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Peterpete

How important is a sound mixer?

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Hi everyone,

My question is, how important to others is the sound mixer position on a film set? I understand it's different on each set/shoot, but recently I haven't seen much respect for sound. I feel like directors care more about picture and will engage with the AC's, gaffer and lighting guys more than me. Especially on these docs, fashion, reality type stuff. I never know what's happening, I'm never addressed and I am always the one seeking information. No one gives me a run down of what's happening. If I sat there and did nothing, which happened one time because I wasn't allowed in the room due to keeping it intimate and private, I was told nothing. Just, "Okay sound we need you in there." And there were two girls in difficult outfits needing to be wired. I told them I needed time to mic these outfits and it was a, "okay just boom it."

Does anyone else feel the same? Should I expect this for these types of shoots where the picture is more important to the clients than sound? Should I be speaking up and making a fuss about being heard and noticed? Or should I be adapting my prep and routine on set a little more?

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VAS   

Welcome to the real world. Don't think it so much.
Happens everywhere in our industry.
Grab a beer and have fun!

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Matt   

It varies from production to production. I find my attitude makes all the difference in the world. Are you friendly? Do you ask them about their lives? You may have to be more actively social. But some people are just arrogant and unpleasant. Just learn to let it roll off of you. Take confidence in the fact that you can give them excellent sound IF THEY LET YOU. Pick your battles. I feel like it is my job to tell the AD (or whoever is in charge on set) about a sound problem. If they say, "Don't worry about it," then I leave it alone. I have alerted them and now THEY are responsible for the problem if it is an issue in post. Instead of pointing out problems, try to have alternative solutions before bringing it up. But, even with all this, the camera department will still be treated like kings and you'll often be an afterthought. Most directors understand and have studied the art of film visually, and really don't understand what we do. Also, paradoxically, the better you are, and the more easily you pull off difficult audio scenes, the more it you can be taken for granted because it makes it seem like an easy job. Good luck man. We are all pulling for you.


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On most jobs they won't remember you in post at all, for better or worse, sorry to tell you.  They have bigger fish to fry at that point, and posties generally just take what they are given and run with it w/o comment.  You may take this as confirming what the OP said, or just think of it as they aren't really remembering the grips, electricians, art-dogs etc etc in post either.   Some productions make it very tough, esp re attitude and lack of info etc, but it's their show and that's how they are running it.  If you are being treated as being unimportant then probably you are not that important in their plans.  Do what you can for them, don't burn your fellow crew-folks, cash the check and move on. 

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On most jobs they won't remember you in post at all, for better or worse, sorry to tell you.  They have bigger fish to fry at that point, and posties generally just take what they are given and run with it w/o comment.

Unless the sound is really bad, then they'll suddenly remember you and will have forgotten how you constantly warned them how bad the sound was going to be...

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Just now, Constantin said:


Unless the sound is really bad, then they'll suddenly remember you and will have forgotten how you constantly warned them how bad the sound was going to be...

I have not really found even this to be the case.  If the sound is that bad we are pretty busy trying to fix it, and about the last person I want to talk to at that point is the PSM. 

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I feel like it is my job to tell the AD (or whoever is in charge on set) about a sound problem. If they say, "Don't worry about it," then I leave it alone.

I agree with much if what you wrote there, but for me personally I have changed this one thing: I don't usually alert the AD anymore, I go straight to the director. This depends a bit on the actual people, but this is where I believe that I, as HoD, should go to the director. It's his film, he's going to be the only one who'll (probably) sit in post and he needs to decide for himself. I advise him on what's going on soundwise - if there are problems - but he needs to know those facts himself. I can't rely on the AD to make this decision and I want to make sure the director does get my message. I'll state it as matter of fact. If they ignore me or overrule me, that's fine. Sometimes they'll talk to me at wrap and apologize, which is fine, but I don't need it. I never take it personally.

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Film production is for the most part a visually oriented process.  Cameras shoot images, gaffers, grip, electric light and adjust mechanically so it looks good for camera, wardrobe and makeup helps the cast look better for camera and establishes the character... thus most people in the industry understand and think in visual terms.

I personally have found that there is a renaissance of respect for sound, all the way from actors, directors, (a minority of AD's - but that's their job to bust everyone's ass), and fellow crew.  However, as a team member, it is our job to slot in, to fit into the workflow, not make it bend around our specific needs.  Not to say just make it easy for everyone and be super accommodating, but each department would love to spend and hour doing something for themselves when they only have 10 minutes (or less) and need to make their time footprint on set super efficient.  In some respects, that is what makes us professional is to be able to take our years of experience and establish strategies of attack, notice problems before others do or they become problems, adjust on the fly, so that when you do go in, you can handle it quickly and without having to figure it out and having a plan B already in mind or be able to turn on a dime.

