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David Stevens

Social skills of the Sound Mixer

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We work in an industry of large ego's and personalities, usually in high pressure environments. Inevitably, arguments and tirades make their way onto set. What have you seen? How have you diffused the situation? How would you deal with an actor throwing a transmitter across set or a stressed out AD that insists on rolling without sound, etc. Would love to hear the horror stories and the creative solutions you've used on problematic sets. 

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< an actor throwing a transmitter across set >

 

that is truly terrible behaviour. damages to be borne by producer. but for assurances from Director and Producer that such behaviour will not be accepted again, i will suspend work. 

 

<a stressed out AD that insists on rolling without sound>

Not acceptable, unless it is a highly critical situation and sound is not ready/having issues. like a sunrise/sunset shot or something equivalent. In other situations, i would insist on a retake and have a proper talk with the AD. 

 

-vin

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Sometimes you just have to know when its ok to push back, especially with actors! (Use your intuition on this one)

 

I was on set with an actress well known for being EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to work with. She would walk all over everyone on set and was just a total bitch. I, on the other hand, didn't put up with her shit from day 1. Whatever she dished at me I gave it right back and then some. Everyone on set was a bit shocked at what I was telling her and even she couldn't believe it. Apparently, in her warped mind, that was enough to win her respect. From that moment on she was very nice to me and let me do my job. The rest of the crew however was open game for her.  >:D

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The AD it can get rough, but I've always had a good enough relation to make sure we get what we need. As for the actors that's a crap shoot. You're always gonna get you share of people who don't respect or care what you're doing. (even though it may determine wether or not they have to redo they're performance in post) Most of the people I've worked with (at this staged) have been pretty level headed, but I've heard stories of how people don't want to wear packs. Which in the end is only screwing them. 

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Shooting on location in a super fancy house for an indie feature. The home owners were renting out one of their bedrooms to this... lady.

One day, during the middle of a take, the lady walks through the set and opens the front door to leave. On the other side was a bigger-name actress waiting for her cue to enter the scene.

The actress was surprised and says, "Excuse me," trying to move out of her way politely.

The lady grabs the actress' arm, drags her into the entryway, screaming about how she "never wanted to have a dumb movie in her house" and wanted everyone to get the hell out. 

The actress falls over. The lady keeps dragging her through the entryway. Still screaming. 

Pandemonium.

My mixer taps me on the shoulder, points at the flashing red recording light, then at the entryway. I pointed my boom at the action and tried to look nonchalant.

Now we have the AD, the homeowner, the director, the producer, all yelling with the lady. She won't let the actress even stand up.

Apparently the actress' husband was a lawyer... so... we had funding.

 

Still one of the weirdest moments I've ever witnessed on set, albeit hilarious in retrospect. 

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The quickest way to get respect among crew people is to do your job and not get your personality on,  esp. in situations that could slow us down.  When attacked, stay on task and on topic to the extent you can--you don't have to knuckle under but you don't need to "go there" with the person attacking you.  I think it was Ed Greene who said (when talking about doing the live TV sound for high-pressure projects like awards shows) that he tries to keep the mind set that the people yelling at him are yelling at the problem at hand, not him--they don't really know him.  This can be hard to maintain when things starts to fall apart--I know it is hard for me.  But I don't think anyone can get away with the sort of behaviour Chuck Wilborn kind of bragged about in some recent interviews anymore, no soundie is that important.

 

Yes, I have had actors throw transmitters, rip them off and jump up and down on them, flush them down toilets, and try, in their rages, to break them with their bare hands.  The production paid for repairs in all cases, I'm glad to say.

 

philp

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But I don't think anyone can get away with the sort of behaviour Chuck Wilborn kind of bragged about in some recent interviews anymore, no soundie is that important.

My internet skills are to no avail... link to the interview(s)?

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Recent Trew-Coffey audio magazines,  I thought he was somewhere else recently too, like the 695 mag or CAS journal?

 

philp

Ecgh. I'm not subscribed to those. 

I'll soon fix this. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction!

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I recall the interview and would caution any newcomer about trying to mimic the antics that he related. 

 

Keep in mind that he was sharing incidents that took place over an entire long career rather than offering what should be typical, on-set behavior.  Also a lifetime of rapport with peers is much different than a beginner striving to be noticed.

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I recall the interview and would caution any newcomer about trying to mimic the antics that he related. 

 

Keep in mind that he was sharing incidents that took place over an entire long career rather than offering what should be typical, on-set behavior.  also a lifetime of rapport with peers is much different than a beginner striving to be noticed.

He was also a star, inasmuch as a production mixer can be a star, and was working in a period in history when soundies got a lot more deference than they do now....

 

philp

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I really want to know more about him... any idea as to which issue the interviews were in? Or maybe who was interviewing.

Currently sifting through online archives of each of the above listed magazines/journals.

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I really want to know more about him... any idea as to which issue the interviews were in? Or maybe who was interviewing.

Currently sifting through online archives of each of the above listed magazines/journals.

 

I was curious as well so I dug a little and found them. Here on page 36 and here on page 56.

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I was curious as well so I dug a little and found them. Here on page 36 and here on page 56.

 

Classic. I think great directors and producers don't want "yes men" for technicians -- they want people who can be both tactful but honest. Very tough balance. 

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Classic. I think great directors and producers don't want "yes men" for technicians -- they want people who can be both tactful but honest. Very tough balance. 

Agreed. This was honestly a really awesome read.

Although I doubt I'll be trying any of his tactics any time soon.

