It's A Location Problem
In this article, you'll learn how to be a vigilant and detail-oriented audio mixer during a location scout. From checking the RF environment to measuring cable runs, taking notes, and even bringing a camera, this guide will help you prepare your audio department for any location before setting foot on the property. And who knows, you might even discover something new and beautiful along the way!
It's crucial to scout locations for any production, so it's crucial to understand what you're working with. To prepare your department for each location before setting foot on the property, you must be vigilant and put on your "good ears". This is a requirement for almost every job you will take on, and your findings while you are out there will greatly affect the production. During the scout, you will be a member of a small crew that will assess whether they have located a fantastic location to film at, or if it completely doesn't work. You may end up shooting there anyway, so be ready for anything!
It is best to plan ahead and bring any equipment and cables you might need for the entire production even before you leave for the location scout. Making a checklist will enable you to decide what equipment and how much cable are appropriate for the working environment. Determine the precise location of where you are going to set up once you have arrived at the site. Following that, you must carefully survey the area and consult your checklist to ensure that the equipment you have planned will be sufficient for you to work. Calculating the cable run you will need for the duration of the production and whether you will need more based on your prior calculations before arriving at the location should be one of the items on your checklist. After you arrive and inspect the potential filming location, make sure to take thorough notes, write down what you observed, and update your checklist. Remember, a photo is worth a thousand words!
Checking the RF environment in the potential filming location is another thing you should do while you are there. By using an RF Explorer, wireless receiver, or other spectrum analyzer (the TinySA platform is also great!) to scan the frequencies in the air, you can determine the RF environment. Make sure you have a variety of clean frequencies you can use, and make the appropriate equipment decisions based on this information. Once you've established that the RF environment where you are doesn't meet standards, start considering what you can do to help, such as installing antennas, renting additional equipment or possibly even the use of fiber runs to cover distances not known prior to the scout.
Since every location is unique, the noise pollution will also differ depending on the location you're in. Put on your listening ears and pay close attention to every sound you hear, both loud and soft, as both may contain information. In the future, recording noises from things like planes, cars, birds, trains, air conditioners, machinery, etc. will be problematic. To assist you in identifying any additional noise contamination in the area, you can even bring a shotgun mic and a small bag. Make sure to take thorough notes so you can keep track and develop a strategy to overcome those challenges.
Maintain a record of everything you have discovered and everything you will require. Write down all of your queries and worries so you can address them at the subsequent production meeting. Your suggestions, queries, and concerns will play a significant role in determining whether the location is appropriate for filming or not. At the meeting, don't be timid and don't hold back. Make sure you express your concerns and inspect the location because it will be very difficult for you if they decide to film there while there are numerous audio issues. At the very least, you will be able to say, "I told ya so!"
A few tools that will be useful to you while you are scouting the area must be with you before you leave. These resources are helpful for scouting new locations as well as places you have already visited because every shoot is unique and has different requirements for the set audio department.
Having an RF Explorer will help to ensure your RF environment is mapped out. Make sure to write down those frequencies while you are out on the scout so you can program those frequencies much more quickly, or better yet, save them for a higher resolution look at the spectrum later. That device will scan the environment and help you determine the cleanest frequencies that you will be able to use. Another tool you'll find useful while out scouting is your laptop, especially depending on the spectrum analyzer you take. Keep in mind, there are many different models of spectrum analyzers. They all offer something a little different, so be sure to bring the best one to suit your needs.
When scouting, a measuring wheel and/or laser tape are excellent tools to have on hand. You can use these tools to calculate how much cable you'll need for those cable runs and to make those determinations. Make sure your measurements are accurate and that you record them, especially if you have a large area to cover.
You, the audio mixer, will, dare I say it, need to bring a camera to the site scouting. When presenting the location to someone who did not accompany you on the scout, you will want to take pictures so that you can remember and picture your plan. You might even discover something new. It will be useful as you get ready for your team and your colleagues.
Finally, but certainly not least, a notepad. As I've said throughout this article, you'll need to take lots of notes. Be as detailed as you can, and make sure to write down everything you believe will be important to remember or bring up at the following production meeting.
Doing a location scout can be stressful for everyone involved, but as long as you make every effort to be as detailed and watchful as possible about everything in the area, everything ought to be fine. Take thorough notes, and during your production meeting, be sure to discuss all of your observations. This is the best way to keep it a location problem, not a sound problem. Not every project gets a location scout, so do your best to take advantage of it whenever possible. The best part of this is discovering new places and taking in their natural beauty.