Placid. Idyllic. A landscape of picturesque, sculpted perfection engineered to simultaneously massage and invigorate the senses. A dreamscape backdrop to the drama that plays out on the lush stage of sporting endeavor. Welcome to the filmmaker's own personal hell.
Golf courses can provide an excellent backdrop for any video production, especially if you have the opportunity to shoot on a particularly nice championship, or resort course. Sweeping vistas. Lush, rich colors. Unique landscaping that provides opportunity for some creative framing, slider and motion control shots, and, of course, no shortage of sweet, blissful drone fodder. It's a b-roll shooter's dream come true. But, if you have never shot interviews, or long-form, audio critical projects on a golf course, there are some big things to consider before you back up your gear cases and hit the links.
The course was swarming with millions of black bugs. They were everywhere. They were all over the camera. They were crawling on the lenses. There was nothing that could be done,
Of course, most good filmmakers with a decent, basic audio kit have a dead cat, or some piece of kit for their shotgun or lavalier mics to help diffuse the wind. For a golf course shoot, this is of paramount importance. Seriously, if you don't have a dead cat, or the little fuzz ball version that pops over the lav mic, jump on Amazon Prime and grab yourself some same day delivery. Even if you have a decent shotgun mice with a dead cat or a blimp, depending on the nature of your shoot, you may be forced to use a lav mic one way or another. And even then, the nature of your shoot may dictate that you cannot tape the mic inside of a coat or shirt, and you will be forced to clip onto a lapel, or other exterior mounting option. More on that shortly.
Even for the somewhat seasoned filmmaker, it may seem obvious that a golf course can be a little bit breezy. Pretty lame advise, dummy! It's outside, there's going to be a breeze! This is what you're saying right now. I know. I shot outside too before I started shooting semi-frequently on golf courses, and I was nowhere near as prepared as I should have been for the level of wind noise nuisance that I was confronted with. The truth about the golf course is; it's not just outside, it's a completely wide open, unadulterated funnel for wind. Unless you are tucked into some trees, or some other substantial wind break, you may as well count on a consistent, violent, whipping crackle on your audio feed. The wind is everywhere. It is all consuming, and it does not give a damn how well you hid that mic behind your subject's collar.
It may not be pretty, but what you really need is a big, fuzzy wind defuser that goes over your standard foam windscreen for the lav mic. It will solve all of your problems, but it will create a big fuzzy black dot on your subject. Frankly, I think it's worth it when you need to use a lav, and you cannot hide it inside of someone's clothing with a strip of Gaff tape.
Sure, you might be able to do the inside clothing Gaff tape method, or you may be able to place your subject in a stationary position for a nice clean interview shot where you can set up a great shotgun/boom rig. But, the situation I am describing, based on my own experiences and projects, is shooting a golfer, or golf instructor demonstrating swings and body movements on the green, or at the tee. This means, long shot, with lots of room in the frame above, and to the sides of your subject. Nowhere to hide a mic boom out of frame. And, the nature of your subject in this type of scenario is that they are constantly moving. Left, right, up and down. Bending over and turning their head. There can be a lot of torso movement, meaning a lot of fabric shuffling about and wrinkling, and rubbing against the body, or other layers of clothing. The sound quality from a discreetly hidden lav mic can suddenly become as compromised as if it were completely unshielded, out on a collar, with a heavy breeze blowing. In many cases, the best option will be to mount that mic in the open, on a collar, with the heavy duty wind screen. And, in the case of your subject creating a lot of body movement, be prepared to keep the mic in somewhat of a neutral position on their upper torso. For instance, a golf instructor might speak to the camera 90% of the time, then abruptly tilt their head down as they continue speaking to demonstrate a movement or body position. This is true for a lot of different subjects, sure. But, I have found that this is particularly unique, and to be expected, and often problematic when shooting golf instruction. Best to keep that mic mounted a little lower on the chest than right up off their collar like you might with a seated interview subject. And, best to have a camera or field recorder where you can record two separate channels from the same input, and keep one manually dropped down several decibels, giving you the potential to cut to that track in post if the main track starts clipping when your subject is suddenly mouth-to-mic, blasting out the levels while demonstrating a swing movement.
