Jennifer Chislett is a seasoned Sound recordist who has worked in TV, Radio, Independent Film and Education. She has a wide ranging skillset and varied experience. Her credits include The Bill, Till Sunset and Junction 6.
What’s a typical day like on set as a sound recordist?
What a tricky question to start with! Each set is so different and I have worked on both TV and independent film sets.
So I start my day by getting all the gear ready, getting fresh batteries in the kit and prepping it. I will check over the sides for the day. If I’m boom operating, I will give the first scene a good read. I always keep an eye on the DOP and the director as we’re setting up and when they start talking about the first setup, I am right there. As a rule of thumb, no one ever tells sound when they start talking about setups and it’s good to find out what’s what. When I know what the first set up is, I will get any additional equipment ready and in position. If I am boom operating, I will keep an eye on the shot set up and any lighting. I keep an eye on where the shadows are being thrown and try and book myself a position onset as soon as possible. When they rehearse the scene, I am there watching and practicing if I can. Then it’s very much lather, rinse, repeat! At the end of the day, I try and hand over sound files if there’s time, before I go, otherwise as soon as I get home, I upload them to google drive or dropbox and send them over to the production team. Then I rest my arms!
What kinds of projects have you worked on?
I have worked in TV, and on independent film sets. I have enjoyed both equally! The best things have been ones where I have been challenged. One of my favourite experiences and the only time I have ever been in the back of a REAL police car is when I recorded the new sirens for the The Bill.
How did you get into working as a sound person?
For as long as I remember I wanted to do something with sound, audio or music. I’m currently working in education, but I pursue independent productions as I enjoy them. Previously to my employment in Education I was working in Broadcast. I worked for a number of years for a new defunkt Broadcast Hire Company, and that was a very good and interesting route in.
What project that you’ve worked on are you most proud of / enjoyed the most?
That’s another really difficult question! I guess my favourite thing I ever worked on was Jools Holland. It was a work experience opportunity, but I got to set up microphones for The Zutons and Razorlight (remember them?). I’m probably proudest of my
Can you give us a kit run down? (what, why, cost)
With the exception of some branded sound products, you do get what you pay for with sound equipment. So you need to decide what your budget is and then move forward from there. The great thing about sound equipment is that most times it’s interchangeable so you can keep improving your kit.
So for recording for recording dialogue you are going to need what is called a shotgun microphone. The Sennheiser MKH416 is a fairly industry standard model. I also know some Sound Recordists favour the russian made Oktava range. If you are looking for something a little cheaper and a bit more forgiving, I have had success with Rode NTG-2’s. Remember to get the best microphone you can afford, this isn’t an area you should skimp on!
Recording on set you will need a lovely clean pair of closed ear headphones to monitor sound. Put down the Dre Beats, these are not the headphones you are looking for however cool they look. You can get a much better of headphones at a much more reasonable price – please believe me! My favourite are Beyerdynamic DT770’s or you could go for Sennheiser HD25’s. They are more than worth the money in comfort and clarity.
- Portable Recorders
Unless you are plugging directly into camera (which I would generally advise against unless you have a portable mixer, an assistant, or can go wireless without compromising the quality of the sound) you will need a portable recorder. There are a wide range. If for the most part , if you are recording a single microphone signal a small Zoom recorder would suffice. If you are investing in kit, you have a lot of choices to make!
Best thing about working as a sound recordist?
Unless you’re dealing with fisher booms, you generally have a lot less equipment to lug around! There is a lovely, often subtle, artistry to sound which I personally love. Sound can often tell you so much more than a picture.
Worst thing about working as a sound recordist?
The worst thing about working in sound is that you are often an afterthought and can be overlooked. I think many people don’t value sound, because the best sound goes un-noticed by many. I always say that if no one comments on the sound you have done a blinding job, the only time people actually notice is when it goes wrong which can be incredibly disheartening. In an ideal world you will have a mixer and a boom op, but this seems to be rarer and rarer these days except on high budget productions.
Any sound recording tips for someone making a low budget film?
I have two pieces of advice. My number one piece of advice is to get the sound right on the day. At times it can unavoidable, but most low budgets will not have budgeted for ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement). ADR Sessions are expensive, even if you have the skills to do it at home, it still means you have to get the actors back for the day. If it’s unable to be done in a home studio, you’re adding on studio time to that bill. Also it takes a very skilled actor to get ADR correct.
So what can you do to ensure that you get the sound right on the day?
- Do a Recce – if you can go along to the location and ‘listen’ – is the location on a flight path?, is it next to a building site etc… If you can’t get along before hand then when you arrive, have a good listen (and look) around for anything that may cause problems.
- Make sure you gain permission from the location owners to switch off or move any equipment that makes a noise this can include things like clocks, fridges, fish tanks.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for another take. In high pressured situations it can be difficult to get your voice heard but it’s your job to get what is needed.
- If you come across an impossible situation, you need to make the director aware of the limitations of what you can do with a shot.
- Judge the situation. You will be working around all the other departments, it’s not appropriate to consistently pull your weight, or slow production down by creating problems. Always come to the party with solutions and if you become the problem, find another way to do it.
- Record as much as you can. If there is a spot sound effect, for example a hand drier, record it separately.
- Room Tone – always record a minute or so of room tone, it’s really going to help your sound editor.
- Be tenacious, you probably can’t afford to hire radio mics unless your sound recordist has them so you will need to be creative, and they should only be a last resort. Use all the tools available to you!
My second piece of advice is to get a sound recordist. Don’t just hand sound to your 3rd AD or Production Assistant. Some shoots are easy, but the majority are not. There seems to be loads of good camera folk out there, but a good Sound recordist appears to be gold dust in the low budget world so treat them nicely!
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in sound?
Look after your ears. Start really listening to films and TV – what makes them good/bad? Start networking, now. Get all the experience you can. Go to Uni, if you can. Don’t undersell yourself – especially when you start getting paid. Learn about what everyone else is doing on a shoot and how you may have to interact with them. Learn how to live as a freelancer, because you will probably have to.