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Monday
Oct152012

Location Recording Kit Pt 4 - Documents

I love digging in and getting my hands dirty making sound.  I hate paper work.  I did not get into the audio business to be pushing paper all day.  But I can't avoid it completely, because neglecting to leave a paper trail on a large and involved recording session leaves with you even more work in the long run.  As a shoot gets more complex as you add more props, multiple mic channels, and maybe even a couple recordists running around, things can start spiraling out of control. You can suddenly find yourself in a ball of confusion. And then you have to go home and try to make sense of the mess you created.  Having a predetermined plan for the record as well as a system for taking notes during the recording is going to help you get what you want out of a session. By keeping a bit of documentation as you go, you'll show up prepared for your recording, you'll be able to keep things going smoothly during the shoot, and once you get down to editing your sounds, you'll have a guide to help you sort through the material you've collected so you get the most out of it. It's also a good idea to have proper paperwork to make sure everything you are doing is legal, professional, and that you end up with full ownership of the recordings.

Over the last couple months I've posted a series of blog entries detailing the contents of my field recording kit.  I've covered what I use for wind protection, my collection of microphone stands and boom poles, and most recently, the odds and ends (adaptors, tape, camera, medical kit, etc.) that keep it all together.  This week I'm going to look at the documents I keep on hand when I go out recording. 

As part of my kit I have a binder that contains all of the papers I like to have on hand for shoots.  This binder has a plastic sleeve on the outside that lets me slip a sheet of paper in it to make a book cover. I've inserted a sign that says “RECORDING IN PROGRESS, THANK YOU” into the front and back.  If I'm rolling in a public place, I can prop up the binder like a sandwich board:

This announces to passers-by what I am doing, and hopefully discourages them from striking up a conversation asking what I am up to.  Now, if the crowd is what I am actually recording then putting up this sign might be counterproductive.  People react differently when they know they are being recorded so the sign might stop people from making the kind of sounds you really want them to make.  However, if you are capturing the sound of something specific (car passes, a construction crew’s machines, etc.) the binder with the sign can save you having to stop and explain yourself over and over, spoiling takes.

Inside the binder I keep all the manuals for my gear.  They come in handy when adversity strikes.  Sometimes a button gets pushed accidentally and suddenly the recorder is not reacting the way I expect it to. Instead of wasting an hour trying to figure out what has happened I can pull out the manual and sort it out right away.  I also have a stash of business cards.  Seems like a minor thing, but business cards magically make you a Professional.  When security guards come wandering by and ask what I'm up to, handing over a business card often puts them at ease.  They now know who I am, what I'm doing, and that I'm just doing my job.  This does not mean I've never been asked to move along but at least they know I'm not a trouble-maker, and I'm generally treated with respect.  

Like I said, sometimes a nosy security guard will take a look at your card and still ask you to move along for no good reason at all.  There are certain situations where a recordist has every right to stand his/her ground and continue rolling.  This is why I also carry in my trusty binder a print-out of my rights as a recordist.  Photographers get hassled around this issue a lot more than recordists do and they have learned to come prepared.  Looking around online, I was able to find many documents that photographers carry around, stating their rights as to where they can be and what they can (and cannot) take pictures of.  I have taken some of these and adjusted the wording to reflect the act of audio recording instead of image capturing.  Now when someone asks me to move on when I think I am within my rights to continue working - I show them this paper and hold my ground. 

That one is for the province I live in, Ontario, but I have a U.S. version as well: 

Now, I must stress that I am not a lawyer, so I am not saying the information on these pages will hold up in court, and I would certainly not bet my freedom on what they contain.  I am saying that if someone says I have to leave or stop recording my first rebuttal will be to pull out this paperwork and try to illustrate my point in a vaguely legalistic way.  Hopefully that does the trick and I'm allowed to carry on. 

While on the topic of legal issues, I also carry a few location release forms.  I use these when recording on someone’s property with their full permission.  Again, I am not a lawyer, so please consult with one for your own situation and needs.  With a release form, I have it in writing that there's an agreement to let me record.  It makes the whole recording process look professional to the property owner, and gives me a minor amount of security that the owner will not try to come back later and claim ownership of the recordings.  It also gives the property owner a level of assurance that I will not trash their premises while I am there. 

All the items I've discussed so far are general documents that I like to have on hand at all times.  I also like to to have paperwork that helps me get through each specific recording session.  

If you are doing a simultaneous multiple microphone recording, a lot of planning will have to go into the project before you set up a single thing on location.  Obviously a location scouting visit is in order as well as getting permission to record first.  Beyond that you need a game plan for your record day.  I've put together a document in the form of a table that helps me organize how I will set up my gear at the location.  I list each recorder I will have on the shoot so each available channel of these recorders gets its own row.  Then I can assign a microphone and mic placement for each available channel.  This helps me visualize the set-up that will be needed on the day of the recording.  Then, using this organized track layout, I can start to make checklists for all the gear and cabling I will need in order to carry out the plan.  I also included a 'notes' column where I can highlight  whether anything needs to be rented ahead of time, what needs to be charged the night before, if any item needs special cables or adaptors, and what is needed to hold each microphone in place.  Recently I did a 12-channel record of an all-terrain vehicle and this is what my track layout ended up looking like prior to the shoot:

Next up is the shot list.  Much like how a film director plans out the shots in each sequence, I find it helpful to make up an audio 'shot list' ahead of time.  If you're recording something for a specific project, go through the picture edit very carefully and write down every action on screen you need a sound for.  Or if you are getting something for future use to have in your library, try to figure out everything that could be useful in a sound edit.  For example, get multiple takes of each noise at various speeds or pressure levels.  Variation is the key.  Before the shoot starts, list every sound you want to record in order of priority, keeping similar microphone set-ups grouped together.  Then on the day of the shoot, tick off each sound as you record it.

This will be your order of operations, which, combined with your mic layout, will allow you to go to the location with a sturdy plan of action.  Of course, once you arrive, unexpected circumstances will blow a lot of your plan out of the water immediately - but you will still have a solid base from which to make adjustments.

Finally, I have my take sheet.  Every time I hit record a new line on the take sheet is filled out. I list the prop, the action it's doing, the number of takes performed, the file name of the take from the recorder, and the time code.  No doubt about it: this is a pain in the ass.  If there is any way to have someone else keep these notes for you they'll be much better than if you try to do it yourself.  But as annoying as it is to fill out this info, it will be many times more annoying to try to make heads or tails of the recordings in the edit room later without useful notes.  Personally, I am not disciplined enough when it comes to this task.  I get into the flow of the session, listening to my mics and focusing on the technical stuff...  and the take sheet gets forgotten.  Having verbal slates at the head of each take is helpful, but on large shoots that create hours of raw material they are not enough. Do your paperwork! You'll be glad you did.


 

If you head over to the Free Downloads page you can pull down a .zip file containing PDF versions of many of the forms I have discussed in this post, including:

  • U.S. Recordist Rights
  • Ontario Recordist Rights
  • Recording in Progress sign
  • Location Release (for reference purposes only, not intended as legal document)
  • Blank Track Layout form
  • Blank Shot List form
  • Blank Take Sheet form

 

Feel free to use them on your shoots and let me know if you have any ideas on how to improve them.  Also, if you have any forms, checklists, or legalese that you have found helpful in your excursions in the field let me know in the comments or on Twitter via @azimuthaudio.


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