I just spent 2 weeks on the road doing the audio for a road trip mockumentary called “Go West Happy Cow”. It’s a story about 2 friends who drive a horse trailer full of beer across the country and have a party in a different city every night. We shot the thing in real time, so it was more or less a documentary, which is right up my alley, but also very grueling as we would spend up to 12 hours a day in the car driving between locations. We had parties in Madison, WI, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, Las Vegas and LA over the span of 7 days. The Denver stop was my birthday and hitting the road at 7am the next morning and driving through a blizzard on I-70 hurt me in ways that I cannot describe. We got to Las Vegas around 9pm that day, which I would describe in Vegas as “early afternoon”.
Check out the slideshow: (Well, still working on it. Apparently WordPress doesnt have a slideshow feature that works)
For this shoot we used the Panasonic AG-HMC150 AVCCAM camera. From what I saw the images looked pretty good. The camera worked like a small version of the HVX, but it records H.264-based AVCHD to SD cards instead of DVCPRO HD on P2 cards. I can’t comment on the differences and similarities of the 2 formats as I was the audio guy for this production. I would like to spend more time with this camera in the future though. It seems like a great setup for the price. I think AVCHD could become a lot bigger if Canon decides to stick with it for future versions of its HD-capable DSLRs. It also seems to be taking over from HDV in the consumer market. We had 2 of these cameras set up on rails with a shoulder mount and a matte box. With the lav receivers hanging off the back, it looks like a very professional setup. One of the matte boxes flew off the top of the van early in the trip. The replacement cost for that matte box was more than the purchase price of the 1994 Dodge Caravan it flew off of. We bought the van specifically for this production and it worked great. It would have been $1800 to rent a van, and based on the market in LA, the producers will probably make money on it when they sell it.
For audio, we had 2 basic setups. The 2 actors had wireless lavs – Sony UWP-V1 units with the included Sony mic. I was impressed with this wireless as it had the ease of use that the Sennheiser G2 series has (LCD display with signal and batt levels) along with the diversity receiver that I missed from Audio Technica’s discontinued True Diversity series. AT has just released (after 2+ years) a new true diversity set, but I think I would go with the Sonys instead because the Sony receivers are much smaller. The sound quality was crisp and there were no dropouts as far as I know – these units were going into the main camera which was monitored by the cameraman. I think these are the best non-digital units on the market. Of course the Lectrosonics 400 series are better, but that’s at many times the cost of the Sonys.
The second setup was a boom mic, which I ran directly into my Zoom H4n. I used a Gorilla Pod wrapped around my sound bag (fanny pack) to hold the Zoom level so I could keep an eye on the meters. With a 16GB card, I could capture up to 23hrs of 2 channel audio in Broadcast Wave Format (BWF). With the newest firmware for the H4n, the BWF files are readable by Final Cut with included time code. The H4n doesn’t have SMTPE time code or an option to jam sync, but I was able to get within a second of the camera’s Time of Day time code, so the audio files should be pretty close. In post, the editor is going to use Pluraleyes to sync up the boom audio with the camera audio. There were 2 cameras – 1 was recording the 2 lavs and the other was just recording ambient. This should be plenty of info to sync up the boom audio with the video.
The only issue I ran into was that the boom mic wasn’t very powerful. There were a lot of cases where I had to turn up the inputs on the Zoom all the way, which really increases the noise floor. This was the first time I’ve used a mic with such low levels with the Zoom, so I was unprepared to do anything about it on the shoot (the mic was a rental). As a comparison, using the boom mic at 100% would yield the same level as using the Zoom’s internal stereo mic at 25%. The only solution was to plug the boom mic directly into the camera whenever possible (which had noise issues of its own). Because of the locations and setups we were using, plugging in directly didnt happen too often. So in the future I would use a separate mixer such as the Sound Devices 2 channel Mixpre to cleanly boost the levels before going into the Zoom. I’ve never used the Mixpre, but apparently it offers 66dB of gain and I really like the sound of the (more expensive) Sound Devices 302 mixer, which uses the same preamp. Other than that, the Zoom worked great as a double-system recorder. I can see using this setup much more in the future, which means I will probably buy the Mixpre sooner rather than later. Using a 1/8″ TRS adapter, the Zoom can record 4 channels. So I could see using this to record a boom along with a few lavs all at once. It remains to be seen how clean sounding the 1/8″ input is though. Overall I was pleased. As far as I’m concerned, with a program like Pluraleyes, there’s no need to use SMPTE time code based digital recorders. BWF with Time of Day time stamp was more than enough. Eliminating the need for SMPTE time code saves about $1000 on the cost of an audio setup. That money is better spent on higher quality microphones.
I also shot about 6 rolls of Super 8 on my new Canon 1014 XLS and 7 rolls on my Holga. I used them mainly for travel and party shots as a surreal compliment to the HD footage. The Canon 1014 XLS is a great camera and a huge step up over my Canon 814. It looks brand new, has really sharp optics and is relatively quiet. I’m hoping to have it converted to Max 8 soon. Since the edit has already started, I need to get this stuff processed and scanned very quickly. Ah, film. After a pretty heavy shooting year, I have settled on just 2 stocks for the Super 8 – Ektachrome 64T reversal and Vision3 500T negative. I don’t like shooting Tri-X black and white anymore because its too contrasty. It’s very sensitive to exposure changes by the camera’s built-in light meter. So it requires that I lock the exposure on the camera and use my handheld light meter all the time. I know a few Super 8 cines that now shoot only 500T, but I really like the look of the Ektachrome for outdoor daytime shots. It has richer colors which reminds people that they are watching Super 8 film.
A rough cut is projected to be ready by Dec 1st with a release date slotted for the spring. Check out the movie website at www.gowesthappycow.com