The director is a creative above the line personality, with the job of leading a technically oriented crew.  Quite frankly, a director shouldn't really be dealing with mundane technical issues with crew so much as the AD.  With respect to sound, we are technicians first and foremost.  It is helpful to have a creative background or even a film school degree or the knowledge one get's from formal artistic training, but in the context of understanding the creative and the bigger picture to help us play the chess game and be there when we need to, to pull back when not, and translate creative vision into effective technical action.  Our mission is to get the sound that post needs to do their job.  Ideally that would be good sound all the time.  Practically speaking, it varies, all the way from 1-camera, boom only, no ADR all the way to, guide track only, just make it intelligible for ADR stage looping.  Mic selection, mic placement, signal to noise ratio, modulation level, adjusting practical location elements, props, wardrobe, and interfacing with other departments to help us succeed in our mission (moving / baffling a gennie, cutting a hold in wardrobe, troubleshoot / swap a buzzing ballast).

When it comes to television production, I like to say it is 1/3 producing, 1/3 camera, 1/3 sound.  When it come to narrative filmmaking, it is 100% producing, 100% camera, 100% sound, 100% wardrobe, 100% generator operator - that is, the compromises that we make in television are not (as) acceptable in filmmaking.  Everyone comes to the game 100% and if anyone fails, we all fail.  Ok, I know this is a idealistic summary, some of those numbers are fudged a bit, but you can get my drift.  The "Sound Mixer" is always important.  Sometimes you will have a scene that is just impossible to get production quality sound from... but it is important that as the technical expert, you identify this, let the right people know, and get as good as a guide track as you can so that post can do their job when it comes time to loop, because it is near impossible to loop without a decent guide.  Hell, it's probably pretty hard to cut picture without guide, just think of all the creative types down the pipeline who need to hear dialogue but don't really give a rats ass about the quality of the dialogue.  Your not there just to serve yourself and always get "good" sound, but just something to let everyone else do their job too.  There will be that occasion where "sound" isn't that important, it's impossible to try and get, and the "Sound Mixer" is important to recognize this and step back and not slow down everyone else and gum up the process.

A lot of new to narrative mixers come from the television world.  In the past there was more of an apprentice mechanism for bringing people up through the ranks and that still happens to some degree.  I guess technically I started in narrative in indie film, but did a pretty bad job and didn't really have anyone to teach me anything.  I really got my chops doing TV and then got the chance to come back to narrative at a more mature point in my career.  Just understand, the jobs are not the same.  They are both call sound mixers and you both use microphones and mixers, but don't necessarily expect your TV experience to translate to film sets, it's not the same animal.

Peterpete, to address your specific question, why didn't your boom operator, knowing he couldn't go into the room, go to wardrobe and start asking some questions?  The room may have been locked down, but being able to converse with your fellow crew was not.  Why was the wardrobe difficult?  If you had a specific piece of gear would it have helped?  We often have to have a ridiculously large amount of gear to be able to cover different situations, which is why mixer's should have a decent size box rental to accommodate a big enough toolbox to do our job.  Who was making the decision that cast needed to be wired, was it you or was it production?  Did the boom sound good?  Was it possible the boom was a better choice to begin with?  If wiring was still the better choice, don't ask the AD, tell him, I need X number of minutes to wire cast to get adequate sound.  If he says no, then just move on and boom it, put it on your written reports, or even verbal slate that there was no opportunity to wire and do what you can.  It's important to keep your relationship with the AD a dialogue and not just a 1-sided communication, otherwise your cutting out much of your job and just being a mic holder.  Without this proactive element in your interaction, when it goes to post, why was the sound bad?  Was it a production issue or was it a crew member issue?  It's hard to say it wasn't the crew if a minimum amount of professionalism wasn't demonstrated (coming from a guy who's had a few bad sounding movies and done a lot of learning from experience).

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I have not really found even this to be the case.  If the sound is that bad we are pretty busy trying to fix it, and about the last person I want to talk to at that point is the PSM. 

I didn't mean the sound posties, I meant the director

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GJD   

This is a great topic, I think. I, personally, have been too proud to admit the emotional toll set dynamics can have on the sound or (especially) video department. These are two departments that work in conjunction with Camera dept. and the actors, yet very much behind the scenes to the point where by the time sound dept needs to address an issue, the AD dept may be out of patience.

