Why Sound is the Hardest Medium to Conquer

On February  9th, 6.5 million people tuned to watch the hotly anticipated season 2 premiere of Happy Valley, the award winning BBC drama. Despite the gripping narrative, the opening episode of the series was hard to follow. The reason for this? Sound.

Happy Valley

Programme Name: Happy Valley – TX: n/a – Episode: n/a (No. 1) – Picture Shows: Catherine (SARAH LANCASHIRE) – (C) Red Productions – Photographer: Ben Blackall

 

Overnight complaints grew among frustrated fans of the crime drama who took to Twitter to express their views. While the majority hailed the first episode of the latest series, comments like ‘sort the sound levels out please…’ were common. Another viewer wrote: ‘Again a good show spoilt by the sound, too much whispering and mumbling.’ The sound was poor with many lines being mumbled. Overall the dialogue was incredibly  hard to hear unless the television was turned up to at least half volume.

Other Complaints

Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn

 

It is not the first time the BBC has received complaints about sound on their programmes. Costume drama Jamaica Inn, aired in 2014, had almost 2,200 complaints about mumbled dialogue from the first episode. Audience figures dropped by 2 million from the first to the third and final episode. Even the Screenwriter for the show said that it was like listening through mud.’ The BBC was forced to apologise saying the sound levels would be adjusted before the remaining two episodes were aired.

The BBC did not learn from their mistakes and a few weeks later in May 2014 saw them receive complaints about sound on their crime drama Quirke. This was a year after Director-General of the BBC, Tony Hall, said that the BBC will look into how to prevent actors from ‘muttering’ in its dramas.

Quirke

 

The writer of Quirke admitted that he and his wife were also forced to watch the show with the aid of subtitles. Andrew Davies explained that he could hear because he knew what the words were. His wife did not however and asked for the subtitles to be turned on.

Why is Sound the Most Complained About Issue Among TV Shows?

Sound is just as, if not more, important as visuals in the media industry. Dialogue is often the most important method of telling the narrative of the programme. Without clear sound, people will quickly lose interest in what they are watching because they are struggling to follow the narrative. Sound enhances the viewer’s experience and enables them to suspend their disbelief and lose themselves in fiction.

Solution

To help prevent sound issues it is vital that just as much planning and consideration goes into sound design as to how the production will look.

For instance, the choice of location has a huge influence on sound. Filming indoors pose the issues of room noise commonly formed from electrical appliances such as air-conditioning units, lights, and radiators. As well as noise, the sound engineer will also have to adapt depending on the size of the room. Large venues often result in sounds bouncing off walls to generate echoes.

Outdoor sound recording is often trickier with background noise, or ambience such as traffic, people, and wind. It is important to have the ambience noise recorded to make the production realistic. On the other hand, you have to be careful that the background noise does not drown out the important dialogue. The volume levels can be edited in post-production but it is better if it can be effectively caught at source.

Therefore, for each location a decision has to be made on which microphone to use.

Ultra-directional microphones are excellent for capturing dialogue in outdoor locations thanks to its selectivity at picking up sounds that are directly in front of it. From this you will be able to attach an ultra-directional shotgun microphone onto a boom pole with a wind shield, or dead cat, shielding the microphone from wind noise.

Audio Technica BP4073

Audio Technica BP4073

In order to prevent unwanted noise being recorded, it is always useful if the microphone can be positioned as close to the actor’s mouth as possible. The actor’s voice will be louder with the dialogue being crisp and clear. The microphone should ideally be positioned overhead, pointing downwards towards the actor’s mouth. Alternatively a lapel microphone, a small mic that can be attached to the actor, can be used as long as it is hidden from view and is not rubbing against the clothing.

Ambient sound should be recorded separately so that the levels can be adjusted in Post Production and so that it does not overpower the dialogue. It can also help shot transitions to introduce the next scene.

 

The audience may forgive an error on camerawork but they will never accept poor sound. The dialogue is not only the most effective way of telling the story, but it also informs and creates emotions that the audience will be able to share with the characters. Careful consideration and planning is crucial for clear, legible audio.

