If you’re an indie filmmaker one of the best investments you can make is in a good microphone for capturing dialogue on set. In the world of sound design there is an adage that says “dialogue is king”. The reason for this is that it’s the dialogue track that is the primary focus of both fiction and documentary filmmakers during the production process. Many of the other sound layers (atmosphere, Foley, sound effects, music etc) are added during the audio post production process.
IS THERE ONE BEST MICROPHONE?
There is no one size fits all solution to recording clean, consistent and intelligible dialogue tracks. An improvised scene or a documentary where multiple people are talking at the same time will require a specific type of microphone that has a wider, more forgiving polar pattern such as a cardioid or omnidirectional microphone.
However, on smaller indie film sets or on documentary shoots with more controlled environments you might be able to use a shotgun microphone with a super-cardioid pickup pattern for a more isolated and focused recording.
SINGLE SYSTEM VS. DOUBLE SYSTEM
The microphones you choose will also vary depending on your recording preferences and your team. If you’re working on a documentary and you’re working alone then you’ll likely be shooting single system with a microphone mounted on the camera. However, if you have a larger crew you might have a mixer and boom op helping you capture audio on an external recorder (such as the Zoom H4n or a Sound Devices recorder).
If dialogue is a major concern of yours then it’s important to know that shooting double system on an external recorder will yield better results than shooting single system using an on-board microphone. Along with shooting duel system, a good shotgun microphone and a pair of lavaliers will really help add to your sound kit and give you optimal results during your filming process.
The short shotgun microphone is the go-to microphone for dialogue recordings on most films. There is no one “best” brand. Each mic will “color” your soundtrack differently. You’ll probably come across, or already be familiar with Sennheiser mics, Azden mics, Rode mics or Audio-Technica mics to name only a few. In fact, before the invention of the Rode NTG-3 we used the Sennheiser MKH 416 as our primary dialogue microphone which was the standard microphone on indie film sets for years.
In short, all of these manufactures offer a great selection of choices that help you “color” your sound-scape differently. Just as lenses help you define your picture, microphones help you define your sound-scape. You’ll likely get comfortable using one or two brands and you’ll likely stick with them. However, since Lights Online Film School used Rode microphones throughout our online sound design tutorials we’ll speak in more detail about those options now.
THE SHOTGUN MICROPHONES WE USED FOR DIALOGUE
In our sound design tutorials we used a line of shotgun microphones from Rode called the Rode NTG-1, NTG-2, and NTG-3. We used these microphones because they produce great results and they are incredibly affordable mics. You can find the current pricing for these microphones below:
Current Pricing on the gear used in our videos
THE LAVS WE USED FOR DIALOGUE
Lav microphones work a little differently than shotgun microphones. They are placed close to the mouth and under the chin of your subject so they give a different, and slightly less natural sound compared to a shotgun microphone. The chin of the subject produces an “acoustic shadow” which means the words coming from the subject’s mouth will reach the mic in a slightly different way than they reach a shotgun mic.
In most cases they have an omnidirectional pickup pattern which means they don’t “isolate” sounds as much as a shotgun mic. That being said, there are times that lavs are necessary in film production. In fact, they are necessary in many situations and some sound recordists put lavs on all actors regardless if they use the recording from those mics or not. For them, it provides an audio safety net.
Other times a ceiling might be too low for a shotgun mic, or the boom pole might be casting unwanted shadows, the scene might require movement that the boom pole can’t navigate around… the list can go on. A lavalier microphone give you the opportunity to make sure you get a good dialogue recording even in these tough recording situations.
For our online sound design tutorials we also used Rode lavs attached to a Sennheiser wireless system. Sony also makes good wireless systems and you can sometimes find them for a little cheaper if you’re working on a budget. It’s also important to note that you’ll need to use the right adapter depending on what device you’re using to store or transmit your audio signal.
Current Pricing on the gear used in our videos
However, it’s important to remember, just as a hammer doesn’t make a house great, a microphone doesn’t guarantee a strong dialogue recording. Smart thinking, proper planning and a skilled sound recordists help make your dialogue recordings great. Good luck!