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David Stevens

Social skills of the Sound Mixer

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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?

It shouldn't I am 28 and never have this problem, next time try offering the illusion of control. Decide what you think are the two best options and offer them as the only two choices, they will pick one and feel like they made the decision (works great on toddlers :-P)

The sad thing is though I have had to change how I deal with people normally to avoid this sort of situation.

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why would they be paying me $1000 a day to ignore me and not listen to anything I say?

I have come to the conclusion that a substantial part of this is damages

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There's a set phenomenon I heard tell of that veterans referred to as "Blood in the Water", an atmosphere in which the first to bleed is thereafter universally known among the crew to be a weak link. When pressure mounts, the scabbed one becomes scapegoat and focus of anyone's frustration-related rage. Failure to respond to the first strike with élan leads to further and ever more frequent strikes and ultimately a feeding frenzy.

 

"Bleeding" includes but is not limited to arrogance with a dash of ignorance, disrespecting other departments, publicly losing one's temper, running around like a headless chicken, and/or sweating.

 

Do all of the above things not at all or in private lest the equally afraid, angry, sweaty masses decide to make you the focus and relief valve for their collective angst/sadistic pleasure.

 

Blood in the Water sets require a great deal of offensive/defensive posturing energy and are not that pleasant. Permission and encouragement to bite someone who shows weakness typically originates and spreads from one influential individual whose toes you tread upon at your peril. 

 

Don't mean to suggest that any one of you might have started such a situation, but it happens. There's a political manners minefield out there that can critically wound your reputation. There's a lot of stuff to keep straight in the bouncy back end of the production truck that is what we do.

 

 

Allow me to relate an early potentially disastrous boom experience:

 

The magnificent boom op Paul Koronkiewicz got his foot run over. Bill Daly called me in a panic. Could I cover. "I've never boomed. You know that right?" He's says he doesn't care. Get down here ASAP. 

 

I'd just gotten into the union.

 

It was the last episode ever of the show.

 

Tech room. 8 people talking under the many pin lights.

 

Stood there many minutes trying to find my way through and around them and was terrified.

 

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, "I will always leave you a way in."

 

OK.

 

It was the DP to whom I will ever be grateful.

 

Maybe he took pity on me, knowing I'd not before.

 

I might as easily have provoked a nip and bled.

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I just did a doco about a grandma, director insisted on one of the IV's being outside, right next to a main highway..

Despite me mentioning several times it was a waste of time and we needed a new location we rolled on for 45mins.

Now I have to email the producers and explain before they see/hear the footage that it was the directors call, not mine. (cam op was on my side)

Often I wonder why people pay me so much to ignore my advice!

 

Grant.

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A Kenny Rogers song might say it best ("The Gambler", by Don Schiltz):

 

You've got to know when to hold 'em

Know when to fold 'em

Know when to walk away

Know when to run.

 

Sounds like you should have held them. There is almost always a way to defuse a confrontation like you described, stand your ground, and still have everyone smiling (except maybe for the DP :)).  

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This is a great thread. It's not about connections we're used to wiring (as those are much more predictable) ~ but others that get wired wrong or go bad. I've always been a little wary of what to say, so I keep professionally quiet on location. I learned under a fussy, but always (ten minutes later) friendly soundie, who taught me an awful lot about the sensitive subject of social set skills.

Sometimes it's simply not enough (nothing works), but in the end, it's a bad idea to become embattled and angry. I've never seen this work out good. I see no good place for ego, headiness, curtness, or reactionary attitudes. It stays on you like a stain for the day, or stains your area reputation.

Another mentor, this super primadonna, high tension DP, taught me volumes of 'what not to say' and 'how not to act', as I would usually get the call for return work, and I'd notice that this time...the production brought their own DP. Later at lunch, I'd often hear their criticisms of ego and attitude, and figure I did right. 

Nowadays, I'll sometimes joke that 'the sound department should be seen but not heard...unless there's a problem'. I save my mouth for these moments, then I put on a smile, pull out ALL of my diplomatic skills, do my best to impart my interest in protecting (not just gathering) their sound, and quietly suggest a solution or two. If they don't listen, I put a note in the sound report, and move on.

At the very least, it's my job to gather good sound, and advise when I can't. What they choose to do is their decision. 

