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Henchman

The importance of lavs from the POV of post.

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Wide and tight is a commonly accepted practice now. My approach is to gently suggest ideas to minimize the impact, but if the production and director are determined to shoot one actor's closeup while shooting something too wide for a boom, I will use the wires for the entire scene. In my opinion, it makes no sense to cut between two closeups and have the presence change. The exception is when changing rooms/sets or scenes. In other words, I don't think an entire episode needs to sound consistent with regard to presence, just the particular scene being shot.

 

It is disheartening to read what you're saying, Henchman. My crew(s) and I work very hard to get a quality mix track, with consistent mic placement and no phasing. My headphones are turned up very loud, and I feel that I can hear any imperfection. I am (possibly less so, after reading this) confident that I know what sounds best, and 99% of the time that would be the mix track.

 

The idea that it would be simply skipped over is hard to accept. I will definitely pay more attention to those iso's, thanks to your OP, and I will check in more often with post personnel on this issue.

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It's my belief that I'm often hired because I catch the performances well and when performance and words matter (to quote a smart Southern gentleman I know) folks know they can count on me to get 'em if they let me.

 

Recent experiences have led me to add shooting style questions to the interview at the earliest optimal moment.

 

Based on this discussion, my retirement papers are being written else I will continue to find folks who wanna do it old school, and allow the budget to make it so.

 

+111

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If you have no pride in your work and you're just doing it to get paid, well...fine. I just wouldn't exactly feel like a bastion of integrity if I charged what I charge and then provided little more than a haphazard mess of (possibly out of phase) tracks for some poor schmuck in post to clean up (or worse, NOT clean up). 

 

Many years ago, I quit an American TV feature show that was being shot in India only because of the absolutely low priority being given to production sound. The executive producer pleaded with me 'you know how it is out here, we're running 15 pages a day, and you know post can handle a lot of things nowadays, all you have to do is record what you can in the circumstances, etc etc'. I left nevertheless - my professional pride was hurt - after attending two interviews to get this job, i was being asked to 'just roll'... The guy who replaced me rented out six more lavs and wired everyone in the morning - whether in the first scene or not, tracked to ISOs. 

<<Regardless of the strategy, the role of the production sound mixer must be an active roll on set. As active as the boom op's roll. To hire someone who merely slaps lavs on everyone and records only isos is a waste of money. Any PA or camera intern could do that with barely a half hour of instruction. >>

Although this is an exaggeration caused by the frustration of the person posting this, the overall thought is something i am in full agreement with - the role of the sound mixer must be an active one. However, it is becoming increasingly more and more difficult and getting more isolated on the sets today. I can confirm this after doing a short stint on a hollywood production a few months ago. 

 

my 0.5 ...

 

-vin

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So, correct me if I'm wrong.

The mix track comes from a variety of sources. Boom and lavs.

So, what ends up on the mix tracks, lives separate on its own track.

So, why wouldn't the editor simply use the boom, until they hit a line or scene where the boom isn't useable.

Forgive me if I'm not understanding all the fuss about not using the mix track.

And I also think that that there is skill involved in rewards to placing lavs.

Yes, anybody can slap a lav on someone.

But it takes skill Imthink to do it right.

Because the same can be said about the boom.

Anybod can hold a boom.

But it takes skill and experience to do it right.

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A mix is more than just either the boom or the wires on any given line. Sometimes it's a hint of lav to bring someone in a door at the back of the room, leaving the boom open in the foreground over the other characters. It's filling a line here or there, with the boom blending the scene together. It certainly isn't just switching back and forth between booms and lavs, either or. Sometimes we "cheat" a bit and have false perspective. We know it's TV and the words need to be heard. We MIX for that.

Although you have the advantage of the picture edit in post, we have the advantage of seeing the live perfornabce in the live space. We mix a scene to the story, with consistency to allow edits between nominal lens sizes without shifts in perspectives. Sometimes that's all lavs, sometimes it's all boom, but more often than not it's a mix within a scene.

The idea of deciding an entire scene, all characters, will be a lav scene or a boom scene based on a single boom "problem" just seems inefficient and lacking in quality.

I can't speak for others, but I work very hard to get a mix that sounds natural and consistent. Sometimes it's VERY hard to get cooperation, so I try to have the tight on a person who sounds natural on a lav or who might only have one line. I don't accept that because one or two lines on one character is on a lav, that it's better and more efficient to mix the whole scene with the lavs.

I'm very sorry your experience has been to never even listen to the mix. I'd like to believe there are enough of us out there doing the job well, that you might find it's better than you think.

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In the show I work on as a boom op here in France every actor in every scene has a lav and the sound mixer delivers two mix tracks to post: the left bus of the sonosax is boom only and the right bus is the lavs faded in and out. Also he delivers every ISO too. Is this common practice in the US? Great thread BTW!

