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David Stevens

Social skills of the Sound Mixer

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I had one situation today that really puzzled me in so many ways. 

 

Shooting a national TV commercial. It's one of the things I do for a living, no big deal. I knew some of the people in the crew from previous shoots. I felt like I had everything under control, and I did. 

 

The DP, the AC and me had worked together before. The DP remembered me, but the seasoned (read: Old) AC didn't. I rig everything up, with client monitoring and all. My client monitoring chain goes like this: G3 from bag to camera. Audio is sent via SDI to every other chain in the link: (Camera > PIX260 > Director's monitor > Client monitor) Everything is working great. The G3 is mounted with velcro to the camera after the ACs annoyed instructions. IOW, He more or less put it there himself, which I was happy about. No fuss. 

Before we shoot I check the framing, and knowing this AC is a little grumpy I'm extra cautious about frameline and reflections and whatnot. After a few takes he comments on the way I'm not in frame... Okay? Is that a compliment? I wasn't sure. Sarcasm is a Swedish way of having fun so I just let it slide, I didn't wanna acknowledge it with a big "GEE THANKS" either. He then asked me my second name. I got the feeling he was either impressed or not impressed at all but not saying what he meant. Real weird. 

 

Okay so everything's smooth sailing. We go to lunch. When we get back from lunch clients say they have no audio anymore. Okay. So time to check all the steps in the chain. Camera's fine, Pix is fine... Client monitor isn't. 

 

No one's changed nothing. Everyone was away for lunch, no cables have been rewired... 

 

And as always with commercial shoots time is of the essence and I was the only sound person on set and we were busy shooting. We decide that clients come up to set and watch from set. No biggie. We're about five takes away from wrap anyway so...Then the receiver on the camera falls off. The AC goes all "There was this one guy, but you're too young to know who he is, but he was the worst at rigging things. This is one of those rigs". You know, the rig he did himself? Pfft. I let that slide too. No big deal. We go back to shooting. Client is still in the room with us, I've let go of trying to figure out what the problem with the monitor was. There's just not enough time for troubleshooting. 

 

After a few takes the AC approaches me, like right in the middle of two hectic takes, and tells me he thinks I'm doing a bad job not fixing "my problem". Once again, I don't know if he was being sarcastic or not. And the whole camera team starts joking about it "not being my day today", when really there'd been no errors from my side at all. 

 

So okay, what could've happened with the client monitor? On the way home I jokingly thought to myself that the AC could have made a change to the director's monitor (A Panasonic, it uses a switched out SDI port as an output) just for laughs. The sound to the PIX was fine. 

 

Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but all that saying how good I was in the beginning, and then commenting on how I work? Could be an old man's way of "testing my skills": 

 

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make here is that even if he or anyone else didn't change anything, being accused of not doing your job properly under stress is extremely mean. Here's this old dude with tons of experience, having seen probably every kind of person in the business with every kind of working style, why would he want to sabotage my work, and my reputation? 

I'm not that kind of person to think bad about other people, like he did it on purpose. But I can't think of any other way this thing could have happened then someone actually actively making a change in how audio was carried from the Director's monitor to the Client's monitor. I really hope it wasn't someone pulling a prank on me. 

 

Sorry for the venting. I feel my social skills with this guy was testing, and I might have been pranked for some reason. I believe I handled it well, I didn't confront him, never talked back and never showed any stress to anyone.  Rant over

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I think you did the right thing, Olle. We have a saying in America: "never let them see you sweat." Clearly, the camera crew decided to make it an "us vs. them" thing, and there's not much you can do once they gang up on you. 

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Thanks for sharing olle. The guy had no point on you really. You acted right.

The only note i would add is that if you re doing a commercial shoot and you re counting on the video feed to get your audio to the client you re exposing yourself to a problem that you might struggle to fix than if it is your own equipment.

My view on the subject is that i see audio passing through hdsdi and to camera monitor's speaker as a bonus but not my first way to go. I always carry a small battery speaker that i can slap on a comtek in a second to fix the issue.

So if i encounter a situation like this i setup my speaker/comteks first and then test the monitor speaker. If it works i turn off my stuff but keep it around.

At var min kronor. (Or whatever)

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I had every piece of backup ready if my initial idea didn't work, so my ass was covered. I went this way because it worked, and in a digital world, if no one changes anything then it's all good. Someone did change something , and that's what screwed it up and I was out of time.

