When you’re filming an interview, the audio recording of the interviewee’s voice is the most important element of your production.
That’s right, the MOST important element.
It’s so common for filmmakers to spend hours on set design and lighting and only a few minutes on audio. Without sound, all you’re left with is a talking head that does not transmit any message to the viewer.
Having a standard process in how you set up your sound recording and a standard kit of tools you will use, gives you piece of mind that the most essential element of your interview production does not effect the interview’s conversation.
While our audio setup may change depending on the environment we are in, whenever we know that we will be conducting a single person interview, we always carry our standard kit of audio tools that ensure we can record the interviewee’s dialogue in a high quality way.
Keep reading on to learn about the setup we recommend for most interviews…
What’s the best microphone option?
Great sound quality starts with a great microphone. Just a like choosing a lens, there is a perfect microphone for every occasion. However, for single person interviews there is one type of microphone that we use 9 times out of 10.
A shotgun microphone.
Our go-to shotgun microphone is the Rode NTG-3. [Buy/Rent]
The NTG-3 shotgun microphone has what’s called a supercardiod pickup pattern.
Without going too deep into the science of all the various pickup patterns out there, a supercardiod pickup pattern is an audio recording pattern that allows a shotgun microphone to record sound coming from one direction while avoiding prominent pickup of the distracting sounds in the surrounding environment.
In a single person interview, you should point the shotgun microphone in the direction of area around the interviewee’s chin. The microphone should be positioned as close to the interviewee as possible while staying out of frame.
Check out the positioning of the microphone in this interview we shot of Jeremy.
But what about lav mics?!
Yes, for our interviews we almost always will have a lav microphone on the interview subject. The lav mic acts as our primary backup audio source.
The lav microphone we love most is the Countryman B6. [Buy/Rent]
While the B6 may be a bit more costly than most filmmakers are expecting to spend on a lavalier microphone, this one sets apart interviews that look and sound professional vs amateur.
The biggest benefit of the B6 as compared to other lavs is its size. This mic is tiny and it still sounds great! Also, the microphone’s cable is super thin.
This microphone is super discrete and when adhered to your interviewee properly, the audience will never suspect it’s there. With the exception of low budget productions or perhaps reality shows, you will never see a lav microphone appear on a character in a film.
So why don’t you always use the lav mic instead of the shotgun mic?
We use a shotgun mic AND a lav mic simultaneously, as we always want to have at least one backup audio source.
The problem with lav microphones is that they can often fall victim to interviewee error. The interviewee perhaps rubs their neck itching a scratch and accidentally rubs the microphone off their collar or causes a strange noise in the mic. Maybe you’re using a wireless lav kit and random radio waves start causing interference in your signal.
Also, lav mics can get covered by clothing fabric in a way that muffles the mic’s ability to record properly (this is especially common when after the interview starts, you realize that your interviewee is very animated and loves moving around a lot).
That being said, the shotgun microphone is our first choice audio source.
Why don’t you use the camera’s built-in microphone or the Rode VideoMic Pro?
It’s true, two other microphones that filmmakers tend to use in interviews are the camera’s built in microphone and the ever so handy Rode VideoMic Pro.
The built in microphone that comes with most DSLR’s is not what you want to use for interviews for many reasons.
Reason #1: Since it is located on the camera body, it will be very difficult to get the microphone close to the interview subject’s mouth (remember the closer the mic is to your interview subject, the cleaner and more true the audio recording).
Reason #2: Since the internal mic is positioned super close to the controls on your camera, noise of buttons clicking and wheels turning will be captured. Also, the sound of the camera’s internal fans all create a low rumbling noise that reduces your overall audio quality.
Bottom line: Don’t use the camera’s built-in microphone!
A Rode VideoMic Pro is an awesome sound recorder for many scenarios that filmmakers often encounter. If you are shooting alone — run and gun — in the field — and don’t have time to lav someone or set up a formal interview, the VideoMic Pro will give you a a decent quality of sound for your in the field interview. The VideoMic Pro features a supercardioid pickup pattern (which we like for interviews), however the build of the microphone does not reproduce audio with the same sonic quality as something like the NTG-3 Shotgun Microphone.
But how does their SOUND actually COMPARE?
Here’s the interview we recorded with Jeremy to give you some examples of how each of these microphones sound. The camera used in this interview was a full frame Canon 5D Mark 3 with a Canon 85mm f/1.2 Lens. Can you hear the differences?
