The Guardian review of Dreams of a Life

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I’m very pleased to see Carol Morleys film ‘Dreams of a Life’ doing so well both at the box office and in review - my wife and i went to see it quite a few weeks ago, and irrespective of my involvement in it, it is a story that we both keep returning to. It seems to lodge itself in the mind a little and offer new perspectives on itself at surprising moments.

It’s funny as much of the recording was done on a pretty basic setup as i was in the early years of my career as a recordist when i first started working with Carol - 2006 i think. A lot of it was done with barely a mixer to speak of - just a sound devices mix-pre, before upgrading to an SQN 4s. The mic was my first boom mic - a Sennheiser 416 - on a stand, with an early incarnation Zoom H2 recorder (mostly used for wildtracks) as the main recorder! With only a minijack input, i had a 12 pin hirose to stereo minijack converter cable, and on a couple of occasions i had problems with the minjack connection becoming scratchy and noisy at the slightest movement. I remember during one interview i had to sit and hold the connection and try and keep the rest of my body extremely still to avoid aggravating it. Any movement necessary had to be timed to be during a non-vital moment to avoid spoiling the recording which was a little stressful.

But the majority of the dialogue in the film is simply what we heard and recorded in those interviews; i love the way Joyce is rebuilt purely from the recollections of others. I heard recently that as much as 80% of our recollection of events is incorrect - we remember things the way we want to remember them, rather than exactly as they happened. If that’s the case then i think it speaks well of Joyce that she was remembered so evocatively by so many people.

Below are a few different reviews and reactions to the film - Kermode put it in his top 10 of 2011!

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian

Kermode and Mayos review from Dec 16th

Time Out review

Philip French in The Observer

Empire

Celebrity Wedding Planners for FIVE

Would you let two celebrities plan your wedding? I’m not sure that i would, but then i’m a sensible sort of chap.

What are the chances of getting a mic in that hair?

What are the chances of getting a mic in that hair?

I’ve recently been working on a new show for FIVE called ‘Celebrity Wedding Planners’ due to air in the new year 2012. In it, couples have their wedding organised by celebrities such as Raef and Stuart from The Apprentice, Kerry Katona, Josie Gibson, and my favourite; Jedward. I worked on the Jedward episode and throughly enjoyed myself - the wedding they planned was pretty spectacular, but i won’t give any spoilers - see it for yourself here. I also worked on the episode with Raef and Stuart from The Apprentice.

They were surprisingly complex shoots from a crew point of view as the logistics of filming a wedding on 3/4 cameras with two sound recordists (thanks and a tip of the hat to the other sound recordist on the show - Martin Evanson - for his excellence and clarity of thought under pressure) were tricky to get right. In the end we opted to share radio transmitter frequencies with each other so that either one of use could have a feed from any of the 5 or 6 guests that were mic’d up during the day. This meant that whatever the camera we were feeding was shooting, we could provide relevant audio without having to swap transmitter packs.  It went well most of the time, but was complicated by the current duality  in radio mic frequencies; myself and many other sound recordists i know have a mixture of the old channel 69 frequencies, and the newer channel 38 due to come into full effect during this year. The switchover has created unwanted extra expense and reliability issues with radio mics for those using them, but hopefully this is something that will improve during 2012. I still hold my breath slightly when using ch38 in London as the bandwidth still seems to be rather cluttered in places.

My experiences of fitting radio mics to brides and grooms for BBC3’s Don’t Tell The Bride held me in good stead. Fitting radio mics is hard enough already - it is the black art of sound recording and reliant largely upon the clothes worn by the contributor. A bit of imagination can often come in handy though - the ideal spot to fit the capsule (i use DPA 4061’s which are small enough to hide, and come with a variety of excellent fitting options) is on the forehead just under the hairline - free of clothing rustle and keeping a consistent disance from the mouth. HD makes it a bit harder to hide mics and easier for the viewer to spot (although next time you are at a musical or theatre see how many of the singers mics you can spot), and it can also be a fiddle to fit - if you have 2 mins to fit a mic to someone you have only just met, sitting them down and fitting a mic in their hair isn’t always an option, so often the mic will end up on the front of the contributor somewhere, attached to their clothes or chest. In the case of weddings, for the bride there is a trick - you must get the mic capsule fitted inside the dress before it is done up by three women all heaving at the corset straps and telling the bride to breath in. After that point, you haven’t got a hope of feeding the cable through the corset as it will be tighter than a vacuum packed ham, and finding a good place for the tx pack to hide (i use elasticated straps or equine-tape) can be difficult on figure hugging dresses , but i usually try to fit them on the leg. The capsule will usually have a good place to hide, as many wedding dresses are designed to accentuate the chest, creating a nice bit of space to hide the capsule.

The groom is usually much harder to fit - they are often wearing three piece morning suits which are simply noisy - the fabrics used (for example silk is terribly scratchy) and the nature of the outfit means they are noisy - jacket rubs against waistcoat which rubs against tie which rubs against shirt. There’s not much you can do about that, except find as good a spot as possible for the capsule and fix it firmly. Then hope the groom stands very still as much as possible.

But overall i think the shoots went well, and the couples seemed very happy with their special day. Most importantly though, both shows were great tv ;) .

Check them out at channel5.com

Richard Wilson On Hold

I don't believ... no, that's not right...sorry.

Have you ever found yourself talking to a machine that doesn’t understand you? Have you ever felt belittled as your attempts to enunciate your own postcode have met with digital confusion? Welcome to the 21st century, where machines and automated systems run much of our lives… but do they really help or do they simply irritate and serve to overcomplicate what should often be a simple process? While many of us enjoy the benefits of automated systems, when they don’t work they are painfully obvious. Richard Wilson of grumpy-fame takes a look at automated systems in Britain with inevitably irritating consequences. I visited the Internet Institute in Oxford with him for filming, as well as observing the effects of phone call menu systems on subjects stress levels in a controlled test for this Channel 4 documentary. I also hugely enjoyed filming him trying to pay for parking in London with his mobile phone; well worth seeing and still available on 4OD here.

From a sound point of view it was mostly shot on radio mics; two sets of Audio 2040’s with DPA 4061 mics, through my Sound Devices 552 mixer straight to camera. All pieces to camera were recorded on a Sanken CS-3e shotgun mic. Some of the lab experiment was recorded separately from camera on a Sound Devices 744 hard disc recorder fed by wireless feeds, purely for logistical reasons. It was a fairly straightforward shoot from a sound point of view, but has produced entertaining film with a lighthearted approach to what is maybe a more serious issue; i’ve seen enough science fiction to know that soon we will all be swearing allegiance to our robotic overlords before fleeing to preserve humanity, all because of a misunderstanding of pronunciation.

Dreams of a Life - by Carol Morley

Over the past four or so years, i have periodically met up with filmmaker Carol Morley, her producer Cairo, and cinematographer Lynda Hall. We have usually gone to sit in a dark, quiet studio with various nervous interviewees, and slowly over many hours of filmed interviews an extraordinary story unfolded in front of us. Carol of course knew exactly what she was doing as it was her film, and she knew the characters and stories better than anyone, but for someone like myself who only knew a rough outline of events it was a remarkable and shocking story to hear; in 2003 Joyce Vincent died alone on the sofa in sheltered housing in London. Three years later her body was found, and the questions began to mount. How had she died? How had her body lain undiscovered in the flat for three years? Why had nobody noticed her absence and reported it?

It became the story of someone who seemed to have fallen between the cracks - a place akin to ‘down the back of the sofa’…somewhere where you would not only be lost, but also forgotten. But the interviews I sat through with Carol, Cairo and Lynda showed that Joyce hadn’t been forgotten, just lost. Everyone remembered her, but couldn’t understand or explain what had happened.

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Carol Morley’s new film ‘Dreams of a Life‘ tries to piece together something of Joyce Vincents life from around the time of her death. It is a mixture of reconstruction and interviews with her old friends, colleagues and lovers - i recorded sound for the interviews, and a friend from the National Film School - Christopher Wilson - was responsible for the sound edit. I’m really pleased to see a great reception for the film at places like the London Film Festival, and good reviews from The Guardian, Variety and Time Out.

