Monday, May 14, 2007

One of Those Days

I was called Sunday about a job Tuesday. I said I could do it, but that I don't have equipment, so I hoped I could get that together on Monday. The job would have two or three people talking on camera and the producer warned that there would be a few wide shots. I said that for those wide shots I would probably rely on wireless mics. To this, the producer replied, "I am not a wireless mic person. Don't you hate the sound of wireless mics?"

There are darn few people who make small videos who like boom better than wireless. I've had reality TV producers tell me to put the boom away. They just want the camera to fly, they want the body mics to get everything, the sound guy to stand back and be neither seen nor heard. It doesn't matter to them that mixing body mics makes them sound phasey, or that one person's coughing ruins another's good sound bite. They just need those quick bites they can grab, like when the daughter goes into the newly remodeled kitchen and exclaims, "Mom, you've got THREE ovens!"

Here was a producer with the opposite leanings. Old school. Like they did it in the day when boom mics ruled the Earth, and wirelesses were mere rodents lurking in the underbrush, running from everything. When I first worked on a movie in audio about 15 years ago, I was a cableperson for a sound guy who hated wirelesses and pretty much trusted all audio to one boom operator, sometimes two, with me filling in as second boom. Sometimes he did use up to 3 wireless mics, but these were mostly on outdoor wide shots. And sometimes he preferred to plant a mic on the set -- in a windowframe or on a column -- than to put it on a person. Constantly frustrated by wireless mics, he would sit at his audio cart and, during down time, fuss with them, trying to figure out ways to put them on people to make them sound decent. I think this is the biggest challenge I face too.

So anyway, here was a producer who wanted me to make the boom work. But we decided we'd still get wirelesses, because we wanted to be sure we had it all covered. Who knew what surprises the lighting guys would make for me, throwing lights everywhere and possibly thinking that I could just stick wirelesses on the actors.

I had to get up at 7:30 am Monday just to get ready to make calls at 8am. At 8 I left several messages about gear. Lights were already coming from one rental company, so it might make sense to rent audio gear from them. But they only had two units of the latest model of fancy-schmancy wireless systems, and I would need three. The cameraman for the job was known to have some wirelesses, but his probably were not this new model, and there is a theoretical problem that can develop when mixing the old and the new, because the new have a 3 millisecond delay in their sound, and as every sound guy knows, 3 milliseconds is just enough. Then there was this other company in Raleigh that I work for a lot that has 4 of these top-model wireless systems all rigged up in a 4-channel mixer bag with ergonomic shoulder harness. I tentatively asked if I could just make my own arrangement with this company, and the producer said sure, go ahead with that.

Luckily, this audio package was available.

But still, the boom mic needed to be a really good one, and the company in Raleigh does not have a really good one -- just the kind that everybody uses. So I arranged to get the really good one from the rental company providing the lights.

So then I had to wolf down breakfast and meet my dance partner at her and her husband's new house. We used to practice at a theater space in town, but she has left that place and plans to build her own studio on her property. Until that is built, she has to teach her students wherever she can, and she and I practice in her bare wood-floored living room. Their new house is a ways out of town, so now it takes 20 minutes for me to meet her.

Knowing what all I had left to do that day, it was hard for me to concentrate on how much turn to make on each step of each move of American Rumba, which is what we have space to work on in her living room. 5/8 turn here, 1/4 turn there. This is what we are memorizing for the American Silver Certification. I only had an hour to spend with her before I had to leave and bust-ass to the next city over to pick up the gear for Tuesday.

I made it there, got the gear, turned around and came back partway along the interstate and stopped to do a half-day afternoon gig at a major networking corporation in their studio. They do live webcasts from there, and these are the most stressful gigs I get these days, because I have to have deep understanding of the audio routing that someone else made up, and I have to react quickly and pot up and down on the fly, and sometimes insert sound effects like applause, and cross-fade to musical selections or "commercials," while sitting right next to about three folks who outrank me give me sometimes conflicting information on how things work, or what to do next. And there are all these voices going at once -- the ones on the studio monitors, the ones on the feed from the central corporate office, the people in the room, and for some reason, somebody down the row from me had a radio going.

