29 December 2012

Wardrobe Malfunction

(Anyone who happened to land here looking for compromising photos of celebrities, begone with ye; ye have been misled, Apple Maps-style, by a side effect of the Google search algorithm.)

Everyone else: welcome to another installment of “I’ve Had Too Much Coffee, and Now Must Broadcast My Grumpiness Across the Internets, Veiled In the Finery of an Op-Ed.” This episode has to do with the “unsolicited assist”, wherein a well-meaning member of Wardrobe “fixes” a lav mic for us, without, as mentioned, being asked to do so.

This has happened to me more than once: mic talent, give the AD a thumbs up, we roll, I monitor boom. Midway through the take, I dip into the iso’s to check on the wire, only to hear the muffled crunch of a buried mic capsule (not entirely dissimilar to what it must sound like to be wrapped in a burlap sack and dragged across a gravel road). I assume my rig failed, and prepare to hold everything up before we move on to take two. Cut is called, and wardrobe only then approaches to tell me that they had to move the mic because “they could see it”.

This, dear readers, is wrong-a-rino. It doesn’t matter if we can see it. It only matters if it reads. If it reads, they (meaning the director, DP, producer, or any other of the gaggle of folks with eyes glued to the primary monitor) will let the Sound Department know, since it’s our responsibility, not anyone else’s.

While this shouldn’t have to be said, we make a living based upon an illusion. Every single medium that utilizes motion pictures, from the simplest talking head corporate interview to the biggest multi-camera feature film, involves a slight of hand, or, for the fancy-panted amongst you, trompe l’oeil

Say it out loud; you'll get it.

For even the most basic image capture process, it’s all a trick: we assemble a series of still pictures and display them in a specific way to convince the viewer of motion. We use numerous techniques, but most only work from a single perspective, that of the final intended viewer. Get too close, and the magic breaks down: sets and (non-hero) props don’t hold up; seams, both in clothing and poorly-done plastic surgery, begin to show.

But that’s just fine. We’re not making it for us. We’re making it for them: the intended audience. That isn’t to say that we phone it in; the unforgiving nature of HD formats coupled with larger modern screens means that the bar is high; something that may pass on stage, or would have once upon a time in standard def on a 27” inch TV, won’t cut it. Details must be finer, the illusion more thorough.

That said, there are some things that we let play in plain sight. We know that the viewer’s attention will be elsewhere in the frame. Even if they’re looking right at it, they won’t know that the little black dot in the shadow of a man’s tie knot is actually a microphone. The audience isn’t actually out to “catch” us. They want the illusion to work as well. It’s a tacit agreement between creators and consumers: “We’ll make this stuff, with lights and music and whatnot, and you’ll watch it and let your brain pretend that it’s ‘real’ enough to engage you once a week.”

We, as sound mixers, are not out to foul that up. When we’re charged with micing talent, we employ many spy-level mounts and rigs to conceal a microphone, preamp, RF transmitter, and power supply on a person that produces good sound, while still allowing freedom of movement and a low visual profile. Sometimes, due to a starched shirt, a hirsute actor, or vigorous action, we need to let the mic live out in the open a little bit. Since most of the common professional lav mics these days have capsules smaller than a match head, this will be just fine. 

Yup. That small.

Yes, you can see it. So can I. And so can anyone that knows what a lav mic capsule looks like. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will read on camera. Lighting, lenses and viewing angle all come into play, as well as the basic notion that anyone who ever looks at another human being will first look at the eyes. This is how we connect, by trying to “read” the other person (and also why ACs pull focus to the eye, and not the chest or chin. Focus anywhere but the eye isn’t in focus, unless that’s the artistic intent). As a viewer of award-winning TV shows, I can tell you that I have seen many, many mics right out in the open. Numerous people involved felt like it wouldn’t detract from the show, or turn viewers away. They were absolutely right.

Finally, it isn’t your job. There will be at least three people scanning every pixel of the frame on a professional monitor. Trust me: if anything is even slightly amiss, they will let us know tout suite. When they do, they won’t say, “Hey, Wardrobe, we can see the mic.” They’ll say, “Hey, Sound, we can see the mic.” It will be up to us, the Sound Department, to make any adjustments. Should we encounter difficulty, we will, as always, consult and collaborate with Wardrobe in order to find a solution. We all need to work together to make our day. But Sound, and only Sound, should be the ones to adjust the mics. If the shoe was literally on the other foot, you wouldn’t want us trying to dress talent in a presentable manner. That would only end in wrinkles and tears.

Alllllmost this bad. But not quite.

11 December 2012

Mount Up

Today's tidbit come to us courtesy of Tyler Faison, the Texas Sound Guy.  Recently he writes about a mounting technique for a Lockit or SB-T box on the Canon C300:

I own several Denecke SB-T units, and my solution was some industrial strength velcro onto the back of the monitor. I always keep some in my Pelican for these kinds of things. The SB-T is about the same size as the LCD screen so it makes sense.

My own preference is to hand over the slate and box and let camera suss it out. Typically they'll have their own preferences (and every time I try to be "helpful", I usually end up starting at least one small fire), but this ia a good idea to keep in your pocket should an AC/DP ask for a suggestion.


09 December 2012

So Wrong, and Yet...So Wrong

Every job starts with a negotiation. The client, or a UPM/line producer/coordinator working on said client’s behalf contacts you about a gig. After establishing availability and other sundries, you get to the rate. Most of the time, the rate will be equitable. Occasionally, it’s laughable, as in a donkey-snort, pee-spotting kind of laugh. You don’t laugh, of course, because you’re an adult and momma taught you better. The person on the other end, in an attempt to convey sympathy, shrugs through the phone (no mean feat) and says that their budget is limited.

This, dear readers, is incorrect. Their budget is wrong.

Damn. I also forgot the "Just For Men" expendable line item.

Were you to try to buy a house, and said to your realtor, “I need a four bedroom house, and I need it for $5000,” they wouldn’t tell you your budget was low. They’d tell you your budget was flat out wrong, and then ask you to not let the door smack you in the rear on your way out. As well they should; clearly you went about things backwards, coming up with an unrealistic figure and then expecting vendors to meet it, rather than doing research to find an average market price and then budgeting appropriately. This was demonstrated rather well in the video clip below (yes, it's not new, but it's done so well it's timeless):

While it’s quite tempting to be smug (at least for me, because I’m a jerk) and trot out this riposte the next time I get one of these calls, it’s immature and less than professional (my criteria: the more tempted I am to high-five myself, the more I shouldn’t say what I’m thinking). 

If this, then nope.

This rantlette is intended more for those on the other end of the phone: the producers and UPMs and anyone else who actually put together budgets. Of course we all know you have an obligation to satisfy the client’s need to save money, but that should be balanced with a realistic view of actual costs, not wishlist rates. If, in the blind pursuit of cost savings, you start with an arbitrarily low figure, you won’t end up with a limited budget; you’ll just end up wrong.