I hope that anyone that manages to see it enjoys it as much as i enjoyed working on it.

Hungry No More

Phew, it’s been a busy summer hence not many updates; i shall remedy that soon and have lots to tell. In the meantime though, here is a very worthwhile film that i worked on recently… i’m not saying which ones i recorded, but they all sound great and it’s a good use of celebrity. For once.

You can also go to the Hungry No More website to sign the petition.

Gimme a Break - Canada

Another episode of ‘Gimme a Break’ for CBBC took Neil Pollock - Camera, Laura Parkes - Researcher, Dave Beardsell - Director and myself to Canada for a Cowboy themed week. We went with the Trivedi Family who had great fun learning to rope cattle, riding horses like proper cowboys, eating huge amounts of grilled meat, flying through the Rocky Mountains in a helicopter, and dangling from high ropes courses by a rope. From a tech point of view i used 4 x Audio Ltd 2040 mics with DPA 4071 capsules, a Sound Devices 552 mixer for the extra channel accommodating the boom, which in this instance was my current favourite; the Schoeps CMIT 5U (see my post from Nov 2nd 2010).

It was great shoot, and much fun was had by all. The crew had a day off and we all went horseriding, and ended up a little saddlesore for the rest of the week. Below are some pics…

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Howdy ma'am. I was so sore after that day...

Howdy ma'am. I was so sore after that day...

Nice backdrop

Nice backdrop

Early morning over the ranch
A quiet day on the ranch

A quiet day on the ranch

The Blue Canadian Rockies...looking pink

The Blue Canadian Rockies...looking pink

‘Gimme a Break’ for CBBC

This has to be one of my favourite shoots for some time - Gimme a Break is a CBBC show in which kids are given a variety of clues that point toward two exciting holidays to choose from. Then when on the holiday, they are in charge of all activities and punishments for their parents; they get to choose what they do on holiday, when to do it, and how their parents will suffer if the break the rules! A welcome change of roles i am sure.

Most of the kids complain of awful holidays past - how their parents took them to ‘blah blah museum and it was sooo boring, oh my god i thought i was going to like, die and then we ate in the posh restaurant and the food was horrible  - no burgers or anything’ so this is a way to take revenge for those transgressions, and finally get the sort of holiday they want.

So Neil Pollock (Camera) and I set off to the Lake District to meet up with Char and Laura from the BBC for a weeks holiday with the terrible twins; Calum and Jack, and their brave/doomed mother, Mary. Neil and i have worked on a several shoots together, and we were both looking forward to an interesting, yet challenging week ahead.

For me it was an interesting job, as it had some practical challenges; much of the sound would be captured on radio mics; not always a sound recordists first choice, but in this sort of shoot where i would usually have 4 contributors on screen at once (the twins, mum and an expert/leader of activities) they were necessary, and would make the practicalities of filming much simpler; There would be a lot of movement from all contribs, and absolutely no way of knowing who was going to speak and when. Being in the Lake District was good - its a pretty quiet area of the country - not many main roads, and most of the shooting was outside, so the boom would definitely be used, but i had to be able to cover everything should i need to.

So the radios came along with me - I use Audio Ltd 2040 radio mics as i have found them to be reliable, well built, easy to use and most importantly they sound good. I use the mini transmitters as they are easier to hide on contributors than the slightly larger normal TX. I usually use DPA 4071 or Sanken COS-11 mics with these radios, both being high quality omni mics that are good for dialogue. But in this situation i was worried that neither of these mics would be robust enough for the activities planned; it was a water-based activity holiday including rafting, sailing, gorge walking and ‘zorbing’ so in pretty much every activity i expected the contributors to be fully immersed in water.

This creates several problems when using radio mics - the first is keeping the radio transmitters themselves dry - they are worn on the body, and so people in the water is bad - they don’t tend to like being fully immersed in water, as it tends to make them break. This is my technical explanation of it anyway. Fresh water is better than sea water (if you ever drop your radio mics into the sea, the best thing you can do is immediately drop them into fresh water to try and avoid the salt corroding and damaging the unit more than the clean water) but i had to ensure that the packs themselves would stay dry even when in water. I spoke to a couple of colleagues, and decided that rather than creating homemade contraptions involving condoms and gaffa tape (details on request) i would try some packs made by a company called Aquapac who have a range of covers designed specifically for a range of electronics such as mobile phones, cameras, ipods and usefully, radio mics.  The device incorporates a wallet made of thermoplastic polyurethane which is totally waterproof, and then the clever bit - known as an Aquaclip® ; this allows the cable of the mic to feed out of the wallet without allowing water to leak back in. Very useful. The picture below shows you a little of how this works (pics are from the Aquapac site)

I was a little hesitant at first, as the thought of throwing a good £2000 worth of kit into water makes me a bit nervous…especially when i had only just bought the kit to replace my previous Ch69 set of radio mics. So i took some less valuable items that were similar in size and weight (an old mobile phone with headset attached) and put those in the pack instead. I fed the cable through the Aquaclip® loops and twisted the clips to completely seal it. I then filled the bath with water and threw it in. It worked really well - the case floats so if the worst came to the worst you would hopefully not lose anything from sinking to the bottom of a lake, the pack remained completely sealed , and the contents perfectly dry, even after being left in there for an hour. I later found that the key to the pack working properly was feeding the cable through the Aquaclip® loops correctly - if it doesn’t all sit exactly as it should within this seal, when you tighten the clips the pack may still leak. But with correct usage they seemed to be watertight, although not to any great depth. This was fine as there were no plans to go diving as far as i was aware. The whole thing is attached to a belt to allow it to be fitted to a person:

The next problem i had was how to get a mic to work in the water - not literally underwater; that doesn’t do much for the sound quality - but when they did get wet i didn’t want the mic to be damaged by the water and i wanted them to start working again when they were taken out of the water. The DPA’s i own don’t have these qualities, and so they were discounted immediately. The COS-11’s after some discussion with colleagues, and some nervous testing at home were found to be pretty robust on contact with water; they stopped working when wet, but as long as drop of water didn’t stay sitting on the capsule when the mic came out of the water they started working again within a few seconds. This was good, but i wanted better; so i tried a mic recommended by several colleagues; the Countryman B6. It’s a tiny lav mic (see pic below) but people assured me you couldn’t get much better for water based filming. I hired a couple and tried the bath trick again, and was very impressed; even after the mic was submerged it continued to work - lot’s of clonky bubbly underwater sounds in the bath - when removed from the water it worked immediately with no problems at all. I hired 4 of them, and took my COS-11s as backup.

When we shot the water-based activities i was holding my breath to say the least - the family were raft building, and when they set sail i stared worriedly at the rickety state of their vessel. I know raft building is all about falling the water, but with about £14,000 worth of radio mics about to plunge into the icy depths i was perhaps rooting for a triumph of engineering and shipbuilding… Sure enough the raft disintegrated and Calum was first in the water. Listening to his mic on it’s own, i heard the cry as he fell off the raft, the splash as he entered the water, and then…nothing. My heart sank like my radio mics were probably doing too - all the way to the bottom of Coniston water to join all the other expensive debris, like bits of the Bluebird…

Then suddenly - bubble bubble bubble and i could hear Calum screaming how cold it was in the lake - it was back! What had happened was that the mic went fully underwater, still in it’s pack. The large body of water surrounding it had simply blocked the rf transmission from the transmitter to the receiver, rather than water damaging the mics. One by one all of the family went into the water, including Dave the instructor. They all had mics on, and i got some great sound from the ensuing chaos- lots of screaming about how cold the water was, although the mics would cut in and out of hearing depending on how far under the water they were. They all stayed in the water for about 20 mins, before staggering ashore like shipwreck victims in wetsuits. Every one of my mini TX packs were dry, and all the mics were fine too. I was very pleased.

If you would like to watch the episode of Gimme a Break we shot, it can be seen on the BBC iPlayer here.