Anyway, that went okay. Then I had to get to the rental company in the next town over in the other direction, and get the really nice boom mic.

Then I had to get toilet paper because we were out, and we had two prospective housemate interviews to do that evening.

Then I had to get home and be there for the two interviews. I and the current housemates quickly swept a little, put toilet paper on the rolls in the bathrooms, took out the kitchen trash. I also brought in the audio gear before the first interview and rigged the mic from one place to the boom and mixer from the other place and checked all that out.

The interviews went okay, but what with everyone's uncertain plans, we don't have anything nailed down yet.

Then I had to make dinner, at 10 pm.

All day I had been trying to memorize the actors' lines (5 pages or so) for Tuesday, because I would have to operate boom. I rarely have boom-intensive days, so I really wanted it to go well. But I've been having terrible problems concentrating on anything these days, 'cause my mind is always jumping around and obsessing. Last summer I tried two different kinds of ADD medicine, and they didn't make any difference.

Today, Tuesday, I got up at 5am and studied the lines some more, ate breakfast and showered, and went to the job. I was 10 minutes late because of a confusing thing on Google Maps' directions that I should not have let confuse me.

Setup was easy there. We had to wear our socks because we could not get the white-painted floor for chroma-keying dirty. I paced around and continued to work on the lines.

And I was not my best, not really. It had been so long since I had used this really nice boom mic, and I had forgotten how sensitive it is. Sheesh. I had boomed with it a lot of times in the past, but never had to do so while carrying the mixer and receivers in a bag slung around my shoulders. It was a lot to think about. I kept shaking the boom and jarring the cable inside it, something that causes no trouble on common boom mics, but on this one causes a rattle.

So I was cautious in the first scene. I didn't grab all the off-camera lines on boom like I usually try to do, but I got them the on-camera stuff okay.

The second scene had one actor sneezing loudly and the other comforting him in a softer voice. I had to position the boom to even these levels out some, and I did manage this okay. So I felt better about that.

The third scene had lots of moving in and out for me to cover the actors standing far apart. The rattly boom was extended nearly all its 16 feet, and I was springing back and forth on my toes, in socks, again with the mixer and receivers suspended from my shoulders. By the end of the last scene for the day, I felt like I was kind of in the boom operating groove again. But I had to turn that nice boom mic back in, and I won't be using it for a while. I'm back to the mundane interviews and simple shots for now.

After work, I went to another Argentine tango lesson. Then I was sitting at home eating fruit and yogurt, with the audio gear from the company in Raleigh on the other end of the dining room table. I was looking at it, thinking about how I had picked it all out for this company a year ago, when we were getting very demanding reality TV work and we barely had the gear to cover it, and a deal fell through one time to rent gear for a job, so the company owner told me to tell him what to buy and he would get it. So now there's the gear. If I were to buy my own, I'd get the same stuff. But then, so many folks around here have gear and want me to use theirs, I probably would not be able to pay off my own gear if I had it. And this particular gear from Raleigh doesn't get enough work anyway for itself. So it makes sense that I rent it from them when I do need it.

It's just that I imagine having gear like it. 4 excellent wireless mics and a mixer that you can really put your name on, 'cause it will last probably 8 years in rough conditions. Of course, those mics and that mixer allow you to mix 3 or 4 wireless mics together in one muddy track which sounds mediocre at best, and terrible to a studio recordist. And the wireless systems don't sound as good as a $25.00 hardwire connection, and cost 100 times that. Still, with such mics and that mixer, you can keep up with today's wild and crazy camerapeople and talent, and that's pretty much what you gotta do in audio these days. You get hired if you can keep up. Nobody ever gives feedback on audio quality.

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