Recording Audio for an Independent Film

Between November 2010 and March 2011, I had the opportunity to do something I had never done before–record the audio for a short film. Some friends of mine who have a video production company here in Northeast Arkansas (Anthem Pictures), were producing it, and recruited me to handle the audio.

I recorded everything in the field using their Zoom H4N Handy Recorder, along with an Audio Technica shotgun mic and boom pole–standard equipment for this sort of gig. It was often a challenge to get clean audio of the actor’s lines, while trying to minimize any background noise and keep the mic out of the camera frame at the same time. There were some takes where I wasn’t quite sure how well the audio would turn out, but with a little “audio voodoo”, the film’s editor was able to make it work.

“Rise Up” tells the story of Eli, a troubled youth who battles with mental health issues, but ultimately gets help through a mentoring program called “Action For Kids”. Eli later grows up to serve as a mentor himself, and helps out another troubled teen. The script is based on the real life experiences of several different families who have participated in the Action For Kids program. It contains plenty of drama, humor, and even some action sequences (try running down an alley at full speed carrying a boom pole and a mobile recorder around your neck sometime). As is often the case, the scenes were all filmed out of sequence, so it was interesting to see the story unfold as the scenes were played out.

The schedule was pretty grueling at times. The film came in at just over an hour, and the whole thing was shot over the course of eight days, which I’m told is quite a feat. Some of the cast and crew were driving into Jonesboro, Arkansas (where we were filming) from Memphis and Nashville, so we had to make the most of every minute we had with them, and worked a few really long days–I think one day we worked for 19 hours straight, taking breaks only for meals.

Back at my studio, I also got to record an original song (also entitled “Rise Up”) that was used in one of the scenes of the film. The song was an acoustic number, with only a few layered guitars and vocals. It was written by the Executive Producer of the film, and sung and performed by some friends of his. I finished mixing and mastering it, and sent it off to the editor only 5 days before the premiere, but he managed to work it in. I was worried that he wouldn’t have time, but I later learned that they finished the final cut the very day before the deadline!

The Jonesboro premiere was held on Tues, May 24th, 2011 at the Malco Hollywood Cinema. There was a packed house, and everyone was excited to see a legitimate movie that had been filmed mostly here in our community. The film was shot using a Red One Digital camera, the same camera used on several major motion pictures, and it looked fantastic. The premiere was really quite an event, and a somewhat surreal experience to see and hear something that I had worked on come to life on the big screen.

In conclusion, I’m not sure if I would ever want to be a full-time audio engineer for films. I’m really quite happy recording musicians in the comfort of my own studio. But this was certainly a cool experience, and a project that I’m glad I got to be part of. I got to meet and work with some really great, talented people, and the end result is something that we can all be proud of.

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