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recording a theatrical production
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goose42
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Joined: 28 May 2010
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Location: Murfreesboro, TN

PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2011 9:04 am    Post subject: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

So I have a cool new opportunity: recording performances of a theatrical production for the DVD! The project is called Terminator the Second, and replaces the dialogue in Terminator 2: Judgement Day with lines from Shakespeare in a five-act stage presentation. I'm not kidding.

My classmate from college is the sound designer, and he recommended me when they asked him to help find someone to track audio at 2-3 of the 6 shows. They're just about to move into the performance space, an auditorium at the Nashville School for the Arts. I toured the facility briefly last night, and thought I'd get the TOMB's take on ways to approach this project.

The auditorium is small but not cramped, and I'm guessing seats around 200. The stage is about 30' across and 15-20' deep. The PA has two speakers flown from the 25' ceiling, and the sound designer is bringing in a couple of side fills. FOH is about 50' from the front of the stage, and roughly even with it because of the slope of the floor. It's a nice-sounding little room, from messing around in it last night.

They have a set of 4 Crown PZMs that they plan to use as area mics, arranged evenly across the front of the stage (these will be used to amplify performers live to the PA, as well). I'm going to bring in some foam and scrap rockwool to put under them to minimize vibration. I'm also going to bring in a stereo pair to place with us back at FOH, to make sure I get the total picture (the speakers look to me like they could overshoot the area mics). We also discussed hanging a mic from the rigging close to the back of the stage; I am thinking of one of my CAD M179s in omni.

What else would you do? Some thoughts that have occurred to me: find a way to get a split of the SFX and music, just to have as a stem in case the audience is rowdy. Maybe use a splitter before the console (it's a fairly recent, clean, large-format Mackie board. By default, I'd get the direct outs.)
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jhharvest
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2011 9:42 am    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

I'd use lavs. Twisted Evil
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Gregg Juke
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Joined: 12 Jun 2010
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2011 12:12 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

having produced and directed shows, and also having been a technical director, i can tell you this stuff is fraught with pitfalls, but can be fun too.

You could go simple-- A few house mikes, the area mikes, and a board feed; or you can go crazy over-the-top and mike everything, but pick one of the two ways... Once you start to think "Oh, if I had just one more..." it's over; you'll be installing gear for weeks. I'd suggest trying to keep it simple, but also explaining excatly what this means to the director/producer/money-person hiring you.

Also, I'd get some DVD's of live shows to watch, because mixing for TV/DVD is different than mixing live sound for an audience or for a record. Watch and listen, and see if there's anything you missed in your planning.

It goes without saying that you should go to as many rehearsals as you can...

GJ
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goose42
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Joined: 28 May 2010
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Location: Murfreesboro, TN

PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2011 1:27 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

Thanks as always, guys!

The producers/directors seem to be focused on capturing the audience experience. There's not really time or budget to get crazy with a mix. As it is, I'm looking at doing much of the mixing as I go so I can deliver stems to the DVD team within a pretty short span. I'll get to talk with them more tomorrow.

Figuring out the right level of complexity is going to be a challenge; I'd hate to have a completely static mix where the DVD shows a closeup of the lead, but he's all in the right channel because he was giving his soliloquy from audience right. I won't know how the DVD guys are going to cut the film until they do it.

This will be very different from a lot of the record production I've worked on; most of the time my sources stay in one place, or else I tie them down!

Meantime, I'm going to put my Twin Peaks adventure on Netflix on hold (at least I know who the killer is now Smile ), and check out the Broadway Theatre Archive titles. Two of the Shakespeare titles available to stream are King Lear with James Earl Jones from 1974, and Hamlet with Kevin Kline from 1990, not a bad start...
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jhharvest
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 1:22 am    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

Imo the "audience experience" usually makes for pretty poor watching and listening on a smaller screen. It's a big disparity between seeing a person on a stage and seeing a tiny speck on a 30" screen.

If you can, give the editor a quick mono reference mix and make the final mix after you have the video. You could also try to negotiate with the stage director placing the mics at least somewhere close to where the actors usually are. Still it might be a challenge come mix time.