 

 

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This is a great thread. It's not about connections we're used to wiring (as those are much more predictable) ~ but others that get wired wrong or go bad. I've always been a little wary of what to say, so I keep professionally quiet on location. I learned under a fussy, but always (ten minutes later) friendly soundie, who taught me an awful lot about the sensitive subject of social set skills.

Sometimes it's simply not enough (nothing works), but in the end, it's a bad idea to become embattled and angry. I've never seen this work out good. I see no good place for ego, headiness, curtness, or reactionary attitudes. It stays on you like a stain for the day, or stains your area reputation.

Another mentor, this super primadonna, high tension DP, taught me volumes of 'what not to say' and 'how not to act', as I would usually get the call for return work, and I'd notice that this time...the production brought their own DP. Later at lunch, I'd often hear their criticisms of ego and attitude, and figure I did right. 

Nowadays, I'll sometimes joke that 'the sound department should be seen but not heard...unless there's a problem'. I save my mouth for these moments, then I put on a smile, pull out ALL of my diplomatic skills, do my best to impart my interest in protecting (not just gathering) their sound, and quietly suggest a solution or two. If they don't listen, I put a note in the sound report, and move on.

At the very least, it's my job to gather good sound, and advise when I can't. What they choose to do is their decision. 

 

 

​Could not have said it better. 

Stuck to that bolded rule my entire career. It's a 'lead-by-example' thing.

Not too long ago decided that my invisibility strategy was not making me the memorable sound mixer my career needed me to be, so continue to develop and deploy quietly-delivered memorable moments. Difficult to be visible/vulnerable, but there it is.

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There's a set phenomenon I heard tell of that veterans referred to as "Blood in the Water", an atmosphere in which the first to bleed is thereafter universally known among the crew to be a weak link.

​Best anecdote on this site all year! Thanks for sharing that one, Jan.

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Well I've dined out on this one! One more time!

Asked by a PM did I need a second boom for the rest of the shoot on a stage.

Checked with the Director and DP and they said yes so told the PM.

Next day the American exec producer say to me "working behind my back - no second boom"!

My reply "hey you're in charge no problem"

Guess he learned more about the situation and my honesty.

He returns 20 minutes later and says "Mike give me a hug"!

My reply "give me a kiss coz I love that when I'm being f*cked"!!!!!

Did 3 more shows for him after that and he always sends me a Christmas card since!!

mike

 

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I recently had a director piss me off beyond belief, but I kept my mouth shut for better or for worse.  I was booming and mixing a reality style show in Tokyo - inside a small ramen restaurant with very little space, two hosts sitting at the bar eating bowls of ramen.  I had the dp confirm that my boom will be out of frame and casting no shadows for the next shot.  I boomed from behind the dp, with the director standing right behind me (super small space to work with).  Shortly after we begin rolling, the director reaches out and grabs my boom pole, trying to pull it away from the shot, causing it to bang around the lights and walls, of course yielding a useless take for audio. 

In that moment my gut desire was to knock him down to the ground, I was furious.  I'm assuming he thought that the boom was in the way or casting shadows.  This guy had no ifb to monitor the sound (he refused my offer), had no visual monitor to see the shot, and perceived that what I was doing was only getting in the way.  He also had way too much confidence in the hidden radio lavs I wired up, and insisted that I don't need to boom, which I would argue is not a good idea.  

I did and said nothing of him knocking my boom pole around in the middle of a take.  I didn't mention it to anyone else, I just maintained a calm professional attitude for the rest of the day, and inside I felt like I was a push-over.  I wonder if it would have been better to speak up.  The director didn't seem to know much about sound, but had a huge head of confidence and ego.  There were many poor sounding shots on that gig, and I know that if the director just let me do my f*** job, the production quality would have been higher. 

Certainly its not the last time I'll be working with these kinds of people, and I'm trying to learn the best way to handle it.   

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5 hours ago, edantron said:

Certainly its not the last time I'll be working with these kinds of people, and I'm trying to learn the best way to handle it.   

Writing a post recounting your experience is a first step toward handling it better next time. Congratulations!

Your continued reflections will yield response options that you can more easily pull from your pocket when it happens again.

