FX Recording Missions & Near Misses….

Have you ever been arrested while out recording FX? I almost was, although it was more like having a run in with the Keystone Kops… I was out recording car passes by the motorway – I needed that specific percussive sound of car tyres hitting the join between long chunks of motorway… The place I chose to go recording is down town Wellington & unknown to me, right beside the American Embassy. This was a few years ago, but as there was a big international conference approaching it also turns out their security was kind of on alert. Anyway I parked the car, walked a block to the motorway, stood & recorded half an hour of car passes, wander back to the car & headed home. This was Friday.

No one spoke to me at the time & I was blissfully unaware but it turned out the Embassy had called the Police & claimed I was spying on them & that I had run away when a security guard approached me…. Run away? Say what? But anyway, back to the sequence of events…

On Saturday the police sent a car around to my last known address for a chat. But I wasn’t there as I had moved from that flat six months prior, so they asked my old flatmates for my contact number & called my cellphone. Would I mind coming down to the station & explaining what exactly I was doing by the American Embassy? I laughed & said for sure, it would be my pleasure. So me & my record kit head on down to the central police station, find the man assigned to my ‘case’ and go into an interview room where I explained my job, made him put on headphones & listen to the lovely sound of cars passing on the motorway, hitting that join in the road just so…

Turned out they knew it was nonsense anyway, but were obliged to follow up & provide an official explanantion to the Embassy. As they agreed I would have to be the worst spy ever to park outside the Embassy in my own car! I got a card from the policeman & enquired about recording sirens in future incase the need ever arises & headed off home & promptly forgot about it all… but then one day had a horrible thought – what if I had been added to some list of potential security threats (yes, i’d been watching too much TV!) Anyway I set to & wrote a letter to the Embassy, apologising for wasting theirs & the polices time and very very politely mentioning that I would hate to think my name had been added to a list of known troublemakers when in fact all I was doing was going about my business… A week later I got an official reply, equally apologetic… Phew!

Recording vehicle FX can be a bit of an issue at times, especially if you’re quietly trying to do it without causing too much trouble. A film called No.2 that I worked on a few years ago featured a crazy ute which had air suspension, as in the kind that can raise or lower the truck from sitting on the ground up to maximum clearance. I arranged to meet the owner & go out recording FX with him, only problem is no one warned me the guy was (a) a young slightly crazy boy racer and (b) the ute had no WOF. One of his tricks that he liked to do with his air suspension was go screaming down the motorway & then drop the suspension so the chassis scraped on the road, showering sparks everywhere… Thankfully he told me about doing this rather than giving me a personal example, but what he didnt tell me was that everyone in a one kilometre radius knew who he was & hated his damn loud ute!!!!
So I get him to drop me on the side of the road in a quiet suburban cul de sac street & we start recording passbys, up & stops etc…. I ask him to do the quieter, saner moves first & then he slowly starts doing louder & faster passbys – this ute doesnt have too much in the way of a muffler, so when you floor it, its rather loud. Anyway after two or three loud passbys & a few skids etc (this guy just couldnt help himself) a very angry short man comes storming down the footpath to see what the hell is going on. Just as I’m empathising with him & pretending innocence along comes the ute and its like a red rag to a bull, you can just see this guys blood pressure going through the roof. Of course the ute pulls up right beside me & cover blown I jump in & we get the hell out of there…. or so I thought, but no, this guy just had to go around the block one more time, for no other purpose than rubbing salt on the wound.

One last tale of having reality intrude on a good recording session. Twice in the last ten years friends have donated a car to us to collect sounds from before leaving it at the rubbish dump for recycling. Accordingly I ended up with this old wreck of a car parked in one of my car parks for a week until we could arrange a suitable recording session. I started recording some individual sounds as my spare time allowed. As my studio was inner-city back then I tended to have to wait until the evening until it was quiet. So it was about 10pm one Sunday night & I had the genius idea of recording footsteps & stomps on the roof the car, but recording from inside the car to capture that enclosed resonant space…. So I put a pair of mics inside the car, set a level & start thumping & hitting the roof of the car. Once I got tired of that I climb up on top of the car & started walking around on the roof, first gently trying to make the roof buckle a little under my weight, and then slowly getting more adventurous/aggressive. Of course I am totally oblivious to how this must look from across the street, until someone from the apartment building next door opens his window & shouts out ‘WHAT THE FCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING???’
I stopped for a minute & thought hmmm… how do I explain this easily? It was pretty obvious an indepth explanation wasnt really what this guy was after so I told him it was my car & I could do whatever I wanted to it… He explained (rather unpoetically) that he just wanted to go to sleep & could I please be quiet, at which I conceded, apologised & packed up my gear. But whoah those recordings were fantastic & have been used so many times!!!!