But yes, next time I'll be supplying audio to camera and make sure the person in charge of monitors also is available to me to aid me.

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It is sad when a member of the camera department shown no support.

 

I always ask the A/C when I need to touch the camera for a feed and time-code jamming,

it's the gear they are looking after.

 

I also ask if when using a radio feed, where they would prefer the receiver placed.

 

Al that helps bulid a working relationship for the shoot.

 

Once everything is working and checked that is hopefully the end of the story.

 

If something fails I always loudly ask "what has changed?"

 

If the cause is malicious then tell the 1st AD and the PM

 

The DP will plead creative ignorance!

 

But if it's your fault own up and apologise

 

mike

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I'll bet $5 that what happened is you crossed that AC without realizing it, and he took it out on you for the rest of the day.  This can happen when you are in a rush, you might have said something he took the wrong way or just didn't like your style of dealing with the camera.  There are folks who actually live for this--they feel emboldend to screw with you, ignore you, work against you in subtle ways for the rest of the job.  With this kind of social cripple the best you can do is work around them, keep things light and don't work up to a confrontation with them, which is what they REALLY live for.  It sucks but the best course of action I've found is to let it roll off you and pretend everything is all great.  Often some other crew folks will then start to see the grump for what he is….

 

I would concur that since on a commercial client monitoring is really just as important as recording good sound you might want to consider not being so dependent on the camera dept. for your monitor signal flow.   Comtek or etc feeding headsets and/or speaker from your rig directly….

 

phil p

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In the current production which I am working as boom operator; producer offend me two times front of the whole crew. I didn't comment nothing bad for him or his job before. Relationship between us was (is) "good morning" - "good morning". The first time which offend me was "you don't know how to place the boom". After the scene I talked to my sound mixer if it's all good about my "placement". He said "We don't have a problem. It's all fine. Don't worry". I didn't said nothing to the producer. The second time producer offend me; again I didn't said nothing.

 

Now I'm very angry with this person. I didn't said nothing for him and his job front of the crew. The DoP comes to me and told me "It's fucking asshole. Don't take it personal what he said."

 

If one person on set start to offend, "scream" with or without reason; for me it is totally unprofessional. Doesn't matter how many years of experience have in her/his back. I took my lesson: Professional has nothing to do if he/she doing good or bad job (as result, like good mix track), but the way who react with others on set (and before the on set).

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I was thrown in the back of a Bronco with the director driving (who was also the lead actor), and Michael Madsen, to pick up some last minute dialog that the director had probably written during breakfast. Once the cameras were locked down, without any rehearsal, he went screaming off into the desert at top speed like I wasn't even there, even though I reminded him numerous times before the camera rolled. My Nagra literally hit the roof of the Bronco before I insisted that he stop the vehicle and let me and my equipment out immediately.

 

He fired me on the spot. I had to walk back about a half mile with all my gear to the production office, where I promptly reported that I was fired and needed my last check. At that point, the producer threatened to shoot me if I left.

 

I left. And cashed the check faster than that Bronco sped off into the desert...

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Thanks, Jeff! He was a piece of work for sure. Thankfully, they paid so little attention to sound, that they never even noticed me or my camera at all! I never brought a camera to set before (or since), but when I saw the way things were going, I figured I would try to capture some of this. Not too worried about repercussions, because the director has vanished, and the producer is in jail!

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Nice group to be working with. I am happy to say that in my 45 years in the business I have never been on a job that has gone the way that one did. There have been a few doozies but no where as extreme as your experience.

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Was on a reality shoot recently. One of the CameraOps / 2nd DP said he didn't need any information on the slate, only needed to see the timecode numbers.  I told him that editorial informed me they wanted everything labeled (Roll, Scene, Take).

 

2nd DP: "You're only on this show for 2 days.  You don't know how this all works.  I don't need all that info on the slate."

 

Me: "Oh, you're one of THOSE, DPs aren't you?"

 

His stare at me said it all....

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Just re-found this and wanted to contribute. 

 

Thirding with a mixer who did his own wires. He sends Famous Actress to me for wiring because she'd proven difficult. Sometimes a simple change can help.

 

Body language tells me she's all pouty and fussy at being wired.

 

Walk up to her saying, "Wipe that frown off your face Ms. Ryan. Let's go." No problems thereafter.

 

Chancy but it worked.

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Walk up to her saying, "Wipe that frown off your face Ms. Ryan. Let's go." No problems thereafter.

Chancy but it worked.