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Super Bowl 50: A Marketer’s Paradise

Sunday 7th February will see the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers compete at Super Bowl 50, one of the most watched events in the world. With 114.4 million U.S. viewers watching it alone last year, the Super Bowl is one of the biggest marketing opportunities of the calendar year. It does come at a price however, and it is a big one. Broadcaster CBS will charge a record $5 million (£3.5m) for a 30-second advertising slot this year. The huge global audience attracted to Super Bowl allows the broadcaster to demand such high costs.

hashtag-bowl-2015-generic-1920-800x450

Digital marketing expert Joanne Bradford explained that the Super Bowl could not be beaten for the “impact of that moment” and the “brand awareness that it offers”.

 

The Super Bowl television adverts are a popular talking point, extending a brand’s awareness span beyond just a day. In fact, talk of the advertising campaigns begin weeks in advance. MarketingLand.com have their own feature called the ‘Hashtag Bowl’, where they cover all of the latest news and developments on which companies are taking part and how the productions are going.

Among the many brands participating, Doritos have launched their final ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ campaign. The contest invited fans to produce their own Super Bowl adverts to be in with the chance of having their production aired live on game day. This year Doritos have received nearly 4,500 entries which they have whittled down to three finalists. The winner is determined by the public, who can vote for their favourite entry up until 31st January. The campaign by Doritos is an effective marketing tool as it builds interaction goodwill with it’s fans and runs many weeks in advance of the Super Bowl event itself.

At the time of writing, 35 brands have announced their participation in the Super Bowl ad battle. To showcase their brands, some ad campaigns feature well known stars such as Alec Baldwin (Amazon), Christopher Walken (Kia) and Liam Neeson (LG Electronics) to name but a few. This highlights just how important the Super Bowl event is for companies. It is the US version of the UK’s Christmas advert. See our earlier blog post on the battle of the Christmas ad.

amazon-super-bowl-50-ad.

 

Global Brand Exposure

Major sporting events offer a rare occasion for companies to be market their brand to vast live audiences. But it’s just the Super Bowl that attracts people from around the globe – The FIFA World Cup final in 2014 has been estimated by many broadcasters to have been watched by a global audience of at least 909 million. The peak audience in the UK reached 21 million.

As a result of the high audience figures, broadcasters were again able to put an expensive price tag on a 30-second advert slot on their channel. ITV for example were charging between £275,000 and £300,000 for adverts in matches that featured England and between £40,000 and £100,000 for other matches.

2016 promises to be, yet again, a year for major sporting events. Football’s Euro 2016 is being contested in France this June, while athletics’ main event, the Olympic Games, is coming up in Rio in August.

How can your business tap into this?

We’re realists, so we know unless you’re Coca Cola or Amazon you’re highly unlikely to fork out £3.5 million of your great British pounds for a 30 second tv ad slot. But this doesn’t stop your brand from tapping into the audience that will be taking part in such large events. A well planned and relevant marketing video, released on or around the event can do wonders for audience response and brand exposure. Why not produce a corporate drama film that intelligently and creatively advertises your brand? The best example we’ve ever seen is Reebok’s Terry Tate: Office Linebacker.

Telling stories is what we do. If you’re interested in exploring corporate drama for your brand, or just want some friendly advice, get in touch with us and we’ll have a coffee.

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Television: The New Drama Kings

February 2014, weeks away from the Oscars, the most prestiges award in the filmmaking world, and yet i’m not that excited. Don’t get me wrong there has been some truly excellent cinema in the year gone by, watching Scorsese’s adrenaline fuelled epic Wolf of Wall Street was certainty a personal highlight. But it in the words of a recent Ron Burgundy anti-piracy advert the cinema is now the “shimmering pretender to televisions crown”. As James Wolcott of Vanity Fair points out, “when it comes to inventive comedy (Modern Family, 30 Rock), complex heroines (Damages, Weeds), and finely textured drama (Mad Men, Downton Abbey), the action has left the cineplex and headed for broadcast and cable”.

This transformation or coming of age did not happen over night and can be tracked back to the late 1990’s when a relatively unknown actor by the name James Gandolfini was cast as Tony Soprano in HBO’s new series The Sopranos. The show opened the doors to a revolution in TV Production as Gandolfini went on to become an iconic anti-hero. The show was ambitious and pushed the boundaries of audience tolerance whilst subverting traditional television storytelling. In her article ‘How Tony Soprano Changed Television‘ Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker says it best,

“He had a lot of space to build the role—six seasons—and he fully inhabited every corner from the beginning, sometimes as a great comedian, sometimes as a self-pitying monster, but always as a radical and new sort of character for television, one who punished the audience for loving him”.