Rycote Lyre Modular Suspension system

I recently wrote a piece about the Schoeps CMIT 5 U mic that i had used, and made a point about the increase in handling noise i experienced with it. I was then contacted by the ever-helpful people at Rycote who pointed out to me that their latest innovation - the Lyre Modular Suspension system - was designed precisely to deal with this issue, and in fact you can see the Schoeps CMIT 5U mic is the one they have chosen to illustrate the system with in their photos.

After taking delivery of my new mounts i set about replacing the older solid plastic mounts in my suspension. Very sensibly Rycote have gone to the lengths of publishing a guide to replacing older mounts with the newer Lyre system, and so it was a simple operation to select the appropriate replacement. I was also impressed to see that they were able to provide Lyres for their older suspension systems, pretty much back to models from the late 60’s!

Fitting the new suspensions was a simple operation - 2 mins with the Rycote tool to undo the screw holding them in place, and the same in reverse to put the new ones on. The Lyres themselves are solid at the base, with a very soft plastic used for the ‘W’ shaped piece, and herein lies their secret. The plastic is in fact a substance called Hytrel which is a engineered elastomer - a sort of plastic and rubber hybrid that is very strong, very light and very flexible, as well as impervious a to wide range of temperatures.

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With these W shapes of Hytrel sitting between the base of the suspension, and the clip that holds the mic in place, they act as an extremely effective shock absorber; with vibrations from the pole being absorbed into them before they can reach the mic.

After fitting them i placed my Sennheiser MKH60 shotgun mic into the mount with a little difficulty - the reason being that the Lyres are so flexible that it can be tricky getting purchase on them. It’s a bit like trying to shove a wet fish into a handbag, or something similar. But once attached i could immediately see the benefits - the mic remains held firmly in place, but the whole Lyre W shape is free to move and flex as needed. I was briefly worried when attaching the mic that i would be too clumsy and break them, but i have since realised that this is very unlikely. They are really tough, and this bodes well - the older Rycote systems relied on bits of solid plastic that could crack (travelling on planes with kit in a suitcase always worried me for this very reason) as well as rubber rings that could potentially snap, and would after a few years dry up and begin to crack. Unless my suspension falls into a wood chipper or similar, i dont see myself needed to replace these anytime soon.

But the real test was how they sound, and i wasn’t disappointed; a few exploratory shakes and swings of the boom was enough for me to realise that a significant amount of the handling noise had gone. I can’t yet put a figure on how much they have reduced this bass rumble, but i often find myself restraining how briskly i move the boom about especially on doccos where it can often get a bit bumpy. I didn’t do that once with the Lyres, and i soon found myself hurling the pole around just to try and get some handling noise! I removed all bass cut from the mixer, and even then was only able to exact a minimal amount of handling noise.

I can honestly say there is a huge improvement for audio as a result of using them, as well as a financial consideration - they are comparatively cheap, and will hopefully not need replacing nearly as much as the previous incarnations. Well done to the brains at Rycote, particularly Chris Woolf. My thanks to Tim Constable too.

Location Recording Q&A

I get quite a few questions sent to me about various aspects of sound recording as a result of this blog, and i’m happy to answer them as best i can. I thought i’d start posting some of them here for public consumption. Most of the answers here are based on how I work - they are not definitive answers, nor are they always right, but i hope they are of some use to others engaged in recording location sound. If you have a different answer to any of the questions here, please let me know - i’m always keen to learn new ways of doing things.

Anyway, below are some recent questions and my answers…

My main question is really about the sample rate / bit depth that you record at for a TV/film shoot. For my own field recordings/foley work, I tend to record at 192KHz/24 Bit. But I’m guessing location recording needs to be captured at 48KHz/24 Bit. Is that correct? Is there any time that you would record at a higher sample rate?

Standard sample rate/bit depth for broadcast tv is 48khz/16bit, and thats what i do most of my recordings at, whether on a hard disc recorder like my 744T or on-camera sound as most cameras i tend to work with (eg the DSR’s, f900’s, red cams etc) will record at this setting. It sounds good to me, and unless i’m in a studio with some very good monitors i can’t tell the difference between that and any higher settings, and even then it’s pretty subjective, unless you have a pair of golden ears!

The only reason i would tend to change those settings is to add more headroom for the post production process; in which case i’d simply shift up to 24bit. At 24 bit you will get about 20db more headroom without adding any obvious noise, compared to a 16 bit setting. It’s often a question of file size, and if you’ve got huge files it can be a pain in the post process. I will sometimes get a call from the sound post-production supervisor or similar to discuss this sort of thing, and i’ve never been asked for other sample rates or bit depths.

Do you always give a feed to the camera and capture audio on both your SD 552/744t and the camera, or are you only using your equipment to capture audio with timecode. Am I right in thinking that you wouldn’t need to use timecode if you gave a feed to the camera?

There are a few answers to this, and it is largely dependant on what i am shooting; the short answer is that i do either/or, not usually both, and yes if sending sound to the camera, a separate timecoded recording would not be necessary. If sending sound to the camera thats the master recording, otherwise i’ll do a separate recording on the 744 with timecode jam-synced to the cameras timecode

For most of the tv stuff i do, i record all my sound directly to the camera via a 10pin hirose umbilical cable connected between mixer and camera. It’s the easiest/safest/cheapest way to do it, but it does have a couple of drawbacks - the main one being that you are tethered to the camera which can limit your range of movement and also prove a bit annoying in tight locations where the cable can snag etc. Camera operators don’t really like it, particularly when someone stands on the cable and they are jerked backwards via the rear xlr’s! It’s also a bit worrying when you turn round and realise that the camera you are tethered to is on the other side of the road shooting something, and your cable is across the road in the line of the oncoming traffic… anyway, i digress.

The umbilical cable is the most reliable connection between mixer and camera, and if i am working this way i don’t tend to make a backup recording on the Sound Devices 744t or 552. It’s not really necessary. I did at first (professional paranoia!) and it can’t hurt to do so, but you shouldn’t ever need it. I am constantly monitoring the return feed from the camera (usually via the phono outs on a camera, or at a push the headphone output - i have either connector on the camera end of my umbilical cable, and if you switch the headphone monitoring on your mixer to the camera return you will hear what you are sending to the camera)  and if there is a problem with the connection between the two, or the feed itself i should know about it immediately.

The sound that is then recorded on the camera is your master recording and is used in the final film. At least it has been through the mixers high quality preamps before being recorded onto tape/HDD, and there is no additional fiddling in post to sync sound and picture. A lot of cameras these days have 4 channels of audio, so if needed you can still send 4 isolated tracks or similar. This is the standard approach when shooting video.

For film, and for situations where the camera sound is not high enough quality (eg Red One Camera) or you need more flexibility and don’t want to be attached to the camera there are other options: the first is to record sound locally (ie in the bag) on something like the 744T. To do this you need to jam the 744’s timecode with the cameras timecode - a BNC/Lemo cable is connected to the camera’s timecode output and the other end to the 744. You then ‘jam’ the two timecodes so that they are running simultaneously. The 744 will usually run for a day or so without drifting by more than frame, so i do this most mornings first thing if working in this way. Then in post you can simply sync the two sets of rushes via the timecode - easier and more accurate than a clapper board. The SD552 recording function on the mixer doesn’t generate it’s own timecode, and must be fed incoming tc if needed. This means it’s not as flexible as the 702/744 for recording separate sound that must be synced. I often use the internal recorder on the Sound Devices 552 simply as a wildtrack recorder, or as a backup in a desperate situation. With the addition of a Ambient Lockit box or similar, it could be used as a primary recorder with some limitations.

Also when you’re recording separate sound onto a 744 or similar, you have to get the rushes off the device and to the post-production team at the end of every day - so either a laptop with firewire and a dvd burning capability or a dvd-ram burner attached directly to it is needed. You also end up storing GB’s of old rushes ‘just in case’. i like using the 744t in this way but it’s not always what production want. I keep it simple - if i can get the sound on to the camera without compromising it, then that’s what i will do.

My last question is about your experience of mics. You talk a lot in your blog about using lapel mics. Do you use these a lot or do you mostly boom?

