Low Tech vs … Well what d’ya got?
I made a decision a few weeks ago and it was one that I had to think on for a very long and agonising time. You see, it was about the recording of the series… the actual, physical recording. What was my quandary, you ask? Well I wondered if I should do as (much respected and loved) audio giant Big Finish does and record every actor separately in a sound-proofed professional booth? Or should I be the one-man trailer trash version of a recording studio and go all “parents’ basement” on the actors? You can probably guess which one I chose. (And this is in no way knocking Big Finish in the least, as I totally respect the way they do things with their audios. Trust me, my neurosis goes much deeper it would seem, and if I had any form of decent budget, I would probably have chosen to do it the more professional route.)
As it is, I had to look at the pros and cons for me and my little production. The first one being, well apart from the large trough of money… which I don’t really have… that would be required to spend on quality studio time, there was only one really important factor that I kept mulling over and over in my head… interaction. To be more specific, real live actor interaction. Live and face to face. Like in the good old days. I wanted that interaction and loads of it, right up to the point of physical comedy that none of the listeners would possibly hear but might just guess at.
You see, I think for anyone wanting to dabble in audio plays, nothing beats trying out the old school style of radio broadcast from the mid 20th Century. There is just something wonderful about assembling a group of actors around one or two standing microphones and just letting them go to town. Talk about potential magic! Of course people could list endless positive things about those individual recording booths. After all, the actors are able to see each other – if they feel they want to – and naturally they hear each other through headphones… but for me, some little part of the performance is liable to be lost… something almost intangible that would be even more important to me because Flashback is ultimately a comedy and body language has to translate into audio somehow.
For those of you who don’t know, most modern audio plays have all of their non-vocal sounds added afterwards – that is, what would previously be considered real time, live Foley work is now done later. That is just the process of putting things together – like you would do with a television show or a feature film. One records the tracks of dialogue, then editing is performed to get character timings right and mistakes erased, then sound effects and music cues are added to give the whole experience it’s atmosphere and intensity. I know full well how all this is supposed to work and do it everyday in my video life. But still for me, there would be something missing in this new experience. Call it the part of me that in film and video, still loves location shooting even though there is bound to be some A.D.R. to perform afterwards. Call it the part of me that, while I loath all those airplanes jet-setting high above my documentary subjects and drowning out their words, I would rather we did the interview in some fabulous garden setting rather than in some dingy interior office block. Call it the part of me that craves some semblance of reality even though ultimately the whole thing is a whipped up piece of editorial illusion.
I’m no James Cameron – many people will probably be thankful of that, but I also don’t necessarily approve of the extensive A.D.R. work he had done to the film Titanic. While I understand that a lot of the problem was down to production noise of one form or other, I just felt that the real world sound character was missing in the film, and very tangibly so. I don’t like being completely manipulated as a viewer, even though I know that in viewing a film, one basically is at the mercy of the director and/or producer’s vision. I can take a bit of twisting and turning but not to the extent of that film. I recall one shot in particular at the beginning of the film… well, I’d say about twenty minutes into it, when the camera is on the deck of the great ocean liner and we’re zeroing in on our heroes… and there was nothing… really, nothing. No wind, no waves, no sound of the turbines driving the ship, nothing… okay, so there was, but it was so manufactured, so minimal, so completely underplayed by the loud and crystal clear dialogue that I really doubted I was on the prow of that damned boat. I completely felt removed from the location, and knowing that the ship itself was a combination of a standing set and computer graphics didn’t help me get any more in the forgiving mood. I think I ejected the DVD soon afterwards, disgusted in the fact that the illusion was so incredibly lame, I couldn’t get into it enough to enjoy it. Okay, so perhaps I’m being excruciatingly curmudgeonly. But that is me. I make no excuses for my sense of perfectionism. It just so happens that my version of perfection differs 100% to that of James Cameron. And what is more, I’m dreading seeing any more of his other films because of that single experience – Aliens aside, as I believe more in the eerie silence of space than in the eerie silence of being on the high seas in a big, coal-fired iron behemoth chugging along the roaring Atlantic at 260 knots an hour. Call me finicky.
So, studio or location… yes, so shoot me because I want to record Flashback in a real location, car horns and squawking bird sounds and all. I want my actors to look across at each other and break up laughing. I want the moments to sound as real to the listener as when they were first recorded. And it is about people who haven’t seen each other in ten years… I don’t want that time spent in separate rooms or booths, do I? No. Not really. Even if yes, it may mean longer recording sessions and more involved post-production on my part to get the levels and atmospheric sounds just right, at least there might be a chance of some true ambience coming through… and not just ambience as in the air we breathe kind of atmosphere, either. I’m hoping for a little magic from the good old days of live radio dramas. I only wish I had a live piano playing in the corner… er… well, maybe I don’t.
All this is well and good, and as for my good intentions for the project, I just hope I don’t fail and have to eat my words. Rest assured readers, if I do find this process too tedious and just too impossible, then the next time we do it, I’ll be sealing each and every one of those darned Thespians into glass coffins and feeding them their tea through only the smallest of air vents – that I promise…
Well, it is either that or we’ll all have to find a way to get together on the deck of an Irish Ferry and re-record episodes six through nine… 😉
Cor, you do witter on. So, back to the essential point of the post, then…
I’d say go for the old skool interaction recording. Will mean you get the dynamics, the improvisations, and nuances that isolated performances could never carry. 😉
October 22, 2010 at 10:14 PM
Thanks for your undying support Mr. F! 😉
October 23, 2010 at 5:01 PM
It’s returned in spades, so no problemo. 😉
October 23, 2010 at 11:14 PM