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Shooting dialogue

Shooting dialogue

Shooting dialogue effectively is an important part of making films. This is a quick guide for selecting microphones, recording audio and blocking out basic dialogue scenes.

Capturing audio

Recording clean audio is one of the most important parts of shooting dialogue. Depending on the equipment you have available, you may end up using a variety of microphones to record the sound for your scene.

  • Onboard microphone. Your camera’s onboard microphone isn’t ideal for capturing dialogue but if it’s all you’ve got, you can still
  • Lavalier microphone. Lavalier microphones are small microphones that can be clipped to your talent’s clothing. This is ideal in interview situations where the talent isn’t moving around much. In narrative films, lavalier microphones can sometimes be hidden beneath your actor’s clothing.
  • Shotgun microphone. The advantage of using a shotgun microphone for shooting dialogue is that they are highly directional, allowing you to focus on what the microphone is pointed at. While it is convenient to attach a shotgun microphone to the hot shoe on your camera, this often won’t get the camera close enough to your talent. Consider using a boom pole or sitting a tripod just out of shot to get the microphone as close to your actors as possible.

The most important part of recording sound on location is getting the microphone close to your actor and doing your best to reduce ambient noise. If your location is too noisy, it’s probably best to move somewhere else.

Shooting dialogue

How you shoot a dialogue scene will vary depending on your script, crew and actors. Here is a simple approach to shooting a conversation between two characters which ensures that you get enough coverage to seamlessly edit the scene. In this exercise, you will be shooting the sample script provided here.

Blocking the scene

This is a simple conversation between two characters who are facing each other. We can cover this scene with three camera setups: a master shot and one close up of each character.

Overhead Shooting Diagram

Whichever angle you decide to use for your close up, it’s good to mirror that angle with the other actor so that the framing feels consistent. Rather than using an over-the-shoulder shot like the example above, you might position the camera where the actors are standing so they are looking directly into the camera.

Shooting a dialogue scene

It is not necessary to shoot a scene like this in one continuous take. When you’re working with actors who have difficulty remember their lines, it’s often preferable to shoot one line at a time.

Start filming your master shot until your actors have said their first lines. While you’ve got the master shot, it’s also a good idea to film the last lines in the conversation.

Reposition the camera to frame up your first character. Start rolling and, standing off camera, read each of the lines to your actor. Before the actor says a line, it’s important that they listen for a few seconds as if the other person is talking. When the actors have finished delivering their line, it’s very important that they continue looking at the person they’re supposed to be talking to. Breaking character immediately after delivering a line – either by looking at the director or into the camera – will cause issues when you try to edit the scene together.

When you have filmed all of the lines required for your first actor, capture a few noddies before you are done. This is just a few seconds of the character pretending to listen to the other person speak. You can use these as cut aways when you’re editing the scene.

Move the camera to film your other actor as shown in the above diagram. Shoot their lines and capture a few noddies when you’re done. When you move the cameras, make sure you don’t cross the 180 degree line shown above. If you cross the line, it will appear as if your actors are looking in the same direction. If you start filming on one side of your actors, stay on that side of the actors.

When you are shooting a dialogue scene, it’s important to get as much coverage as you possibly can. Once you’ve filmed each of the lines in close up, film them as medium shots as well. This will give you additional flexibility when you’re cutting the scene together.

Sample Script

Here’s a script that you can use to practice shooting a dialogue scene.

EXT – SCHOOLYARD – DAY

John and Jane are standing around waiting for class.

JOHN
So…are you all ready for the media test?

JANE
Yeah, I’ve been studying for it all week.

JOHN
Me too. I want to do really well.

JANE
Tell me about it. Media is such a great subject.

JOHN
And Mr Lamb is such a fantastic teacher. It’d be a real shame if we let him down.

JANE
Yeah, he’s probably the best teacher I’ve ever had. If there was a prize for the best teacher in the universe, it would definitely go to him.

JOHN
Yeah, you’re probably right.

JANE
Anyhow, I’m off to the library, gotta do a little more study. Catch you later.

JOHN

Bye

Photograph: Charlie Foster