How to Do Good Video

Hi, I’m Alex Wagner, and I shoot video for a living. I’ll be contributing weekly posts to a new column on the Dallas Comedy House blog titled, “How to Do Good Video." This week, we talk about sound, mannnn.


Easily THE biggest giveaway in amateur video-doing. Bad sound just about ruins your short film or video. Yeah, that is my opinion, but I think you can ask just about any grizzled filmmaker and they would agree: BAD SOUND IS BAD. VERY BAD.

There’s something innate about our response to bad sound. The urge to kill rises, and this results in whoever’s watching your video closing it after 10 to 20 seconds.

Bad sound is bad sound usually because noise. More, scientifically, noise drowns out clear, deliberately captured sound. Kinds of noise include: traffic, AC, refrigerator, and airplanes, are the big four, but you can also record noisy audio by turning up your microphone too much or down too little.

In this post, we’ll discuss some basic audio gear and how to use it.

Your Tools:

A decent shotgun boom microphone and an audio recorder. You have a variety of options for how to acquire said gear for your shoot(buy/borrow/rent/steal).

There are also wireless radio microphones, but those are beyond the scope of this 400-word blog post.

Let’s start with that boom-boom-boom technique.

The Most Basic of Basics:

1. When recording sound indoors, turn off the fridge and the AC. Yes, it does suck, but the quality of your sound will improve 10-fold.

Kill sources of noise, and then record your audio. Your viewers will thank you for it.

PRO TIP: Keep the fridge closed while it’s off to keep your food from spoiling.

2. Sound blankets (“furnie pads”) are your friends. Use them to quiet noisy footsteps or to block out road noise when hung out of frame on windows or stands or whatever you can find to hang them on.

Basic boom technique:

Hold the microphone over your head like this:

Using a shotgun mic on a boom pole.

Next, aim the microphone at your performers’ mouths. Seems simple right? You’d be surprised how many novice boom ops don’t think about this or are just plain bad at it.


Also, when you’re recording, make sure your levels are good.

Between -12 and -6. See? Good.

You want the audio to be peaking between -12db and -6db (the highest is 0db). If your audio is peaking over -6db, you run the risk of recording distorted (read: bad) audio.

Some Thoughts on Gear

The cheapest boom microphone worth owning in my opinion is the Sennheiser MKE600($300). The Zoom H4n($200) is decent for recording audio. Rode makes a decent boom pole and mic holder (about $200 when bought together). You’ll also need XLR cables to connect it all up.

But you can also buy an all-in-one microphone and boom pole kit from Amazon, like this one ($124.95). It’s cheap gear but the results are going to be worlds better than using your on-camera mic.

In my opinion, if you’re going to buy something, try to buy quality. But don’t ever let not having the right gear stop you from shooting a project (and, by extension, don’t let gear be an excuse for bad sound).

Work with the budget you have, rent what you can’t buy, and borrow what you can’t rent.

If you’re looking to rent gear, I’d suggest or, in Dallas,, or

Happy shooting!

7 Ways to Survive Improv

Yo, yo, yo, yo, I'm back. Wait, what? It's true. I'm not a ghost. I just play one on the USA Network. But that's over now, and I'm ready again to regale you with my blogging sass. Let's get started.

Last month, Clifton and Nick shared a story on the Facebook. It was such an important story that I saved it in my Diigo library, thinking, "Man this would be a good blog entry." Let's see if it still holds up like a good red wine.

The story is "Oscar Nominee John Hawkes Gives Seven Tips for Surviving the Film Industry," by James Kaelan. These tips, though, don't have to apply to just the film industry. They hold true for the improv world, as well.

1. Trust Your Gut -- Improvisation is about spontaneity, and the first ideas you come up with are usually the most honest ones (and sometimes the funniest).

2. All Arts Connect and Inform Each Other -- Go out and see more than improv shows. Go see some ballet. Visit an art gallery. Check out a church choir. The more artistically well-rounded you are, the better your performance and storytelling skills will be.

3. Loaf Occasionally -- I've know several performers who have taken an improv break over the years. If you're feeling burned out, take a breather. Improv will still be here when you get back. Promise.

4. Make a Vital Life Outside of the Business -- This tip similar to No. 2 offers a different focus. Do things that aren't improv or arts related. Perhaps volunteer at a homeless shelter. Maybe read to people at an assisted living facility. Just do something that gets you around non-improv people and learn more about life by interacting with them.

5. This Business Will Knock You Down -- Any type of arts community has the potential to erode individual self-esteem.  Take Chumbawamba's stance, though: "I get knocked down / But I get up again / You're never going to keep me down." The most successful performers are the ones who refuse to stay down no matter what odds they're up against or setbacks they've had in the past.

6. Be Kind -- This should be an easy tip to follow. Most improvisers I've met are nice, genuine people. The ones who aren't don't last long in this community.

7. Nobody Knows Anything -- Take what you want from all the advice you receive over a lifetime and build your own toolbox, because no one knows everything. Adopt a curious attitude, and you'll have fun the rest of your life.

Have any other tips? Please share them in the comments.