Since the launch 0f The Sopranos in 1999 there has been a proliferation of television shows that have risen to the fore. The Wire (2000-2008), Six Feet Under (2001-2006), Weeds (2005-2012), Dexter (2006-2013), Mad Men (2007-present), True Blood (2008 -Present) Breaking Bad (2008-2013), Treme (2010-present), Boardwalk Empire (2010-present), Game of Thrones (2011-present) and Homeland (2011 -Present) are just a handful of shows that have taken our small screen by storm. One of the main advantages of screenwriting for Television is the time allowed for character development. Writers are able to let the drama breath, to linger and to get better with age. In doing so, television characters are afforded more depth and we are slowly spoon fed their flaws and over time we become connected to them emotionally as we crave their redemption. You would be hard pressed to find this amount of depth in the majority of films a the cinema right now. You only have to look at the dark past of characters such as Mad Man‘s Don Draper or Dexter’s Dexter Morgan or at the ruthless ingenuity of Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Watching these complex, often tortured souled individuals grow and develop whilst in constant search of redemption is just fascinating. As Brett Martin observes in his book ‘Difficult Men’

“One cold winter’s evening in January 2002, Tony Soprano went missing and a small portion of the universe ground to a halt. It did not completely out of the blue. Ever since The Sopranos has debuted in 1999, turning Tony – anxiety-prone dad, New Jersey mobster, suburban seeker of meaning-into a millennial pop culture icon, the character’s frustration, volatility, and anger had often been indistinguishable from the qualities of James Gandolfini, the actor who brought them to life. Th role was a punishing one, requiring not only vast amounts of nightly memorisation and long days under hot lights, but also a daily descent into Tony’s psyche-at the best of times a worrisome place to dwell; at the worst, ugly, violent and sociopathic”.

The rise in digital streaming services such as NetFlix and Love Film and the falling price of DVD box sets has also contributed to Televisions cause. Back in 2000, when DVDs where in their infancy, you could pay anything upwards of £60 for a single season of your most beloved show. Fourteen years on and you can now purchase the entire six seasons of HBO’s The Sopranos for just fifty pounds which works out at less than ten pounds per season – a bargain for sure!

I have to admit I was a late comer to Breaking Bad and with NetFlix offering all five seasons plus many more great TV shows and films for just £5.99 per month it seems silly not to take advantage. The way we consume our entertainment is rapidly changing and evolving – we embraced DVD they same way embraced Blu-Ray, in time we will make the shift to 4K Television and with true HD quality imagery at home and the rise of digital streaming will you want to go to the cinema? Time will tell but until then we will have to make do with the mobile phones, the rustling and the loud-mouthed teenagers spoiling our entertainment.

Five Brilliant British TV Ads

Following on from our Creative Producers article about the ‘The Power of Online Video for Advertising’ post for Business2Community.com we have compiled a little shortlist of five adverts broadcast in the UK that we really like. These adverts are for big brands, produced by agencies handed big budgets, but it is interesting to explore the different methods of storytelling used to effectively represent the brand and engage their respected target audiences.

Lynx Excite Deodorant – Fallen Angels

All the elements comer together to make this advert effortlessly cool and shooting in eastern Europe offers a beautiful rustic backdrop for the film to play out. Even the tag line is cool ‘Even Angels Will Fall’.

 

Honda – Cog

Simply genius design and a long thought out ninth-month process went into putting it together. Six months of planning followed by short segments filmed over fours days and you have one heck of an advert. Honda estimates that worldwide sales rose by nearly £400m on the back of the ad.

 

Sony BRAVIA – Balls

Much was made about the production team behind ‘Balls’ actually doing this for real and indeed they did. A quarter of a million rubber balls were bounced down Filbert and Leavenworth streets in San Francisco. Accompanied by the haunting vocals of Jose Gonzalez and you have a truly beautiful advert.

 

T-Mobile –  Dance

T-Mobile – Welcome Back

It’s impossible not to feel good after viewing both of these excellent T-Mobile adverts. The message here is ‘Life is for Sharing’ so get out your phone. Adverts that make you feel good, make you laugh and smile are definitely ones that will live long in the memory.

 

If you like what you see here get in touch below and see what our team can do for you. If you have a story to tell but don’t know how to tell it, we can help.