Again, it’s a case of horses for courses; i do use lapel mics a lot but thats the nature of tv quite often. For example i do a lot of documentary and reality tv where you don’t know what is going to happen. You will probably have anywhere from 1 to 5 main contributors on screen at once, and keeping them all covered with the boom can be difficult. Shot-size is constantly changing during shooting (eg a big wide to establish a location, tighter singles to cover some dialogue, then back out to a wide shot as something in the background starts happening), overhead lighting (as found in many offices and homes) will cause problems with shadows, and reflections in the back of shot are all constant issues to make booming tricky.

The way i tend to work in this situation is to have the main contributors on radio mics panned to channel 2, and then the boom panned to channel 1 to cover all incidental sound, and any other people who come into shot and talk. Sometimes i find myself booming people already wearing my radio mics, but to be honest the boom sounds much better and will probably be the preference in post. Also i sometimes put radio mics on people due to the acoustics of a room (big and echoey acoustics can be reduced by this close mic’ing) or a loud bg noise (eg a piece to camera next to a main road often sounds better in terms of the voice to noise ratio when using a close mic that is shielded somewhat by clothes and body). With a lot of radios being used in the same situation, the sound can often go very ‘thin’ as a consequence of being picked up by all the mics in the room at fractionally different times (speed of sound), so you can often end up mixing between them more than you would if booming.

But that’s factual/doc/reality.

For drama i try and do as much as possible on the boom. radio mics are a last resort here due to the necessity of hiding them under clothing and adding rustle, as well as their inferior sound quality - they have that slightly ‘dead’ sound due to a lack of bg, ambience and acoustical detail. A good boom op is worth their weight in gold in such situations, but the problem is, once you have started to use radio mics in a scene, you are obliged to continue using them in that scene even if it is no longer necessary because the change in sound quality will be so marked if you go back to the boom.

Schoeps CMIT 5U Shotgun Mic

While on a shoot in Canada recently (more on that soon) i hired a Schoeps CMIT 5 U shotgun mic for use on the boom. I had heard and read a lot of good things about this mic, and have had the pleasure of using other Schoeps mics to record a piano recital among other things, and thought that they sounded fantastic; a noticeable step up in quality in terms of many of the mics i use day to day, especially radio mics.

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The first thing i noticed about the CMIT 5 U was how light it is - in the palm of the hand it weighs 89 grams, and while this is not going to revolutionise the weight hanging on the end of the boom pole all savings are appreciated. It also has the sophisticated yet classily futuristic blue casing, and three red LED’s for the filters so all in all it looks pretty cool if that sort of thing is important to you.

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I used the CMIT 5 U in my usual Rycote suspension and windgag combination, and the first thing i heard was handling noise; movements with my hands on the boom pole were quite audible and so i was worried that in the hustle and bustle of shooting actuality i would be moving the boom a lot causing unwanted rumbles and thuds, so i had a play with the high and low pass filters built into the mic.

The mic has three filters built in: +5dB boost at 10 kHz, a low-cut filter -18dB/octave at 80 Hz and a gentler low-cut filter -6dB/octave at 300 Hz. The three are selectable by pressing a button on the side of the mic and a slightly counter-intuitive LED lights up to tell you it has been activated. I say it’s counter intuitive because it displays red for ‘on’ and green for ‘off’. Nevertheless, using the 300hz high pass filter reduced the handling noise appreciably, although i think more can be done to help; part of the problem was that i still use the slightly older style of Rycote suspension with plastic clips and elastic suspension; the current range of Rycote suspension use a Lyre suspension system which would reduce the handling noise. Items such as the Rycote connbox can also help to cut down on cable noise, or something similar to the Ambient ‘Floater’ mic suspension that allows you to significantly reduce vibrations passed to the mic in a similar fashion to the Rycote Lyre. But with the filter on, and occasionally a bit of extra low cut applied on my mixer i had it under control.

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I was really impressed with the overall sound of the CMIT - it had a beautifully clean, clear sound with amazing clarity on dialogue. The off-axis response was much better than the MKH60 i normally use, and i found that when booming a four way conversation on the fly, i had much more latitude when drifting between speakers; the off axis people sounded particularly clear and on-mic and i was able to move the boom less than normal, and chopped off far less beginning and ends of sentences as a result! That was much appreciated. Rejected sound was very quiet, and using the CMIT 5 U outside in clear, open areas really brought out the best in it. I found that in many situations instead of pushing the frame line constantly with the boom, trying to get as tight as possible for clear dialogue, i was able to simply turn up the gain on the mixer. The background was quiet and free of nasties like road noise, and turning the gain up and up i was amazed by how much ’suck’ the CMIT had.

Inside the directional capabilities of the mic lessened, as do all mics relying on reflecting sound to create their polar response, but remained surprisingly directional. I was happy to leave it in the boom for interior scenes, rather than relying on other cardiod or hypercardiod mics, as i sometimes do when using the Sennheiser MKH60.

The CMIT 5 U retails for around £1600 at the moment, and i have to say i am tempted. It is a delight to use on location, is smaller and lighter than my current choice of boom mic, sounds fantastic but would require the additional purchase of a bit of boom trickery to help with the handling noise, as it’s not a satisfying solution to simply leave the bass-cut on; all those beautifully balanced frequencies deserve to be heard in all their glory. It also comes in a really nice wooden box to reassure you just in case you were worried about the quality.

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Time to start saving i think.

Don’t Tell The Bride - BBC3

It’s seems i have become something i had always strived to try and avoid being; a wedding videographer. Myself and cameraman Neil Pollock have been working on the BBC3 series Don’t Tell The Bride in which the groom is given a budget, and complete control of planning and organising his wedding. The bride is left to stew and wonder and then hopefully on the day swoon with joy, or more often than not, explode with rage and disappointment at their foolish fiancees idea of a perfect wedding. Most of the show is self-shot by the directors and AP’s, but we are brought in for the reveal of the bride’s wedding dress and the big day itself. Consequently i have spent the last few weekends going to the weddings of people i have never met before, which has been slightly surreal.

Pollock and Share - Available for Weddings, Bah-Mitvahs, and Christenings...

Pollock and Share - Available for Weddings, Bah-Mitvahs, and Christenings...

The series is screening on BBC3 this autumn, and i worked on about 3 episodes, in Newquay, Bristol and Kidderminster. They were usually good fun to shoot, and without revealing anything i was impressed by what a good job the majority of the chaps did. Below are a few photos taken at the Newquay wedding of Mitch and Laura, kindly supplied by the wedding photographer, Kirstin.

Me mic'ing the Registrar who seems to be enjoying the experience

Me mic'ing the Registrar who seems to be enjoying the experience

I have been using Audio Ltd 2040 radio mics with DPA 4071 capsules for this job - the 2040’s have excellent RF connection, and the transmitter comes in a miniTX size which makes it easier to hide beneath snug fitting wedding dresses without leaving too much of a bulge. The DPA 4071 mic is an good choice for these occasions too, as it has a ‘presence boost’ which translates to a boost of about -5db around the frequencies 4-6khz - the typical frequencies for speech. This boost helps the dialogue to cut through the high level of background noise that you are likely to find in a wedding reception!

I usually have 5 sets of radio mics per wedding - two for the bride and groom, one or maybe two for the registrar/s or vicar, and another set available for the parents or anyone else as needed. Logistically the wedding itself is tricky, as the bride and groom are filmed by separate crews, until they meet at the altar, and at which point the sound recordists need to have both bride and grooms audio on one camera. We have usually achieved this by sharing radio mic frequency information between recordists, and then when we reach the wedding, instead of fitting another transmitter to either we simply tune into the appropriate frequency with a receiver. There is also the option of using the boom, but to keep consistency with the sound from the radio mics and also to not compromise the shots during the service, we mainly rely on radio mics.

