Playing games with radio mics on location


Richard Meredith TV-Bay Magazine
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by Richard Meredith
Issue 93 - September 2014

Some people use the same radio mics year in year out for every job that they do - others hire in radio mics for every job and don’t own anything - I am in the unique (nearly) position of being able to select the most appropriate from my own hire stock, and so every project has the equipment best suited to it.

The brief arrived for a new TV series; Release The Hounds, which consolidated elements from some other formats - essentially a game show, but certainly not behind a nice cosy desk in a nice cosy studio ...think more Crystal Maze meets Fear meets Bush Tucker Trials, but with cash prizes - nice!

The set was a huge open forest several miles west of London with games happening all over it. After lengthy discussions, it was decided that the shoot would be done in studio style, with the director in a central gallery and all camera feeds incoming and recorded on a stack of recording decks, as opposed to shooting in camera. The location was spread so far and wide that managing disc changes etc out in the field was deemed (quite sensibly) unrealistic and foolhardy - did I mention it was all shot at night? It transpired that things were so far apart that it ended up being two galleries, but more of that later.

Although I briefly looked at the option of recording out in the field and sending a monitor mix to the director, there were so many other elements that required me to be close to the producers and director in the gallery that we decided to run an audio gallery too - courtesy of www.ethsaudio.co.uk mobile truck - very tidy, hugely capable and with coffee on tap day and night.

It was obvious with such great distances involved that fibre run would be required in one form or another for our radio mic system - we considered both options either RF over fibre, bringing several remote antennae feeds long distances into a central radio mic receiver rack, or running a receiver rack locally at the game and bringing the audio back to the truck over fibre - as the Ethos truck already ran a fibre infrastructure for audio. Coupled with the fact that we had other feeds to run back and forth - talkback and comms etc. we settled on audio over fibre. There were other factors too - the fact that the very clever Vista 5 console in the Ethos truck can run a redundant backup fibre simultaneously with the main one, meaning that if the main fibre got damaged mid game, then the console would invisibly switch to the spare - we wouldn’t have had the same luxury running RF fibre!

So this lengthy introduction leads us to the point when we had to make a decision over radio mic choice; the brief was 4 games per night, for the team to get hold of the money, but then an added challenge which had to be done by each team member separately to actually escape with the money intact. The locations for all these activities were at best several hundred meters apart from each other, and in some cases over a kilometre!

There were 4 different games in different locations every consecutive shooting night, and some locations required two drops of receiver rack as the distances involved went beyond the sensible capabilities of a single multiple antenna system.

So we needed a solid “rack” style receiver, which was easily portable and at times need to run off a 12volt supply in some locations - so there really was only one choice - the Lectrosonics venue rack - or in fact 5 Lectro Venue racks!

It really was a ‘No brainer’ - The games designers were coming up with ideas faster than Usain Bolt at the Olympic 100m final and a lot of them involved several other artistes to be mic’d in addition to the main game contributors - I could see that flexibility would be the key as greater or lesser importance was placed on these additional characters dependant on how the competing team was doing.

Each venue rack was loaded with nominally 5 receiver modules but we had the ability to increase or decrease as and when necessary if required. We generally ended up with 6/5/5/5/4.

With a split crew running the operation - one set on nights filming the games and a second on days re-rigging for the next set of games, we imposed a strict patching scenario. The fibre interface units at each game were all given a heavy dousing of white labelling tape and each input an output on every end box was always allocated the same job, therefore any pair of fibres plugged into the truck always had the same inputs and outputs derived from the same place irrespective of location of game. As there was no time to test individual feeds during the daytime rig, this consistency was essential to quickly fault find any missing feeds or returns to the game, during the short re-set period between every game on the night.

We very quickly established a routine and the night crew game rigger, Bal Rayat would potter about with a venue rack tucked under one arm (sometimes on a push bike) if extra receive channels were required at short notice on any particular game - a very lightweight solution to moving 6 channels of radio mic receiver around.

The other factor which drove home our choice for Lectro on this project was transmitter choice - production wanted as little interference as possible with the game players to maximise a solitary feel - and battery life. That coupled with compact form factor was perfect for the SMDB’s. However during planning another curve ball of “water” entered the discussion, but aqua-packs etc. were impractical due to costume. We solved that issue with very little thought and doubled up our transmitters to include WM waterproof models. With no prior warning as to which of the contributors “might” get wet, we were simply able to rig those likely to with WM’s from the start and not give the game away to the contributors with very obvious waterproofing tactics going on.

The whole system worked amazingly well - we got huge range in the forest using ALP650 active shark fins, identical performance from the SMDB’s and the WM’s in all conditions and were able to react instantly with minimal disruption if plans for radio mics changed late in the day, (which it did on several occasions) as additional receiver capacity was very easily deployed on a push bike.

I was able to monitor in a great environment and importantly was able to enjoy Ethos Arabica coffee in the constant 20degree climate.

And what of the second gallery? The terrain on site was in patches so dense and inaccessible that the site was split in two, to make cable runs actually possible. Two gallery setups looked after half the location each, however it was totally impractical to have every game permanently facilitated with the max number of receivers we “might” need, as this would have over tripled the receiver requirement. So, two sound mobiles, interfacing of two comms systems, and two coffee machines!

Oh and one final Lectro plus point was of course the ability to remotely alter the TX gain which was invaluable for all the barking dogs - watch Release the Hounds on ITV, or Fox in the USA, to fully understand.


Tags: iss093 | Release the Hounds | Radio Mics | Richard Meredith
Contributing Author Richard Meredith

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