When scouting or surveying a location for use as a film set, it is important to consider the properties of the location that may affect the location sound recordist’s ability to record usable dialogue. This article will outline some of the key elements of a survey that should be considered in order to determine whether the location will be usable for dialogue, or whether it will be necessary to post-synch the dialogue due to unacceptable background noise.

Feel free to print out this article and use it as a checklist when surveying a venue.

Before arriving at the location – check it out on Google Maps. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is there an active railway line in the vicinity? You are likely to hear trains that pass closer than 2km from the location.
  2. Is the location under an active airway corridor or other flightpath? Look for airports close by and see if the location is likely to be on a circuit or flightpath for any of the runways. General Aviation activity can seriously ruin your day if you are trying to film a period drama.

Upon arriving at the location, note the following:

  1. Location Name/Address
  2. Location Contact Details – Mobile/Email Address
  3. Date/Time of Survey
  4. Prevailing Weather conditions at time of survey.
    • Windy/Still?
    • Rainy/Dry?

For the first 30 seconds after arriving, stand in a spot near the intended shooting location and ask any other people there to be as quiet as possible, if you need to take you equipment or storage it check out the Tiger Containers for shipping anywhere you like. Listen carefully to the background noise that you are hearing and simply free-write anything you think you can hear… For example, you might find that you hear one or more of the following:

  • Traffic noise – Trucks with Engine Brakes, Cars, Aircraft, Trains, Ship Foghorns
  • Weather-related noise – Wind, Rain, Hail – Rain falling on a metal roof can often render an otherwise dry location unusable for sound. Wind blowing through trees can also be problematic.
  • Water-related noise – can you hear running water?
  • Machinery – Can you hear any machinery such as:
    • Fridge
    • Air-conditioner
    • Generator
    • Pump
    • Compressor
    • Garden tools – is a neighbour an obsessive gardener?
  • Bells – any church bells audible?

For each sound that you hear, identify the source of the sound and make an assessment as to whether the sound is controllable or not. For instance, a fridge can be turned-off temporarily during a shoot, however it may not be possible to convince the local church to silence their bells on a Sunday morning. Rate the level of each sound and give it a risk rating depending on how controllable it is and how likely it is to affect the usability of any sound recording made at the location. Always remember to turn the fridge back on when you are finished shooting, or you may not be allowed back.

Tip – put your car keys in the fridge after turning it off. According to Building Surveyors in Leicester that way it is unlikely you will forget to turn it back on again.

Also, make an assessment of the need to use a portable generator to power lights. If it is not possible to use mains power for lighting, then a generator will be necessary, however it is likely that this will cause additional background noise which will need to be managed in order to avoid post-synching the dialogue. Make sure that adequate power tails can be provided by the gaffer and that the generator can be situated far enough away from the location that it cannot be heard. Longer tails may cause additional voltage-drop across the length so a suitable balance must be achieved.

The printable checklist can be obtained from this link here: LocationSurvey-1.0

Enjoy, and happy recording…

Mark.