Sound (me) Camera (Neil) and Director (Dave) looking like chumps as we change tape and regroup

Sound (me), Camera (Neil) and Director (Dave) looking like chumps as we change tape and regroup

Trying not to smash an expensive looking light fitting as i boom the speeches

Trying not to smash an expensive looking light fitting as i boom the speeches

Loud party music heard through boom and headphones...mmmm relaxing

Loud party music through boom and headphones...mmmm relaxing

Coca Cola Happiness Vending Machine

I have just spent three days inside a Coke machine filming for a new advert. You may have seen the original of this ad set in the US, well we transferred it in it’s entirety to a London University canteen…

ICHEP Paris - Higgs Hunters meet

In the latest episode of Mike Paterson’s excellent series ‘Colliding Particles’ we travelled to Paris for the International Conference on High Energy Physics which we travelled to a couple a years ago when it was held in Philadelphia. The scientists were, in the main, thrilled to have been addressed earlier in the day by Nicholas Sarkozy, President of France who had some encouraging things to say to them about their work; “It is up to you, the scientists, to share your knowledge,” he said. “You do not lower yourselves when you express the infinitely complex in uncomplicated terms. In fact intelligence could be defined as the ability to explain complex phenomena in a straightforward way”.

While shooting the next episode of Colliding Particles we also worked on a short film for The Guardian website which can be seen here.

We’ve been filming with John Butterworth for some time, but he now holds some pretty important positions particularly in the High Energy Physics group on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. He is a physics professor at UCL, where he teaches mathematical methods to first year physics students, as well as being a Vice Dean in Mathematical and Physical sciences, but most importantly he is a jolly nice chap who has a great science blog also on The Guardian. He is the first person seen in the film chatting on the train.

The latest episode of Colliding Particles is called ‘Beam’ and can be seen below. Fine work as ever by Mike Paterson.

Colliding Particles - Episode 6: Beam from Mike Paterson on Vimeo.

Promzillas/Sound Devices 552

When i was at school, we had an ‘End of term party’. It wasn’t exactly high society living - in younger years it involved being allowed to wear civvies for a day, bring in some board games, and if we were lucky one of the teachers would put on a video. ‘Clockwise’ on VHS was the popular choice; i can’t count the number of times i sat watching John Cleese smash his Mini with a branch of sycamore, waiting for 3pm to come and a seemingly endless summer of lie-ins and ‘Why Dont You?’ to begin.

These days however, it seems that things have changed. For many schools across the country the end of term signals Prom Season; an American concept, High School Prom has become a popular way to celebrate graduation from Secondary School. While my traditional view of Proms involves groups of older ladies linking arms to sing Land of Hope and Glory while nodding knowingly at each other, culminating in Rule Britannia accompanied by some small plastic Union Jack waving, the newer form of Prom is a bit more glamorous. Large puffy sleeves, bouffant hair, uncomfortable looking young men in ill-fitting rental tuxes and copious vomiting of Asti Spumanti is now the thing.

Ever keen to help the youth of today celebrate in such style, Sky 1 has a new series being aired soon called ‘Promzillas’ in which fashion, hair and beauty experts are on hand to give the kids that extra bit of help preparing for their big day. Who will be be crowned Prom King and Queen? Will it be the good looking popular kids, or will it be a triumph for the underdog? Will one of the geeks emerge from the Promzillas tent having been made-over to reveal a beautiful swan previously hidden under piles of bad hair and acne?

Sky send three experts to help the kids; Jordans best friend Gary Cockerill does makeup, Gok Wans nemesis Brix Smith-Start deals with the clothes and celebrity hairdresser Stephen Glendenning works his magic with the hairdo’s.

Myself and cameraman Neil Pollock joined Ben Bradley (sound) and Will Milner (camera) to shoot an episode in Bridgend, Wales. It was one of the first outings for my new mixer; the Sound Devices 552, and i was keen to see how it performed.

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The advantages of the 552 over it’s predecessor the 442 are numerous on paper; the obvious being it is a 5 channel channel mixer as opposed to 4, but it also has an internal SD recorder that accepts incoming timecode, a facility to output two channels of digital AES/EBU signal, and all of this in a unit the same size as the 442 but lighter. Impressive on paper, and in practise too - it takes a bit of getting used to the control interface of the mixer; the faders, panning, bass cut, headphone monitoring etc are all very similar, but to access other features such as phantom power you are required to learn a few button combinations. Nothing to complex, and all quite intuitive after a few tries, and the addition of a digital voice called SVEN guiding you through the menus you can actually forget the manual pretty quickly. I did accidentally hit the menu button while recording by accident a couple of times and was surprised to hear a robotic voice announcing menu options in my headphones rather than what was coming through my mics and it must have been pretty loud too, as Neil Pollock the cameraman gave me a rather quizzical look as it burbled away. Fortunately this voice is via the headphone output only, and so my audio remained unspoiled. It did scare me a bit though.

But the mixer sounds lovely - nice and quiet even when adding in quite a bit of extra gain, the preamps are of the usual high quality found in all Sound Devices products. I still have many more options to try out, but so far i have found the 552 to be a great bit of kit. With three presenters, and often two students in the makeover tent at one time, 5 channels was vital.

The big pink Promzillas bus has become notorious around the country; almost as notorious as it’s driver and owner - Tim. If you see it at your school, it might be time for a new look.

So who won? Was it the beautiful and good looking socialites or the dowdy geek whose makeover revealed a beautiful swan underneath the ugly duckling exterior? You’ll have to watch to find out; Promzillas is due to air on Sky 1 and Sky 1 HD in Oct 2010.

Farnborough Airshow

The end of July this year saw the trade week of the Farnborough Airshow 2010 take place. I was there working for Aviation Week shooting some of the planes for a daily video update on the show for their website.

I was amazed at how loud the planes were, especially when they turned on their afterburners. I had earplugs on inside my headphones and the headphone volume turned right down, but i still came away with a slight ringing in my ears! My mixers limiter got a good workout that day too, with some passes lighting the meters up like a fruit machine they were so loud. I was too busy scurrying away with my hands clamped over my head shrieking ‘Not my ears - please not my ears!’ like a small girl to be fiddling with faders at such a time.

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Jester: That was some of the best flying I’ve seen to date – right up to the part where you got killed.

I got to see more exciting planes in a few days than i have in my entire lifetime until that point; the highlight for me was the F-22 demonstration which was frankly mental. I know a bit about how planes work - only a bit mind you - but enough to know that generally they shouldn’t be able to fly vertically upwards, slowing all the time before eventually coming to a standstill and without turning at all begin to fly straight back down - backwards! That’s just silly. It looked unreal in many way, and the slow pass and loop the loop (more like a fast moving flip 360 degrees than a loop) confirmed that this was a plane that didn’t really conform to normal laws of aerodynamics.

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The free gifts were impressive, if cumbersome to cary home

It was a great shoot, and i got to see some really impressive flying. Do check out the Aviation Week site, especially the Farnborough 2010 videos - thanks to all the guys at McGraw-Hill for a great week - they are the ludicrously action-looking people in the very dramatic photo below.

About to jump out of the back of a transport plane and hit the ground filming...

About to jump out of the back of a transport plane and hit the ground filming...

Sound Mixer Hell

If i keep posting things like this, people will draw the conclusion that i am a miserable curmudgeon, nevertheless here it is.

Oh, and did i mention I’ve got this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side? I mean, I’ve asked for them to be replaced, but no-one ever listens.

Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust or just fall apart where I’m standing?

Myths of Sound Recording

Extracted from www.eqtion.com. This was originally posted on craigslist, before being passed around the industry; I found it on Facebook posted by the fine chaps at Trew Audio ( www.trewaudio.com ). I didn’t write it and don’t know who did, but it is pretty spot on about many elements of the film/tv industry. The UK equivalent of these ideas and opinions on sound can be easily found at sites such as Mandy.com, Productionbase, Shooting People etc etc. In a nutshell these are the reasons that people calling me and asking me to record sound for their film for expenses only (plus a copy of the film on DVD!) will get short shrift from me. As far as i know, none of the organisations that I make payments to regularly for things like my house, electricity, food etc currently accept payment in the form of a DVD.

