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When They See Us’: Production Sound Mixer Jan McLaughlin


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Just found this thread (catching up here this morning).

 

Your confidence in our work is deeply appreciated.

 

I was astonished post was able to make the audio work well enough that I didn't achieve the expected Puke State during the first listen. That's saying something. Getting my heart and brain ready for 2nd pass and perhaps this is the place in which to speak to the extraordinary process in finer detail.

 

Extraordinary? Yeah: we survived. I asked myself every day if it might be that I was getting too old for it. The crew kids were also walking wounded throughout. So not this time. We must have prevailed since the sound didn't take me out of the story as it would normally do when I first experience a finished project. Could be that it was a particularly compelling story though...

 

The learning curve for me was pretty much vertical. Don't think I had yet gotten to the point where I could QC all the sources and make an informative / non-annoying mix for the picture editor with ease. Playing the game tapes at night, came to the conclusion I'd have to trust the process and my gut.

 

Having just finished a movie using the same game plan, I've freed more brain space for listening to all the things and mixing since "When They See Us". Suppose it keeps getting easier until the next change in the instrument / process.

 

It was exhausting.

 

Simon Hayes was in my brain every day many times a day: Sound Warrior. Thank you Simon for being on my shoulder throughout.

 

A Warrior-related hurdle I've not yet tackled with grace requires my attention: I eventually got bitch-slappy with the PA's who'd come to me before we'd even landed the carts asking if I was ready to wire. Too soon. Every day. Every setup. Every scene. Every five minutes.

 

I didn't want the pressure or the distraction.

 

Told them nicely it was much too soon to ask and that I needed 15 minutes from the time the antenna masts go up to be ready to wire.

 

That didn't work.

 

I tried to teach them that they could tell when I'm ready by looking at the cart: wireless TRX and lavs laid out on the cart deck? If yes, I'm ready.

 

I require peace during the first 15 minutes of the day to do pre-flight checks and conceive lav / mic logistics for the entire day.

 

I get really pissy if I don't have quiet time to make my peace with the gear and plan. Especially for this gig since I was scared shitless I wouldn't be able to do it justice given what I was learning would be our documentary-ish shooting style.

 

I too-fiercely fought for the place of peace and confidence I require when dealing with the players for outfitting. When actors come to me, they are preparing for their work. I honor that best I can. Waitressing was good practice to quickly Read a Room.

 

I know the PA's had AD's nagging. "Can we bring the cast for wiring?" I know cast's not gonna be ready for at least an hour. Fine. I told them they didn't always have to ask me just because they were asked. Suggested that they could confidently tell the AD, "Not yet," until they heard from me I was ready. That didn't work.

 

Anyway, I need to work on my patience. A lot.

 

What are the pre-flight considerations for microphones?

  • Task I hope to soon outsource to someone on the team: who goes home when for de-wire planning. Sometimes I need THAT transmitter later.
  • Review schedule and sides to ascertain who's talking all day and will there be wardrobe changes between scenes.
  • Get with that character's Costumer if necessary.
  • Filter that information through what post will get / prefer relative to track layout.
  • Assign and name tracks / TRX's for the entire day.
  • Modulation scheme: Is this a reflective prison set? Change algorithm to ZHD96. Check.
  • Scan and assign new frequencies.
  • Wardrobe? That helps me properly prep the lavs and TRX's.
  • Walk test.
  • Rebattery TRX.
  • Tell 'em it's time.

15 minutes. That's all I need.

 

More later as time and brainspace permits.

 

P.S. Thanks to Daniel McIntosh for the more-recent fine cigar and equally-fine live music recording.

 

NK pussy trx naming IMG_4267.JPG

 

nk mic drawing boom zone IMG_0038.JPG

 

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Well done sez me.  Several decades ago I was one of those PAs annoying the mixer about wiring talent, and the mixer (David MacMillan) told me to back off so firmly that I'm still feeling the heat.   There are some sorts of production folks who believe that keeping the pressure up in that chicken-shit way will move things along faster, while putting the sound dept. in its rightful place (they think).  I could be charitable and say that maybe they are getting a lot of heat from above to move fast, but I won't because anyone with any experience knows that this methodology is ultimately counter-productive, stupid, even.  

 

I sincerely hope you feel that the story you are telling is worth the trouble to tell it.

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On my watch list, too. About that PA constantly nagging, I feel your pain. Nowadays, I work in radio, full time, so I’m used to being the one saying “I am ready to mix now”, instead of the other way around. 

I filled in for a mixer for a weekend on a feature, and the PAs were real quick to ask me the question, as if the wires were the biggest Time Thief. It’s such a belittling question....  

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On 7/14/2019 at 6:26 PM, Olle Sjostrom said:

[Snipped] Nowadays, I work in radio, full time, so I’m used to being the one saying “I am ready to mix now”, instead of the other way around. 

 

Mmmmm: radio...nice.