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I was curious as well so I dug a little and found them. Here on page 36 and here on page 56.

 

Thanks for posting these! I enjoyed reading through them! Though, I agree with the overall feeling here. I don't think I would pull many (if any) of his stunts.

 

 

Classic. I think great directors and producers don't want "yes men" for technicians -- they want people who can be both tactful but honest. Very tough balance. 

 

+1. This is what I think is essential. Sometimes it is difficult to deal with directors/producers. It can feel as though they forget you are trying to represent their best interest in regard to sound and the film overall.

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It all really depends on the personality.  Since the boom op is usually the spokesperson for the mixer, I tend to try and introduce myself to everyone on set so that I can gauge their personality. 

 

I've had to deal with AC's who don't want me touching the camera and yet when I ask them to sync TC or run tone to the camera, they will push away and say thats not their dept, when in reality, it is.  Usually, if this happens, I tell the AC that we both need to bring this issue up to the DP, Mixer, and AD in order to get a resoultion.  Usually, atfer I say that, their EGO will back off and will attempt to help me since they don't want to be seen as someone hindering the process.

 

ADs will vary when comes to their knowledge of sound.  A majority of them only care about "THE SHOT" and will forget about sound entirely and just say "role camera, ACTION".  This will give me an indication that I'm dealing with an amatuer and will attempt to pull them aside and explain to them how to call a proper role.  I try not to call anyone in front of everyone because its un-professinal.

 

I have lost my cool though, once with a DP and once with an AD as a boom operator.  The DP was on a dolly in a room and would forget to tell me how far out he would dolly.  I busted almost every shot, not with the boom, but with my body.  He asked me to get out of the entire scene and let the wires do the work. I yelled at him in front of everyone and told him that was like him shooting this entire scene with a DSLR.  Somehow he understood and we worked out a compromise.

 

As for the AD, he was major amatuer but the DP and I knew this what we were getting into and decided to role with it.  After day 3 of improper role calls, yelling, and screaming on his end.  We both lost our cools and called him out 2 different times in front of everyone.  He did everything correctly after both the DP and I had to explain the role of AD and how they need to be attentive to both Camera and Sound.

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I've had to deal with AC's who don't want me touching the camera and yet when I ask them to sync TC or run tone to the camera, they will push away and say thats not their dept, when in reality, it is.  Usually, if this happens, I tell the AC that we both need to bring this issue up to the DP, Mixer, and AD in order to get a resoultion.  Usually, atfer I say that, their EGO will back off and will attempt to help me since they don't want to be seen as someone hindering the process.

 

A few months ago, I worked with a 2nd AC who didn't know how to sync the camera (a garden-variety Alexa.) He only admitted that he had never jammed the camera (and why!) after we ran the first setup, when I asked him about the timecode.

 

Both the 1st AC and the DP then proceed to try to throw me under the bus, since I was delaying the next setup because _I was trying to sync their camera_ (!!) I should have refused to touch the camera and let them embarass themselves, but I chose to be a team player, because we had a lot of shots to do.

 

To top it all off, they ran that first setup (seven takes' worth) at 24fps, rather than 23.98, because the 2nd AC clearly didn't know what he was doing. Obviously, I made sure Scripty made a note of that, but I never received an apology or even aknowledgment from the camera department that they fucked up.

 

Probably the most bizarre experience I've ever had on a film set…

BK

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Blas, kudos to you for being the team player and problem solver. Hopefully, your actions will resonate with these "professionals" next time they are on set and are setting their camera, and they will actually think twice and do things right. :/

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A few months ago, I worked with a 2nd AC who didn't know how to sync the camera (a garden-variety Alexa.) He only admitted that he had never jammed the camera (and why!) after we ran the first setup, when I asked him about the timecode.

 

Both the 1st AC and the DP then proceed to try to throw me under the bus, since I was delaying the next setup because _I was trying to sync their camera_ (!!) I should have refused to touch the camera and let them embarass themselves, but I chose to be a team player, because we had a lot of shots to do.

 

To top it all off, they ran that first setup (seven takes' worth) at 24fps, rather than 23.98, because the 2nd AC clearly didn't know what he was doing. Obviously, I made sure Scripty made a note of that, but I never received an apology or even aknowledgment from the camera department that they fucked up.

 

Probably the most bizarre experience I've ever had on a film set…

BK

Oh, trust us, the situations can be much more bizarre than that, and far more unpleasant.  Your error here was to not lock down the sync thing before the first shot.  There can be terrific resistance to this because everyone is in such a rush to get going, but the time for this kind of setup is first thing in the day.  On a big job it sometimes helps to get your stuff together (lockits jammed etc) and visit the camera truck before they bring the cameras to the set.  Some ACs appreciate you coming to their setup time while they still have all the resources of the truck on hand re mounting and connecting your gak, so that the camera rolls onto the set really ready to shoot and they can be listening to the DP full time.

 

philp

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Thanks, José and Phil.

I usually do that first thing in the morning. My mistake in this case was assuming the 2nd AC was on top of things, instead of following up. But, then again, he never gave me an indication that he needed guidance. If he had told me from the outset that he needed help with that, I would have gladly done so without any fuss.

BK

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I guess part of the "social skills" thing is to figure out how to approach the camera folks respectfully while making clear that we have business that needs doing before shooting starts.  Most ACs are happy to have help with this, esp if you make it clear that you know that the camera is THEIR thing but we gotta do this little piece of work together and I'm here to help.

 

philp

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