How to Hot Mic Somebody

With documentary footage - more is more.

It's better to accumulate as much material as possible, and never let a moment pass by uncaptured.

With digital technology, that's not only easy but inexpensive - just make sure to have plenty of charged batteries & data storage during the shoot.

The beauty of the lav mic (like the Sennheiser G3) is that you can clip it on somebody and if placed right, they forget within minutes that they're wearing it.

We've all seen those news stories where a politician or celebrity said something offensive while a "hot mic" was clipped onto their bodies.

(A "hot mic" means a microphone that was recording during a private moment.)

So here's a subtle technique I use to capture as much material out of important subjects as I can. It basically has to do with getting the lav mic on the subject as quickly as possible, and getting it off them at the last possible moment, recording audio all throughout.

What we're trying to do is create a set of conditions that helps capture awesome content.

So, one of the first things I would do when you walk into a new documentary scene is:

  1. Scan / set the frequency of the lav mic packs.
  2. Adjust the gain secretly on the lav transmitter pack.
  3. Plug the lav receiver into your recorder.
  4. Start recording.
  5. Approach the subject (preferably while they're busy) and mic them.
    Try and mic them shortly after they arrive on set.
  6. Place the mic / pack so it's comfortable & invisible to the subject.
  7. Make the lav mic the very last thing you grab from the subject once the set is wrapped. Continue to record audio. Pretend you forgot they're still mic'ed.

The reason I developed this technique was because I never used to record anything before or after interviewing somebody. And all that did was help me miss great material or delivery of material, because I wasn't rolling. 

So I started rolling from way before the interview starts, till way after.

This isn't about incriminating people. 

This technique is about helping documentary sound recordists and/or filmmakers ensure they capture the most amount of awesome content possible.

You know how it goes: the subject says something hilarious or dramatic then says, "It's a shame you weren't rolling on that one" and laughs.

But if you follow this advice, you would've been rolling on that one.

It's Better to Have Filmed and Cut

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1943)