Audio experts will tell you that “sound is half the movie”. In fact, they will bludgeon you with this pithy little epithet over and over until you give in and spend all your money on mics and mixers.
At least, that’s what it’s like in the film-making forums. And they have a point. A film with poor composition or focus will just look a little tatty and unprofessional. A movie with inaudible dialogue is unwatchable.
Of course, there are many gradations between ‘completely professional sound’ and ‘inaudible dialogue’, so the case can be overstated somewhat. And the fact is, sound equipment is horrendously expensive and of limited utility outside of movie-making.
If I were about to make another movie on a limited budget, I might be inclined to spend at least half of the equipment budget on sound and simply rent most of the camera gear. But we zero-budget, amateur film-makers who live far from a major city (we’re “two weeks from anywhere”) have limited choices. There is nowhere near enough to here from which I can rent the gear. That means owning it, and that brings a different set of criteria and constraints.
As with the camera gear, I already had some of the sound equipment. I bought the Zoom H4N digital recorder some time ago for doing podcasts – in particular, for recording interviews in the field (at conferences). It’s brilliant for that kind of use. I also had a Rode M3 mic, some cables etc. So, although the H4N is regarded by many professionals in the movie business as being at the ‘cheap and cheerful’ end of the market – and some wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole – for us it was a given. And, frankly, I think some of the experts like to be rather snobbish about these things.
I added a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic with dead cat and, as mentioned in a previous post – a FetHead inline pre-amp. The FetHead helped a great deal in tackling the H4N’s weak built-in pre-amps, but only up to a point. I’m seriously considering a field mixer.
For a boom pole, we used my Manfrotto carbon fibre monopod. I think a proper, longer boom pole would be a good investment. Same goes for a blimp.
The thing is, however, what while much of the investment I made in camera gear (such as the ND filters, Pocket Rig and so on) will find uses in my everyday photography work, and all of the video kit will be useful for shooting silent video clips for stock, I didn’t actually need any more sound equipment, and every piece I buy is only for film-making (which, as a hobby, is huge fun but doesn’t bring a return).
But who knows – maybe if someone wants to fund our next movie, things might be a little different…