I'm pretty sure the delivery of such line greatly affected the reaction received. I find that one must not only choose words properly when talking to talent/actors/cast (and others), but also the emotional delivery on which said words are contextualized.

That and having a likable personality wouldn't hurt ;)

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Just re-found this and wanted to contribute. 

 

Thirding with a mixer who did his own wires. He sends Famous Actress to me for wiring because she'd proven difficult. Sometimes a simple change can help.

 

Body language tells me she's all pouty and fussy at being wired.

 

Walk up to her saying, "Wipe that frown off your face Ms. Ryan. Let's go." No problems thereafter.

 

Chancy but it worked.

 

And today's hero is…Jan M!

 

phil p

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Wow, Jan, that needs some good skill at politics.

 

A few years back, we had this actress appearing an hour late, spilling coffee across basically the whole makeup room, not co-operating with wardrobe at all, and when I was on my way to wire her, everyone was warning me that she had a really bad day.

So I go in, start wiring her while doing a bit of basic small talk like "did you like yesterday's dinner", pretend I don't know anything of what makeup and wardrobe girls told me, and when 2 minutes later she asks, in a friendly and relaxed tone, if we shouldn't start wiring, it's already done.

Turns out nobody had even said Good Morning or How Are You to her. Everybody was just stressing out.

 

On another strange shoot, AD repeatedly didn't let 1st AC and boom op watch rehearsals. From day 1, they were only allowed to come in for the first take. Of course, usually there were focus and boom issues. We didn't quite find a way to deal with this guy. Any approaches?

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I'm glad this topic came up, because I've been dealing with a DP all week who keeps telling me how to do my job in front of everyone, down to the littlest detail.  At one point they were going to hop in a car real quick for some b roll shot, but they wanted audio, but they didn't want me or my gear in the car (yeah, ok).  I offered to put a camera mic on so they'd at least have something, and the DP goes on to loudly explain to me how to attach a microphone to a camera.  He insists he can just gaff tape MY mic to the handle of an F55, and that "it shouldn't be too loud" (the inevitable handling noise) and I tell him that's not going to work, I would like to at least use a shock mount.

 

He forbids this, as it will "restrict his movement." Uh, ok. But not to worry, because "he can teach me how to mount it so it won't make any noise."  We wind up settling on me freaking wrapping the mic in foam and bongo tying it to the rail.  All of this is, of course, right in front of the producer and director. He graciously stood over me and provided clear and concise instructions for how to achieve such a marvel of engineering. 

 

Smash cut to five minutes later as they drive by and...........three of the four windows in the car are rolled down.

 

I don't know how to deal with shit like this at all.  I have a, let's say...aggressive personality (I don't mind saying what I think) and I will likely wind up just making it worse, so I just keep my mouth shut.  The problem is that the producer and director are buying this crap.  I had to mount the mic that way because the producer sided with him on how I should mount a mic.  HOW IS THIS EVEN UP FOR DISCUSSION? HOW ARE THE PRODUCER AND FREAKING DIRECTOR PART OF THIS PROCESS?

 

I can't figure out if it's because I'm 27 and he's probably in his early sixties, but that doesn't make any sense because why would they be paying me $1000 a day to ignore me and not listen to anything I say?  How do we all think it would go if I started telling him where to set up his camera and what lens he should use and what iso/shutter/aperture he should shoot at?  That would be idiotic.  It would undermine his authority on the subject he was being paid to have an expertise in.  It would be unprofessional, and on a personal level deeply disrespectful.

 

Anybody have a solution besides hoping he walks out into traffic and spares me having to listen to any more of his decrees?

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While there are sometimes things you can do to address such situations, at other times the best approach is to remind yourself that you're being paid $1000 a day to put up with the crap -- and since this is likely a crew you'd rather not work with again, it's fairly easy not to care.

Quite some time ago I came to accept something that has made my life much easier. It's not my job to give them the best sound I possibly can. It's my job to give them the best sound I can within the conditions they give me to work under.

Yes, try to fight the good fight, and then know when to accept that you're being paid rather well not to care about their crap.

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It's almost like they pay us so much just so they can shrug it off when the sound is crap.  "I mean, we got a pro and we paid him a lot of money, so it's the best we could do."  That's much easier than actually allowing me to improve the sound I can deliver.  I just sometimes have a problem wrapping my head around the fact that I get paid a lot of money to not do my job properly.  I feel like a farmer that the government pays to grow extra food that's just going to get thrown away.  

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