Sunday, June 12, 2011

A report on unwanted sound in Los Angeles

I have continually said that if you want to shoot low budget you should try and shoot as much Day Exterior as possible. This is generally good advice, but some exteriors are louder than others. Here in Los Angeles, winding down on production for JUST PRETEND, there are extensive unwanted noises. While most neighbors are genuinely amiable and willing to turn of mowers, blowers, music, etc, some sound is just beyond your control. Here is a list of sounds that we've had to hold for:

• Helicopters (they're everywhere here in LA, but today shooting in North Hollywood there is a helicopter that has been making a wide circle around us all afternoon).
• Mowers and blowers. When filming in upscale neighborhoods this is a very common issue. Fortunately the gardeners are super fast and generally willing to wait a few minutes while you're rolling (being able to speak Spanish is extra helpful in negotiating this).
• Masonry (we had a house with a major masonry, plumbing project going on while we were filming nearby. This one we just had to accept. The house had broken its water line so the owner wasn't particularly happy to have his workers wait around for us).
• Airplanes (Here in North Hollywood, we're right by the Burbank Airport, but fortunately the house is pretty sound proof. In Pasadena we were on a super quiet street, but there was a constant parade of small aircraft flying over us. We were filming outside on Memorial Day and had to deal with Jet Flyovers and WWII era aircraft flying over us in formation).
• Music (neighbors stereos, etc)
• Party (last night a major party with a DJ and everything started a few houses behind us, just as we were getting close to finishing).
• A dude parking his boat (these guys took forever to park this massive boat, right where we were shooting).
• Street cleaners, dump trucks (fortunately they come and go).
• Parrots (that's right, parrots. In Pasadena a flock of green parrots landed in the trees above us. Apparently they are decsendents of escapees from a long since shuttered zoo in the area).
• Peacocks (don't know where they came from, but one day they showed up).
• Dogs barking (we had a neighbor trying to blow leaves off his roof, he kindly would turn off his blower while we were rolling, but then he'd just stand on his roof overlooking his neighbors house where his neighbor's dogs would bark nonstop at him. Some people just don't get it).
• Lula the dog (in our Pasadena home Lula the dog was with us for the nine days at the location. She was a very sweet, old Shepherd who would occasionally walk into the set while we were rolling, her long nails clicking on the hard wood floor).

Lula the Dog, set mascot

• A birthday party, complete with piñata (the party itself was no big deal, but when they started whacking on the piñata...)
• A house on fire complete with three fire trucks, two ambulances and a police car (the fire was apparently minimal but they opened up hydrants and everything. The amazing thing is that once they all arrived, they were extremely quiet, and even though they were running around doing their thing, we could do our shot without hearing them.
• Trains, yes in North Hollywood, when the air clears of airplanes, that's when you hear the trains.
• Perhaps strangest of all: A Submarine. Turned out to be an ice cream truck that instead of playing music plays a single sonar pulse like a submarine.
• Finally Kansas' CARRY ON MY WAYWARD SON, which happens to be my ringtone. Hold for the producer's phone. Very embarrassing.

I still think that for the super low budget filmmaker shooting exterior day is a lot better than anything where you have to wrangle a bunch of lights, but be prepared for sound issues. I find shooting in busy urban areas are even better than quiet suburban ones, because at least the sound is constant. One trick is that if you're filming near an airport, mention that you're near the airport (or train, freeway, turkey farm, whatever), so that the noise has a purpose. Make it a part of your story. The other good way to work around it is to make your scenes very short. That way you're not dealing with long scenes and takes that might get messed up.

WWII era planes interrupt our film shoot from Duane Andersen on Vimeo.

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