Reflections on being a sound supervisor

I have now performed sound supervisor functions on at least two HND student films, plus a number of student exercises in the classroom.  Responsibility for levels and ensuring that we had clean and usable audio at the end of the shoot.  This was with a mixture of Zoom H4N and H6N recorders.

This is quite an important role in any film production as if the sound is poor then you either need to re-shoot, do a lot of ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording), or risk people abandoning your film due to the poor sound quality.

In addition to the sound levels and recording, there is also the boom and microphone position … ideally, boom from above, ensure that the microphone is pointing at the talent’s mouth and that you follow the dialogue and keep the shotgun mic pointing at the talent’s mouth throughout the scene.  Booming from below may be an option, especially if you are trying to avoid boom shadow, however in doing so you may well pick up sounds from above including birds or leaves rustling (if outdoors) and other sounds from overhead.

You can use lavalier mics instead of (or as well as) a boom.  Lav placement takes additional time, especially if you want to keep them hidden from the camera, and there can be a lot of noise from clothing and your talent moving (which takes additional precautions, and more time to deal with in the setup phases).

Lavalier microphones (credit:

On my own films, I have experienced several issues with the sound being unusable due to noise transferring through the boom, levels being incorrectly set and/or background noise (people talking loudly in the next room, aeroplanes flying overhead, police cars zooming past with sirens blaring, and more).

In my role as sound supervisor, I wanted to make sure that none of these problems impacted the productions I was working on, and in doing so it did mean that I had to repeatedly talk to the boom operator and address issues with the way they were holding the boom (every slight hand adjustment would transmit through the boom pole and cause parts of the dialogue to be unusable).

Monitoring levels and ensuring that adjustments were made promptly to account for any raised voices or whispered words so that we were able to use the recordings.  The last thing you want is the audio to clip/peak and to lose the higher frequencies, or for it to be too quiet and miss the low frequencies.

One issue we had on location was trying to get everyone into the room, but not in the shot.  This required some ingenuity and a certain amount of contortionism as can be seen from this photograph of the boom operator squeezing into a small gap and then trying to position the microphone just outside of the wide shot.


Other issues included the hum of fridges, ticking clocks, mobile phones going off or just simply hunting for signal leaving a bzzt bzzt bzzt on the audio track.  On one shoot we had to hunt high and low before eventually finding an errant Windows Mobile on a desk which belonged to a parent .. We then had to try and work out how to put the phone into Airplane mode as no-one was quite sure how the Windows mobile actually worked! (we ended up just turning it off).

In this photo, we see a slightly more spacious location with better separation between the talent and crew.  The trick here was to ensure that the boom was pointing at the talent as they spoke and keeping the mic pointing towards the mouths of the talent as they moved in shot.   

There will always be challenges when filming on location, the trick is to work around them and to try to get to know your environment before the shoot starts, in order to minimise any wasted time during the actual shoot.  Locating analogue clocks and ensuring they’re removed from the room, making sure that mobile phones are turned off before shooting starts are all good pointers.

One additional issue we had on one of the shoots, which took a while to locate, was a 50hz hum on the audio in certain rooms.  We eventually tracked this down to an XLR cable being routed alongside a power cable (I had carefully ensured that the power cables were down one side of the room and the XLR cables were around the other side, even through doorways to ensure the maximum separation), however someone had very kindly decided to tidy and thought it would be a good idea to bundle the cables together, which resulted in a hum when the lights were on.

Lesson learned – just because you have painstakingly taken the time to keep power and audio lines apart all the way around the location, someone may quite happily come along and “tidy” and mix all the cables together without you noticing.  

If I were to do this on a more regular basis, I think I would definitely buy a “GaffGun” and use it to tape down all cables, making it a lot harder for busybodies to come along and move the cables when you’re not looking.

This is definitely on my Christmas list, Santa please take note!

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Reflections on being a camera operator

This is a strange one in a way, I need to reflect on being a camera operator since starting the HND course and note challenges faced, lessons learned and basically identify learning opportunities, however, I have been a relatively keen (hobbyist) photographer (and cinematographer) for many years so most of this is not new to me.

That said, working in teams with other students (some of whom this is completely new to) has helped me appreciate the knowledge gained over the last 35+ years of being a photographer, and many of the things that I otherwise take for granted such as the Exposure Triangle.




