Question by Sam: What Kind of Audio Equipment do I Need for Filmmaking?
I know I need a mic, but that’s about it and I don’t even know what kind. What kind of mic do I need and what other equipment do I need and why?
Also, what would you recommend?
Answer by bjdzyak
[Excerpted from the book: What I Really Want to Do: On Set in Hollywood]
Whether you’re renting the gear or own it outright, you still need the same basic things, no matter what project you’re doing.
First you need microphones. The most typical way to capture sound is with a shotgun-type mic mounted on a telescoping boom pole. A good shotgun will run you about $ 1,200. The pole will cost around $ 700. You’ll need to have, at the very least, two mics and two poles, one for use and one for backup. If you require two Boom Operators working simultaneously, you need those two setups as well as backups for each, so you’re up to four mics and maybe even four poles, although you can probably get away with just two or three.
Radio mics have become an essential tool due to changing styles of filmmaking and acoustical environments. One system (transmitter and receiver) costs about $ 2,500. The tiny lavaliere mics to go with them are about $ 300 apiece.
To get the sound from the microphones into the Mixer requires cables. You’ll need a variety of lengths of professional XLR cables, which will run you around $ 1,000 for the materials (cable and connectors) to build your own. Plus you’ll need roughly another $ 1,000 for other types of cables and connectors.
Because you may have multiple sources of audio coming at you from set, you need a mixing panel or mixer to control the levels for quality recording. A standard quality mixer for feature production work starts at around $ 10,000.
After you’ve mixed the audio, it has to be recorded onto some kind of portable format. The industry standard for a long time was the Nagra tape recorder. Many Mixers still use them but only for a backup. Hard drive recorders and DVD recorders are taking over as the preferred method of capturing and delivering production sound to the postproduction team. You can expect to pay between $ 6,000 and $ 12,000, depending on the brand and type of recording device.
If the show is using traditional slates, they will be provided by the Camera Department. However if the decision is made to go with SMART SLATES, then you provide them. You’ll need at least two of these, which run between $ 700 and $ 2,000 a piece.
That’s it for electronic gear, but you also need a place to put it all. A standard sound cart will cost around $ 1,000.
You’ll want a comfortable chair to sit in as well as some kind of umbrella for those day exteriors. You can find a decent tall director’s chair for around $ 200.
A top-of-the-line production sound package will set you back $ 75,000 to $ 100,000. The good news is that if you work steadily on quality productions, it can pay for itself within a couple of years. After that, it’s all profit for you until you have to upgrade again. As far as specific brands to purchase, there are definitely favorites among working professionals, but as mentioned, technology is constantly changing so it’s best for you to keep listening to what the pros are buying. Check in on those forums and equipment vendors listed below.
If you start out on nonunion shows (and you probably will), you can probably expect to make around $ 100 a day. Also, since you’re a novice, you probably won’t own your own sound recording package, so you won’t be making money on that. You could take the show and agree to provide gear and base a rate from there. Then you go sub-rent everything you need and mark up the price so you can eventually purchase your own equipment.
As you slowly build your own package, hopefully you’ll be getting offers to work on bigger and better projects. At the high end, an IATSE Local 695union Mixer could negotiate a deal for over $ 100 an hour plus the equipment rental at between $ 2,000 and $ 3,000 per week. In general, the union scale is lower, and if you’re working on a television project, you could wind up making only half of that. On a big show, you could eventually make around $ 100,000 in wages and rentals for a standard twelve-week project.
And that’s really just scratching the surface. For EVERYTHING you need to know about the Sound Department and what is needed, take a look at all of the resources listed below.
IATSE Local 600, SOC
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