What about supporting tools?[do action=”embed-vimeo”]80441201[/do]
To hold a shotgun microphone in place during a single person interview, we use a combination of some very handy tools.
First, we place the shotgun microphone into a device called a shock mount.
The one we use most often is the Pearstone DUSM-1 Universal Shock Mount. It’s light, it’s durable and it works for most any type of shotgun microphone.
Next, the shock mount is fastened onto a boompole. The boompole allows you to get the microphone really close the interview subject.
The boompole we often use is a K-Tec Graphite Series. [Buy/Rent]
We love this boom pole because it’s graphite, meaning it’s light and strong. The boom pole also features XLR cables that connect directly to our microphone on one end and connect into our recorder on the other end.
The boom pole that works great for trips where you’ve got to travel light is the Rode Micro Boompole.
When Patrick and Zippy were touring Nepal and had to stay lean on gear, the love affair with the Rode Micro Boompole flourished. This boompole has a tiny footprint and is super lightweight. The downsides are that the pole does not have nearly the reach of a K-Tec and it does not have internal XLR cables.
To keep the boompole in place, you will use a c-stand or a light stand for support. Sometimes a boom operator will hold the boompole during the interview, but we prefer using a stand (the boom operator will thank you, as having to hold a pole above your head for 45 minute interview can be quite the shoulder workout).
In order to effectively support a boompole on a c-stand or light stand; you will need a grip head and a boom pole holder.
First, the boom pole holder is fastened to the grip head. Second, the grip head is fastened to the top of your stand. Third, the boompole is placed into the boompole holder.
The last piece of support you will need is XLR cable. XLR cable is used to connect the boompole to the recording device. Depending on the type of boompole you use, you may need to connect your XLR cable directly to the microphone and then to the audio recorder, or you may be connecting the XLR cable from the end of boompole to the audio recorder.
The benefit of connecting from the end of the boompole to your audio recorder is that you have less loose hanging audio cable to manage.
In order for your c-stand to hold the boom pole, you will also need a boom pole holder and a grip head.
What’s the best way to actually RECORD the sound?
The last (but very important) piece in your audio recording setup is your audio recorder. A great microphone’s sound is captured by a great recorder.
The recorder we use most often in the Tascam DR-40. [Buy/Rent]
The Tascam is awesome because:
- You can monitor your audio levels live during the interview
- You can plug two separate XLR inputs into the recorder and record those inputs on two separate tracks
- The recorder can act as phantom power for your microphone
- It’s very lightweight
- It starts up in less than 3 seconds
- It’s super durable
Something to remember when you are recording audio into a Tascam DR-40 is that you will have to sync your audio to your image in post.
But Stillmotion, I see you guys using the C-100 for your films. Do you still use a Tascam when recording an interview with a C-100?
If you happen to be one a filmmaker with one of our favorite cameras, the Canon C-100, then you will have a bit of a different audio workflow.
The C-100 has this great handle that features XLR inputs. The benefit of this handle is that it allows you to plug the XLR Cable from your boompole directly into your camera. This means that you won’t have to sync audio to image in post. Also, the C100 provides phantom power for your microphone.
Putting the pieces together…
Here’s a quick recap of our ideal audio setup for a single-person interview:
- Primary mic: Rode NTG-3 shotgun mic (recording into Tascam DR-40).
- Backup mic: Countryman B6 Lav (recording into Tascam DR-40).
- Boompole: K-Tec Graphite with Pearstone shock mount.
- C-stand or light stand with grip head.
Yes, factors like location of interview, size of crew, and budget all effect what an audio setup can look like. However, with an understanding of the best use of a standard kit of great tools you give yourself the piece of mind that most important technical production element in your interview does not interfere with the most important reason you are recording your interview in the first place…
To capture a great conversation!
Have some interview audio tips you’d like to share? Post your suggestions in the comments below!
Awesome information and so true! I would like to suggest a couple of alternatives to a shotgun mic though. Small-diaphragm condensers work REALLY well for indoor talking-head/interview videos. I put out a video about this very thing, using a Shure SM81 in much the same way you use a shotgun. But then I also – on the same video – tried a $49 USB mic! I compare the audio of both against using just the on-board mic of a Canon Vixia to demonstrate the vast improvement of using a mic in the way you show in this post. If you are at all interested in the results of those comparisons, the video is here: http://www.homebrewaudio.com/how-to-get-good-audio-on-your-videos/
Thanks again for a spot-on post for solving a VERY common problem.
Thanks very much – we’ll certainly check it out
Great article as always!