Personally the way I approach these things in this order:
1) Legibility of spoken dialogue
2) Relative levels and similar sound
3) Placing the sources in the sound image relative to video
4) Sound design

For the first two lavs are great. With mics further back it's often a battle with room acoustics to get understandable dialogue and when the actors move you'll get a different sound which you need to factor in, especially if the shot follows the actor.
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Gregg Juke
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 3:46 am    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

What JH said; in fact, if there's a way to make your stage vox mono/center-panned, you may want to think of that aspect more from a film perspective.

In a similar-but-different vein that I think I forgot to mention, you may want to have some audience reaction mikes available to mix in somewhere. Another odd thing is watching a live show so close-miked that there is _no_ audience reference sound in the final production track-- it's a weird, disconnecting viewing experience. Even some of Tyler Perry's early "Madea" live-to-DVD productions had that odd sound/picture combination; it just made things kind of weird from a home-viewing perspective; you know there's an audience, but you can't hear them at all...

GJ
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goose42
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Joined: 28 May 2010
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Location: Murfreesboro, TN

PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 1:27 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

After watching a few minutes of several BTA performances, I'll definitely agree that they're a little weird. I've been informed by the DVD crew that they're relying on the dress rehearsal for a lot of their principal shots, because the producers want them in the back of the auditorium during the performances. That tells me that I should make sure I've got it right by then, too, and that weirdness may be unavoidable.

I also like the idea of a mono rough. Pretty much all of the BTA shows were entirely in mono, or else all dialogue was in mono and the stereo was filled with music and SFX (really hokey music in the case of Kevin Kline as Hamlet, too bad).

I like the idea of lavs, but I don't think there's any budget for them. I will ask. (If I understand right, the costumes are pretty elaborate, and may not allow for them anyway. We'll see!)

I'm going to have to wait until I see the set to figure out where I can put additional mics (the current production that's in the room is a minimalist run of The Crucible; that one would be so simple!). There's no snake, so anything else I get I have to run and tape cable for myself. I've probably got enough cable, but we'll see. I could bring in my own snake, which is 50', but I'm not sure if that's quite enough...

At this point, I don't think they're expecting much from me, but I'd like to exceed expectations and deliver a high quality product. It's a bit of a mess, but that's what I'm paid for! The audience experience in the room is going to be great - it's just going to be riding that balance that will be challenging.
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Snarl 12/8
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 2:07 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

What if you looked at the dress rehearsals as being the shoot, with the actual performances just to catch alternate takes that you didn't get at rehearsal. Us a boom operator with a shotgun or have an assistant or two back stage making sure the lav mics are on the right people for each scene. It'll severely fuck with their rehearsals, so they probably won't go for it, but then afterwards they'll wish they had so they'd have a decent capture of all that hard work.

Story board the entire play so you know where the boom ought to be, and how the shot is going to be framed etc., for the best results. If you want it to seem like a movie, shoot it like a movie, but without the 5 hours of prep between each shot.
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jhharvest
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 3:45 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

I haven't used a boom with a theatre production. I'd imagine you'd need two, because there tends to be a fair bit of movement. But there would probably be issues with shadows since stage lighting is often overhead.

Usually elaborate costumes are good for lavs - you get better placement without it showing up. Headdresses especially are good for that. But if you can't budget them, you could supplement your on stage PZMs with hypercardioids at the edge of the stage. Record everything individually and you should have something useable. Maybe I'm wrong but I think you'll have a whole lot of space (and audience) in those PZMs.

Then if you have the SFX and music separate and a nice stereo pair or some figure of eights for the audience (I stick them in the middle of the audience, so the FOH speakers are in the rejection plane - shotguns near the speakers pointing toward the audience work too if you aren't afraid of EQ), you should be good to go.

Good luck!
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goose42
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Joined: 28 May 2010
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 10:55 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

So a few more details:
We can rent a couple lavs, but their budget is probably only going to support it for principal cast. That may be totally worth it if support cast isn't speaking much, but I won't really find out until Monday. That's cool, and makes a ton of sense, that they work better on an elaborate costume.

It will be a very very active production. I saw some of the set pieces being built (actually helped screw a few of them together)... they're going to do their best to fill that stage (in part with the hood/grille from a decommissioned dump truck).

They borrowed their PZMs from another small company, and I'm trying to get some of the material recorded with them so I can compare it to this production.

I'm definitely going to have my shit dialed by dress rehearsal, because the footage from that may be it for the DVD. There is a lot of overhead lighting, so booms will probably be out (I would think assistants, too, but it can't hurt to ask). I think I can get away with hypercards on the stage: trusty M160s to the rescue again! JH, how would you aim them?

