How location audio changed with the birth of reality TV


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In the twenty-plus years that I’ve been a sound mixer/recordist I’ve witnessed countless changes in our industry from the introduction of digital multi-track recording to the arrival of 5.1 surround sound. But the biggest, most dramatic paradigm shift I’ve seen is much simpler than that – and it’s a social thing.
For many years, when it came to recording and mixing sound, I worked alone, albeit alongside a cameraman or camerawoman. And, pre-1998 or thereabouts, I probably only ever worked with two, maybe three, camera people. I became their number one call and that was that. Until reality TV arrived.
I first noticed the change when I was sound supervisor on the early series’ of the BBC’s The Apprentice. Whereas on documentaries we would just mix a couple of radio mics and a boom suddenly we were being asked to record and mix countless contributors at once and I found myself leading a team of five or six camera crews each with their own recordist / mixer.
This fundamental change ushered in the start of multi-track recording on your shoulder. Now we can be mixing seven people and a boom on a single multi-track recorder. And there could be several of us.
So, the big change is that soundmen now have to collaborate a lot more because the nature of the content has changed.
The skills needed to be a good sound mixer/ recordist remain the same however.
Here are my tricks of the trade:
Be a people person
Relationships and personality are crucial. If you have the right relationship with a cameraperson they’ll want to use you again.
Follow The Etiquette
Learn not just how to mic up actors, contestants and contributors but also how to talk with them when you’re doing it. There is a certain way of going up to people and saying the right thing – its important that they’re comfortable with you.
Get The Basics Right
You’ll need a basic sound kit. This is mine: SQN-5S Series II 5:2 Audio Mixer; Sound devices 788t multi track recorder; Sennheiser MKH 60 with full windshield kit; 4 x 2040 radio mic kits with Koss 11 Lav Microphones; 4 x NP70 lithium batteries and charger with hot shoe for powering; HD25 Sennheiser headphones; Audio camera loom with two track return; Portabrace or Petrol shoulder bag; 2m and 5m XLR audio cables; a set of Watchmaker screw drivers; and a good harness!
Learn Before You Leave
Ask companies like HotCam if you can come in and learn about the equipment before you go out on location. I’d rather people did that than went out on a shoot with no knowledge of the kit and got themselves into a sticky situation.
Give The Editor What He Wants
I often bring the editor into pre-production so that we can discuss each other’s needs. That way I can split the tracks according to what he or she needs. It’s like making a cake. You can’t bake it without the correct ingredients.
Record Atmosphere Separately
If you’re working on location with background and atmosphere record that separately. If you’re doing an interview and there is background noise, make sure you do a room atmosphere too so that the editor has the option of including it on another track throughout the whole interview.
Tie The Audio To The Narrative
If you’re on location and you’re near, for example, a motorway but it’s out of shot, tell the director that the buzz will be picked up. That way the director might be able to get the contributor to mention it, therefore tying it into the narrative.
Watch The Camera and Know Your Lenses
It’s absolutely essential that you know what the camera is looking at. I say this because if it’s looking at a particular person you should favour that person with your recording. Learn about lenses too. This will really help you. That way, you’ll know what the camera is focused on and be able to record and mix the track accordingly. A great recordist will know roughly where a frame line is for a given focal length lens.
Use The Boom
Don’t just rely on radio mics. You need perspective in sound so use the boom too. Boom swingers should look at the camera and the lens for reference so that they know when they can put the boom right in close or when they need to go wider.
Trevor Hotz is a Bafta award-winning sound mixer, recordist and supervisor and the managing director of broadcast equipment hire firm HotCam

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