Production Sound Rabbit Hole

Last weekend I began my position as a production mixer on Monster Tails, a micro budget science fiction film that’s based in Austin, TX. I found this project through the Texas Film Commission and after a few emails everything came together quickly. Monster Tails isn’t the largest production that I’ve worked on but compared to the last three or four shorts that I’ve filmed, its Ben Hur. The fact that there was step up in budget from Meetings to MT (a 37,000% step up) it feels more constrained than anything I’ve done with my friends on no budget. The knowledge that we’re walking a tightrope every day that we film brings a level of intensity to the production that I haven’t ever felt.

My equipment is comparably low fidelity to what I’ve seen on other film sets. I’m using an Azden 990 for the boom mic, a pair of Azden lavaliere microphones for close miking the actors, and a Zoom H4N to capture all of the sounds and then we’re dumping all of the takes from the day onto the director’s computer. Pretty standard stuff, I’ve been putting some thought into bringing a few of my recording pieces along but I don’t know if they would fit into the production and I hardly have enough room to move now so an addition of a small mixer would surely anchor me when I wouldn’t need to be.  

Since we’re only filming a few days a week I’ve had time to obsess about whether or not my set up was up to snuff with other sound mixers in the known universe and boy am I confused! From what I can tell on the internet and by just googling “production sound mixer” there is no perfect set up. People are using Zooms, they’re using laptops, and they’re using stand-alone mixers with recording capabilities. It reminds me of where audio engineering was about twelve years ago. I recorded some of my first demos on a precariously set up karaoke machine, then a Tascam four track cassette recorder (the blue one), and from there I worked with local guys who said that you had to either use Cubase or a digital multi track recorder (the portastudio is the particular model that I learned to hate). After that I went to school and found out that I was supposed to be recording onto DAT tapes and dumping everything into Protools for a final mix down. Seven years later I’m using my laptop and whatever other equipment I want to use to make records. On my snoop around film forums I discovered a new argument (that I’ve heard somewhere else) is bubbling up amongst location sound recorders: What’s the best way to record? If you do five minutes of research on B&H, Musicians Friends, etc, you’ll see that the same options that were being presented to audio engineers ten years ago are now being presented to location sound recorders (engineers? mixers? hard working sound guys and gals!) and I think that a similar juncture is going to be reached where engineers (I decided on engineers as I was looking at equipment) begin to use what suits them best. If you’re working on Game of Thrones and you have the ability and budget to have a desk top unit with a rack mount of pre amps and mixers then you should use those to the extent of your ability, but if you’re working on a micro budget film and only have a boom mic and a field recorder then you shouldn’t feel like your project isn’t as good as the film down the road with the bigger budget.  Do the best you can with the things you have and you’ll be happy with the outcome.

I’ve included a few shots of the equipment on the production but intentionally left out anything that includes the actors, most of the production stills are being kept under wraps until further notice. I’m sure that you’ll see plenty of actors acting soon enough.