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Real life stories - audio and attitudes on a shoot

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Ty Ford
Real life stories - audio and attitudes on a shoot
on May 2, 2008 at 12:33:21 pm

I was talking to someone who had run into audio problems on a shoot. I thought some folks might find the info useful.

1. As a director or producer, the responsibility to make sure all parts are good lies on you. When I'm just doing sound, I usually hand the earphones to the producer to let them hear what the action sounds like early on, just to make them feel comfortable. Not just, "Oh, OK, I hear something. No one's talking into the mic, but I can hear people in over there talking about something", but real action. Sometimes they request changes, additional mics, etc.

2. It is also the producer's job to hire the right people. I have talked to a lot of producers who have worked with "professional sound people" who have made mistakes -- or in some cases not caught mistakes, or failed to tell the producer about problems until after the shoot. Good audio and video technicians rise to the top. Word (both good and bad) gets out.

3. As an audio person, I'm an insurance policy for the producer. I want to make the producer feel comfortable in knowing that the sound will be good and that I will tell them if and when it isn't.

I was on a shoot yesterday for Apple Computer. It was moderately complicated. Outside shoot on a military reservation near Washington DC. Air traffic, lawn mowers, trucks moving office equipment, etc..

One on-camera talent. Single locked down boom to mixer. Mixer to camera. Mixer to comtek transmitter. Mixer to one channel of Sound Devices 744T hard drive recorder. Time code from camera to other channel of 744T. The stereo 744T file was to be sent to transcription.

Hearing the sound from my shotgun, the producer asked for a hard-wired lav too, hidden on the clothing and split tracked - shotgun to one track, lav to the other on the camera.

We had a weird time code bleed problem. Time code from the camera feed was apparently leaking out of the 744T recorder headphone return and back into the headphone circuitry of my Sound Devices 442 mixer. When listening to the main camera audio return, I could hear time code in my right ear (right track).

When we plugged headphones into the camera headphone output, there was no bleed. So the bleed was happening in my mixer headphone section and not getting to tape. After confirming that the audio and time code levels were set properly, I turned down the 744T headphone output so I wouldn't have to hear it in my main camera return and we began shooting.

Jimmy, the video technician was very helpful in sorting out the problem. This guy was the most helpful and professional video tech I have worked with. He even rolled back several times to make sure the picture and sound were on the tape properly. THANK YOU! The producer was equally cool. Everyone was helpful, experienced, with superb communication skills.

So anyway -- we're rolling and I begin to hear low level cell phone interference. A "Phones Off" call had already been given. At the end of that section, I called out that I had heard low level cell phone noise. Remember I'm NOT using wireless mics. That sort of cell phone noise is almost always nearby, something within feet of the gear.

We had about a dozen people on this shoot, including crew and clients. Somewhere, someone had a cell phone on. No one said anything. Everyone pulled their phone and looked at them. The noise went away. I called, "clear" and we continued. It happened again one or two more times in the 3 hours we shot. I called it each time, after the particular shot. There was more phone fumbling and the noise stopped. I was very careful NOT to express any emotion but mild concern each time I called the noise so that no one would take offense. (like the air line flight attendants do when they tell you to return your seat to the upright position.)

Someone was not playing by the rules. Either they turned on their cell phone during a break and forgot to turn it off or they were incapable of controlling their compulsion to "be connected" and simply thought the request didn't apply to them. Regardless, it was my responsibility to make sure the sound was good. Without attitude, I needed to communicate problems to make sure what we got was good.

As a final thought, there is a language protocol that happens on good sets. There is a lot of, "Yes, sir", "No, ma'm", "Excuse me , sir", "Thank you" "Sorry", "Are you OK with X?", "Excuse me, can I get in there." In general, a shift to a more formally polite language. It works really well.

Thanks if you're still reading this. Have a great weekend.


Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide

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David Jones
Re: Real life stories - audio and attitudes on a shoot
on May 2, 2008 at 5:37:52 pm

Great article. When's the book going to be out???

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Mike Cohen
Re: Real life stories - audio and attitudes on a shoot
on May 7, 2008 at 10:17:37 pm

regarding protocol in terms of speaking, there are a few things you can say on a set that would not fly in most other situations:

Excuse me ma'am, can I just ask you to thread this wire down your blouse...

I'm just going to clip this to the back of your pants...

You mind if I apply this gaffer tape to the inside of your jacket...

Don't mind me as I crawl under your desk...

Sir, do you mind if I powder your forehead...

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