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Yes, once you know what to say, and when and how, you should definitely speak up in such a situation. It's not really something that can be taught as it will be different each time and with each person. One possible way would be to start it as a joke.

I've had an actor the other day, who I knew doesn't like being laved, and makes a big fuss about it. Yet I had to approach him a few times during a day to correct the mount or change batteries. For maybe the third time I came to him with a smile and said something like "you won't believe it, but I have to work on your lav again!". Nothing special, but it turned the whole thing into a running joke. Next time, he was already laughing when I approached him again.

This may not work on everyone, though

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I worked one long day on a reality show where the main subject was training for a race. We were filming at night in a park. Our main subject, who was also the producer was running with his coach and we were in two golf carts, leading them. I was next to the cameraman in the back of the first golf cart and the director was in the front seat with the driver. 

 

At one point, the two runners stopped and started chatting. The director started to talked into the cameraman’s ear and in the process said to cut. So he did and lowered the camera. Our subject went off the handle and started screaming “Did you cut?! Why would you cut?!” The cameraman calmly responded that the director had told him to do so. This of course, infuriated the subject more and he started to yell at the director to get back in the golf cart and to never tell the camera to cut. 

 

Obviously, none of this was the cameraman’s fault. It was an accident by the director. But the cameraman calmly took the yelling. And he responded to the subject’s irate questions with “Yes, sir” (to the question of if he had cut). The cameraman had been in the marines and I think that was the main reason for his calm demeanor. There was nothing to be gained by “fighting back.” In fact, the only gain could come from acknowledging that we had cut and being ready to re-engage filming. Arguing over blame was like spinning your wheels in the snow. 

 

We take pride in our work and we need to have a bit of ego and confidence to put up with the personalities and long hours. But those same qualities can cross a fine line into feeling like you have to stand up against being disrespected. We’re not saving lives here. I’m not always successful, but I like to think I try to keep that calm exhibited by that cameraman.

Josh

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17 hours ago, edantron said:

 the director reaches out and grabs my boom pole, trying to pull it away from the shot, causing it to bang around the lights and walls, of course yielding a useless take for audio. 

That's a tough one, and I think that's quite possibly the rudest things one could do to a boom op (edit: or a mixer). It's similar to grabbing a camera and pushing it by the lens during a take, to redirect the framing, in my opinion. I've had my boom gently lifted out of a shot by a shooter before, perhaps as he widened the shot some. But what that Director did was out of line, yes. First, though you may feel stepped on, you did right, by not speaking up. Collect your wits, and watch for it again. 

In cases like this, I'll wait until the right moment (depending on the urgency of the situation) and have a polite chat with the offending soul. I may lead off with the attention getting line of "look, I know this audio is important, but we're not getting the audio we need to get this cut. Did the boom dip into the shot on that last take?...because the lavs are not doing the work we need them for, and I feel that the boom is going to be critical."

I may have already cued the last (busted) take, and have the cans ready to put on his head, to actually hear the the lavs and the boom on the last take (including all the handling noise he just caused), and ask politely for a re-take. If I'm not sure if this particular audio clip is critical, I'll first consider this phrase: "Is this audio important at all...I mean does this audio matter here?". They usually sit up straight and chime right in: "Oh yes, we need this audio...", at which point we have that little private chat. I practically whisper it, too.

If there were already poor sounding shots before that point, by all means, have that chat sooner, and avert the bad audio situation in general, before it gets down to self-appointed boom grabbers, and misunderstandings.

Edited by Rachel Cameron

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I have had the privilege of working with some of the best First Assistant directors in the UK. I have always found that give them respect and they will respect you and your job. One guy I work with knows that if I come on set then there is a problem.

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3 hours ago, Malcolm Davies Amps CAS said:

I have had the privilege of working with some of the best First Assistant directors in the UK. I have always found that give them respect and they will respect you and your job. One guy I work with knows that if I come on set then there is a problem.

Exactly. You are winning respect; not ordering.

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      About 20 years ago I was working in Japan on the Madonna "Truth or Dare Film"...  We were in a huge posh hotel bathroom with 20 mirrors...  Madonna was having some hair done in the big tub area...also loaded with mirrors...  I was standing there for a moment thinking about my approach... The director looked at me and said.... "just put the mic over there behind the perfume bottles..."   I looked at him and said, "they are 10 feet from the action, Alec, how long have you been a sound guy?"  He just looked at me....   I think he got the point...  