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Santiago,

In the US, on narrative film and TV, it is common to deliver a single mono mix track, which is supposed to be fit for broadcast. It has become more common to have a lav on everyone all the time.

Henchman has started an interesting discussion. He has pointed out that many of us either don't put lavs on everyone, or stop paying attention to how they are sounding as the scene has move past needing them. I am guilty of this. Actors often fidget with costumes, or the mic becomes unstuck, etc. I don't always notice, as I am no longer pushing up that fader.

It is a very valid concern for his workflow. I wonder how many other RRMs work this way in TV. I feel and hope, however, that many of us are delivering a good mix most of the time. Sure, there might be a phase issue from time to time, etc., but if the mix is good 90+% of the time, I contend it'd be more efficient to spend the time fixing the 10% than remixing 100% from the lav ISOs.

On features or TV with more time and money, it is of course a sensible work flow to evaluate all ISOs and mix to the picture for every line. They have the time to blend and create perspective, etc.

It seems the French workflow of boom left and lavs right would fit into Henchman's method.

Do you monitor boom in left ear and lavs in right ear? Do you listen in "mono", which would sound weird? Do you not listen to the boom at all? What does the director get in IEM? What does editorial hear? What about dailies? Curious.

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So, correct me if I'm wrong.

The mix track comes from a variety of sources. Boom and lavs.

So, what ends up on the mix tracks, lives separate on its own track.

So, why wouldn't the editor simply use the boom, until they hit a line or scene where the boom isn't useable.

Forgive me if I'm not understanding all the fuss about not using the mix track

Along with RPSharman's great points, the mix track also has important level adjustments. Even if the boom sounds great and we decide no wires are needed in the mix track, the mix track isn't just another copy of the boom ISO at that point. We will constantly adjust the level if needed in order to help maintain the best mix. Carefully fading up and down based on the volume of the speaker and what is needed to hear the dialogue properly and fit the scene. When wires are needed, the mix track (again) is not just "switching" between ISOs. We are carefully cross fading in and out to maintain a constant background noise level, limit bleed and phasing, and make a natural mix. No, we can't always nail it perfectly every take live, but I would think starting with the mix track would save post time. It's very discouraging hearing that this gets thrown out often without even a listen.

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More thinking about this...

 

The topic came up in yesterday's Sounderday videoconference. I was trying to figure out why it seems the first try at cross-fading from lav to boom is often just right, with subsequent mixes less so, with more chance of a word with phase issues. Wexler reminded me that there are many moving targets and I began to re-think that mix process toward staying more in the moment than relying on fader positions and timing based on the success of that first effort.

 

Relative to this discussion, perhaps it's communicating with post that the phasey word can be cured by bringing the boom down 1dB, a second sooner. The post team I work with on "Nurse Jackie" always seems to make it right without throwing their hands up in frustration and going to lav isos for the entire scene. Maybe that's because we've been working together so long. 

 

Part of their ability to use my mix tracks may be that I've striven to collect mics that play well together.

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I'm very sorry your experience has been to never even listen to the mix. I'd like to believe there are enough of us out there doing the job well, that you might find it's better than you think.

When mixing in a Lav with a boom, who do you avoid phase issues?

This is why I have told my editors to not us thee mix track. Because of, to me, very apparent phase issues on the mix track.

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An unscientific guideline: If you mix an equal amount of two mics that are an equal distance from the source, you'll get phase.

In the field, we'd adjust the levels of the faders and/or the distances of the mics to the mouth. And go by ear.

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I don't typically mix a lav and boom if the mics are close enough to phase with each other.  Sure, there are times in a live environment when something can change, and I get caught. If phasing occurs, I put it in my report, and hope that on that occasion, if that one moment makes the edit from all the other takes and coverage, that it can be fixed. I also note if there are miscues (me or the boom op) or a "bad mix" for whatever reason. Again, I work under the assumption that my mix is good often enough that the occasional fix ought not to be an issue. I have discovered from this thread that my method isn't preferable to you, and perhaps for many other RRMs too. I would like to know how many RRMs ask their dialog editors to disregard the mix and deliver either a boom only or a mix of lavs for each scene.

 

I will point out that on one show we had a nightmare of a lav walk and talk down narrow hallways. No boom. Props were a disaster, costumes too. In the end, the actress was in Paris and not available for ADR. I chatted with the RRM, and was told that they took the time to fix it. They said they had the time, because my work usually required so little time to mix, that they were happy to spend a bit of time and have fun fixing what I would have considered unfixable. They did an amazing job.

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When mixing in a Lav with a boom, who do you avoid phase issues?

This is why I have told my editors to not us thee mix track. Because of, to me, very apparent phase issues on the mix track.

