FLASHBACK: Sleepwalk with me

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We just finished the sound work on Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me. The film is premiering at Sundance 2012 in the Next category. It is based on Mike’s successful stage show and features a great cast including Mike himself, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, and James Rebhorn.


One of the main tasks involved with the audio post was re-recording all of the VO for the film. It is often the case that the temp VO for a film project is recorded in bits and pieces throughout the picture editing stages of the film.  The result is a track that it choppy and varied and has not been properly recorded in a real studio environment. So it is necessary to get into the studio and record it all down, preferably in one cohesive session. It really is best to record it all in one session because different sessions often sound different. I have seen it time and time again: same microphone, same room, same setup in every way, and yet the VO from two or more sessions often just does not match.


Recording VO for feature films has it’s own challenges. Typically we like to use a large diaphragm condenser microphone. The most common professional mic for the job is the Neumann U87Ai. Using a large diaphragm condenser allows you to get a bigger close-miked sound than using a shotgun. This lets the VO stand apart from the production sound, which is certainly an issue when the lead actor is also the voice of the VO track. The U87Ai is a great microphone not only because it sounds great, but also because it is very good at recording at different distances. I find that you can get great recordings of VO at a broad range of 3 inches up to about 16 inches.  


The distance you choose to record at will determine the type or style of VO sound that you will get. If you want big “voice of god” type VO, then you want to be very close. If you want a more production type sound, then you want to be about 10 or 12 inches off.


In the case of Sleepwalk With Me, we were going for something in between. We wanted the VO to sound slightly bigger and fuller than the production, but not so completely different that cutting from VO to Mike’s dialog or vice versa would be jarring. We chose a distance of about 8 inches on the U87 and that did the trick.


The truth be known, we did go back into the recording studio for one VO pick up session about a week later.  In this case we were very successful at getting a good match. That was largely due to the fact that Mike is a real pro, who clearly understands the timbre, projection, and emotional nuances of his voice. I also make sure to play the VO from the first record as a guide, and then record directly after. If you have a very talented VO person, and you work at it, you can get pretty close to an exact match.  I still find that it is best to place the pick up VO on it’s own track, so that you can easily differentiate it from the original recording and apply EQ to match. 


I think the main point is that the fewer sessions you do to record the VO the better. Although most people would not say they notice it, I think a VO track that has too many variations from too many sessions has a negative subconscious effect on the audience.


Sleepwalk With Me really shows Mike’s comic brilliance. Since this was originally a one man show, essentially all VO, it is great too see the project come to life with a fantastic cast of characters, and to see and hear the elements woven together to create a rich experience.

Thomas Efinger