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Josh Tucker

What to do when working with a terrible mixer?

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Hey guys. I took a boom op position on a short film that's running for next few days, and I've found myself in a very interesting situation regarding set politics. Perhaps you can advise. Here's the deal:

In short, the mixer I'm working with has absolutely NO idea what he's doing. I don't mean that to say he just does things differently. I mean he's only ever been on one other set (a student film) and is almost completely clueless. I found myself having to essentially babysit him through yesterday. On top of that, the production is renting my gear, which makes me concerned to say the least. His offenses thus far have included letting tx batts die in the middle of takes (a lot), not labeling or taking reports on anything, standing directly in front of lights during a take (yes, for once I'm not the one making shadows), haphazardly miking talent to a point where we have to stop rolling to completely re-mic them, forgetting to jam TC for camera. The list goes on, and that's just in the first day! He also has no clue how to mix, scan wireless, set up IFB's, etc.

So my real question is: what do I do? The rest of the people on this project are seasoned professionals and I would love to have the chance to work with them again. I'm just concerned that the mixer's ineptitude is reflectively poorly on the whole department. I don't want to throw him under the bus. That would just make me look worse. At the same time, it's tough to stand by and watch him screw the production (to and extent that I'm not sure they'll fully realize till they get to post).

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Why not give him the boom and say "lets switch". You obviously know your gear and could probably make better use of it. Having to start with a mic in his hands and headphones on is by far better position to start out in the sound department.

Oh and...I've made most of the mistakes listed above at least once in my career. It happens, it just seems it's all happening to your department on this one show. Not good.

Good luck on making the best of a tough situation.

Eric

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His problem is he doesn't know enough to know he doesn't know enough. Be the silent hero and take the mixer aside and offer suggestions on how he might improve his skill set. Depending on his ego it just might work. You have nothing to lose.

Eric

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Pull the producer aside and tell him the truth. Tell him he needs to make a change. If it is your gear, the obvious choice is you mix and get a new boom op. If they don't want to change horses, pull your gear and wish them luck. Life is to short for BS like that.

CrewC

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I think in most cases you don't want to throw people under the bus, but if this is in fact a professional production crewed with other professionals, your the only person who has the insight and ability to recognize this guy's deficiency. The producer you inform may very well be part of the original problem, or maybe was just an honest mistake as he was referred to this guy as the nephew of an associate who needed an opportunity to break in. Is it union? I've seen instances of union shoots where they grab someone from another department who may have some inkling of what a sound job entails, rather than picking up someone more experienced, simply because of the union issue. Regardless, the guy needs to be replaced or switched to boom. Ultimately, the responsibility is not yours to make that decision, so when you inform the producer, you don't need to translate for him what the proper course of action is, just give him the facts, and it is up to him to make the right decisions based on those facts. At the end of the day, if nothing gets done, you did your part by bringing up the issue. In fact, I'd probably bring it up to the mixer mano-a-mano first. He technically is your department head and should be given the opportunity to bring up his deficiencies to the producers first if he is mature enough to do so.

**EDIT** and on the other hand, re-reading your post, you do say that it is a short film. I'm not saying that all shorts are created equally, but a common tendency is for seasoned pros to jump on a short in between other larger projects, so I've often seen tiny little shorts being crewed by heavy hitters, even bringing in jibs and cranes for little or no money, other than just a back patting favors amongst peers. You have to evaluate the production creds of the project and it's funding. What type of crew does it justify? If there are a bunch of people working under their normal rate... Keep in mind, the mixer is your immediate boss. If he needs to be replaced, he needs to go, but you do have to follow a minimum baseline of professionalism and chain of command. If there is one thing that military service has taught me, is how to do my job under terrible conditions, including senior ranking "staffing" issues.

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Not sure I would even switch him to boom. Too important of a role in our department. I'm kind of on Crews' side here. Curious how the negotiations went down, with you providing the gear and someone else working it. Why not you work your gear and get someone else to boom?

(null)

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Not sure I would even switch him to boom. Too important of a role in our department. I'm kind of on Crews' side here. ...

+1

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Wow! What an awkward situation! If circumstances are such, I think the sound mixer's deficiencies would be noticeable to the DP anyway sooner than later, because they are right there next to the sound department on the hot set.

I think it would be a good idea to discuss your situation during downtime with the DP. The DP will be able to digest all the technical complaints better than a line producer or PM. After letting the DP know and they conclude the same way you have, you have someone to backup your complaints. From there, then go to the line producer or PM and inform them of the sound mixer's deficiencies.

And keep your gear out of harm's way since the sound mixer does not really know how to run it.

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DP is camera department. He has nothing to do with sound department other than working out inter department tech issues. DP is the head of camera. Sound mixer is head of sound. Boom op works for mixer. I think you have to make your communication respectful to your chain of command and avoid any unnecessary inter-department chatter which is not productive to the issue at hand.