Myth #1. Sound is less important than your picture. Most new people to the production biz always think this is the case, and it has actually been proven to be the opposite by several focus group studies by major studios and smaller acoustic societies. With the dawn of Youtube and similar outlets our public have become conditioned to accept shaky cameras, grungy looks, and bad lighting as shooting style, which is actually great news for a new shooter with little experience. However, audiences will sub-consciously or consciously lose interest in the material, change what they are viewing, or completely turn off what they are viewing within 30 seconds of being subject to bad sound. What makes up bad sound? Bad sound includes poorly EQ’d voices, a high noise-to-signal ratio (from too much background noise and/or electronic noise captured with the voice signal), and non-continuous sound (sound quality changing often) so as to make it difficult to edit, to name a few.

Myth #2. The camera costs more than the sound gear. When comparing the price of a good camera and its tripod which are the basic essential gear for a shooter, versus the gear for an even adequate sound person, the cost of sound gear far surpasses the costs of the camera. This has not always been the case, but starting 20 years ago with the advent of lower-cost digital video it’s a solid fact. Here is an example of a basic sound package provided by a typical location sound person:

•Portable 3- or 4-channel field mixer ($1500-2500),
•Boom pole + head + zeppelin + windmuff (for indoor & outdoor sound)
($800 - 2000),
•Boom mic ($600 - 3000)
•Shotgun mic ($300 - 1000)
•Lavalier transmitter/receiver combo ($600 - $2400 per combo),
•Lavalier mic ($150 - $400),
•Portable 2- or 4-track Recorder ($900 - $4000)
•XLR cables/connectors ($100-300)

This pretty much covers the basic sound package ranging from the low-end gear to the accepted industry standard gear. At the lowest end with bargain low-quality gear, the cost of gear is roughly $5000…equal to or much more than many of the cameras used in the low-budget indie scene today. And when you have access to the gear that anyone that’s been in the industry for more than 2-3 years will have strived to own, and which is considered good sound, the gear will cost in the neighborhood of $12,000 to $18,000 and up — usually double or triple the cost of the camera gear used for the shoot. (Cart-based sound packages are even higher). Rental of a very basic lowest-end gear package from any indie-friendly rental house in the country starts at $250-350/day. In addition, with the multiple components and connectors of a complete sound system comes additional upkeep, repair, and replacement of about double the rate of camera gear–easily $1000-2000/year. A lens or tripod can last for 20 years, a lavalier mic or transmitter might break in 3 months.

Myth #3. Anyone can do sound. I’ve witnessed several productions willing to train a PA to do sound with the most dismal results, including: the boom in the shot, the boom shadow on the actor’s face during the shot, incorrect levels from the mixer to the recorder causing the recorded signal to be too hot and distorted to use, the mic not facing the subject or being too far away to be usable, the heavy-handling of a boom pole creating rumble in the sound, clothing noise from poor lavalier placement, RF noise on the lav’s wireless channel, and continued shooting through sirens and plane noise. I’ve seen it slow down production to half, and when the person starts feeling inadequate and a liability, they won’t speak up when a plane goes by because he doesn’t want to create any more problems. Result: even more surprises and problems in post-production. I actually witnessed an entire feature having to be ADR’d due to a so-called sound team with no previous credits with “borrowed” gear and no clue how to use it. The producer found out the hard way that he needs to pay the professionals in the sound department first before allocating any further funds to other departments. Any producer that has produced more than one feature has either learned it the hard way as above, or learned it the easy way through advice of experienced colleagues who have tread that ground before them.

Myth #4. Sound operators need your material for their reel. Have you ever listened to a sound operator’s reel? No? Probably because first of all no one (except other sound people) really know what good sound is and what to listen for. Also, anyone can throw up their most-quiet scene they’ve ever recorded at the most ideal, sound-isolated location, with adequate time for placing and positioning mics and then heavily EQ’d in post-production by them to sound like the most professional sound ever… do-able and time-consuming. But in truth, on a set you don’t have time to find that perfect sweet spot for a mic via multiple trial & errors, nor do you have 3 weeks to work on the post-processed sound for a single scene. Sound reels are misleading and easily manipulated. This is why sound guys don’t need a reel — it is a complete mis-representation of what they truly can do on a set when time is of the essence to ensure a shot list is completed and your budget is maintained.

These “four myths of sound” that seem to run rampant on Craigslist and the like, get perpetuated by new people to the business that read ad after ad of “no pay”, “copy, credit, and food”, and “will be a rewarding experience and good for your reel” over and over. It’s like the blind leading the blind, and please chime in if you concur. If you’re a producer or potential producer, please consider this a friendly chunk of knowledge to help you along your way. Nothing is worse than the setback that an unknown “myth” might subject you to.

Tanterella!!

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The last couple of months have been fun, and i am sorry to see this most recent of jobs come to an end.

I have been working for almost all of Feb and March for a Japanese production company called Moritigamu Cell 1, who make a series of Japanese gameshows and reality shows. We have spent the last 8 weeks following 6 Japanese couples (and one Korean couple) who had been sent to the UK, with the basic task of getting a job.

Once established in the job, the contestants are given a series of ‘dares’ to complete. the first few centred around cultural and language misunderstandings - using the wrong toilet, eating someone elses food from the fridge, wearing trousers with the buttocks cut out to a work drinks do.

However the next round of dares cranked the jeopardy up - i cant give too much away but if you would like to see a woman dressed as a large penis try to initiate intimate relations with an office worker in the photocopier room, only to be caught by a horrified man dressed as a vagina and the resulting erotic fight on the floor of the office (watched by most of the office in a mixture of horror and amusement) then do tune into Tsukuba channel sometime later this year.
The crew were mostly Japanese, and were an absolute pleasure to work with - talented, professional and with hilarious taste in clothes and English food. Domo arigato to Ryouta, Tsubasa, Akane and Kouhei!

Katherine of Alexandria

I have recently been working as Sound Mixer on a feature film which started shooting this January at Pinewood. The film stars -among others - Peter O’Toole, Joss Ackland, Steven Berkoff and Sam Beckinsale. There are plenty more familiar faces in the cast too.

The films recounts the story of Katherine of Alexandria; Katherine is probably best known for the ‘Katherine Wheel’ firework which symbolises the instrument of torture designed to break her. More importantly, she was the first woman of position to publicly denounce Rome’s false gods and her eloquent arguments with fifty of Rome’s finest scholars in an open court in Alexandria captured the spirits of ordinary people around the world.

It was Katherine’s belief in the freedom of faith that led to the eventual collapse of religious persecution under the Romans.

For the recording process I used the new Sound Devices 552 mixer, feeding 4 individual tracks to a Sound Devices 744T and a mixed track to a SD702T. The booms were using Sennheiser MKH50 mics to allow us to record as much of the superb vocal dynamic range of actors such as Mr Ackland and Mr O’Toole as possible, with a couple of Audio Ltd 2040 radio mics with DPA 4071 capsule attached - for emergency use only of course!  We also sent a feed of the mix to camera A (shooting two Red One cameras - one on a dolly, and the other on a Technocrane for much of the time) via a Ricsonix Camlynx bluetooth connection, which was an elegant, if slightly troublesome (lots of wireless frequencies, metal objects, bags of water - people - and small electric motors eg on the smoke machine caused  a few issues) method of connection to camera without adding to the numerous cables already attached to the Red. This allowed immediate playback with audio for the Director and DOP. We synced rushes using the time honoured method of a clapperboard, rather than jam-syncing the timecode of two audio recording devices with the Red cameras. This would have been easily achieved with Lockit boxes and a Digislate, but i prefer the simplicity of the clapperboard, and the assistant editor was happy to sync using a clapper.

You can see (and more importantly hear!) the results in this brief trailer; http://www.katherineofalexandria.com/trailer1.php

Olga Kevelos

I was driving home from a film shoot last week, and was listening to ‘Last Word’ on Radio 4 when I heard the sad news that Olga Kevelos had passed away. I had met Olga earlier this year while working as sound recordist on a piece about the ‘Land Girls’ for The One Show, and was immediately struck by what a varied and fantastically interesting life she had led, as well as by what a friendly, intelligent and interesting woman she was.