I've learned that it's really the DP and 1st AD that drive the mood, points of communication and priority of tasks. The power of the DP makes the camera dept ever-present, and the 1st AD is negotiating the flow.

That being said, it's up the sound dept to perform a very steady balancing act. Developing a personal relationship with these two figures is KEY. They'll at least consider you on a personal level when you ask them questions and keep them posted on what's happening in your world and how it's contributing to the process. I say balancing act because you want to be social, but not social. That can be a waste of energy.

Moreover, if these efforts seem futile, the next balancing act is between taking the utmost pride in your job, and adopting the "you get what you pay for" attitude. I give very little attention to the latter mindset, as you're on the project for a long time and that negativity can lower your morale.

We all have different ways of negotiating the job, our role, etc. But the end result is always the same. Learn new tricks of the trade, invest in new toys, sign off on your finished product, collect your check and wait to see your name in the credits.

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6 hours ago, Constantin said:


I didn't mean the sound posties, I meant the director

I meant both.  No one has time for recriminations unless there is money to be made from them somehow (like insurance).

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On bigger productions they probably have the budget to afford a great post house and days of ADR which is not a total or ideal solution but it enables them to get away with more. Where it really hurts are the smaller productions with inexperienced or naive Director/DPs (when it comes to audio) or green mixers that think everything can be fixed in post.     

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mikewest   

I'm just finishing a big commercial shoot here that has allowed me to record 3 basic elements.

I have sourced 15 vital tracks from my library that will stitch the whole project together in audio post.

A sound mixer can be about contribution not just record and invoice!

mike

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And this is at least part of the future of being a soundie, says me!  Thinking for the project, outside of your location sound box, like what else can you contribute!  Well done!

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Its important to answer your own questions on this.

The answers you find within will shape how you deal with this in the future.

Eventually the experiences that add up will allow you to tell them how you do your job.

They thank you later when the job is done overly well... or they are schmucks you should let sit in the schmuck pile with all the other schmucks.

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On 2017-06-03 at 7:34 AM, Peterpete said:

Especially on these docs, fashion, reality type stuff. I never know what's happening, I'm never addressed and I am always the one seeking information. No one gives me a run down of what's happening.

[...]

Does anyone else feel the same? Should I expect this for these types of shoots where the picture is more important to the clients than sound? Should I be speaking up and making a fuss about being heard and noticed? Or should I be adapting my prep and routine on set a little more?

Well, if no one is giving you a printed or verbal run-down, it's your job to get that information from someone on set - preferably from the first or second AD.

Be talkative whenever suitable and show the team that you represent the sound department.

I don't do movies, but I do dox, reality crap and advertising. In dox and reality TV you have to step up and make sure that people get miked etc, because you only get one chance to catch the dialogue. Personally I have no problems halting a situation to get proper sound - impossible mic shadows, unable to boom, technical problems, miking someone that enters a situation etc. As long as it's not a sensitive situation where the flow shouldn't be interrupted.

In advertising it's different, picture is king and sound can sometimes just be something annoying to deal with for inexperienced directors.

They may lack basic understanding of sound and dialogue, they can lack sound discipline and talk through the takes giving directions to the DOP, the list goes on.

One way to mark you position in the team, is to always be present outside the picture frame with the boom ready. Even if they are just trying something out, you are there with the boom just to make sure that you stay out of frame. That way you are always visible to the director and the DOP.

And if they say something like, "this is a high speed take, we don't need any sound", you said, "okay, no problem, I'll stick around anyway", then you try to record some sound effects or just chill.

When the team prepares for a new scene, you step up to the AD and asks if anybody needs to be miked, and when the DOP is ready to rehearse you ask for a boom position, again showing your presence.

In one-camera productions, you should be able to get good sound on most locations, and when you can't, you tell the AD that you will need two minutes after the scene is done to record a wild track with the dialogue with the actors in position, or at a less noisy location close by. It's your job to be pretty persistent about recording a wild track when needed. The team can spend 20 minutes adjusting lights, props and optics - all you need is two minutes after the scene is done.

When there are several cameras rolling at the same time, it can be tricky to get the boom in the proper position, so make sure to tell the AD that you will need time to get everybody miked and flag for a possible wild track after the scene is done.

I'm sure you're a good sound engineer, so just stay close to the director and DOP, eavesdrop on their discussions about the scene, and be quick whenever someone needs to be miked.

The better recording job you do, the less people will notice. C’est la vie.

 

Cheers

Frederick

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mikewest   
On 6/9/2017 at 3:36 AM, Philip Perkins said:

And this is at least part of the future of being a soundie, says me!  Thinking for the project, outside of your location sound box, like what else can you contribute!  Well done!

