As a videographer you’re likely to be filming interviews on a regular basis, and audio is a crucial element of this. Rick Bronks talks through technique and the kit you’re going to need. Words: Rick Bronks.
FILMING INTERVIEWS is probably the most common type of set-up a videographer will encounter. However, it’s also one that, if it’s not done well, can be really dull and uninspiring, and achieving good, clean audio is a crucial part of the process. Good quality recording of the interviewee is the most important element of the production.
Interviews can take place anywhere and, as is the mantra of this series, you’ll need to be fully prepared for the many and varied audio situations you’ll inevitably find yourself in. From standing in the middle of a busy roundabout to being alongside someone at a noisy airfield, your mic selection and placement will be critical to the final recording quality.
Perhaps the most common interview situation is the ‘talking head’ of someone in their workplace. It’s often the case that, when you arrive, you’ll be presented with, and effectively stuck with, the most bland and uninspiring room imaginable. Windows along one side. Massive table in the middle with loads of wires protruding from the middle and, invariably, a huge TV screen on one wall. You’ll need to cope with that and still come away with something that looks – and particularly sounds – first rate.
When you walk in, the first thing you need to do is to ‘listen’ to the room. What can you hear? Air conditioning units? Ambient sound? Is there a lot of glass in the room that could be reflecting sound all over the place? Before you even open the camera bag and start setting up your shot, you need to consider the audio quality, and be looking to give it the same level of importance as you would lighting and framing the subject. Ultimately you need to be prepared to sacrifice a nice shot with amazing light, if the pay-off is that you come away with something that’s more basic but which is accompanied by clear and distinctive audio.
A talking head is only good if you can clearly hear what it’s saying. With inadequate sound the effect will be terrible, regardless of how nice your lighting might be. If you aren’t able to isolate any background noise that might be present then you’ll need to adopt a ‘use it or lose it’ approach, which we’ve spoken about before. Quite simply, if you can’t get rid of the noise in the background you’ll need to work out a way to use it to your advantage. If you can ‘see’ where the noise is coming from then your audience will accept that it’s there and you won’t have to worry about confusing them in the final edit.
Most interviews are framed quite tightly around the subject, and this will really help in terms of how you can mic your subject up. A tight frame means you can get a shotgun mic in quite close, while you also have the option to mount a lav mic on your subject that can be tucked away out of sight In this situation I would usually use both a shotgun mic – perhaps held on a boom pole or mounted to a light stand -as well as a lavalier mic hidden or clipped onto clothing. If the opportunity is there I’ll take time to hide the mic properly unless time is tight I prefer for it not be too obviously in the scene and I do this by working with a variety of inexpensive kit.
My favourite trick is to stick the mic to the inside of clothing, or to tuck it within a little silicon holder, which can then be hidden in a shirt seam, under a cap or pretty much anywhere. Try to avoid clipping a black box to someone’s clothing in vision since, if this is a commercial production, it won’t look professional, and make sure you don’t have lights in frame and discourage your subjects from wearing branded clothing if possible, for the same reason.
Let’s break down why I’d use both of these mics at the same time. We’ve already talked previously in this series about how shotgun mics can capture sound using a very focused pickup area, and are usually designed to work at a distance. If your interviewee is sitting down and isn’t moving around too much then you’re going to be pretty safe to attach your mic to a boom pole and to then use a clamp (or a neat little boom buddy accessory – available from CVP at £81.60) to get in front of your subject, but safely out of shot.
If, however, your subject is walking about then you’ll need someone to help out and to operate the boom, keeping it out of shot and as close as possible. It might be a little tricky to do this yourself as well as overseeing the camera(s). The usual rule is to point the mic around the area of the chin of the subject, and to hold it as close as possible. I recommend using the shotgun in a suspension to eliminate the rattle you might get if the cable is moving around, and you need to be careful to avoid this.
As we’ve mentioned previously, you might need phantom power for your shotgun. Mics like Sennheiser’s MKE 600 (CVP price £259), utilise AA batteries or phantom power, making them an excellent choice for interviews, and I find myself using one of these all the time.
