Inception was filmed in 6 countries (Japan, UK, France, Morocco, USA, and Canada) over 5 and a half months. Many people contributed their efforts to “team sound.” There were 2 mixers (Steve Nelson worked the Tokyo portion) 3 boom operators (Brian Robinson did Japan, US, and Canada, Chris Atkinson did Europe and Morocco, Larry Commans filled in when Brian needed a break) and 8 different utility people. Actually, there were three mixers as Mike Markiw took over for 2 and a half days on top of Mt. Fortress in Alberta while I was suffering from the effects of the flu (H-1 Ed-1, they say).
The film was originally scheduled for 100 days, but got finished in 92. That’s become the norm for a Christopher Nolan shoot. The Prestige finished 3 days ahead of schedule. The Dark Knight 9 days ahead. The workdays are not long (12 hours typically) but they are fairly intensive. The workflow on set is very different from most sets today, and the result is a more focused, more productive workday. Mr. Nolan doesn’t use a video monitor (other than a hand-held portable “watchman”) or video assist (except for stunts and the like) and doesn’t use a Comtek headset. For production sound, this is particularly atypical, but Chris stands next to the camera and is able to hear everything he needs to without a headset. All of these factors contribute to a fast-paced shooting day with no time spent reviewing. Always pushing forward, never backwards. Furthering the efficiency (reader beware) is the use of single camera. Most of this film, and in fact, all of Chris Nolan’s films are shot primarily with one camera (again stunts being the exception). There is usually little ADR.
being the exception). There is usually little ADR. The single greatest factor that contributes to getting good production sound is the use of single camera. For production sound mixers, this may seem painfully obvious. But for others reading this, the revelation may not be clear. Here’s my chance to stand on the soapbox: When the second camera comes off the truck and onto the set to shoot a dialog scene, the craft takes a backseat to the budget. For one, in many cases, the actor’s eyeline is compromised. For another, the lighting is often compromised. But mostly, and this is the part that I know best, the production sound suffers. Of course,there are options that allow for the use of multiple cameras that do not impinge upon the production sound, but these require more planning and discussion than time usually allows
Thankfully for me, dialog scenes in Inception (as well as the other two Nolan pictures I worked on) were shot with one camera. That’s not to say there weren’t challenges recording this film. There are always challenges. But at least one of them didn’t require wiring the entire cast to cover my ass for the roving “B” camera close-up
Many scenes had a wonderful ensemble cast which included: Leonardo DeCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Tom Berenger, Dileep Rao, and Michael Caine, who liked to keep the dialog snappy
We made sure that a combination of boom mics and body mics with ISO tracks gave the actors the freedom to ply their craft while keeping editorial’s options open. Perhaps the most difficult was an ensemble scene in a moving van.
Imagine a 15 passenger van with the seats removed and captain’s chairs installed in their place. Now give the actors their dialog and their business, make sure they all fasten their shoulder belts during the scene, and you can now start to imagine the difficulty. No boom mics, no lavaliers and many of your plant mic hiding places (the backs of benches)have been taken away. Oh, and it’s raining outside the van. The roof is rigged with rain bars so no matter the camera angle, rain will be in the background. And a few more notes; a Honda generator is behind the van providing power to the pump forcing water through the rain bars and to the lights outrigged on the van.
I can only imagine how insane this rig must have looked as it ambled through the streets of downtown L.A. A combination of plant mics was used so actors turning left or right would find a hidden mic near them. Schoeps BLM’s and MK 41’s, Sanken CUB and Sennheiser 50’s were used. A seating/mic/track chart was given to editorial so that they could re-do my rough mix (which was very rough considering the moving vehicle)!
A portion of this film occurs during a rainstorm. We used every water prevention trick we knew and some we just made up to keep the sound going. The Remote Audio Rainman cover for the Sanken CS-3 shotgun was the first line of defense. Audio connectors were wrapped in either Parafilm (wax sheet) or Rescue tape (silicon tape). Hogs hair was used liberally to muffle the sound of rain where it wasn’t being photographed (the tops and hoods of cars for example while the dialog was inside).