Thanks Philip,

As I see it my contribution counts and I make sure that supplying extra material is understood

by the producer who will invite me back for the next job so it's a win win for both sides.

Additionally folks its important to speak up, ask what is needed and apply your judgement as

waiting for instructions (or not) from people who know nothing about our craft is usually of no use.

We are the experts!

mike

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In the good old days when I started a show I would have a case of beer delivered to the grip truck and the lighting truck. Afterwards, I would endeavor to see what the Key Grip and Gaffer liked in a bottle.

 

At the start of a show lots of social contracts are drawn based on 1st impressions. So best to redirect apprehension away from your department. Be inventive and social. You can always ask the D P/Director/etc about their previous films (that you have prescreened so as to know how to Brown Nose credibly). 

 

As for ADs just show them how you can save them some time and that you are on their side. No one else is on there side so you can get them to cut your department some slack.

 

Since ours is a totally misunderstood medium it is incumbent on getting along with everyone because that's all you are judged on. 

 

 

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3 hours ago, SoundHound said:

In the good old days when I started a show I would have a case of beer delivered to the grip truck and the lighting truck. Afterwards, I would endeavor to see what the Key Grip and Gaffer liked in a bottle.

 

At the start of a show lots of social contracts are drawn based on 1st impressions. So best to redirect apprehension away from your department. Be inventive and social. You can always ask the D P/Director/etc about their previous films (that you have prescreened so as to know how to Brown Nose credibly). 

 

As for ADs just show them how you can save them some time and that you are on their side. No one else is on there side so you can get them to cut your department some slack.

 

Since ours is a totally misunderstood medium it is incumbent on getting along with everyone because that's all you are judged on. 

 

 

This sums it up quite a bit. It's your job to win allies in other departments so that the respect/consideration is reciprocated when you need it.

 

And then there's this.....

I've been on jobs where I've heard, more then once, how the last sound guy they worked with was such a goober. More often then not, the "typical sound guy" they've dealt with would:

1. sit in the corner somewhere and "disconnect from everyone else on set"

2. wouldn't really say much

3. be just flat out weird

 

Now I know this doesn't speak for everyone who is a sound person. It's just "my opinion" that everyone who falls into that category will find themselves easily forgotten and always struggling to earn respect on set.

 

 

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JWBaudio   

Good to hear a lot of the different view points on how the mixer is being perceived on modern productions.  I feel that a lot of his has to do with how little they explain sound to the other departments in school, I was talking to a great gaffer last week, who had recently graduated,  and he was telling me that unless Production Sound was your focus the classes given were basic explanations of what a microphone is and some of the terminology, but nothing close to being in depth enough to allowing others to have a handle on what we require to do some good work.

 

Additionally it seems that post classes are teaching more and more to go straight to the iso tracks. I had the editor on set for a project and I was going through how I deliver my mixes and she asked why I was delivering a stereo mix, :-o and then went on to say, "yeah, I don't really use those, might use it for the first edit, but after that I'll go to the iso's". I am curious why it's seeming to become more normal to ignore the stereo mix and redo a lot of the work in post.

 

I see more people trying to bag and boom as a "one man band" where it's almost impossible to get a good mix, or if some mixers just aren't actually 'mixing' anymore and are just hitting record and going 'eh...it's good on the iso's, assuming that post is going straight to using those, and if post has started to go straight to the iso because they assume a less than perfect mix....and there's sort of bootstrap paradox that has developed...

 

As far a socialising and not being the 'guy off in the corner', if I feel the production needs it (and I can get by without a cart), I'll walk in with everything in a bag and sit down right in the room and mix from my chair and the bag. I've gotten some looks from time to time, but every time I had perfect days for sound, getting everything I needed and everything clean, in part to good location scouting, but also because I had a more natural socialisation with the cast and crew during the day, they got a better understanding of what I was doing and what I needed, I didn't have to go through a com system when I needed to talk to a 1st AD about when I could grab wild lines, and best of all, before making the call to move on, they would always remember to look over to me and double check if there was anything else I felt was needed, which I'm sad to say doesn't always happen when you're a bit removed from set.

 

My favourite is when I have production holding for an aircraft or something and all of a sudden I hear the green director shout "seems like we're clear, ACTION!" and then I have confused departments heads when I say that take was no good for sound. :-)

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Actually, the sound mixer sometimes acts as the 2nd Gaffer while on a set. 75% of the time I will plant myself where I believe I need to be based on the 1st round plan of the DP and his lighting. Then, without fail, the gaffer and DP will ask me to move because the position I picked is where they will put another light/flag/bounce.

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