Thursday, September 20, 2007

For Want of an XLR Adapter, The Movie Was Lost

Your entire movie could be out of focus, but you can't have bad sound.Thierry Pathé, NYU Film Instructor

Many of you know how much I value good sound on a low budget film, but if not, here's a refresher.

Right behind getting great acting, you need great sound. Beg, borrow, or steal... but get the best sound you can. Sound is half the movie experience, but because it's not as visible as cinematography, most low budget filmmakers assign it a lower priority, which is a catastrophic misstep: when audiences hear bad sound, they instantly think, "Oh, this is a student/low-budget/amateur movie," but if they hear great sound, they think nothing more about it and get drawn into the story. Sound is usually the first thing you experience about a film, whether it be music or sound effects or dialog, so you present the audience with a spotless first impression.

For the shoot this Saturday, I got my hands on a $500 wireless mic, a Sennheiser Evolution G2 100. Great, right? No, not great—it's completely worthless unless I could find a cable adapter to plug it into my camera. The XLR adapter isn't just a cable, it's a unit which suppresses noise from the adapter; a simple adapter cable doesn't work with my particular camcorder because the cable emits a faint "hum" which is not acceptable.

Here's how I played damage control, in a stream of consciousness:
Crap, that's right, I need a cable for this camera like we used on Metronome... oh, I can get one at Radio Shack or something, maybe Fry's... hey Jena, what's that thing called that I need? BeachTek XLR Adapter? Cool, I'm walking into Radio Shack now... what do you mean, they won't have it? Well, Fry's must have it. Only a pro camera store? Hmm, I think there's one in midtown, but come on, this is Sacramento. Maybe Adolf Gasser's in SF would have an adapter. How much??? $200??? Christ! Surely, Gasser's must rent those out. Still, that's a 2 hour drive one way. Bring the camera, you say? Actually, I don't have the camera. Hans has it. He's in L.A. Oh yeah, he could rent one for the weekend! No, he really couldn't cuz he has no time for extra stuff before the shoot. But yeah, they could messenger it to his concierge and he could pick it up before his flight. Let me look into that. Still, I'm not really fond of renting equipment because it's like flushing money down the drain. Robert Rodriguez doesn't rent equipment for that reason. So maybe there's a story nearby where I can buy an adaptor. Maybe I can get a refurbished one or something. Okay, I'm looking at a list of BeachTek stores online... hey, there's one in Oakland. That's only 80 minute drive one way. I can do that. Plus, I can visit with Dave and Nancy for a bit. Okay, I'll call this Oakland store tomorrow, but in the meantime, I'll do more research so I know what the hell I want to buy. BeachTek sells numerous models but none of them are guaranteed to work with my camera model. Wow, did they discontinue that cable adaptor? Seems so. What happens if I Google it? No shit, some dude is selling the exact model I need for only $100 and he's in L.A.! I'll email him to see if it's still free. In the meantime, it looks like I need a DXA-4S, which is definitely discontinued, but a DXA-6 might also work. Refurbished, a DXA-6 is $165 and the place in Oakland is selling it for $279 retail. Ouch. They're also selling a DXA-4 for $199, but that's not the same as the DXA-4S, or is it? It's not 100% sure it will work for my camera. Shit. Now what? A-ha, here's another model that will work and I can order it online—the XLR-Pro and a smaller, XLR-JR. If I overnight the Junior model, it will cost me a total of $143 and even save me gas and the time it takes for a trip into the bay, with baby. Yeah, can you guys have this unit overnighted to me by Friday? You can??? Great!

And there you have it—20 hours of frantic web surfing and phone calls to ensure I'd have the crucial sound equipment we needed to get acceptable sound. As principal photography approaches, a producer's job can often get hectic like this. But this nonsense won't happen again—because I bought this silly piece of metal!

In researching this piece, I learned that Thierry Pathé died in 2002. Thierry was a great guy, laid back and extremely knowledgeable.

1 comment:

JLblogger said...

Just thought I'd let you know. I started a new company that makes XLR adapters. They include preamps, so you can reduce the hiss in your camcorder while recording fine audio detail. Thought your readers would be interested.