Wednesday, June 8, 2016

BeachTek Box - Single System Audio

   Hello again, everyone. Even though I work for a television station now, we still try to keep things low budget. The majority of filming for our local, commercial clients is done with DSLR's, and we generally use single-system audio. So, that's what we are going to talk about today.

    The whole time that I was learning to wield a camera and capture sound in college, I was always told to record sound separately when you shoot with a DSLR. Every bit of research that I did outside of school (generally reading books or watching videos by sound engineers) reinforced this mantra. As a standard practice, I would still recommend having a separate system/device, and possibly even a person, to record sound. However, the reality for most of us is that we are usually a one man show. Let me quickly explain the difference between options. .

    Sound can be either recorded single-system or dual-system, generally. Single-system sound means running the microphone directly into the camera, which can be done with higher end cameras with no problem, usually via a XLR input on the camera.


    DSLR's really aren't built with the processing power for sound that other cameras which are strictly built for video have, and they don't have the balanced inputs. So, generally speaking, you don't want to record sound in-camera with a DSLR. However, there are people who do it; albeit, I was never one of them - until now.

    At my station they use something called a BeachTek Box. It's a small box that acts as a preamp for an audio signal running into your camera. It looks like this:

    You run mics directly into the XLR input on side, the box boosts the signal (and limits it in some cases), and then sends it into the camera. I've heard that lower-end versions of these can be pretty noisy, but I have to say the BeachTek box works amazingly well. I've used it with shotgun mics and with wireless lavs and the sound is amazingly clear. I was pleasantly surprised. Even to the point where I can't decide if I want to purchase one myself, or go with something like the Tascam DR-60D or the Tascam DR-70D. To me, the biggest issue would be price. The BeachTek DXA-SLR Ultra runs right about $300, and the Tascam DR-70D can be found now for about fifty dollars lower and has four inputs as compared to two. The DR-60D only has two inputs like the BeachTek, but is half the cost.

    B & H photo gives a great demo of the BeachTek DXA-SLR Ultra here;

Just for reference I'll include pictures of the Tascam devices that I've mentioned:

Tascam DR-70D
Tascam DR-60D

    The biggest drawback that I've heard about the Tascam recorders compared to the BeachTek is the build quality. The Tascam recorders are definitely a thin plastic, and the DR-60D has an audible step up and down with the sound when you adjust the inputs while recording, but I didn't detect that in the BeachTek. 

    Anyway, to recap, pleasantly surprised, need to purchase new audio equipment, not so pleasantly confused. If anyone has any feedback about these devices or any recommendations that they would like to share, feel free to comment. Thanks!



Friday, June 3, 2016

Practice Safe Commercial Creation - Use a Concept

    Since starting in commercial production, I could easily call this blog Lessons Learned the Hard Way, as problems arise all the time that you never even thought of or could read about. The biggest thing that will save you a headache throughout your entire project is having a strong concept. At it's inception, unless you have a solid concept, your project is doomed to be riddled with problems and quite possibly fail. It acts as a clear map for a direction to go in.

    In commercial work, if you work for a company, clients are brought to you through a person who works in the marketing and sales department. Together, you and the sales rep listen to the client's input and then guide the client through the creation process. Usually, this consists of whittling down what the client wants into one solid idea. Unfortunately, they most likely will want to give a you a laundry list of what their company sells or consists of. You cannot fit this into thirty seconds, and even if you could, every point would go by so fast that nothing would stick in the viewer's memory. You need to find a single point to make. A single point of focus or attack. A unique selling point (UPS) to deliver a strong message, and a message that plays to the client's strengths. For example, a client that is a seller of home building products comes to you to drum up business. There are five other businesses like this in town. The questions to ask are easy. First, why would a client come to you instead of a competitor? Second, what service, product, or unique feature sets you apart from the competition? In this case, other stores offered the same products, so there wasn't much that could be done there. However, as features were concerned, this client had a computer program that allows his clients to design their rooms right there in the store, and to get an immediate idea of what the outcome would look like. That is a strong selling point. You can work with that. Another good point, is that he can work with a contractor if you already have one. Making one to three points isn't terrible as long as there is a main focus, just don't do a laundry list. The viewer won't retain anything.

    Also, most clients will want to push their customer service as a selling feature. This is a bad idea for two reasons. First, everyone tries to do this. Second, customer service should be a given! If you don't have good customer service, you won't have a business for very long! It shouldn't be treated as something special or unique.

    If you're a freelancer, you may have to do all of this on your own, which can be both good and bad. Alone you have to find all of the clients yourself, do all of the negotiating, and then do the filming and editing. This can be cumbersome, but is preferable to working with a bad sales or marketing person. A good sales person will have a good idea of what time constraints that you are under with a thirty or even a fifteen second spot, and will direct your client to a clear singular concept for a commercial. Alternatively, a bad one can end up adding more work if they promise the client the sky and end up letting the client completely run the show, either because they just want the sale that badly or they don't know what they're doing. You get the money, but sometimes it isn't often worth it, because without a concept you usually have to spend a lot of wasted time doing re-edit after re-edit, due to the fact that the client really didn't know what they wanted to start with and they're completely shaping their idea as you create the spot. Also, sometimes you just have to give in to the client wanting a laundry list of ideas in the commercial because the salesperson, or even you, couldn't convince them that the single, unique selling point was the way to go. This will also cause endless hours of editing. This latter part can happen whether your salesperson is good or not. However, in the end, the client is the one paying for it, and you may not be able to convince them of what is successful.

   In later posts, I'll discuss ways to steer a client in the right direction, and even mistakes filmmakers make shifting the focus of a commercial to the wrong thing. Also, I will delve into movie concepts, which are a little more elaborate then commercials. As always, feel free to comment.