I’ve been a sound mixer for 30 years. Let me re‐state that. I’ve been recording sound for film since my first documentary, Simpson Street, back in 1977, but it takes years to become a sound ‘mixer’, so let’s compromise and say I’ve been a mixer since my first feature, Anna, in 1986. Good, only 20 years. Now I don’t feel nearly as old. In all that time, despite all the technological breakthroughs and changes in production techniques, more about mixing has remained the same than has changed. When all is said and done we are just trying to get a decent dialog track while the director and camera, lighting, wardrobe and prop departments are trying desperately to keep us from getting that track. While technology has changed drastically over the years, I can only think of 3 major developments that have seriously changed the way we work. The big advance is happening as we speak. The Zaxcom Digital recording radios incorporate a number of features that will make radio use practical once again and open up new ways of working. As digital radios they have built in error correction, so many of the “hits” common in analog radios become inaudible. They are fully frequency agile within a 30 MHz block and immune from Inter‐Mod interference, so selecting frequencies is extremely easy. Previously I felt locked into certain frequencies (for instance, on my Audio Ltds, all of them could either be on the “A” channel or the “B” channel. I
couldn’t mix the 2; because of inter‐mod they would start interfering with each other). With the Zaxcom radios I can set any freq as long as it is 500‐600 KHz away from the next radio. This is fast and easy to do on the fly and I have done it numerous times on my current project. Soon there will also be a remote control so transmitter frequencies (and other parameters) can be changed from the sound cart without having to touch the transmitter or more importantly, the actor. Lastly, these radios have built in recorders that write a 24bit/48K file on a mini SD card. A 2 GB card holds almost 12 hours worth of audio with time code. Suddenly, instead of having one or two recorders on the cart, we have 8 or 10. Not only are we setting plant mics now, but we are planting full rigs with recorders. It reminds me of one of my first jobs in the pre‐wireless days when we strapped Nagra SN’s to the actor’s leg. The big change is now radio mics become a means of monitoring, but we do not live and die on each RF zap. Of course there is a price to pay: the needed audio on the SD card has to be downloaded and burned to DVD at some point. It remains to be seen how and where this will happen. I’m finding it depends on how much has to be burned on a given day. I’m currently using these radios on Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. It seems that every 3‐4 days there’s a piece I need off the SD cards, so I do it during the production day when I have a spare moment (which is not very often on this show). The post crew has been very involved in the process ‐ I realized how involved when one day they called because I transferred a wrong take off the SD card. I was happy to know they are using this audio on a
daily basis! Their only request was that all audio burned off the SD cards be labeled on the DVD with the scene number and the name of the character. Currently I’m doing this without the automated software Zaxcom is developing. Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll have been using their Mac/PC software for quite a while. This software will compare the timecode on the production DVD with the time code on the SD card and automatically burn a dvd that
matches the production tracks. I think it can do this with a number of SD cards simultaneously to burn a multi track DVD.
Conclusion Try to control the environment as much as possible and use a good microphone and get it close. The only difference between yesterday and today is that on Anna in 1986 I applied it to one camera shooting one scene, while on Inside Man there were 8 cameras, covering action and dialog within a 3 block area. But then again, the more things change the more they remain the same. Wasn’t the late and great Robert Altman doing similar things 30 years ago? Well… maybe not with 8 cameras, but many characters having many simultaneous conversations. In the end, our job is to give the director the best track
possible however he or she wants to shoot their film. The new tools now available better enable us to do this.