Ideally you hear the phasing in a rehersal, if you get one. Then I sometimes just flip the phase of the lav in question or, if the distance to the boom is very long, I sometimes even dial in some delay on the lav to match the distant boom. If I don't get rid of the phasing then you, the RRM would basically just need to remix that part of the scene or the entire scene, starting with just the boom and adding lavs where needed. Seems to me like less effort than remixing everything all the time. However if I deliver mixes that have lots of phasing issues many times then I obviously didn't do my job well.

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An unscientific guideline: If you mix an equal amount of two mics that are an equal distance from the source, you'll get phase.

In the field, we'd adjust the levels of the faders and/or the distances of the mics to the mouth. And go by ear.

How do you get a boom to be the exact equal same distance from an actors mouth as a Lav to avoid phase issues?

I simply can't see that as being possible, most of the time.

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As a point of reference, in regards to what some might find minor phase issues, that I find objectionable. I have clients who ask me to fix words that even go slightly off axis, resulting in of course a more non direct sounding line, which IS natural in regards to whats going on, on the screen. But they want it to not have any change in the sound of the dialog at all.

As I stated earlier, even in cases of natural roomverb that I personally don't have a problem with, because it makes sense for the location, I am asked to minimize the roomverb.

And some want to hear every singer syllable, every single ending of a word. Every T, every D.

Even when the actor is mumbling.

Try boosting the end of a line from a boom 16-20 DB, with all the inherent room noise.

That's my world.

A lot of my clients don't want natural. They want hyper reality.

Oh, and we have to mix all of that to the TV spec in the loudness act.

I WISH I could use a single track, push the fader, and having it be great.

I do.

But that's not the reality on the dubsatge when it comes to TV.

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How do you get a boom to be the exact equal same distance from an actors mouth as a Lav to avoid phase issues?

I simply can't see that as being possible, most of the time.

 

If a Lav is on the chest, it may be approximately 12 inches away from the mouth. If the boom is a few inches off the top of the head, it may also be approximately 12 inches away from the mouth. Our goal is to not be exactly an equal distance (or really not lined up with two similar of a wavelength). When we hear it, we adjust. I have a discussion with my boom op about the fact that we're fighting each other. Either he changes his distance or I change the mix (less wire, more boom; or the opposite). 

 

There are times when we have to treat the set like triage. The other night I had an actor with a line scripted as whispering outside in Manhattan. I had an 815 at the top of their head. I only put the boom in mix as we only did one take. We had a lav cooking, but I did not monitor it. Maybe I could have goosed a little more lav in, and I may have started to do that on a second take. But on the first take (without rehearsal), I wanted a true idea of what the boom would get. We, of course, were slammed by traffic on parts of the line. 

 

At some point though, as you talk about bringing booms up 16-20db to pull that line out, that traffic that got us the other night would have been all over the lav as well. We can't change physics completely. It sounds like you're on jobs where the producers are being unrealistic as to the post work versus the post budget and time. I don't believe every job (as I have not encountered that on my last few TV shows) wants a hyper realistic sound to the dialogue. That particular desire sounds like it requires an honest conversation with your on set team. I don't think it's a general rule for all TV shows. 

 

A very small film I mixed is coming out this weekend - "Last 5 Years." It's a musical that took on the challenge of having 90% songs sung live. In the conversation with the UPM and the Music Supervisor/Re-recording Mixer, I had to present my case for a 4 man crew like we had on Smash. During the first week, we shot a song on a lake in Staten Island with two actors on opposite ends of a dock, singing a song together. We had me, a playback mixer and 2 boom operators. The next day, the Music Supervisor came to me and said that he was glad the UPM took my request for that 2nd Boom. That scene exemplified everything I brought up in that conversation. We didn't have to do a live song on 2 radio mics or have to decide which vocal would get a boom and which one a wire in some sort of unfair sonic prioritizing. And just to quell the argument that 2 lavs would have worked: 2 boom operators adjusting with the head turns and vocal dynamics will always be better. 

 

Josh

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How do you get a boom to be the exact equal same distance from an actors mouth as a Lav to avoid phase issues?

I simply can't see that as being possible, most of the time.

I can only speak for myself, but I don't think I have ever mixed both a lav and boom together for the same character (meaning the boom was directly aimed at the talent wearing said wire). I know this is asking for big phase issues. I of course have mixed a bit of boom in for a character wearing a wire, but the boom is either far away getting me mostly "room" and "air" or is directly over another character more than a few feet away. And I don't usually bring the boom level near unity. Maybe just a touch of it to add some life to the lav. I always try to follow the "3 to 1" ratio rule whenever mixing together two or more mics of any kind.

