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Sound Has Speed?


audio911
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I was just going to tell the story again but decided against it. Short version: film student visiting the set, spending time with me on "The Natural", asked what it was I said after they said roll camera --- are you saying "speak" so that everyone knows it's okay to start delivering dialog? I responded by explaining in great detail the origins of the term "speed" and she was writing all down and really beginning to understand, thanked me for the explanation. The next time they rolled the camera, I yelled out quite clearly "SPEAK" and she did a whole double-take and then just laughed! Well, I guess it wasn't the short version, sorry.

 

You can see her sitting beside the sound cart taking notes in her journal. "He just said speak...  I don't get it".

 

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Keeping the order is very important. We may have pre-roll, etc., but "SPEED" is our way of letting them know we're ready, since ADs don't always know what's happening before they call "roll sound".

I often have to reinforce protocol. Although my boom op takes charge by calling "speed" loudly after some eager AC slaps sticks out of turn.

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Then there was the story of someone who thought the word was SPEAK.

Eric

This might be the one you heard, Eric:

I was doing a commercial for a new Memphis politician running for office. After "Roll Sound" I yelled "SPEED!", after which the guy would start giving his lines before camera was ready. This happened several times. When the director finally asked him to wait for the word "Action", he said, "Hey, I'm a politician, and when somebody yells "SPEAK!" Then I'm going to speak. So for that day I changed the word to "turning", and "action" was changed to "speak".

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I'm a big fan of still using "sound speed". It's the quickest way to let people know my recorder is indeed recording and I am ready. What people really hear when I yell it is "OW EEEE", because the vowel sounds are the most noticeable. Unless told otherwise, I usually like to yell it really loud so everyone around knows the audio recorder is actually recording and anything they say could be recorded and that they should be quiet unless they are an actor.

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I don't follow a certain pattern, if camera is yelling rolling!!! I will yell Speed!! and vice-versa. I let people know that my department is ready (boom in position, no people talking in bkgnd, airplanes... etc) by yelling a different word.

Some people find hard to follow the 3 word rule QUIET ON SET

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Terms that are technically accurate are usually short-lived because they are boring, which is one reason we can be sure that MOS stands for "Mit Out Sound" instead of "Motor Only Sync" or "Mag Off Stripe", or the other attempts at history bubble bursting. OK, so a flash card has no moving parts that get up to speed, but I haven't seen a Gaffer with a hook pole in decades, either. 

 

I think there is no need to say "Sound Speed". For one thing, it's already our word, but for another, the first time "Speed" is heard should be from the sound department, which tells camera they can roll. The reason camera department has to add "Camera" when saying "Camera Speed" is so it's not confused as coming from the sound department. We say speed because we can. They say camera speed because they need to. 

 

gt

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" I think there is no need to say "Sound Speed". For one thing, it's
already our word, but for another, the first time "Speed" is heard
should be from the sound department, which tells camera they can roll.
"

... there is should be no need to say "Sound Speed". For one thing, it's
already supposed to be our word, but for another, the first time "Speed" is heard
should be from the sound department, which tells camera they can roll.

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Ah, tradition. One of the great things about the film business. If it worked for 84 years or so, why change now?

 

Just to clarify on Glen's post, the term "speed" goes back to the early days of sound recording, when huge 3 phase Selsyn interlock distributors were used lock together the cameras and sound recorders. The amount of time it took for the motor/generator system to reach it's operating speed (usually 1200 or 1800 RPM) would depend on how many cameras and recorders were online at the time.

 

In most studio configurations, there were usually a set of 3 lights on the mixer's panel, one to indicate the system was online, a second to show that the motor/generator was running, and a third which indicated that the system was up to speed (which was controlled by the recordist in the machine room or truck).

 

Even after Selsyn systems went by the wayside for production work (replaced by synchronous or multi-duty DC motors, and later by DC motors), they continued to be used in film re-recording well into the late 1970's, when digital interlock systems began to take over.

 

An old RCA motor-generator (made by GE) shown below. Probably from the 1930's. Although this particular system was used for DC arcs lamps, the essential operating principal remained the same, with the generator being a 3 phase Selsyn instead of a DC generator.

 

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"Speed" continues to be the perfect word for the sound department. First used in the beginning of our profession as a literal description, it reminds us of the history of our craft every time we use it. "Speed" quickly became known as the term that let all concerned know sound was being recorded, and all was well and ready to proceed. It still does. It is fast to say (one syllable) and easy to shout loudly (SPEED!). Though there is no longer anything literal about the term it is even more meaningful in that it is directly connected to the very roots of what we do. It is an old word with an pertinent history, while still being the most useful word for why we say it, which is why we should protect it like the jewel it is by continuing to use it every time we want someone to know that sound has "SPEED!".

