cuts due to budget or time constraints, but sound is rarely on the chopping block - anyone in the business knows that well-recorded audio is the key to making good work. A sound crew can consist of one or many, but always includes a mixer, who is responsible for balancing sound as it comes through the microphone. Many set ups call for a boom mic, which is a long pole with a recording apparatus at one end that relays recorded sound to a mixing kit. The one in charge of this is called a boom operator, who must have incredible focus and upper body strength to keep sound clear without interfering with a shot. An extended sound crew may include all kinds of technicians, runners, and extra hands, but all of them must be committed to ensuring that sound comes through clearly.

Production mixers are primarily responsible for dialogue; they must account for differentiations in an actor's vocal pitch, adjusting levels accordingly to keep everything clear. A sound crew is also responsible for eliminating any possible sources of distortion, such as rustling clothes, heavy wind, or humming refrigerators. This calls for strategic problem solving and creativity, as solutions are not always achievable or apparent. Different types of scenes or productions call for different types of recording equipment. Actors may be individually miced or their lines may be picked up by a single microphone; a sound recordist should be able to determine the recording setup best suited to each scenario. This often involves coordinating with costume or camera crew; many sound recordists will also keep track of actor's movements to ensure that they stay in recording range.

Work in production sound recording may include...

  • Calling for and obtaining room tone
  • Continually adjusting audio levels as needed
  • Determining the best recording strategy for a given scene
  • Eliminating background noise and distortion
  • Keeping track of recorded takes and making note of any issues

Films can shoot in all kinds of conditions, and sound recordists, mixers, and crew need to be prepared to work in them. Rain, snow, wind, and water can complicate outdoor shooting, as can crowds and noise pollution. Indoor shoots tend to be in studios or locations, which may have their own quirks and regulations. Most sound crews work on a project basis, meaning that they tend to be hired for individual productions by a producer. Some work for studios, schools, or production companies, contributing their skills to multiple shoots as needed. A strong sound portfolio of clean final projects is essential for finding work, as is a strong network of industry contacts. Working well with someone on a production often leads to future work, and sound crew with impressive credentials may find themselves fielding multiple offers. Since recording is a technical skill, rates for sound mixers start high, so this can be lucrative work for those well suited to its demands.

Training to become a production sound mixer requires time and dedication. Many film schools offer sound tracks, which train students to use basic or industry standard recording equipment and software. It's also possible to pick up the trade independently, though equipment access can be a barrier. Working at studios or assisting more experienced sound personnel can be a great way to pick up the trade and get familiar with the gear.

If you've got a technical ear and a strong sense of aesthetic balance, there might be a career for you on a production sound crew.

The Cinema Audio Society fosters community among mixers, educating the general public and the motion picture and television industry about good and effective sound usage.

SMPTE is a global society of media professionals, technologists, and engineers working together to drive the industry forward.

IATSE Local 695 is the labor union representing production sound, video engineers, and studio projectionists.