I written about background noise or Room Tone in the past but what if your location wasn’t a room at all? There have been many scenes, many classic scenes, throughout cinematic history shot inside a moving vehicle. There are high-speed chases, existential conversations and even love scenes. The speed that the characters are driving and the make and model of the car have a lot to do with the sound underneath the conversation or screams but one thing is for certain – there needs to be a sound underneath the character’s dialogue (or screams).
The microphones in a car are often so close that it cuts out a lot of the sound happening around the characters – this includes the standard wind rushing, engine noise. When shooting, mostly for safety reasons, cars are more often than not being towed by a camera car (a big truck towing a car with the crew and camera sitting on it shooting through the front windshield) or are shot against a green screen or even rear projection. What this means is that the character’s car isn’t even on so there isn’t any engine noise to speak of.
Why even but this noisy drone in the background to eat up what the characters are saying? Part of the reason you can tell a car is moving in a film (other than the obvious visuals of background moving) is the sound of the vehicle rushing down the open road. Even if it’s a close up of the back seat of a car you’ll know it’s moving due to this sound. If it’s mixed correctly its not going to eat up/overtake/drown out anything anyone is saying. It’s a tool, much like room tone, to anchor the scene and its sounds/characters in a tangible surrounding. Without it not only would we be watching the quietest car in the world but I just wouldn’t want to live in a world where I couldn’t feel the sensual rumbling bass from an engine vibrate up through my theatre seat. It’s the main reason I see 5 movies a day.
I gotta motor, more next week.