 

"On a bell please (ring ring ring)"... "And...RRRRROLL SOUND!"... "A-Mark! (smack)"... "No...(indignant boom op)...please wait for speed"... "SPEED!"... "Second stix, A-camera (smack)"... "B-Mark (smack)"... "Set"... "And...ACTION!"

 

Embrace our word.

 

gt


 

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Wow, great historical background from Scott Smith on this! I love stuff like this. 

 

I assume there was some kind of 60Hz sync cable coming out of the camera that had to be fed to the sound room or wherever they were recording optical sound. How long did the studios have one building on the lot for the optical sound recorders, vs. coming up with portable machines that could be wheeled right into the actual studio? (This was decades before mag sound was adopted, which I assume happened in the late 1940s/early 1950s.)

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Marc,

You can read the wonderful 9 part series of articles by Scott Smith, "When Sound Was Reel", beginning with the very first issue of the 695 Quarterly, in the Spring of 2009. It's hard to believe how fast it's all gone, but the next issue will mark the beginning of the 5th year of the magazine!

http://www.695quarterly.com/695QuarterlyPDFs/695-Quarterly-2009-Spring.pdf

 

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Read it all already! Scott should write a book -- and I'll send him some bucks for the first copy!

 

It's a fascinating story. Another fascinating (but incomplete) book about early sound in filmmaking is Mr. Bernds Goes to Hollywood:

 

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Ed Bernds claims to be the guy who invented the boom pole (circa 1927) and did all kinds of stuff during the transition from silent pictures to sound pictures, winding up as the head of the sound department at Columbia Pictures for a decade or two. Fascinating story.

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Marc: To answer your question, there was a usually a big 6 conductor cable (typically at least 16 gauge or larger), which connected each camera and sound recorder to the Selsyn distributor. Three leads were for the rotor, and three leads for the stator. This was typically a 220 volt system.

 

Many of the studios had big distribution patch panels, which connected the stages to the master Selysn and the recorder(s), which were frequently in a centralized machine room. I have a photo from WB showing their, system, but don't have clearance to post it yet (Warners wants money for everything!).

 

However, the attached photo from International Photographer show an early Western Electric truck from Metropolitan Studios. In the bottom right, you can see large "pineapple" connectors which connected the cameras to the interlock system. In later systems, these were changed to Cannon "P" series connectors, which were a bit smaller. On some of the older Hollywood stages, you can still vestiges these systems scattered about. There would typically be a panel on the stage which was dedicated to sound dept. connections, with various connectors for both audio and interlock systems.

 

Similar systems were still in use for mag recording on sprocket as well, although by the '50's and '60's, many operations had switched to regular synchronous AC motors (either single phase or three phase). This meant that the camera crew could then roll at their own will, without being tied to a master distributor, while still maintaining sync with recorders (which also had sync motors). When the Nagra III was introduced in the late 1950's, there was specifically a provision on the ATN power supply to derive a pilot signal from the AC line, so that it would be compatible with many of the Mitchell cameras still in use that were equipped with AC sync motors.

 

Early location systems typically consisted of a DC to AC rotary convertor (motor-generator) mounted in the sound truck. Later systems utilized 96 volt DC multi-duty motors, which could run either AC or DC. (However, these still required eight 12 volt batteries!)

 

Ed Bernds book is a great read-highly recommended. To be fair though, there were a lot of people who contributed to the development of early sound systems (George Groves, Gordon Sawyer, Theodore Case, W.O. Watson,  Earl Sponable and Edward Kellog are a few who come to mind, but there are hundreds of others).

 

--S

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Thanks, Scott! I occasionally do a little documentary work for the ASC, and I've told them before that it'd be terrific to have all of their archives digitized (like this reproduced page from the predecessor to American Cinematographer). I can recall reading articles about the new Nagras being introduced in that magazine when I was a teenager in the early 1970s, so they've kind of been the magazine of record for a long time.

 

In fact, I seem to recall Ryder Sound Services taking out ads in American Cinematographer for the then-new Nagra 4ST machine, telling people, "stereo is coming! Get ready to record everything in stereo!" And I think this was the late 1970s. Funny in hindsight.

 

How long were they recording optical sound for studio pictures shot on Hollywood sound stages? 1950? 1951? I figured switching over to mag sound didn't happen overnight. 