Henchman, are you saying you're finding yourself being supplied with mix tracks that have both lav and boom of the same character mixed together? I can see why you would say these phase issues need to be remixed, but at least from my limited experience, that is certainly not what we would do in the field.

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It sounds like you're on jobs where the producers are being unrealistic as to the post work versus the post budget and time. I don't believe every job (as I have not encountered that on my last few TV shows) wants a hyper realistic sound to the dialogue. That particular desire sounds like it requires an honest conversation with your on set team. I don't think it's a general rule for all TV shows.  

Josh

Welcome to our world of unrealistic expectations vs time and budget.

By the time we see a show on the dubstage, they are almost over halfway through the series. So talking to the on set team will usually end up effecting the following season.

Also, considering the cost of shooting in New York, I doubt you see the type of shows that don't allow the amount if time needed in post, that we see here.

Let me tell you about a show I was working on, when the editors were still cutting mainly from the mix track.

All through the year, I would have problems in scenes, where the Dialog just didn't sound right. It was a constant battle. Every time the supervising sound editor would go to the raw tracks, he ALWAYS found a better sounding replacement. Either a boom, or a lav.

Final episode of the season, and it was just downright atrocious. I fought all the way through the episode, and was getting simply acceptable results.

We get to playback. Halfway though the episode the AP had us stop. and asked why everything sounded weird.

I asked the Supervising sound editor to recut one of the most offending scenes, straight from the raw tracks.

Without doing anything to them at all, everything sounded better, immediately.

Guess who lost the show the following season?

Not the location sound guy.

Not the dialog editor.

I did.

So, once bitten, twice shy.

I won't trust mix tracks ever again.

Period.

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More thinking about this...

The topic came up in yesterday's Sounderday videoconference. I was trying to figure out why it seems the first try at cross-fading from lav to boom is often just right, with subsequent mixes less so, with more chance of a word with phase issues. Wexler reminded me that there are many moving targets and I began to re-think that mix process toward staying more in the moment than relying on fader positions and timing based on the success of that first effort.

Relative to this discussion, perhaps it's communicating with post that the phasey word can be cured by bringing the boom down 1dB, a second sooner. The post team I work with on "Nurse Jackie" always seems to make it right without throwing their hands up in frustration and going to lav isos for the entire scene. Maybe that's because we've been working together so long.

Part of their ability to use my mix tracks may be that I've striven to collect mics that play well together.

How long do they spend on an episode of Nurse Jacky in post?

Watch an episode of 12 monkeys on SyFy.

We have to be ready for playback after a day and a half of mixing.

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I sit on both sides of this divide--I often am cleaning up very gnarly production tracks in post (in a low budg short time world) and am also working on usually-budget-challenged location production jobs, that also usually have insanely tight post turnaround times.  My current solution is a variation on the "French" method mentioned above.  Boom is only mixed with lavs for a ref track for camera/post sync, never on my recorder.  The other tracks are either lav isos or lav isos and a lav mix depending on how busy I am and the equipment in use.  The posties default is the boom track, followed by the lav mix + or instead of boom (their choice), followed by isos.  In my own post work I work pretty hard at making booms work whenever I can, even if the BG noise is higher or I have to work over off mic lines, handling noise etc--the resulting dialog track always seems to "sit" in the rest of the mix better and sound more natural.  One film I'm currently working on has extended exterior scenes in quiet places done on lavs exclusively--no boom at all, and I'm having to work very hard to make the audio not sound like it's mediocre ADR.  The tonality is just so wrong for the shots….

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How long do they spend on an episode of Nurse Jacky in post?

Watch an episode of 12 monkeys on SyFy.

We have to be ready for playback after a day and a half of mixing.

 

How much time is spent in sound cutting before those tracks get to you?

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How much time is spent in sound cutting before those tracks get to you?

2 days for dialog, 3 days for Bg's and hardfx, and a sound designer doing all the main sounds sign elements.

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I have clients who ask me to fix words that even go slightly off axis

Out of curiosity: Don't you have a lot of head turns sounding off-ish to fix when you rely mostly on lavs? As in, the actor turns away from their lav during a line? Or the actor raises their hand and puts it somewhere between mouth and chest? Or two actors hug each other while speaking? I ask this because I hear lots of these things on lav-heavy shows and it always puts me off (probably not the general viewer, I know...) These issues surely come up a lot, and I wonder if they're that much easier to fix than off axis moments on the boom mic?

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Is near to impossible maintain the exact distance between a shotgun and a lavalier, just five centimetres may cause severe drop in 3,5kHz and other freq (comb filter).
 
A nice idea would be add a automatic delay finder to the recorders (Like Smaartlive have), for do an automatic delay compensation, this will help to mach lavaliers and shotguns.
 

 

Any manufacturers here? ;-)

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