I understand if you are shooting run and gun mixed with lit interviews the boompole / c-stand combo is a good workflow, but if you are not using a boompole for the rest of the day (to record ambient sound) or you really need to keep things light, why not just use a single mic stand?
Your boompole might be light but C-stands are enormous and not something you can just throw into your tripod bag…
That certainly could work easier – i don’t know that we have a mic stand and we’ve never had any issues with the c-stand approach. Though, we do often use it with a smaller light stand if the boom doesn’t need to stretch out
Really, really good information. Great write-up.
Good work! Well thought out comparison. Illustrates well the necessity of quality audio in film and video. I do have one issue with the audio this video. It sounded (to me) as if the input signal for the RØDE NTG-3 was over-driven with the associated distortion and clipping that comes with an over-driven audio signal.
In support, I am also a big fan of both Countryman (I own a B6) and RØDE (I own both an NTG-1 & VideoMic Pro). I’ve used mics from both manufactures for years in many different audio applications and they never fail to provide superior audio.
And, like Ken Theriot, I also have a small-diapram mic. Except mine is a dynamic OM5 super cardioid mic built by AUDIX of Tualatin, OR. AUDIX builds (IMHO) the best hand-held dynamics available with unequaled sound quality. See mine in use here: https://vimeo.com/67776708
Thanks for ‘puttin’ it out there!’
I’m a big fan of the Audix SCX1-HC. I love the mic! I’ve used the Schoeps CMC641 a lot, but the Audix is a nice mid range option if you can’t afford the Schoeps.
For lavs I use Oscar Soundtech’s 801 and 802 lavs. They’re cheap and copy with a nice little pelican case for about $100. They’re similar to the Tram-50 lav.
I dunno if this is useful, but if you’re either working in a small space, don’t want to carry a c-stand and a boom, or just want a lower cost option, for sit-down interviews I like to use a traditional mic stand. I have an adapter that goes from the end of the stand’s mini-boom to my shock-mount. It’s really lightweight and super portable, plus it only costs around $30.
Not a replacement for a proper boom setup, but a nice compact alternative when carrying capacity and money is at a premium.
Awesome idea. I’ve found the small Rode boom pole to be great for that super simple, small, international travel option
Why would you use a shotgun for interior interviews over a small diaphragm condenser mic such as the Schoeps CMC641? Everywhere I’ve read (such as B&H’s Interior Dialog Boompole Microphone Roundup (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/indepth/audio/hands-reviews/interior-dialog-boompole-microphone-roundup)) says that small diaphragm condenser mics are better than shotguns for interior dialog because shotguns are generally too reflective indoors.
Also, I’ve seen you use a Sound Devices 744T on some of your larger shoots. Do you ever use something like a Sound Devices MixPre-D or 302 on your smaller shoots? I find the Tascam pre-amps a bit noisy, and while the C100 is considerably less noisy, it too could benefit some, particularly in features (such as easier level adjustment while not bumping the camera), with a Mix-Pre. Aside from price, why wouldn’t one want to use an external mix/pre-amp?
Great questions. I think much of what you are getting at is the difference between pro field audio and a cinematographer who is going for great sound.
Your mic comments are spot on – we choose a shotgun as we are very happy with the results and it greatly simplifies to have one mic with a smaller crew. On A Game of Honor, we had some field audio pros that had 3-4 mics of varying types that they would swap out during the day. Most would also have the preamp and mixer on board too.
For us, the added complexity of multiple mics and a preamp/mixer is often more trouble than the value we feel it brings. When Jeremy is on sound and that’s is main focus, he is all over this and swapping mics, adds on a pre amp, and dialing in all kinds of things that are beyond me.
With a smaller crew, we feel we can get great results with a shotgun often straight into the C100. We too are very happy with its pre-amps.
Thanks for your comments
Thanks for the reply. If you’re looking for a one mic solution, I’d suggest the Sanken CS-3e. It’s said to sound slightly better than the NTG-3 outdoors, and indoors to sound significantly better. I believe it’s the best shotgun mic there is for indoor use, though still not as good as a quality small diaphragm condenser would be. It has a tighter pickup pattern than the NTG-3, which is good for isolating noise more, but is not as well suited for novice boom ops should they miss their mark, and costs considerably more than the NTG-3. But for those who have the budget and want a one mic solution for filming interviews indoors and out (and a good boom op if it’s going off the mic stand), it’s perhaps the best mic there is for that.