I have seen many students simply increase the ISO because the scene was too dark, without giving any thought to the aperture or shutter speed, let alone the available light (practical, natural or otherwise) in a scene.  Where possible I have tried to share that knowledge and help the other students remember early classroom lessons, and demonstrated the impact of changing one setting (such as increasing the ISO to 12,800 and the associated noise that this brings to the image) or reducing the shutter speed, and so on.


First of all, some basics.  The responsibilities of the camera operator are simple, but important.  To ensure that whatever you’re filming is in focus.  That you are capturing the scene as envisaged by the Director/DoP and that every frame you capture tells the story.  You’re responsible for making sure that the camera settings are kept how the DoP has specified (ie don’t randomly change the ISO, shutter speed or aperture without first discussing it with the DoP).  You are responsible for ensuring that whatever you’re filming is properly exposed (see above comments about working with the DoP), and that whenever you frame the shot that you’re only getting the set and not the lights, reflections, gaffer, grip, boom operator, or any other “non scene” related ingredients in the shot.

I recently helped one of my fellow classmates (Josh) film his Public Service Announcement (PSA) video on littering, he had not had the best of luck with the weather and crew resources, so when the weather improved and with the submission deadline looming, I volunteered by help (and camera equipment) to help him shoot his video in a local orchard.

This also gave me the opportunity to experiment with a new toy I had just acquired with a hefty discount and some Amazon gift vouchers from a supplier, namely a DJI Ronin-M.

This was the first time I had used the Ronin, having previously battled with a Zihyun Crane gimbal and had issues with the GH5 being slightly too large in the body to use the gimbal efficiently.

Josh had decided that he wanted to shoot in 1080p, and not 4k, which was fine, I had chosen to deliver 1920×1080 @ 25fps in ProRes 422, shooting at 180 degrees, with the original content recorded as H.264 on the GH5, so his laptop and editing software should be able to keep up with things. As it was, he was able to use the original H.264 material without needing the converted footage.  We also shot in VLOG-L which meant Josh needed to do a bit of colour grading – I supplied a basic LUT to give Josh a head start, and as you’ll see from the above footage, the results are quite nice.

We were a 3 person crew, including Josh and his girlfriend Sarah who were going to be in front of the camera (Sarah was hiding in, and animating, the bushes), and myself behind the camera.  A small crew which helped get things done quickly.  We had the odd issue with passers-by (and their dogs) wanting to get in on the action, but otherwise, the shoot was pretty painless.

There were a few handheld shots which required Josh and myself to effectively climb into the undergrowth/trees, and a couple of shots ended up with more than we bargained for, with bits of me in the shot as I tried to hold the camera far enough into the bush without the benefit of a monopod.



In the above (ungraded raw) image, we see part of my fleece on the left-hand side, as well as Josh being eaten by the bush.  Easily cropped out, but missed in the first rough cut (Josh said he’d thought it was just part of the bush!) 🙂

Through the exercise I learned the most optimum way to handle and use the Ronin, smoothing out movement with the “crab walk” as much as possible.  

For this shoot all of the sound effects were going to be done in post, so whilst we had sound recording equipment with us, we chose not to use it.  I think Josh may have used some of the on-camera sound for the rustling of the trees, but the rest of the effects were foley.

In a perfect world, we would have probably had an extra body on hand to help with lens changes and swapping equipment around.  There were a couple of occasions where I needed to remove the camera from the Ronin, and the only place to put the Ronin was on the muddy ground.

For the shoot, I primarily used a wide angle Leica 8mm-14mm (16mm-28mm equivalent full frame) lens, this provided a good balance between focal length and available aperture (f/2.8-f/4) to provide clear images on an overcast day, a handful of shots were taken with a Leica 42.5mm Nocticron f/1.2 lens (MFT) which gives an equivalent full frame focal length of 85mm.  This introduced some nice portrait imagery as well as depth-of-field, enhanced by a 35-100mm (70mm-200mm equivalent full frame) for certain shots to make some of the shots seem more compressed and give the feeling of the space being tighter than it actually was.

The whole shoot lasted little more than an hour and was efficient.  Josh had outlined what he needed and I constructed the actual shots on the fly, working with Josh to ensure that he got what he needed as Director and delivered the performance he needed to do as the talent. 

