The video above demonstrates an example of how using audio cues can be useful to coordinate timing for position markers and action cues with your cast and crew....

For directors and production crew it can sometimes be difficult to quickly orchestrate shots where timing is paramount to it being executed efficiently. This is not so much a shortcoming of crew but an inherent difficulty when working on large sets, in challenging environments and at a fast pace. I have used audio cues occasionally when hero shots rely on beat-driven interactions. As production often lacks the luxury of time it’s unwise to assume your cast and crew always have an intimate knowledge of song structure, bar lengths & musical terminology. There are a number advantages of this approach when shooting MOS:

  • A consistent cue makes it much easier to rely on and be indefinitely repeatable.

  • Short percussive sounds create an absolute transient cue for precise timing whilst also allowing others to communicate with language asynchronously. This can easily carry over noise and loud playback.

  • A timeline approach always ensures consistent cue lengths as well as giving everyone an idea of whats involved before you turn over.

  • In conjunction with timecode you can easily integrate with motion control and DMX synchronisation.

  • Shouting across a set, (especially with loud playback) to describe cues (or worse sing!) is never ideal. This is where on occasion I employ audio cues in the pre-production stage.

  • If you pre-roll a fixed number of beeps, you can avoid jerk reactions & off-putting surprise cues for the actors.

I create these markers on an NLE timeline, either using storyboards (if applicable) or just against the audio track. This technique applies more commonly to promos as shots are more often driven by audio motivation, but can certainly be used for other applications. I try to use a sharp high pitched transient tone to make it clearly audible and place it on a separate audio channel to easily allow it to be toggled on and off as required. If you don’t want to take a laptop on set you can mix down to a single audio file. Alternatively place the cue markers on just the right channel of the stereo mix allowing you clean mono playback if required.

In the above example not only was this useful for a few dolly shots but it also proved helpful to cue in the gaffer to swing a spotlight across the room at a specific point during a long single take. Another required the dolly to hit a marker while the actress looks to camera up on a specific beat. This approach should be used sparingly but on the odd occasion where the planets need to align, it can be a nice track to pull out of the bag.

Useful Stuff..

Freesound is a great resource of appropriate audio clips:

Have a look at the wonderful Vezer if you are interested in more advanced audio, MIDI & DMX synchronisation.