 

I also had a funny exchange with Mr. Bay on a Commercial also many years ago...  I was doing some playback and he kept looking partially back in my direction and mumbling start points for the playback.... I said, Michael...  Look at me and tell me where you want it played back from, because we both know if it starts somewhere else, you'll chew my ass out...  I'll play it back from anywhere, just please be clear....  He just looked at me....  Never said anything negative ....  I think he dug it...

 

I love being politely blunt... 

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On 3/28/2016 at 0:56 AM, edantron said:

I boomed from behind the dp, with the director standing right behind me (super small space to work with).  Shortly after we begin rolling, the director reaches out and grabs my boom pole, trying to pull it away from the shot, causing it to bang around the lights and walls, of course yielding a useless take for audio. 

Call me crazy, but if this had happened to me, I would've walked. I try to be nice and cooperative up to a point, but there is a line that gets crossed. 

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3 hours ago, Marc Wielage said:

Call me crazy, but if this had happened to me, I would've walked. I try to be nice and cooperative up to a point, but there is a line that gets crossed. 

Me too.

I heard an anecdote years ago about a feature film shooting in France. A well established French sound mixer worked on the first day of shooting but on the second day a different chap turned up. When questioned, he said that he was the new mixer, as the first one deemed the picture "not worthy of him".

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11 hours ago, Marc Wielage said:

Call me crazy, but if this had happened to me, I would've walked. I try to be nice and cooperative up to a point, but there is a line that gets crossed. 

I'd probably say, "Don't worry, camera and I are on the same page; we're getting what you need and not getting in each other's way." Maybe add quietly and without bile, "Hey [camop's name], we need to redo that shot."

Now that I think of it, I have said stuff like this in situations like this...not with someone physically moving my boom, but overdirecting me when I/we had everything under control. In my cases, it was with a producer or director who lacked confidence, is spending their own money, just generally overstressed, or a dick.

Whatever. No need to put up with repeated abuse. But one misstep by the director? Stand my ground and try to make the situation bearable. If I'm ready to split, what's the harm in trying to improve things? And you know, that often works out for the best.

If it happened again, I might be following you, Marc, out the door.

And ya, there are former clients for whom I'm not available. 

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11 hours ago, Jim Feeley said:

Whatever. No need to put up with repeated abuse. But one misstep by the director? Stand my ground and try to make the situation bearable. If I'm ready to split, what's the harm in trying to improve things? And you know, that often works out for the best.

I think that's reasonable. It takes a lot to push me up against the wall. In my post sessions, I've only walked out on one session, and that was when I had a toe-to-toe screaming match with legendary director Russ Meyer. I stormed out and yelled at the boss, "that's it! I quit! That guy's crazy!", but the boss got us to sit down and work out our differences. I wound up doing 8 more films for Russ, and we got along famously over the next year or so. There are some directors who like to push your buttons and find your breaking point, and once they know where that is, they back off. I think Russ was one of those. Very interesting guy.

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On 31 March 2016 at 0:02 AM, al mcguire said:

"I love being politely blunt..."

I also have that genetic condition, I've learned to dilute it a bit with humor.

 

Al in the same vein I have my  friend who is arguably Europe's finest film caterer. He has a sign in his kitchen truck that says: We do not add salt whilst cooking. We do however sprinkle every thing with sarcasm whilst serving.

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14 hours ago, Marc Wielage said:

I wound up doing 8 more films for Russ, and we got along famously over the next year or so. There are some directors who like to push your buttons and find your breaking point, and once they know where that is, they back off. I think Russ was one of those. Very interesting guy.

Great story. Best one I heard isn't from production, but academia. Comes from a friend who's now a philosophy prof. He's a student sitting in the first session of a class taught by the brilliant but strict Tim Scanlon (iirc). One guy walks in late to the class, Scanlon points at him and yells, "You're late." The student points at Scanlon and yells back, "Scanlon, an idiot can see that I'm late," and then he takes a seat. My friend is kinda freaked. The class proceeds.

Story goes, the guy and Scanlon end up getting along famously, and Scanlon ended up being his doctoral advisor...

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