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When I was a utility guy trying to get more boom experience, I did a few shorts and low budget productions. On one occasion I ran into a similar situation. The guy did know the gear, he just didn't know anything else. I told him I wasn't coming back the next day unless he fixed a list of things, including sending summed pre-fade mics to the director's Comteks instead of the mix (yikes!!). He really appreciated my input, and made the adjustments.

He had never worked for another mixer, and had never worked on a "real" show. And no other guys had ever said anything. He was wondering why he wasn't moving to the next level. Eventually he left the business, having been unable to move forward.

Robert

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Unless you already have a previous and trusting relationship, I would leave the DP out of it.

I wouldn't switch positions with the mixer. Unless he is already somewhat experienced as a boom op, I don't think switching would help.

The problems you've mentioned are bad but they are also common mistakes made by everyone at some point. A lot may be due to first day nerves.

If another mixer is brought in, there's a good chance they'll want to come in with their gear and their boom op.

I think the best route to take is to remain in your positions and have a talk with the mixer. You will have to be diplomatic - which is a huge skill for a boom operator to have. Your responsibilities may be increased because you'll have to periodically ask the mixer how the batteries on the wires are looking (sometimes that's a question asked within a more experienced team because the boom op proactively asks the mixer so the change can be done on set at a more opportune time).

I think in the scheme of this being a short film (though sometimes shorts can be as long as an indie feature) and the hierarchy within your department, I would try to solve this problem with in your own house before trying make more drastic changes.

Good luck - sounds tricky.

Josh

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Hey guys. I took a boom op position on a short film that's running for next few days, and I've found myself in a very interesting situation regarding set politics. Perhaps you can advise. Here's the deal:

In short, the mixer I'm working with has absolutely NO idea what he's doing. I don't mean that to say he just does things differently. I mean he's only ever been on one other set (a student film) and is almost completely clueless. I found myself having to essentially babysit him through yesterday. On top of that, the production is renting my gear, which makes me concerned to say the least. His offenses thus far have included letting tx batts die in the middle of takes (a lot), not labeling or taking reports on anything, standing directly in front of lights during a take (yes, for once I'm not the one making shadows), haphazardly miking talent to a point where we have to stop rolling to completely re-mic them, forgetting to jam TC for camera. The list goes on, and that's just in the first day! He also has no clue how to mix, scan wireless, set up IFB's, etc.

So my real question is: what do I do? The rest of the people on this project are seasoned professionals and I would love to have the chance to work with them again. I'm just concerned that the mixer's ineptitude is reflectively poorly on the whole department. I don't want to throw him under the bus. That would just make me look worse. At the same time, it's tough to stand by and watch him screw the production (to and extent that I'm not sure they'll fully realize till they get to post).

It seems to me that some of those errors you mention are your responsibility as the boom op. You should be wiring the talent, you should make sure the batteries are fresh in the transmitters when they are put on, you should be jamming the cameras.

If the gear is new to him (it's yours right) of course he doesn't know how to use it completely. It does seem he's green but he is the one that got the job and you agreed to work with him. Just because you tattle on him to the producers doesn't mean they're going to move you up to mixer. As far as you know the producer might be his friend.

Just do your job better and help him cover his ass in his short comings. I know it's a PIA to cover someone elses shortcomings but it's only for a few days and it's not worth burning any bridges. I know this from experience. He will hang himself if the errors are too horrible but if you are the professional one on the set the others will notice and remember it.

The upside is you're making $ from equipment rental and that's the goal of a soundman really. I say stick it out unless the mixer is abusive.

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DP is camera department. He has nothing to do with sound department other than working out inter department tech issues. DP is the head of camera. Sound mixer is head of sound. Boom op works for mixer. I think you have to make your communication respectful to your chain of command and avoid any unnecessary inter-department chatter which is not productive to the issue at hand.

What's all this talk about the DP? He's got nothing to do with it. If he does have a beef with the sound dept. it will be because of the boomman not knowing his job.

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DP is camera department. He has nothing to do with sound department other than working out inter department tech issues. DP is the head of camera. Sound mixer is head of sound. Boom op works for mixer. I think you have to make your communication respectful to your chain of command and avoid any unnecessary inter-department chatter which is not productive to the issue at hand.

Tom is right on this point.

I think talking to the Mixer is the right thing to do if he knew what he he needed to know. From your description of him, this is not the case.

CC

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Offer suggestions, but be respectful of the chain of command. "Maybe try this, maybe try that?"

At the end of the day, it was the production's responsibility to choose what they thought was an experienced operator. But if he's using your gear, and you don't feel comfortable about his inexperience, then tell him. Depending on your rental agreement, you may have the option to pull your equipment. That'll get the production's attention, and open a dialogue.

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I think before you invest in any confrontational course of action, you should first (diplomatically) find out if the tracks you're getting are anything useable.

Fumbling is one thing; the useability of what's been recorded is what matters at the end of the shoot.

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It seems to me that some of those errors you mention are your responsibility as the boom op. You should be wiring the talent, you should make sure the batteries are fresh in the transmitters when they are put on, you should be jamming the cameras.