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In fact, I seem to recall Ryder Sound Services taking out ads in American Cinematographer for the then-new Nagra 4ST machine, telling people, "stereo is coming! Get ready to record everything in stereo!" And I think this was the late 1970s. Funny in hindsight.

 

From a 1972 ad

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Hi Marc: Sorry, I just realized I didn't fully answer your question! I don't have all my resources in front of me, but can relate a little of what I know off the top of my head...

 

The first magnetic recording systems were presented to SMPTE by Marvin Camras in October of 1946, I believe at the San Francisco convention. However, the first samples of coated 35mm film from DuPont didn't arrive at RCA until February of 1947. In late 1948, RCA began providing mag retrofit kits for their PR-23 optical recorders. However, it is still little unclear at which point mag film took over for studio and location work, as there is mention in various articles of both synchonous and non-synchronous 1/4" recording, as well as sprocket recording.

 

Some studios (notably WB and Universal) began the practice of recording production tracks and other elements on mag in the early 1950's, but would then transfer the mag to variable-area, direct-positive 200 mil optical tracks for editing and re-recording. This may have been to do push-back from the editors, who were annoyed that they couldn't see the modulations on the film (which was solved later on by using a inscribing system which could write the moducation on the base side of the mag film).

 

According to some notes I have handy, all of the production recording at Paramount (serviced by Ryder Sound) had been moved to 17 1/2mm mag by April of 1950. Not sure if it was RCA or Westrex equipment.

 

Columbia was also doing 3 track re-recording by November of 1950. Not exactly sure when they went to mag for production work.

 

According to an SMPTE Progress Report, nearly 75% of the production recording, music scoring, and re-recording at Hollywood majors was being done on magnetic by May of 1952. Howver, despite this rapid changeover, mag film manufacturers continued to struggle with quality control issues related to mag coating well into 1954, when the first new generation of "high-output" stocks were introduced by 3M.

 

I don't know the exact year Universal Studios adopted the "tea-cart" system for stage work (some moron at Universal dumped all their early sound dept files), but my guess is it was probably 1953 or so. They did, however, have portable stage carts that were in use back in 1931.

 

These carts originally had sprocket recorders located at the back, which were later replaced with modified 3M Iso-Loop recorders (either the M23 or M56, I don't recall which). They were unique in that they could run 10 1/2" reels, which, running at 7.5 IPS, could give you an hour of recording before changing reels. Doors at the back of the cart kept the noise from the recorder from leaking onto set.

 

Later in the 1950's (and well into the early 1960's), some studios modified Ampex recorders, equipping them with Rangertone or Ryder pilot conversion systems. I have actually used an Ampex 601 recorder which had these pilot mods. There was also a kit to modify Uher 4000-S recorders (called the 1000), which was introduced around 1970. Stellavox was also on the scene by about 1962, with either the SP-5 or SP-7 (don't recall the exact release dates).

 

However, it is pretty safe to say that 1/4" did not really take off until Kudelski introduced the Nagra III equipped with the "PILOTTON" in about 1960, followed by the Neopilot version in 1962 (which was distributed by Ryder Sound in Hollywood).

 

Below are photos of the Fairchild "Pic-Sync" Recorder, and the Ryder Sound Services "Eldorado" cart, which was put into service in 1957. This cart had a 35mm mag recorder with 3000' reels, which ran at 45 FPM (as opposed to 90 FPM), so you could get over an hour of recording before re-load. It had just a basic two input mixer, which I'm pretty sure was made custom by Ryder. Bet you'd get some respect these days if you showed up with one on the lot!

 

--S

 

 

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From a 1972 ad

 

That was the ad, Bob! I remember reading that in film school and thinking (as a teenager), "gee, do they really have to record stereo on the set to make a stereo film?" Seemed peculiar to me.

 

Great info as always by Scott Smith! The earliest original 35mm magnetic master track I've ever had my hands on was the 4-track mix of a Fox film called Prince of Players, which had a Bernard Herrmann score. A late 1970s copy was already falling apart, so I requested that the studio send me something else. The '54 original showed up, and damned if it didn't play much, much better than the 1970s protection dub! My quip at the time was, "it sounded like it was recorded 10 years ago... not 50 years ago!" So some of those old mags held up very, very well.

 

I don't doubt there was a slow transition period between 1946 and 1952. It figures that most feature production was done on mag by mid-1952, around the time Cinerama exploded. That's very cool to see a "portable" 35mm mag recorder based around a cart! I had a suspicion that something like this existed, because it figured that the studios had gotten away from the cabled central control room on the lot by that time.

 

That's an interesting idea, essentially building a sound mixer and recorder into what looks like a golf cart!

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