Sanken CS-3e is twice the price of a Rode NTG-3…
We have started recording audio with a boom pole and we are now exploring MS recording with a Neumann KM120 and KM140 on an amazing Universal Shock Mount and wind screen made by a french company called http://www.cinela.fr . MS recording give us the opportunity to add more or less of the ambient sound of the room.
My audio instructor told me that cardioid or hypercardioid mics tend to be more neutral, this guy uses those mics the most on movie recording here in France. He uses shotgun when there is more ambient sound, but you must be careful not to move too much the mic when outside. For exemple when you’re recording on a beach, these can cause some weird filter sounds when moving.
We now use a Sound Devices 664, it’s a bit more expensive but it allow us to have more sound source available for a lot of different recording situation.
Thanks again Stillmotionoids
As always, you guys provide intelligence, concise and incredibly useful content.
Fantastic; loved the comparison.
Thanks a lot for this great tutorial.
Can you please talk a bit about your settings when recording audio in camera with the C100? I.e. do you use limiters, do you use a splitter to record to both channels, where do you set the levels to peak, etc?
It often depends on the crew and timing. If i’m shooting and running audio for a small crew interview i’d run an xlr into channel one, turn on phantom, and run manual levels. I’d set then to peak at about -12 to -18 db and run no limiter, but the levels would get moved up and down during the interview if needed.
Sometimes we’ll also run a lav into the second channel, and have a limiter on that – just in case.
With a larger crew audio is often run into a Tascam or sound devices, so that can change things.
Which version of the B6 did you use? W4 or W5?
Why you don’t use Zoom h4n anymore?
The Tascam has proved consistently more reliable with much faster startup times
Great write-up! I’ll be checking out the Rode mic soon, but for now my budget audio setup consists of a Rode Video Mic Pro, an Audio-Technica ATR3350 lavaliere, and a Zoom H2n. I normally keep the VMP in the hotshoe, but I’m wondering if it’s worth the effort of boom mounting it and either plugging it into the H2n (could also be mounted on the pole) or even buying an extension cable to run down the pole and into the camera. Any advantages or disadvantages to this idea? I’d like to maximize my sound quality out of these three mic options.
Thanks again for the tips!
Beautifully written with experiences using the various models.. Thanks a lot for the support.
Hey there, love all the great information! I’m looking into buying a boom mic setup soon and would love your opinion on the NTG-3 vs. the MKH418S. I believe you’ve used both, right.
Thankful for any thoughts, cheers!
MKH-418S is a diferent animal, is a true stereo Mid Side Mic and that should be mixed and mastered in post, not in the field, ambient sounds are amazing wide stereo image and also could be use like an ordinary MKH-416 shotgun, an industry standard for location sound
My current setup is to use the Sennheiser G3’s lav mic to an H1 then going out directly to my 5d2 and headphones for monitoring. I have been loving the sound but it’s definitely hard to hide, and if I hide it completely then often I get shirt noise. $300 isn’t out of range for a great microphone like the Countryman.
I haven’t used a boom pole for my work until recently and was shocked how easy it is keeping it out of the frame. I’ve been looking at the ntg2 because it’s more affordable, but I also have a spare videomic pro that I never use and might boom pretty well actually! Aside from not having an xlr connection, it might work well.
Hi. What accesorie is that little piece of fur on the lav mic?
Hey Ikaro, Those are the Rycote Undercovers. Undercovers are an essential accessory for our lavalier packs. BH sells them in a variety pack (black, white, gray) >> http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/378922-REG/Rycote_065504_Undercover_Lavalier_Wind.html
Thanks for the great post – can you elaborate on how you connect the Countryman lav mic to your Tascam DR40. Both links to the mic(rent/buy) use the 3.5 plug and the DR40 only uses XLR or 1/4 inputs. I’ve read that not all lavs will work with the Tascam and am wondering if you use some sort of adapter or are using a different version of the mic that you link to.
Do you guys ever record stereo audio for interviews (ex. 2 shotgun mics running into separate xlr inputs on the field recorder) or do you simply record mono and double the audio track? Pros and Cons?
One mic is a Mono source, you don’t have to double the track, just set a record level as hot as possible like -10 dBFS…24 bits is more dynamics resolution to process in post
How do you feel about the JuicedLink Preamps?
I always think it’s a bad idea to record your sound on any DSLR, i leave it unplugged picking up the slate and force the editor to use the sound from a proper sound recorder.
I love the quality from the Tascam DR-40, is there any special software to use when syncing the audio also how did you set up?
