I have been involved with a number of film shoots recently that have used sets that are positioned too far away from mains power for its use to be practical. It has therefore been necessary to use a portable petrol-driven generator to power lights. Unfortunately, generators are a pain in the rear-end for any location sound guy who is trying to capture usable dialogue for eventual use on the film – and avoiding the need for ADR.

On one previous shoot, the location was in a field near the edge of a forest. The actual filming site was in a dip, and the generator had been positioned on the top of a shallow ridge and had been surrounded with large hay bales. Even with the benefit of the hay bales, the position of the generator on the top of the ridge caused the sound to carry in all directions and of course it was audible on set. In the end we moved the genny to the other side of the ridge – away from the set location – and again surrounded it with bales. The attenuation was much better but still not perfect.

On our next country shoot, we had the benefit of a number of four-wheel drives at our disposal and we attempted something that most of the safety text books will tell you NEVER to do, but we ended up with a really good solution.

I drive a Mitsubishi Pajero NS 4×4. The Pajero has quite a large luggage compartment. In the end, we put the generator in the back of the Pajero and drove it away from set. We positioned the Pajero with its nose facing the set and the back end of the vehicle facing away. We then positioned the genny inside the car with the exhaust facing out of the rear door of the car and left the door open. This ensured that any noise from the generator would be shielded on 5 sides by the pajero and the open side – with the exhaust pipe would be facing directly away from the set.

The attenuation we achieved by placing the genny in the back of the Pajero was unreal – we could not hear the generator at all on set – the sound of the wind rustling through the trees was far louder than the sound of the generator carrying back up to set from its position. I must stress that it would be extremely dangerous for anyone to remain in the vehicle at the same time as having the generator running – even though the rear door remained open at all times and the exhaust was facing outwards.

For us, this worked, but I do not condone or recommend this solution to anyone who is not prepared to accept the risks of putting a generator in the back of a vehicle.

You must consider the following:

  1. Operating a generator inside a vehicle is not recommended practise.
  2. Being inside the vehicle at the same time as a running generator is likely to cause death through carbon monoxide poisoning. DO NOT DO IT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
  3. If the generator explodes for any reason, your car is likely to be a writeoff and uninsured.

I stress that no small animals nor any small children were hurt during the making of the film, but I have to confess that a number of small flying insects unfortunately lost their lives or were seriously injured during the shoot. Sorry.