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Recording Sound in Nigeria

Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound. You first of all hear before you see.

It’s a global phenomenon that the sound team are the most underrated department on set.

There is one issue audiences continue to point out about Nollywood films and that is bad sound. I have witnessed far too many scenarios where a scene is being shot and the sound recordist complains about bad sound but the director ignores this warning and keeps shooting.

Reasons for poor sound in Nollywood films 

  1.  Use of wrong equipment

In recording audio, your first choice should be using a boom mic over radio mics. There are various types of mics(omni-directional, cardioid, super-cardioid & hyper-cardioid etc), more on this later. Radio mics use radio waves to transfer information(dialogue) to the sound mixer, however, some of this information is lost. Most boom mics use XLR cables to transfer this information which is recorded uncompressed.

  1.  Poor location choices

A good number of filmmakers in Nollywood tend to settle for locations that are problematic for sound. Very little consideration is made for sound during recce and fewer solutions in reducing noise and general ambience.

  1. Negligence of audio/dialogue editing

During post, most filmmakers don’t plan for audio equalisation.With unbalanced audio, levels keep rising and dipping throughout the film and this can be very annoying and distracting.

Sound must have two properties:

  1. Intelligibility – Words should be audible and understandable.

  2. Perspective – Sound should reflect blocking and the space it was recorded i.e it should not sound distant/removed in a close up shot.

A bit of audio theory to improve your understanding of different types of mics and their uses.

Polarity of  a microphone indicates how sensitive it is to sounds from different angles about its central axis. The diagram below shows various mics and their polarity.


Photo: Music Stack Exchange

Omnidirectional mics pick up sounds evenly from all directions. This is good for capturing ambient noise. It also works for when the mic is fixed and the sound source(actor) is moving.

Hyper-Cardioid mics are very directional and cancels most sound from the sides and rear. This is the best option for recording dialogue indoors as it doesn’t pick echoes that might bounce off walls. It is good at isolating ambient noise.

Super-Cardioid mics pick sound mostly from the front but to a lesser extent the sides. It emphasises sound from direction of mic but allows for ambient noise and mic movement. Shotgun mics have this polar pattern and are good for recording outdoors.

Cardioid mics have a similar pick up pattern to super-cardoid but it has a wider range. It is ideal for general use  and  most handheld mics are cardoid.

Bidirectional mics pick up sound equally from two opposite directions. It is a bi-polar mic and is good for scenarios where two characters are facing each other with the mic between them e.g. interview or dining scenes.

Directors and Producers need to realisee that sound can make or break your film. It’s a difficult task trying to salvage poorly recorded audio. Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) hasn’t been mastered by industry technicians coupled with the fact that actors dread it and are always in a hurry to work on the next film. I will say the best option to having clean audio is recording it properly on set

To read more on microphones and their polarity, this article by PremiumBeat does justice to the subject.

My last word to Nigerian filmmakers.

Ignore sound at your peril

Got The Picture?

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