If the gear is new to him (it's yours right) of course he doesn't know how to use it completely. It does seem he's green but he is the one that got the job and you agreed to work with him. Just because you tattle on him to the producers doesn't mean they're going to move you up to mixer. As far as you know the producer might be his friend.

Just do your job better and help him cover his ass in his short comings. I know it's a PIA to cover someone elses shortcomings but it's only for a few days and it's not worth burning any bridges. I know this from experience. He will hang himself if the errors are too horrible but if you are the professional one on the set the others will notice and remember it.

The upside is you're making $ from equipment rental and that's the goal of a soundman really. I say stick it out unless the mixer is abusive.

+1

This is spot on. I always look at the boom op position like you're the 1st assistant to the mixer and the kinds of things an AC does for the camera op are the kinds of things the boom op should do for the mixer (ie: battery charging and changing, rigging, being their eyes and ears as to what's going down on, set...) You're there to make the mixer look and sound good :)

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Re: who is responsible for batteries, how is the boom op supposed to know? Other than keeping mental notes and one eye on the clock, shouldn't the mixer be telling the boom op that they need changing? He has the battery meters right in front of him, no?

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I don't want to throw him under the bus.>

Ha! then live with it. or just do it.

just don't come here to ask for a remedy. you have the options in your hand already man.

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Re: who is responsible for batteries, how is the boom op supposed to know? Other than keeping mental notes and one eye on the clock, shouldn't the mixer be telling the boom op that they need changing? He has the battery meters right in front of him, no?

A good boom op shouldn't have to be told, and the mixer wouldn't have the meters in front of him unless he us using lectros or another product that shows it. Most radios will last to six hours but batteries should be changed straight after lunch and you should know yourself when the Batts are coming to an end

Regards

Chris

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Re: who is responsible for batteries, how is the boom op supposed to know? Other than keeping mental notes and one eye on the clock, shouldn't the mixer be telling the boom op that they need changing? He has the battery meters right in front of him, no?

When a transmitter is put on an actor it should have a new battery in it. We all know how many hours a battery is going to last in a transmitter. The boom should make mental notes of what's on who, and for how long. You are right that the mixer should also be eyeballing the batt meter on the receiver and you would hope he's a team player that way, but not every mixer is like that and not every wireless system has that information on it. So ultimately it's the boom man's job to make sure the batts are good on the actors. If you're the kind of guy that likes to squeeze every last volt out of a battery then you also choose to play a game of Russian roulette concerning when that battery is going to crap out. Me? Batteries are cheap when you consider the cost of a take so I change them out on the safe side of things. What do I care, productions paying for them.

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PS. The Boom mans job is not just to hang the mic on the set. In reality you are doing most of the heavy lifting. And I'm not talking about pounds.

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I recently was flicked passed a drama job by another mixer, this being my first for on air television. Whilst I have being doing location sound for nearly 15 years, I recently moved from a very small market to a huge one. This was also the 1st job where I had an experienced boom op. As I was bought in at the last week, and the prepro was rushed, it evolved from scenes with 8 people changing to scenes with 12, all with talking lines and also being shot by two camera.

Upon meeting my boom op the day before, doing a kit, script and bottles of wine breakdown, we developed a game plan. I explained my greeness to tv drama, and he said "don't worry, I'll control the set for you, you just worry about the mix". As we progressed through the shoot, he would come up and give me tips. When the dreaded scene came upon us, he said don't worry I'll boom the whole lot. It was such a pleasure to watch him weave in between c stands, avoiding lights, and not missing a cue. He had the while set in awe. As a result of his amazing work the production said it was some of the best audio they had ever received. I said that was mainly due to my Boomie. Credit where it's due. I am forever great full to this guy, and have worked with him since. We both know where my experience level for this type of work is, and he trusts my ear as much as I value his work ethic.

What I'm saying is the it's up to you to valuate just how much you wish to help this mixer beyond being a Boomie. He may be forever grateful (as I am to Chris) to you and it may build a strong relationship for the future.

Good luck with your dilemma

P.S Thanks again Chris O'Shea, may the bottles of Marlbrough Chardonnay always stock your fridge!!

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His problem is he doesn't know enough to know he doesn't know enough.

Or, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld:

As we know,

There are known knowns.

There are things we know we know.

We also know

There are known unknowns.

That is to say

We know there are some things

We do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns,

The ones we don't know

We don't know.

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It seems to me that some of those errors you mention are your responsibility as the boom op. You should be wiring the talent, you should make sure the batteries are fresh in the transmitters when they are put on, you should be jamming the cameras.

...

Just do your job better and help him cover his ass in his short comings. I know it's a PIA to cover someone elses shortcomings but it's only for a few days and it's not worth burning any bridges. I know this from experience. He will hang himself if the errors are too horrible but if you are the professional one on the set the others will notice and remember it.

...

This is an awfully good point.

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