Most NLE softwares like Final Cut Pro X, or Avid Media Composer has them in-built. Just find the option, and it’ll attempt to sync the audio and picture (the picture must have some kind of reference audio)… what it normally does is that it seeks out a clap, or any other audible and distinctive, yet similar sound source, which is why clapperboards are important during field production.
PluralEyes is good too, if you can get your hands on it.
I got mine in a bundle, with a tascam dr 60d, and a rode ntg2, from B&H PHOTO.
Not endorsing that setup though. The mic and recorder combo was a little too noisy for my taste. I wound up buying a Sound Devices 702t, and kept the mic. Eventually, i may have to replace that mic too, for an ntg3, or something a little better.
Thank you for including the video with the various sources. Are all this audio as it came into the microphone or have you done any enhancements to it. I am brand new to doing audio for video, but I have audio experience selling and installing sound systems for school gymnasiums
I have a digital recorder on the way (Tascam DR-60D) and now seeking the right beginner microphone. The budget is really tight, but I know that the shotgun microphone is the way to go. Can you suggest something in the $100-$200 range that would be find to get started with? I realize the sound quality will not be the same as with the NTG-3, but we all have to start somewhere.
Hi Guys, thanks for this really helpful insight. Can I ask what gain setting you use on the Tascam? I have a DR-100MKII with NTG-3 and was wondering if you use High or Medium for this style of interview.
Is it possible to plug the ntg-3 direct to the dslr (like 5D mkii)? If so, is there any disadvantages to doing it this way?
Very helpful article, love the website. Thanks
I am a musician and studio owner, and I recently joined a company that makes films. I am mainly involved in post-production, so I don’t often attend the field recordings and interviews, but I notice sometimes that the field crew does ‘stereo’ recordings of the boom and the lapel, mixed. Is this a common practice?
Surely, that’s not what ‘stereo’ is meant to be used for–this is not like recording an acoustic guitar with multiple-mic setup in a studio. Rather, it’s 2 separate audio sources that you want an option to blend yourself later if necessary, so you’d want 2 mono tracks that are independent of one another, no?
But I think what the field guys are thinking is that, “It’s just 2 mono tracks at the end of the day–I’m pairing them together on my Tascam recorder for convenience. You can separate them out later in post if you import the individual L/R feed and pan them back to centre.” but…no, that just feels wrong. Surely, there’s some kind of phase issue if you do it that way–centred mono tracks is the way to go. Am I missing something here?
As you position rythm instruments into center when you mix music, also dialogs shall be center panned into the stereo field. And not mention the necesity when you want to upmix an L-R stereo into dolby pro logic, where also dialogs must appear in center field.
I think doing recording in “stereo” it is just having the signal doubled, there is no any spaceing efect of the sound.
I recently purchased the Tascam Dr40 and I wanted to record an interview using both a lav and a shotgun mic. I wanted to record in mono, but for some reason can’t figure out how to get the recorder to output two files. Can you go into more details on settings for this. I tried the 4 track recording as well but it mixes bothe the L and R channel into one stero track? Help please
Can any of the rode microphones plug directly into the dslr? If we just wanted the person to hold the microphone and have the camera pick up the audio through the shotgun mic?
You may get away with this converter: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/994799-REG/rode_nt4_mj_xlr_to_3_5mm_stereo.html
What about a two person interview? What’s the ideal set up both in terms of audio but also camera(s)? Thanks!
4 Camera shoot. 1 wide. 1 closeup on each interview subject. 1 closeup on host. You can always use one of the interview cams as a two shot and move the other one between talent. Gives you plenty of coverage.
3 Lav mics on each interviewee and host. You may need a multi channel audio recorder for this. Tascam 40 not going to get the job done on 3 xlr input.
Awesome article, very informative and logical. Thanks!
Hi can someone help. I am going over and over on this, I need an audio recorder to record outside in situ interviews for podcasts and t tag on to video recordings with an external microphone. Thinking of using a Audio Technica ATR-2100 Microphone and then need a suitable recorder to go with it. I’m starting out on this to promote my clothing brand with relevant interview with artists. I eventually want to get two mics to record during the interviews but initially will start with one as on a budget. Also budget is a factor in buying the audio recorder. I’m wondering is it worth spending the extra for a Tascam DR-40 instead of the DR-05 or if any one can recommend another recorder altogether. Thanks for any help.
I just want to say I am very new to blogs and truly savored you’re web site. More than likely I’m likely to bookmark your website . You amazingly come with superb articles and reviews. Regards for sharing your webpage.