Did I mention that shooting on a golf course was going to be loud? Yeah, well, obviously the wind and mic placement on the subject is a factor, we just talked about it! True, but once you deal with your interference and clipping issues, you can confront your entire new village of enemies: lawnmowers, landscapers, construction vehicles, birds, and bugs. When you are playing golf yourself, you don't really notice these things. You're taking the day off. You are out of the house, you are (hopefully) enjoying yourself! It is white noise. You cancel it out yourself. But when you are running audio on an interview, you suddenly cannot believe how atrociously noisy a golf course is consistently throughout the day.
There is no way around it. There is no advice to give, other than maybe familiarizing yourself with some of the features and sound isolation techniques in Adobe Audition like, Adaptive Noise Filter, capturing a Noise Print to isolate and reduce ambient sound, and even manually scrubbing out certain distinctive sounds that occupy their own frequency range (i.e. birds chirping, car horns, phones ringing, etc.). The long and short of it is you will pretty much be screwed, and dumbfounded at how many times you might have to stop and restart your interview. But, it's worth being prepared for those possibilities so you can either control the environment where you decide to shoot if you can, or warn your subject of the perils of golf course noise and that a quick interview may take a bit longer than expected.
Cicadas. Have I mentioned cicadas? Good luck with that. Noisy bugs are definitely a problem that usually cannot be fixed. But even then, there will be problems–bugs or otherwise–that will pop up that you cannot even imagine. For instance, once I was shooting on a pristine, A-list PGA Tour championship course. The entire place was closed for us to shoot anywhere we wanted. There were still some noise issues from the grounds crew and the wind, but it was okay, and it was a beautiful day. And the course was swarming with millions of black bugs. They were everywhere. They were all over the clothes of the subjects. They were all over the camera. They were flying in front of, and landing on the lenses. There was nothing that could be done, other than very meticulous, constant monitoring of the camera screens to stop and restart the shot whenever a giant black blob started scuttling about in the middle of the lens. The client might be impressed if you show up with a RED camera and $50,000 of cinema primes, but the bugs don't give a damn.
Your final nemesis is going to be more obvious, especially if you are in an unusually warm environment (like I am frequently in Arizona, California, and Texas). The sun. Sure, it gets sunny. It gets hot. It's something to be aware of if you are shooting outside. Bring some sunscreen, right? Yes, of course. But the bigger item of concern is what to do if you are shooting critical video segments out in the middle of the golf course, nowhere near the club house, or any type of utilities or other resources, and your camera begins to overheat. Believe me, DSLR and cinema cameras are not fond of extreme heat, and they will shut down when they get too hot. And they might take your footage with them when they go. At the very least, it is an uncomfortable conversation to have with the client when you have to completely shut down the shoot because your camera stopped working. In the past, I have had camera overheating issues on extremely long, all day shoots, on the golf course where I had to run quickly to fetch Zip-Loc bags full of ice, and then pack the entire camera in ice just to finish the shot. Luckily, in that instance, I had access to ice and plastic bags. But it was pretty embarrassing, and it looked extremely stupid. I did get the shot, though. And the camera did not crash while it was recording.
As sort of a post-script to that final nemesis forewarning, let me reiterate the potential problem of being completely isolated from utilities. Despite the complex infrastructure of golf course landscaping, with plumbing, and hidden pipes and machines, and various little building and stop-offs along the way down the cart paths, there are often not as many places to find a power outlet as you might think. You need to be extremely conscious of your battery charging capabilities. Unless you have a lot of batteries, and you are completely confident that you will not need to recharge throughout the day, make sure you know where you will need to set up your chargers, and how long it will take to get to and from that area. The last thing you need is to derail the shoot for a twenty five minute round trip to swap batteries at the club house when you are on the tenth hole in the middle of a sprawling PGA championship course.
Especially if the wind has died down, and the grounds crew is on their lunch break.