The Sennheiser MKH-416 P48U meanwhile is a higher-end mic, and you do pay more for the high performance level it can offer: the CVP price is £879. It’s been an industry standard forever, and it’s a piece of kit that could last you through a decent chunk of your career if treated well. Not that it’s a delicate mic: it’s sealed against condensation and offers a lovely sound quality. There’s a reason these mics have been around a long time!
Adding a Lavalier
If you work with a lav mic then the scene will be benefitted by their compact size and ability to be hidden within the shot. You’ll need to ‘mic up’ your interviewee if you’re using one of these, so bear this in mind and make sure to allow adequate set-up time. And because there could be a fair amount of fiddling about as you attempt to hide trailing wires in clothing and so on, you’ll also have to be sensitive to how appropriate it might be to be in such close contact with your subject. Use your discretion and be sure to call on assistance if you or the interviewee could be feeling a little awkward as you’re setting things up.
Many filmmakers would happily work with just a single lav, but I prefer to use them as my primary backup mic, with my shotgun the main but, in many ways, it’s something of a personal choice. You also need to be aware that lavs are prone to noise created by the interviewee. They often get knocked, brushed, hit with a necklace, covered up and muffled, so you might have to guide your subject regarding how they move. If you happen to be working with a wireless lav it could also be that you could pick up some unwanted interference.
It might be tempting to mount the shotgun mic on your camera, especially if your interviewee is sitting close to you, but it’s not always the best idea. You could end up picking up noise from the camera handling noise, pressing of buttons etc and it’s also impossible to re-adjust its recording position once it’s fixed firmly into the camera’s hot-shoe.
These scenarios are all based around the assumption that you have a modicum of control over the environmental audio, have had the opportunity to pop up a stand or two and have some time to settle the interviewee. If you’re looking to shoot in a faster-paced location, such as a trade show or out on the street, then the mics we’ve discussed up to now might not be the best solution for the job. If you need to walk up, grab a vox pop and do it all super quickly then the traditional handheld mic could well be the way you should be looking to go.
These are not designed to be hidden out of shot, instead they’re larger and are meant to be noticeable, and can be the perfect choice for a snap interview. Many of those being interviewed have terrible microphone technique, so you’ll need to make sure they don’t start acting like a rapper or hip-hop star in the way they’re positioning the mic. It will need to be held close to their mouth to get the best result.
Looking back to when we talked about the various pickup patterns, a good call would be to get a cardioid dynamic mic, which will do a decent job of reducing background noise. I’d use something like the Sennheiser MD 46 dynamic microphone, £219 from CVP, which is
a great product and a really useful addition to your sound bag. If you wanted to go all-out ‘news’ you could also add a flag to your mic stem, so perhaps you could go the extra mile and ask your client if they would like to have the mic branded with their own logo.
I often use a combination of wired and wireless mics. Sometimes I want to make sure I’m not going to be gate-crashing someone else’s wireless mic channel and, if I can’t find out what they’re using, I might use a different system. If you wanted to go and get yourselves a solid wireless kit with lav and handheld mic alternatives you can’t go wrong with a Sennheiser AVX combo kit (CVP price £919), which would give you a robust, licence free wireless outfit with handheld and lav mics in one box.
Taking the mics into an external recorder will always be the best option, and we’ll take a look at recorders down the line, but more control is always good. Some mixers have the ability to auto fade channels when people aren’t speaking so, if you’re shooting more than one person, and they all happen to be wearing lavs, then you could have an issue with the mics of people who aren’t speaking picking up some audio from the people who are. Having the mixer pop down the relevant channel if necessary will certainly help to speed up your edit.
Each shoot is always going to be different, and each comes with its own set of variables. Getting to know your kit properly will aid speedy set-ups and awesome sound. Shooting interviews is all about the audio, otherwise there’s simply no point in doing it.
GET AN AUDIO DEMO
If you’re new to audio and want to receive a high level of impartial and practical advice regarding what kit to buy, or might be looking to book a demo with a Technical Consultant at CVP’s London Fitzrovia showroom, then speak to the CVP Care Team via webchat, or email them at email@example.com. ❚ cvp.com
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