Granted, production sound mixers working on any kind of shoot are destined to find situations that are less than acceptable, sonically speaking, but the brave souls who work on reality television shows have to be the unluckiest of the bunch.
The job challenges they face are countless, and include talent not trained in the art of talking into a microphone; hostile and uncontrollable locations; and on-the-move shoots where one must always be camera-ready.
Rich Topham, the president of New York-based Professional Sound Services, has outfitted crews on a number of reality TV shows, including “Cops” and “Snoop Dogg’s Father Hood.” Depending on the show, the company sends out bags that include a Wendt X5 or Sound Devices 442 mixer, multiple wireless systems (including lavalier mics, transmitters and receivers), and a boom and shotgun microphones.
More often than not, an audio supervisor will oversee three or four mixers. It’s the supervisor’s job to design how the sound is going to be captured in order to set up the bags so that they can interface with each other.
A mixer uses many skills on a reality TV shoot, and the most important just may be a talent for hyper-organization, especially on shows where there is a bunch of talent, a number of camera people, and no clear idea of who is going where. “At any point the director might send a camera crew out with a group of people, and the mixers have to scramble,” Topham says. “It’s really crucial to have frequency coordination, not only within the town they’re shooting in, but also with the amount of wireless that they are using on the talent.”
Manufacturers are beginning to design and release audio tools that will help solve many of the frequency issues mixers are faced with these days. For instance, Zaxcom has just released the wireless transmitter that doubles as a recorder. Topham sent one of these out on a Snoop shoot. “Each transmitter can record digital audio with time code for up to 12 hours,” he explains. “One time they were shooting at an awards show and weren’t able to use wireless, so they switched the transmitter to be a recorder. When [the mixer] came back, they took the flash card out, transferred it over to a WAV file and they had all the sound.”
Apart from organization skills, Topham points out that it’s crucial for every sound person to know how to be ready to go without prior notice. “Nobody wants to hear a problem from the sound department,” he reports. “Camera can have all the problems they want, talent can have all the problems they want, but when it comes to the sound department, it’s to be done flawlessly and immediately. With a lot of the new cameras they are using nowadays, nothing has to be lit, so somebody will just switch the camera on and start rolling before the sound guy can even get ready. So it puts an enormous amount of pressure on the sound guy.”
Professional Sound Services