What would I have done differently?  I guess it would have helped to have seen the location before we started shooting, and if I had thought about it ahead of time, I would have brought a blanket or similar to rest the equipment on rather than dumping bags on the muddy grass (a few days earlier the grass had been covered in snow which meant it was now quite damp and slightly boggy in places).

Getting the content to Josh after the shoot was a little problematic.  I had originally said I would simply upload the content to a Google Drive and send him the link.  Unfortunately, Google somehow managed to munge the 11GB of video so the file(s) he received via download were unusable.  In the end, I just copied the whole lot onto an SD card and delivered it by hand to his house on the Saturday morning as that was by far the quickest and easiest method of getting the data to him.

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Dating Dilemmas – Reflections on the scriptwriting process

Reflecting on Dating Dilemmas


My original script was written as no more than an exercise in script writing, set in the warm summer months, in a complex location in Westminster, without any thought as to how it would be filmed.  This was primarily due to a misunderstanding with regards the original assignment. I had attempted to develop a scene from a Detective Drama I had in mind, the scene’s goal being to explain the motivation or inciting incident behind a serial killer, a “Jack the Ripper” of modern day London.  


Once it became clear that we were meant to be writing a script that could be shot in January-March 2018, and that we were shooting this as our first short for the HND track, I had to go back to the drawing board and start again.  My second script was written quickly, with “resource-based filmmaking” in mind, rather than “just write anything” and being overly creative. I think a few students fell into this trap, writing scripts set in Space or on a cruise liner at sea.  By the time this had become apparent and the need for an alternative script was understood, I had lost more than six weeks of development time, and had to act quickly. Dating Dilemmas was a parody I had in mind based on my experiences of internet dating over the previous year or so.  As a result of the lack of development time, I think the script suffered from a lack of depth and I certainly did not have as much time as I would have liked to think through the idea and craft any subplots. The best I could do was to introduce the “sexy smoothy” as the protagonist in the whole affair.


What we did have were the atypical huntress, out on the prowl with her friends, along with the typical lothario looking for a good time, every time, without any consequences, and we have the geeky flatmate who’s more interested in playing games on his console and drinking with his friends than with finding a woman.


As part of the assignment, we were required to arrange a table read with actors as part of the script development process.


We had a table read prior to filming, using the same actors who ended up performing in the short film. Their feedback was invaluable and a number of modifications were made to the final script, bringing the language into “the modern day”, correcting technical terms and adding some levels of intention.  It also helped the actors develop their character traits and personalities.


I learned and benefited a great deal from the process, hearing others read my words aloud.  It brought the words to life, they were no longer just mutterings and sounds in my head or words on a bit of paper/computer screen.  Hearing them spoken aloud by a 3rd party also helped me to shape and develop the tone of the conversations, to try and make them seem more natural.  It didn’t always work in practice, and in certain cases the actor’s delivery was so wooden on the day, despite rehearsals and direction .. but by this time I think everyone was fatigued and just wanted to get the final scenes wrapped so we could go home.  Another lesson learned – make the shooting schedule less hectic and allow your actors more time to rest between scenes – if possible.


The process of writing the script, with my limited knowledge or experience of scriptwriting and without any knowledge of “the tools” (Truby’s 22 steps, script form or structure, etc) was challenging, and I think my next script will certainly be better having since covered the basics of these tools, and having been introduced to development ideas.  The initial process was very much akin to being put on a boat, taken out to the two-mile marker, thrown into the ocean and then told to swim back to shore – when you’ve never actually been in more than 3 inches of water in your life. It was very much a “sink or swim” affair.


As a result of the table read, it became apparent that in 20 years since WAN gaming was invented, the terminology has changed and been simplified .. now it’s just “a party” rather than WAN party or raid / etc … we live and learn 🙂


Some of the actions and interactions between the couple were softened and/or expanded, and it became clear early on that the actress wanted to do more “nude” and risque scenes than I had originally planned (I hadn’t planned or written any)  .. these added to the believability of the short and were welcomed.


Thankfully, being resource based, we were able to implement the film fairly easily – even though we had three locations fall through in the days/weeks leading up to the shoot (due to leaks/water damage, shooting dates changing due to the theft of lights/etc from my car, and so on) … we were still able to shoot the scenes relatively easily and adjusted (on the day) the final location when it became available.  The only downside was the presence of a mirrored fitted wardrobe which extended the full length of the one bedroom wall which meant we were unable to shoot one of the scenes exactly as we had intended.