Enough of my ranting – you ever found yourself in a funny position while out recording?

I am always VERY careful to seek approval/pre-warn Police if we are recording firearms at all, even if its just my starter pistol for recording Impulse Responses… Explaining yourself to a Policeman as to why you are smashing some of your own property is one thing, whereas being involved in an Armed Offenders Callout is in a totally different league!

6 thoughts on “FX Recording Missions & Near Misses….

  1. Samson

    wow..what experiences.hahahaha…but those recordings sound great…do u happen to provide sounds..for free.im working on a film and need certain sounds.but unfortunatly…dont have much money to pay…so i was wonderng if you would be willing to provied some of your recorded sounds…or if you have a download link to your sounds for free.thanks

  2. tim

    the best place to get free sounds is at the end of a microphone… if the film is no/low budget then I suggest you gain access to a shotgun mic & recorder & get busy recording your own library, then you will get sounds specific to what you need for the film, but will also record a bunch of other stuff by the virtue of being out there recording… and those extra sounds can make the difference between a soundtrack being generic & being unique…. what is there in the film that you can’t go out & record? what are the ‘certain’ sound you need?

  3. Samson

    Well some of the hard sounds to record would be animal sounds.i need a wide variety of animal sounds.but hate to use the sounds from librarys because of them being used so many times before in other medias.I also require many vehicle sounds.like humvee trucks. Military helicopter sounds. Explosion sounds.Electricity sounds.Acurate weapon and guns sounds. Like machine guns.Handguns.All these type of sounds are really inaccessible for me to record.But i completley agree with you about recording fresh sounds. I definately dont want to use cliche sounds in my movie.But instead have the sound be a unique experience.For the sounds i am able to record I was planing on buying the zoom h2.Thanks for your suggestions.I look forward to your reply

  4. greg

    i finally had a chance to catch up on your blog. i do have a good story about police encounters. a few years ago a buddy of mine and i drove across the states from nyc to california. we were both interested in taking lots of photos and seeking out cool places to visit. i also brought my drum kit with me (i was moving at the time) and we also had a video camera with us. we were both curious to try some fun story type ideas, so one idea that i had was to vidotape myself playing my drumset in various places we went (i pre-composed some music to play to – sort of a click track if you will) and then i had some recording gear with me too. so one place we set up is in the badlands (south dakota) – we wake up at 4 in the morning, just so we can drive out to some cool location in the national park and do some video taping/recording. we get everything set up – my kit, the mics, the videorecorder, the sun has just come up and we’re ready to roll when – wouldn’t you know it, a national park trooper rolls up and asks us what we’re up to. we explain what we’re doing and that it’s just an art type thing (nothing commercial about it) and he says it’s cool – just to leave things as we found them and then he heads off…i have that footage somewhere…not sure where…i never had the chance to use it for anything yet.

  5. tim

    Samson, i think you are going to have to get the production to bankroll buying some sounds…

    depending where you live & how cooperative people are, your local zoo or animal farm/petting zoo may well let you record after hours but the minimum cost of that is usually paying for someone to accompany you ie a security guard…

    I would also question that if the production can wrangle a humvee for the shoot & they didnt capture any useable sound then you should put the onus on them to give you access to the same vehicle for an hour or three… its always one of my first consideratiosn when reading a sript – if there are unique vehicles etc then either they need to budget/schedule time for the production recordist to provide coverage, or (better) get someone from the sound post team to have access to the vehicle…

    Explosions & hand guns are difficult – attempting to stage you own record session is expensive & the results may be variable… in this case i can only suggest getting production to pay for sounds from eg sounddogs.com where you can audition mp3, select what you need & then pay for only the sounds you need… there are some very good gun librarys out there, but if you cannot bankroll buying entire collections maybe the only way is to buy them as specific one-off fx?

    Its tricky, but if the director/producer want a high quality unique soundtrack then there must be a budget of some kind available for such things…

    I’ve bought sounds from sounddogs and also from sound mountain before… and traded sounds with other sound editors/recordists but you must be careful of the legal/ownership aspect ie only trading sounds that you (& they) recorded/made themselves…

    it is also worth hunting through

    it is no secret that a sound library is the most important asset/resource a sound editor has – much more important than plugins etc…

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