Thanks again for your help!
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jhharvest
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 11:49 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

goose42 wrote:
So a few more details:
I think I can get away with hypercards on the stage: trusty M160s to the rescue again! JH, how would you aim them?

It depends on how the talent is situated on stage. If they are generally towards the back of the stage, this won't help you much. But the idea is to fill the stage where your PZMs might not catch much usable sound. Space 4-5 of them evenly, just peering over the edge of the stage, maybe 45 angle so you have the FOH speakers in the rejection angle if possible and catch as much of the action as possible. It's hard to say without seeing it in person. This will generally work better if the back of the stage isn't very reflective.
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Gregg Juke
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 11:53 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

Something I'm learning from experimentation and the film peeps online is that you actually want hyper-cardioids indoors, not shotguns, so that should be fine. Also, if you work very closely with the camera people (so you know how they're framing shots and where those frame lines are), you can boom from underneath (scooping), which might cause less problems as far as stage/camera lighting is concerned. You don't always have to boom from overhead, so that might still be an option for you.

GJ
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goose42
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Joined: 28 May 2010
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Location: Murfreesboro, TN

PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2011 10:39 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

Quote:
It's hard to say without seeing it in person.


True! It's unfortunate that I won't really get all the variables in place until just before the opening. I've discussed this with the producers, and they're completely on the same page with me. I think we've got a plan to create a good experience on the DVD. We talked about lavs a little more, but decided to go forward without them since we're 10 days from opening night.

I will at least have enough time to find out where the holes are, and I have enough supplemental gear (I think) to fill them.

I like the idea of scooping! I bet it sounds better, too, because you'll maximize rejection of reflections from the floor (and I guess that's part of your point about working with hypercards indoors; if you're outside, there's a lot less to reflect sound back to you). If I had a crew to work with, I would go for it.

Next time, I can get involved earlier, with everyone's advice here in mind, and make it even better. I am curious about how to use lavs properly. How do you decide who wears one? If your budget is limited, then it will probably be necessary to swap them around supporting cast. It sounds like you need 1 or more stagehands to wire them up and service them at all times throughout a performance. How do you control feedback? This is probably for another thread...
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Gregg Juke
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2011 10:59 pm    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

>>>>I am curious about how to use lavs properly. How do you decide who wears one? If your budget is limited, then it will probably be necessary to swap them around supporting cast. It sounds like you need 1 or more stagehands to wire them up and service them at all times throughout a performance. How do you control feedback? This is probably for another thread...<<<<

Properly? = As close to the source as possible, without distortion (and in theater and films, without being seen).

Who wears/budget/how many? = Yes, you've got it. Ideally, everybody. Usually, principal cast. Small budget = share and re-set. Big issue for stage and screen is "stress reduction," i.e., putting a loop in the cable near the mike, somewhere on the wearer's body and securing with duct-tape, so that there is less/no clothing rustle, and if the cable gets yanked, there are no audible consequences. Stagehands/sound-techs = good.

Feedback = a smart, pre-programmed "Feedback Destroyer" is a big help...

And yes, hypers are better inside because they have a little smaller lobe and don't have as many issues with bass, but outside, shotguns are your best booming choice!

GJ
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jhharvest
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2011 1:45 am    Post subject: Re: recording a theatrical production Reply with quote

In films I'd put the lav under the clothing. For an omni a good place is usually the hard bony bit between your nips. The biggest issue here is usually noise from clothes rubbing against the mic or the cable - there's a lot of tactics to deal with that. Tape is usually involved, like Gregg says. If it's critical you would use a backup in another position but that's big money productions and I've never done them...

For theatre I've found directors I've worked with don't mind it showing a little (small, skin coloured lavs obviously help). I like to head mount - either in the hairline or along the cheekbone. For this elaborate headdresses are usually your friend. Head mounting takes care of clothing noise (which is a lot worse in theatre since talent moves more) and the distance to the capsule doesn't vary. If hiring, I'd make sure they are sweat protected as that's the death of many a lav. Make-up, when applied in haste, can also clog up the capsule.

Feedback I haven't found a problem usually. If it's musical theatre I advocate headsets for main talent. The Countryman E6i is very unobtrusive and sounds pretty damn good too, imo.
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