From a visualisation standpoint, I had already chosen the colour palette to use for the film, we then chose costumes to match this palette.  


The shot design leaned heavily on screen grammar, positioning the female character to the right of the screen (the more dominant position) in every shot where she was “in control”, and the male character on the left being “lead” by the lead character.  There’s a final point where he regains control and becomes centre stage once more (having started in the dominant position at the beginning of the film).


Beyond that, the set was designed simply and effectively as a standard flat share in London, coke cans and pizza cartons strewn around the “lad pad”.


The kitchen much more “health” focussed with Spirulina bags, bananas and other health foods dotted around the blender.


The bedroom was more minimal, a girl’s bedroom, but with the spoils of a debauched night, condom wrappers all over, an open bottle of lube, etc … to show that she’s in control and means business. (This was “her place” after all).   The empowered female huntress, in a world otherwise dominated by men on the prowl for hookups and one night stands.


In summary, I felt the script was weak and could have benefited from considerably more depth.  On the day, the acting was too slow paced and a little wooden .. from a Director’s standpoint, I should have timed the performances and worked with the actors more to ensure they knew the timing requirements (as it was, I didn’t really appreciate any of this myself until in the edit suite).  During the table read we were consistently under 5 minutes, however on the day, with more visualisation and less verbalisation, the initial recording time with all scenes came in at closer to 7 minutes, and as a result some of the slower scenes were cut to improve the flow of the film an keep the tempo to a certain level.


Personally, I think the title package at the end of the film is possibly the best part of the whole comedy, sadly these have also had to be dropped for the HND submission due to the requirement that the film is under 5 minutes.  (I have asked the question can it be longer, and told in no uncertain terms that a) no it can’t, and b) no the 5 minutes includes the entire title sequence / etc.) 1 second over 5 minutes and it is a fail ….


So I have submitted a 4’59”.7 version for the HND course on YouTube, and have a 7’24” version for public consumption on Vimeo.


What would I do differently next time?  I would spend more time developing the script, I would get the assignment in writing rather than verbally and try to get the full intent of the assignment prescribed before starting down the wrong road.


How could I have improved this script, knowing what I know now?    Within 5 minutes, there is only a limited window to deliver your message.  The message in this instance was meant satirically, as a dig against society using online dating like they would use Amazon Prime, to find a hookup for the night and to return it the following morning “used”, but in the original packaging … and of course the fact that no matter what a woman thinks of their conquest, they will always try to remodel and change them if they’re in a relationship with them. A man always dreams the girl will never change, as she is perfect just the first time he met her, whilst the girl wishes her man would change, and she knows she can improve him, given time.


The dialogue could have been snappier, some of the scenes were irrelevant, and the punchline being what it was, perhaps needed a little extra on the end to drill home the message.

The edit was effectively the final rewrite, albeit taking the delivered performance and attempting to reshape it into something humorous and entertaining.  To date, responses to screenings have been mixed. The video has been watched roughly 50 times and feedback has been on the whole positive, with a number of people (male and female) getting the nuance, and laughing at the jibe at vegans.  Many vegans have themselves found the premise and story funny, although a few were offended, however on balance they seemed to take more offence at the implied sexualisation of the characters (sex on a first date, how unlikely) rather than the swipe at vegans in particular.  The younger audience (18-30) found it funnier than the older audience (50+) which isn’t overly surprising at the end of the day as few 50 year olds are (or ever were – obviously the swinging 60’s never happened!) into hookups and meaningless sex, whilst most 18-30 year olds are definitely being more promiscuous (I believe studies do actually show that pre-marital sex is both on the increase and also leads to less stable relationships and an increase in divorce rates in recent years) (Institute for Family Studies)


(Source: Institute for Family Studies)



Institute for Family Studies. (2018). Counterintuitive Trends in the Link Between Premarital Sex and Marital Stability. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Apr. 2018].


HND Term 3 SWOT and SMART Goals

By Sunday 29 April, I will have submitted by short film for assessment.

By Friday 25 May, I will have started to learn and understand node based compositing software such as Nuke, or more likely Fusion

By Saturday 30 June, I will have started working on a new script with more detail and depth than the previous versions, applying the tools we’ve been introduced to such as Truby’s 22 steps and the 3 act structure.

By 01 October, I will start to plan and shoot scenes from the above script


Updates to my SWOT can be found here