27 January 2007

The Basics Numero Tres

You regular readers out there (all six of you) may be asking yourself, "Why another basics article?"

Well, just as there is no one right way to do things, there is no one basics article that covers everything, or every perspective. I look at it like a Venn diagram: you take multiple examples, and whatever overlaps between them is a good base upon which you can build your own experience (and, before any math nerds chime in, I'm using the diagram as a metaphor. So, compute that, you George Boole wannabes...).

Today's contribution comes from The Practical Art of Motion Picture Sound, by David Yewdall, veteran sound editor extraordinaire. In this extract from chapter 5, he talks about what he calls the "changing battlefield of production sound":

Here the ignorance and apathy of other production-unit department heads, usually consumed by their own contracted concerns, becomes apparent; they do little to help the sound-recording team in what should be a collaborative effort to achieve ideal production audio tracks during the shoot. Only seasoned directors and producers know the loss that occurs of both real money -- spent to ADR actors' lines -- and of the magic of on-camera performance, rarely recaptured and seldom improved.

Kids, I know that the tone of many of these posts about production sound tends to skew a little...bitter, but don't be put off by it. Production sound is a harsh mistress, to be sure, but it can also be very rewarding.

Just not, you know, financially.

No, it's great. Really. :)

Link to the article.

23 January 2007

Tilting at Windmills


Just read about a lawsuit in England concerning a freelance production sound mixer who was paralyzed by a falling wind turbine.

From the article:
Mr Jones told the court that he had been employed by the BBC to work on a documentary and had at no time been given warnings of any potential danger involved. He said that at the time of the accident his sound equipment was hooked up to the camera being used for filming and when the cameraman moved under the mast of the wind-powered generator, he simply followed.

Keep your wits about you out there in the field, kids. If you're freelance, and you're not on a partner/significant other's health care plan, an injury could seriously affect-or end- your career.

Remember, you are under no obligation to risk your life or bodily harm for any client under any circumstances, ever. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, discuss it with the producer. If they don't address your concerns, walk away. You may lose the gig, but you'll live to mix another day.

Link to the article, via injurywatch.co.uk.

16 January 2007

Who Needs Sleep?

As I slouch here after a full work day, feeling neither bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed, I'm reminded of the ongoing plight of production crews everywhere, as they fight for a fair schedule.

The average for production is twelve hours. But when are film shoots average? You stay as long as it takes. My longest day was twenty hours. Of course, it was my choice to stay, as I was working for a friend. But what about folks who are just on the job?

Veteran cinematographer Haskell Wexler has directed a documentary about the subject entitled Who Needs Sleep?. From the website:

In 1997, after a 19-hour day on the set, assistant cameraman Brent Hershman fell asleep behind the wheel, crashed his car, and died. Deeply disturbed by Hershman's preventable death, filmmaker and multiple-Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler shows how sleep deprivation and long work hours are a lethal combination.

From the film:
We are the only group of industrial workers, in the world, who are fighting for a fourteen-hour workday.

If you book crews, you need to buy a copy of the DVD and watch it. If you're a crew member, buy one and share it with your superiors. If you're a student or newbie, buy it and learn to protect yourself out there.

After all, it's only a movie.

Link to the website with streaming trailer.

10 January 2007

Get a Grip

Greetings and salutations.

Today, we're going to talk a little about set survival. As Orson Welles once said, "A poet needs a pen, a painter a brush, and a filmmaker an army." A good chunk of any film army is the grip department.

The grip department, defined here at mediacollege.com, essentially sets up, breaks down and moves just about everything on set the holds equipment, be it lighting, camera, or on occasion, the boom op.

Which brings me to today's tidbit: make friends with the grip department, early and often. A good grip will recognize when a flag is needed to cut a boom shadow, or an operator needs an apple box to stand on in order to reach into the scene. They can be a lifesaver or an enemy, depending on your attitude.

There is a boy's club mentality on many shoots, to be sure. We all want to joke around, but avoid the temptation to reinforce departmental rivalries. It's much more advantagious to let an opportunity for a great grip joke go by and keep them in your corner.

Finally, it will help if you know something of the lingo. Matthews Grip Equipment has put together a very thorough "griptionary", which also has pictures of many items.

Link, via DVguru, digg et al.

03 January 2007

Boom Stick

Welcome back, campers.

Today, we're going to be given a brief glimpse into the much-fabled world of the boom operator. Hopefully, some of you out there will learn that the boom op is neither "that one person who keeps dropping some fuzzy phallic thing into my frame and ruining the shot", nor are they merely a "carbon-based stand" upon which you can drape equipment and derision.

In this interview panel by Mark Ulano, we learn that the boom op is more of an equal partner to the mixer, the "set ambassador" who assists with mic choice and coverage tactics, among many other things.


The Boom Operator is the Sound Department's eyes and ears on the set. Shot after shot he or she performs on the front-line, in the trenches of film sound production. The efficiency and timing of my decisions are very important factors in gaining the trust of the mixer you are working with. I believe that the boom Operator is to the mixer like the Camera Operator is to the Director of Photography.
Directors: "don't piss them off"
Actors: "don't piss them off"
Utility person: Well, if the shot calls for it "piss them off", but take them out for drinks later.

Additionally, they discuss the mystical nature of the utility sound person, which, due to shrinking budgets, is a rarely-glimpsed luxury outside of the big shows nowadays.

This is more of that real-world stuff, people. Read early and often.

Link, via perchman.com.

(P.S. According to his CV, Mark Ulano was production sound mixer on Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. How cool is that? :)