We were filming for Real Life Media with Olga and two of her crewmates from the second world war when she and other young women took over running the barges up and down the canal system of Britain. They were known as ‘Idle Women’  - a title derived from the ‘IW’ emblazoned on their badge, but which actually stood for ‘Inland Waterways’, although the work they were required to do was intensive and hard by anyones standards.

We spent the day on an original barge used during the war, and Olga and two of her contemporaries talked about old times, and reminisced for the camera. It wasn’t until lunch that I found myself sitting next to Olga, and she began to tell me a little more about herself and her life. When I asked her what she did after the war I wasn’t entirely prepared for the reply I got; to paraphrase her slightly she said ‘After I left the Land Girls I became interested in motorcross - it started as a way to see my boyfriend at weekends at first, but I soon realised I enjoyed it and was quite good at it too - I won two gold medals’ … I didn’t quite know what to say - here was this sweet, twinkly eyed old lady with coiffured hair telling me that she had been a motorcross champion? I thought she might have been pulling my leg, but she continued; ‘I then ended up on Mastermind as a contestant’. When I asked her what her specialist subject was she replied ‘Ghengis Khan’… From what I can tell from other people who knew her much better than I, this was typical Olga - feisty, intelligent and with a cheeky sense of humour.

I only met Olga for a day, but in that time I was impressed by her drive and ability, the variety of her life and her obvious intelligence. There is more about her life and achievements in the obituary from the BBC which can be heard in the player below - for my part I am proud to have met her and learned a little about this extraordinary woman.

The clips of her talking about her time in the ‘Land Girls’ in this obituary were taken from the interview I recorded with her that day, and may well have been the last recorded interview with her. Below is a photo of us filming with Olga and her colleagues from the IW - Olga is the brown haired lady sitting in the middle on the boat.

Filming with Olga for The One Show

Filming with Olga for The One Show

Teaching Sound at the Met Film School

For a while now I have worked as the Sound tutor at the Met Film School. The Met Film School is based in Ealing Studios which makes it quite handy for keeping in touch with what is being shot on the UK’s most successful film studio. Ealing Studios has a pretty illustrious past, being home to all the great Ealing Comedies such as the Lavender Hill Mob, and The Ladykillers. The studios are still much used today, as evidenced by the fact that John Landis is currently working there on a black comedy based on the graverobbers, Burke and Hare. Whenever I see John around the studios i have to maintain my professional dignity and not go running up to him blabbering how much i loved Trading Places, An American Werewolf in London, Coming to America, Thriller or any of the other numerous films he has made that had such an impact on me in my childhood especially.

Teaching at the Met is a really enjoyable experience - i particularly enjoy teaching sound for a few reasons - firstly i was lucky enough to be taught Sound at one of the best places possible - The National Film & Television School in Beaconsfield. I really appreciated being taught my subject thoroughly and by a range of people who not only knew what they were talking about, but had many years of professional experience behind them. When teaching filmmaking, sound often comes a poor second to the more glamorous subjects like camera and directing. There are not as many good quality sound courses in the UK as there perhaps should be, and running the sound courses at the Met Film School gives me a small chance to put that right. I have tried to imitate much of the excellence of courses such as the NFTS, Ravensbourne, Bournemouth and the Tonmeister course - all of which regularly produce high quality sound people of all types. We try and give the students a good understanding of how sound can impact on a film, its uses and how it can entirely alter the perception of a scene, as well as giving them practical skills and techniques to allow them to achieve this.

I really enjoy passing on a little of the excellent training i was given, and hopefully make a small contribution towards improving sound standards in UK filmmaking.  I am now the Head of the Location Sound Department - this is probably due to there being no other tutors in this subject area! HOD by default you might say, but between the post production sound tutor, Alistair, and myself i think we offer an excellent learning experience in sound, along with all the high quality courses offered at the Met Film School.

British Red Cross - ‘Look Beyond The Label’ sound recordist

Every now and again I get the chance to work as sound recordist on films that maybe have a slightly more serious purpose than other things i have worked on - the Action for Children adverts that I worked as sound recordist on would be a good example; a film that will hopefully inspire and provoke people to do something positive. I loved the Action for Children adverts, as working on them meant i met many of the children involved, and hearing their stories firsthand was a moving experience. I take satisfaction from the knowledge that the help these kids received from Action for Children has improved their lives, and by telling their stories another child who needs some help, will hear it and find the courage to speak up.

Recently I worked with Agenda Collective on a film for the Red Cross’s current campaign for raising awareness of ‘Refugee Week’, which celebrates the important contribution of refugees to UK society. The want us to look look beyond labels to the true identity of the refugee in modern Britain; ‘Only by looking beyond the status and label of ‘refugee’, can we overcome prejudice and help people restore their sense of identity and belonging.’ It resulted in what i think is a fantastic looking and sounding film - the ever excellent pictures of David Proctor DOP, Ryan Hopkinson’s lighting, a lovely score by the composer Richard Canavan, Peter Kings directing, editing, grading etc etc and of course Matthew Share, Sound Recordist. Agenda continue to raise their already extremely high standards; i think in parts the film looks the equal of a feature film, an effect helped by the high quality primes and Zeiss Superspeed lenses Dave used. Anyway, the video is shown below so i’ll stop boasting and let you make your own minds up.

Look beyond the label from British Red Cross on Vimeo.

Gok Wan/Broadband Nan for 3 Mobile

I have recently had the pleasure of filming with good friend and colleague Peter King, and the Agenda Collective. We shot a series of adverts for Three mobile entitled ‘Broadband Nan’ -

We also made an internet film with Gok Wan for Three. I always enjoy working with the Agenda Collective as they are without exception, talented and knowledgeable filmmakers. Director Peter King has an impressive CV, with his recent film ‘Karosta’ being described by Nick Broomfield as ‘beautifully photographed and observed with a wonderful humanity’ and ‘a fantastic portrait of the demise of the soviet empire’. DOP David Procter has had his own successes recently winning best UK short and film of the festival at the 16th Raindance Festival with his film ‘Red Sands’. Whenever I work with them I am impressed by their talent and attention to detail; they have the most impressive kit, ideas, and execution, and I just wish all production companies had their attitude towards filming. They are a pleasure to work with.

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New Action for Children advert

The latest Action for Children advert is currently being shown on television. It is another interview with a child that has been helped by the charity Action for Children. I was the location sound recordist for the interviews with the kids talking (see earlier post) and Christopher Wilson - a colleague from the NFTS - did the sound design; I think the adverts are great, and all in a good cause too. The animation is lovely and really suits the subject matter. Working as sound recordist on something like this can be a tricky job, largely due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, and the fact that the interviewees are children. Fortunately these kids have been helped by Action For Children, and i was proud to have worked as sound recordist on this campaign.

The One Show - BBC1

theoneshow_2007a

I have recently been working as sound recordist on several films for The One Show - 7pm weekdays on BBC1. It is one of many Adrian Chiles fronted programmes currently on TV, but my parents like it a lot so that’s good enough for me. As usual I don’t get much chance to see the stuff I have worked on, but the days spent working on these have been really good fun. The formula for the films is a celebrity presenting an interesting story from around the country, often with a topical or local theme. I have spent several days working with genial ‘King of the Jungle’ Phil Tufnell which has been great; I grew up watching cricket in an era where Tuffers was the best spin bowler in the country by a country mile. I remember him almost single-handedly bowling out the West Indies, I remember him being disciplined for turning up at the team hotel first thing in the morning straight from a nightclub with some ladies in tow, but most of all I remember him being absolutely peppered by Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose in the West Indies…the poor chap was nearly decapitated that day.

I have also recorded the sound for a One Show piece about a Shakespeare imposter presented by John Sergeant, who is a lovely chap and has the best stories, but has problems negotiating public places without cries of ‘you should never have quit that ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ you know John…I voted for you!’ echoing after him. Poor chap.

