Around The Campfire


Q I’m working on a low-budget student film. We have two big scenes where four characters will be having a discussion around a campfire. We’re covering the scene with two cameras; one will be a pretty wide shot that contains all four characters, the fire and some of the area around the fire, while the other camera will cover mediums and close-ups. This means we can’t use a shotgun/boom mic, as it would be visible in the wide shot. We’ll be shooting with two Canon EOS 5D Mark III cameras. We don’t have the budget to rent four high-quality wireless mic systems, as the shoot takes place multiple nights over a period of four to six weeks, and it will be difficult to use wired lavaliers, as the characters walk into the frame, then sit down in chairs around the fire. Are there any creative ways we can cover audio in this scene, making sure that we can hear the actors clearly? We can spend $300 to $400 to rent or buy some equipment, but we’d rather buy something that we can own and use on other scenes/shoots than rent gear.
Steven M.
Via e-mail

A It can be difficult to cover scenes like this even with a decent budget and crew. Trying to cover it effectively on a very low budget is even more difficult. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III internal audio is basically unusable for professional results, so you may want to consider recording externally. One method that you might want to use would be to utilize individual external recorders for each character. For under $100 each, you could purchase several small digital recorders. The nice part is that by using the stereo external mics that each recorder has, you could capture a total of four stereo pairs of audio. This setup isn’t ideal; having a close mic sound from a lavalier would reduce crosstalk, where one character’s microphone would pick up the other character better than the internal stereo mics on these recorders will. But for your budget, this will give you a way to record fairly clean audio within your budget and you’ll own the gear.

The small recorders could be hidden around the set. As long as you can locate each recorder within about 24 inches from each actor’s mouth, you’ll record usable audio. The two units you might want to consider for this task would be the Zoom H1 and the Tascam DR-05. Either recorder is available for less than $100 retail. Both recorders utilize a microSD card and one or two AA batteries. Both recorders have built-in stereo mics in an X-Y configuration, as well as an unbalanced microphone input. Depending on which editing program you use, syncing the audio with the scratch tracks that your cameras will record isn’t difficult. You can either sync manually or utilize software like PluralEyes or other editing programs that now even contain a function to automatically sync the audio.

While I haven’t used external audio recorders to specifically record a campfire scene, I’ve used them in place of wireless microphone systems, and there are advantages. The separate recorders aren’t nearly as prone to interference, RF noise and reception issues. This method, while not perfect, may suffice nicely in overcoming your challenge.