Cooking With Audio: Tricks for Getting a Cleaner Audio Track

by Bryant Falk

Good food and how to cook it has constantly been something audiences across the globe have been wanting the answer to since almost the beginning of television. TV has been an excellent medium to teach people this continually expanding gastronomical art form.

I have been lucky enough to be involved in shooting a few pilots in this genre. My current project includes prepping for a shoot involving one chef and three guests – all of which can have a hand in the preparation. Cooking shows can have a few unique challenges that other talk formats do not work with. Let’s take a look at those challenges and a layout of how I plan to record for this project.

With all pilots, time and budget are two of the largest concerns. Time (as there is none) and budget (which there is even less). One way to help both these issues is to record audio directly to the video cameras. This will allow for one digitize session onto the hard drive (online) and no post sync issues. Now with a two-camera shoot, this only leaves me with 4 audio tracks, (with the audio set at 48k, 16bit). My audio plan is lav mics on all four characters and a boom mic safety. Counting this up, you will see I am short one track, and I have a number of choices.

Options for recording additional audio tracks:

  1. Submix the lav mics and send to one track.
  2. Skip the boom mic, putting all my faith in the wireless lavs.
  3. Record the boom onto a separate audio device and re-sync it up later.

Option 1 would require a mixer and wiring harness allowing me to route the mix back into the camera. Option 2 is just too dangerous for me and my past experience with wireless lav mics. This leaves me with Option 3, or a derivation of it.

If I have to line up another audio track anyway, why not add video? Yes, get a third camera! No, it doesn’t have to be at the same video quality. (Remember, most digital video cameras record near DAT quality audio). This will effectively give me two more audio tracks with a video reference to boot! Also, the option of a pick up shot here and there, should the editor need it.

If your video cameras are running without sync on a shoot, a simple old school method of using a clapper can make things very easy when you’re back in the edit suite. Simply get all cameras rolling and get a clapper on camera with the audio. Then in the edit suite find the snap and all three cameras are lined up!

A question may arise: Why use the lav mics at all? The answer steps us straight into the cooking show dilemma. These culinary excursions usually involve a lot of clinking pans, mixers, and other noise-making devices. Getting a mic as close to our talents’ mouths will be imperative to capture dialogue during these noisy moments. Also, with the format being unscripted, we just don’t know who will say what and when.

This brings us to Booms Law. The law goes like this: People come up with the best things to say in proportion to how far away the boom mic is. Boom is on cook when talent farthest away makes a humorous comment. Okay, so I just made that law stuff up but amazing how consistent it is.

Some other tricks when prepping for a cooking show:

  1. Gaffer tape the bottom of bowls and other hard objects so they don’t clink when picked up and put down.
  2. Try and have utensils out on a towel rather than in those noisy metal buckets.
  3. Use plastic or wood utensils as they make less noise hitting the side of the bowls and pans.
  4. Make sure the cook and other talents’ shoes don’t squeak on the wet kitchen floor!
  5. Keep range hood fan off while recording.
  6. Try to minimize hard reflections that may add a lot of echo to your track.

The above techniques can be a great help in getting a cleaner audio track. Creating a bullet list for your next project can help in not just getting better sound for a cooking show but any project that may present unique noise issues. Be aware that electric mixers, grinders, and blenders can create interference which may get picked up by your wireless lavs. This may require pick ups of the audio with some creative camera editing. Good luck and good eating!

Bryant Falk has been a producer and engineer for over 12 years working with such clients as The Ricki Lake Show, Coca-Cola, Sports Illustrated, Valley National Bank, and MTV’s The Shop. His company Abacus Audio (abacusentertainmentnyc.com) handles many aspects of the audio production field from creative and production to mixing and final output.

Featured in StudentFilmmakers Magazine, January 2008 Edition.
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