Colliding Particles - Part 4 ‘Problems’

Filming with Mike Paterson in Paris

Filming with Mike Paterson in Paris

The latest of Mike Patersons great films about the work of particle physicists hunting for the Higgs Boson has just been put on the web - you can see it at www.colliding particles or watch it in HD below…

We travelled to Paris earlier in the year to speak to Gavin Salam who is a theorist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris, and his PhD student, Mathieu. Gavin completed his PhD at Cambridge in 1996, and went on to hold postdoctoral fellowships in Milan and at CERN. His research has mostly been centred on the area of quantum chromodynamics, the theory which describes the behaviour of quarks and gluons. Together with his PhD student Mathieu he has been working on the theory side of Project Eurostar - the project designed to find the Higgs Boson that the films focuses on. Gavin was an excellent host, and one of the advantages of working in Paris is above average lunches and dinners ;)

As you can see in the film Gavin plays the piano. Mike was interested in exploring the relationship between the work of a particle physicist and the mathematical patterns and processes inherent in music, so we filmed Gavin playing the piano in his flat in Paris.

This presented a couple of problems from a sound point of view - the acoustics of the flat were not too bad to the naked ear, but with the microphone i had intended to use - the Rode NT4 stereo mic - the late and early reflections present when i listened on headphones didn’t sound nearly as nice as i had hoped. It was tricky to position the mic effectively over the piano (i tend to use a mic position either with the XY axis of the mic facing across the strings along the open top of the piano, or a similar position underneath, giving a nice wide stereo image - i would love to hear of any other techniques people find effective for this setup) without getting some strange reflections from the walls and objects within the flat, or being in shot.

I then tried my Sennheiser MK60 short gun mic out of it’s Rycote windgag, with just a foam windgag on. It is my ‘go to’ mic in so many different situations. It has a nice open sound considering its excellent rejection off axis, and this rejection allowed me to get a cleaner recording of the piano. The music you hear played in the final film is recorded using the MK60 with the boom positioned under the piano, just out of shot.

I think it sounds rather nice, although that probably has more to do with Gavins musical talents than my mic selection!


Colliding Particles - Episode 4: Problems from Mike Paterson on Vimeo.

The physicist Dr Brian Cox is a physicist at the University of Manchester gives this rousing talk at a recent TED conference on why the work at the LHC is so important;

Paul Trevillion interview on Test Match Special

Here is a fantastic interview conducted by Jonathan Agnew with Paul Trevillion - artist of the classic ‘You Are The Ref’ strip - to discuss ‘You Are The Umpire’. Enjoy.

Bectu Ratecard for Sound Recordists

BECTU have kindly updated their ratecard for freelancers working in Broadcast. This is a good guide to the daily rate freelancers like myself can expect for their work. I hope that the fact that the ratecard was published on April 1st is not an ominous sign, although the lack of adjustment to rates over the last 20 years might suggest otherwise.

Anyway, I don’t publish my daily rate on this site as a matter of courtesy, however maybe it would be a helpful guide for some if I reproduce the relevant section below…

‘FREELANCE RATE-CARD for FACTUAL TV PROGRAMMES

APRIL 2009

Going rates for a 10-hour day

SOUND DEPT.
Sound Recordist £319 (inc holiday pay)
(£285) (exc holiday pay)

OVERTIME

BECTU believes that overtime should be paid at a premium rate. The
most common overtime rate is 1.5T. ‘

Sound Recordist Notes - Microphone Types

Microphones
A microphone is a transducer that converts acoustical sound energy into electrical sound energy.
The three most common types are;
* Dynamic (or moving coil) microphone.
* Ribbon microphone.
* Condenser (or capacitor) microphone.

The Dynamic (Moving Coil) Microphone
* Robust.
* Widely used in the sound reinforcement industry (particularly suitable for hand-held use).
* Usually fitted with wind shields (bulbous, foam filled wire mesh which attenuates wind noise and ‘p-blasting’ from the vocalist’s mouth).
* Often provided with built-in bass attenuation to compensate for the ‘proximity effect’ (or bass tip-up, an effect of directional microphones when sound sources have their bass frequencies boosted when they are close to the microphone).
* The design produces a ‘peak’ in the upper-mid frequency range (around 5 kHz) and a rapid fall-off in response above 8 or 10 kHz; this means the sound quality is restricted compared to other mic types.

Dynamic Capsule
Used for;
* Vocals; the boosted upper-mid frequencies help to improve intelligibility.
* Drums; dynamic mics can withstand high sound pressure levels (SPL’s), which might damage other mic types.
* Guitar Amplifiers; amps can also benefit from the ‘presence’ lift caused by the upper-mid frequency boost.
Typical dynamic designs include Shure’s SM57 and SM58.

The Ribbon Microphone
* At best, is capable of very high-quality results.
* Can record frequencies between around 40 Hz to around 14 kHz.
* Smooth frequency response (frequencies are recorded without the microphone boosting or cutting them).
* Delicate; can be physically quite large; the larger the ribbon, the larger the area to pick up sound waves and, therefore, the greater the electrical output .
Used for - Acoustic instruments, classical ensembles.

The Condenser (Capacitor) Microphone
* The diaphragm can be very thin and light (a few microns thick) and so has less inertia. This means that the diaphragm can respond to higher frequencies more effectively than the dynamic microphone.
* The typical frequency range is around 12 Hz to 20 kHz, but can exceed the range of human hearing at both the high and low ends of the spectrum.
* Due to the microphone’s preamplifier, condenser mics offer the best noise performance and the highest sensitivity of any studio microphone.
* Can be made with virtually any response pattern.
* Robust enough to handle many studio and live applications.
* Needs powering, either by a battery or phantom powering via a desk.
* Cannot handle high SPL’s, unlike the dynamic type.

Used for;
* Any instrument where high frequency response is required (for example, cymbals or acoustic instruments).
* Vocals.
Designs such as the small diaphragm AKG C1000S and the large diaphragm Neumann U87 are typical condensers.
Mic & Line Levels
Mic level is -56 to -40 dbm. Mic outputs are normally quite low; around a millivolt (1 mV) and is the typical output directly from a microphone. You need a preamp to amplify a microphone to line level – eg a mixer.
Line Level
Nominal level of around 1 volt - around 60 dB higher than mic level. Commonly used as the output level of a mixer – remember this when setting camera audio input levels.


Sound recordist for The Yeah Yous

A pleasant day spent on Brighton beach filming promo videos for a nice couple of chaps called Nick and Mike, who together are known as The Yeah Yous. I worked as sound recordist on location in Brighton, and we were lucky enough to have a bright sunny day. It was a fairly straightforward day of filming from a sound point of view - i had a playback kit to allow the band to play their songs accurately enough to allow the song to be dubbed over later, and also took a stereo guide track of the performances on the day to allow the sync to be as accurate as possible.

I used my old favourite stereo mic - the Rode NT4 - carefully hidden on set, and with a bit of tweaking to minimise the sound of the sea i got a surprisingly nice recording of an acoustic performance on the beach. Not hi-fi for sure, but it had a nice character and ambience - waves crashing in the background, and few reflections.

But it was one of those days i appreciate being a sound recordist - being paid to stand on the beach and listen to a band playing over and over. Like a mini-festival for a small crowd/crew. Anyway, the results of the day can be seen and heard below. Good luck to the Yeah Yous as they were a nice couple of chaps, and seem talented too.

The Yeah Yous are Well Pressed:

Fish & Chips:

The Yeah Yous and the Seagull:

Walk with the Yeah Yous:

About me

I am a freelance sound recordist with over 10 years experience in tv & film. I studied location sound recording at the National Film & Television School in Beaconsfield, and have been working as a freelance sound recordist since 2004. I have my own full location recording kit, transport and a clean driving licence and am available for work across the UK and worldwide, with bases in London and Oxford.

I also teach Sound in various forms at the London Met Film School in Ealing Studios.

This site contains a blog about my work as a location sound recordist, as well as articles related to sound and film, lots of information about careers in sound and pro audio equipment, advice on filming and sound techniques, a glossary of audio terms and lots lots more. Please drop me a line and let me know what you think, or if you want to contact me for work please click on 'Contact' or call me directly on 07980 910873.

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