Follow that CARdioid!

Often times I'm asked to capture sound for dialogue scenes in cars. They can be a bit tricky depending on the car, camera angle and where the mouths are moving, but in general, in my experiences, car scenes are quite systematic and easy to get good sound without a sweat. I'm going to breakdown my most common car setups.

In narrative, or anything I have time to set up, I do not mic the talent for car scenes, nor do I put a boom pole in there. Putting a lav mic on talent, as common as it is, should be the last resort for miking on almost any shoot I can think of. I don't do that in cars (unless it's run 'n gun reality TV/documentary and they're already miked) because they almost never move in a car much, so why waste time to go to holding to bother talent and wardrobe department to put a possibly uncomfortable microphone on each speaking talent when I can just place one or two microphones in the car while talent goes through the works, and camera/lighting sets up?

What I used to do, and many other mixers still do is place a lavaliere mic such as a Countryman B6 on the car ceiling in front of talent's face, and run the wire to the visor where I hide a transmitter. I didn't like this because no tape seems to stick well to the leather or headliner interior, it's sometimes in the shot, the range of the lav mic isn't enough, and they don't sound terribly natural anyways, and often, talent will release the visor to check out how sexy or imperfect they look in the little mirror and then I hear (Ah! Whoops! Um, Sound Guy!" as I sigh knowing the transmitter just fell on their lap.

So what I do now is place a wireless cardioid microphone in the car. This has much better reach than a lav mic and can pick up multiple people very nicely, smoothly and naturally. I have a mini mic stand set with a cast iron base, 4" stand, optional 13" gooseneck and a mic clamp to place this below frame (almost always just below talent's elbows). I usually either put that on the stand (sometimes I use a roll of gaff or two to to prop it up acting as a middle ground between the 4" and 13" heights); I'll use the stand in the back seats to capture everyone in the back. I can angle this straight up if someone in the front looks back to talk, it's a perfect position, near the center console. For the front seat, I usually ditch the stand and take a neopack, wrap it around the butt plug transmitter and place that in a cup holder and angle that towards talent if I can. All this works for moving or non moving cars. Also, going with a condenser microphone like this with a wind screen on it is more reliable against wind than a lav mic with a windscreen. So, much quicker and easier to set up, move and strike, less risk of wind noise, or rustling, much better sound quality, and fewer microphones are necessary, meaning less gear/money needs to be involved with this method, depending on how many speakers need to be captured at a time.

Some vehicles are funky though, and may present more challenges but depending on how you look at it, can actually make things easier. I had to mike a stationary army jeep for dialogue between talent sitting in the driver's seat speaking with talent standing outside of the car by the driver's side. The jeep had a leather roof which was raised at sections by metal frame bars. Our wide shot was very wide, so booming was far from ideal. So I attached the wireless cardioid to the mini mic stand and simply placed it between a metal bar running across the width of the car and the leather roof and angled the mic towards talent and out of frame, hidden by the curve of the roof. This caught both of their dialogue well, with lav mics in the mix a bit for safety/proximity.

Schoeps GVC swivel for MK4
I'm personally not a HUGE fan of Sennheiser microphones as they're known to pick up a lot of the higher frequencies which includes more reverb than I need for interiors and more leaves, rain and traffic than I need for exteriors. However, I love Sennheiser cardioids for car interiors because it's almost like a sound booth, so you shouldn't hear many of those background sounds. The higher frequencies in the voice in cars are a bit hard to come by as the lower frequencies travel throughout a car a lot, which is another reason why I love using a condenser mic rather than a lavaliere, and using a Sennheiser at that. Another great microphone for this would be a Schoeps MK5 which is very tiny/easy to hide, sounds incredible and is switchable between cardioid and omni directional polar patterns for different situations. Although, I would be more likely to use a Schoeps MK4 cardioid capsule on a GVC swivel which would give me a ton of flexibility literally and figuratively, especially if I'm placing a mic in a cup holder. For bus or airplane scenes, the mic stand on the floor in front of talent with both 4" and 13" gooseneck is what I normally do. If they're speaking into the window off axis, the voice will travel off the window nicely for an effective pickup into the mic, although if there's dialogue on a bus or commercial plane, I'm often able to get a boom in there anyways.

An additional challenge to some car scenes is getting that sound into my mixer. Sometimes we'll do a driving shot with a camera mount on the car and I mix from a follow vehicle with the Director, AD, DP, and often more keys. With this, I'll use a Lectrosonics HM butt plug transmitter into a UCR411a receiver with fresh batts on both ends for best range as we stay within a block of the car. sometimes there's nothing you can do to prevent RF, but if it's going to be that much of an issue, there are some transmitters out there that can record a compressed RF free backup track, or if there's no dialogue, I'll just place the mixer in the car, test the levels, hit record and send them off driving. When I'm in a follow van, instead of handing everyone comtek IFBs, I send one comtek feed to the front of the van and plug it into the 1/8" auxiliary input of the van, set the levels with the car's volume knob and we all can hear the dialogue clearly without 10 comteks floating around draining batteries.

For narrative driving shots, camera often requests the car drive very slowly to minimize bumps and it looks much faster on camera than it really is. So, I take that a step further and get a group of Pas I sucked up to at crafty to push the car in neutral rather than running the engine. This makes it easier for the actor "driving", easier for camera, and I don't hear the car rumble or engine running. I record that wild and it's added in post separately to ensure it's smooth, consistent and at the desired levels (very quite, unless you're Christopher Nolan, then we'll boost the wild car tracks so we can't hear the dialogue :-). It's a natural effect, eh?)

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