There are almost always two camera crews. One can be shooting scene A while the second crew puts the B camera on the insert car. Same goes for grip and electric. They have dedicated rigging crews. The vanities often get a break because every actor isn’t in every scene, and props and dressers can bring in extra people as needed to handle rough logistics. But not sound. We are expected to magically levitate from one location to the next and be ready to roll as soon as camera is ready. This need to be a magician has led me to ask the same of my equipment. I look for gear (and by ‘gear’ I mean everything from the
wheels on my cart to the digital equipment it carries) that can take abuse, is as small and lightweight as possible, does the job without compromise, and has built in redundancy. It also has to play well with others. Every piece of gear is part of a complex system. When I interface equipment I want as few adapter cables, line level interface amps, balancing transformers, etc, as possible. Every time I modify my cart or add new gear a lot of thought, trial and error goes into the process. I just wrapped four months on “Sex and the City 2.” The last few months were on location in Morocco and part of that was deep in the Sahara.
The other major change has been my adoption of the Zaxnet control system. The main components of my cart are Zaxcom and the company recently introduced software that ties the recorder, the mixer and radio mics together. All three now talk to each other. It’s an amazing concept. I can now use the pots on either the Mix 12 or the Deva to control the gain or frequency of a transmitter on an actor a few hundred feet away. I can also use the radio mics as recorders and control the recording and layback with frame accuracy via the Deva. I’d say my cart is now in full fighting trim. Fully loaded with a Deva 16, 11 radio receivers (9 digital and 2 analog), Mix 12, Mac Mini and Firebox (for playback), Comtek Base Station, IFB/Zaxnet transmitter, 2 monitors transmitters. Once the transmitter was a two way device it could be controlled remotely using a transmitter on the sound cart. Now they have refined this concept by developing Zaxnet software to tie the remote control transmitter, the recorder and mixer together. The magical outcome is that I can use my mixer (or the Deva/Fusion) to directly control the mic input gains on all my transmitters. We seem to have come full circle. Finally I have a wireless cart with the capabilities and audio quality of a fully wired cart. How does this play out in the real world? I find myself tweaking the transmitter gains all the time as if they were hard wired. A typical example, in Marrakech on “Sex and the City 2,” I had two booms out on a complicated scene when just before shooting I heard
the director say to one of the supporting cast ‘really go over the top this time.’ This meant the actor would scream and the four girls would probably scream in response. Without Zaxnet, I would have taken a few minutes to reset all the input gains or I could have gone ‘as is’ and hoped they would hold. With Zaxnet, I just dropped the gains a bit via the trim pots on the Mix 12. Multiply this by 20 or 100 times a day and you start to see that this returns to the mixer an essential control we surrendered when we first began to go wireless. Shooting styles have changed drastically since many of us first started in this business and they are not going back. Directors are always being squeezed by the producers, their cast,
the studio, the dp, etc. The fewer times we as sound people tell them ‘no’ the happier everyone is.