Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

What the hell is that, anyway?

It’s funny how your brain blocks out certain things – sights, smells, or in this case, sounds.

The stage seemed fairly quiet – until midmorning, when the gaffer got on the walkie with a question:

“The sound guy’s going nuts. Can anyone find the source of that noise?”

“Uh, what noise?”

“That humming noise. You can’t hear that? Wait until we roll again.”

Sure enough, as soon as we were made aware of it, we all heard it – and boy, was it loud*.

Usually, humming noises on sets are, in fact, our fault. When certain types of lights are dimmed down, they hum (skypans are notorious for ‘singing’), but we didn’t have any of those lights burning at the time.

After all of us had made repeated circles of the set during takes (while tipping our heads from side to side trying to figure out where the damn noise was coming from, and getting scowls from the PA’s for walking during takes), one of the guys said “It sounds like it’s coming from under the floor”.

Turns out, this stage has it’s electrical transformers in the basement (good idea in theory, bad one in practice), and we could hear them humming through the flooring of the stage.

Transformers are usually placed outside the building. Seeing (or hearing, as the case may be) them under the floor is a first for me.

*Loud is a relative term. Sometimes I’m really surprised at what the sound department can hear – whispered conversations from three rooms away, heavy breathing, weight shifting from one leg to the other. I once worked with a sound recordist who was notorious for screaming “No swallowing during takes!” and “Stop breathing through your noses, dammit!”.

This particular noise – although we could only hear it when the stage was quiet during takes – was loud in the respect that none of us were surprised that the sound guy could hear it.

Filed under: Work

10 Responses

  1. RJ says:

    I actually had to shoot a scene next to the transformers for my first film. It’s funny because they were well hidden and we didn’t see them when scouted – and it turns out they were off at the time – so when we get there – BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

    Anyway we shot it and my sound mixer was able to filter out most of it in post, though it’s still largely there. It’s during a fairly intense scene though so it turns out the only one that ever hears it is me.

    If it were a studio film we’d have replaced 90% of the dialogue anyway so it wouldn’t have mattered.

    RJ

    My Blog

  2. RJ says:

    Oh – and did your investor invest? I had no idea before I got into this how those two words would bounce around the synapses of my brain with such ferocity.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Loud, loud, loud!!! Maybe we should send a Troll to shut that transformer down. They are so good at working under the stages.
    What kind of stage is that? Never seen that before. How can they get away with such a dumb idea? Perhaps we should look into it and have them put it where it belongs.
    Next to the stage? Something to think about.

  4. Peggy Archer says:

    RJ – they’re probably going to have to replace all this dialogue, too – NOT something one anticipates when one is shooting on stage.
    Our investor did come through, but not for as much as we need, so we’re still hustling for money.

    Anon – it’s a well meaning yet badly designed brand new stage. They’re still working the kinks out. I forsee stage management having a date with some soundproofing in the near future.

    Josh – what crap? Oh, that crap.

    No idea.

  5. lizriz says:

    You know what’s interesting, because I’ve recorded sound, it never occurred to me that it would be weird to anyone that whispering could be heard. Last time I was on a set, I was amazed at how some people would whisper or move about during a take – quietly mind you, but totally loud enough to be heard by the sound guy. Now I suddenly realize that if you haven’t had those headphones on, of course it might seem strange what they can pick up and how it can screw the recording, particularly on low-budget stuff when you’re probably going to have to use what you recorded on set.

  6. Dave2 says:

    I bought a high-quality condenser mic to record audio for my cartoons and was completely shocked at all the ambient sound that ended up contaminating my recordings… everything from the TiVo whirring to the computer fan to noise on the street. We live in a very noisy world… we just must not realize it anymore. :-)

  7. christopher says:

    the difference between what a sound person hears and those on the set doesn’t surprise me. we background so much environment sound processing in our brains. like peggy said – as soon as it’s pointed out it’s very noticeable.

    in this wired article, a man with a cochlear implant relates his experience with an experiment that used stochastic resonance (white noise) to help improve his music perception (software for these devices is usually optimized for speech):

    “An audiologist at the University of Iowa working with Rubenstein handed me a processor loaded with the stochastic-resonance software. The first thing I heard was a loud whoosh – the random noise. It sounded like a cranked-up electric fan. But in about 30 seconds, the noise went away. I was puzzled. “You’ve adapted to it,” the technician told me. The nervous system can habituate to any kind of everyday sound, but it adjusts especially quickly to noise with no variation. Stochastic-resonance noise is so content-free that the brain tunes it out in seconds.”

    no doubt those that work on sets (like those of us that live near airports), quickly adapt to filter out any constant or familiar noise.

  8. Jess says:

    Heh. We had a noise-due-to-lighting problem when filming our short for the national film challenge. (It was pretty ameteurish in some ways, but we won best in our genre!) It didn’t matter anyway, since we did the entire film in voice-over, but we had a hell of a time figuring it out. It was our first time working with honest-to-goodness lighting, so we didn’t realize what we were getting ourselves into. :)

  9. Gag Halfrunt says:

    There are film and television shoots every now and then in my home town, which is under the flightpath for Heathrow Airport (London).

    The actors and crews must hate having takes interrupted by planes flying over, and I suppose that a lot of dialogue has to be re-recorded.

    I think that productions come here in spite of the noise because it has some historic and picturesque locations (the theatre gets used a fair amount), and it’s very close to one film studio and not too far away from another.

    Quite a lot of people in the entertainment business live here, including some famous actors and half of the Rolling Stones, and it’s on the same side of London as the BBC Television Centre.

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