 

On 7/14/2019 at 11:10 AM, Philip Perkins said:

Well done sez me.  Several decades ago I was one of those PAs annoying the mixer about wiring talent, and the mixer (David MacMillan) told me to back off so firmly that I'm still feeling the heat.   There are some sorts of production folks who believe that keeping the pressure up in that chicken-shit way will move things along faster, while putting the sound dept. in its rightful place (they think).  I could be charitable and say that maybe they are getting a lot of heat from above to move fast, but I won't because anyone with any experience knows that this methodology is ultimately counter-productive, stupid, even.  

 

I sincerely hope you feel that the story you are telling is worth the trouble to tell it.

 

Our situation was unique [jeepers I hope this was unique as opposed to ubiquitous] in that the 1st AD was doing something / everything other than 1st AD work and our de facto 1st AD (according to IMDB most relevant /recent job was as a costume PA along with only 3 other costume-related projects) and was drowning/flailing and dragging everyone into the depths with them.

 

Definitely sometimes get the feeling from new AD departments with whom I work that sound / wiring has been responsible for schedule delays and thus they feel a need to ride herd hard on us. That's not how I operate. If they bring the cast to me in a timely manner there's no waiting. Eventually they learn. In this case they never learned. No brain space for learning when you think you're doing to die.

 

It's worth the trouble to tell it if in the telling I learn to better control my 'firmness level' for it eventually got ugly and I'm not proud of that.

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It's hard to not take that crap personally.  Ed Greene used to say that he kept his focus by deciding that the chorus of people yelling at him over the comms during the super-panty-bunch award show telecasts he mixed were yelling at the Problems, not at him personally.  I admit that I have never even approached that level of Yoda-tude at work, but I admired Ed intensely for being that way.  I hope the Big People notice how together and down you and your peeps are.  Us little folks desperately want that to be true!

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Unfortunately this sounds like another case of inexperienced crew members put into a position where they can't even tread water. I'm noticing that a lot as well in the non union commercial pond I tend to swim in, folks moving up the ranks too quickly without a really good idea of what every department does and what they need to succeed in the whirlwind environment that we work in.  Too many AD departments that keep incessantly asking if I'm ready to wire, while employing the logic that if you wire everyone in frame (and maybe even out of frame) it will miraculously fix any sound problems that may arise. 

 

FWIW having watched "When They See Us" prior to reading the article, I'm in awe that you were able to capture sound as well as you did. I never felt that the sound quality took me out of the moment throughout the series. It is frustrating that a DP and a director both are willing to make a conscious decision to frame things in such a way that they know they are compromising the ability of the sound mixer to do their job properly. Kudos to you and your team Jan for making the best out of a tough situation, I hope your next gig is smooth sailing.

 

 

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Great job Jan well done. (I love CUBs)

 

On a very difficult tropical job on my 7th day (twice) I was asked to record ethnic music multi mike.

 

I was given a young AD to "help" and yes "are you ready yet - are you ready yet"

 

At the end of the shoot were were about to deal with a very difficult scene,

5 native women in 3 canoes out at sea all doing dialogue in roving wide shots.

"Are you ready to radio mike them"  (same young AD)

Where are they I ask  "oh two are having a swim the the others are over there"

Not rattled but thinking logically I tell her to put up a modesty tent (the 5 women wear lavalavas)

Round up the women get them in the tentand my assistant will rig them and I will install

the recorder and receivers in the camera boat.

 

Yep the polly parrot style of AD is confusing and annoying when simple thinking and listen is the best path.

 

mike

Bougainville.JPG

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There was one sequence where Korey takes off some of his costume and speaks a few lines. He climbs up from the bed to look out the window and then he falls. We captured that with a lav because there was no other way to catch it. We used hot glue (thanks, Whit Norris) to affix a Countryman B6 to the inside of his tank top and prayed. Even with him falling, it stayed in place. I was very pleased with how that turned out.

 


Jan, how did you remove the B3 once it was glued on?

Could you just melt it back off again? Didn't this damage the mic or the tank top?
 

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1 minute ago, IronFilm said:


Jan, how did you remove the B3 once it was glued on?

Could you just melt it back off again? Didn't this damage the mic or the tank top?
 

 

Had to be careful in the application of the glue re: timing (length of time the hot element near the mic).

 

We did a test that ended up being "the thing". The amazing customer was aware that it might not fare well for the shirt; they had multiples.

 

Hot glue gets into the pores of the fabric. It remains fairly flexible. Got a fingernail between the glue and the tee shirt and peeled it off. May have had to use scissors or a blade to get it off the B6 but no damage was sustained.

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Brilliant!

 

Yep the things we have to overcome!

On an American series I was faced with 3 great women dressed in very little and I mean very!!

Despite it being a long series I had not one day of prep.

 

Day one we are in a forest and I am faced with the lack of clothing.

How to hide lavs and transmitters?

One actress had so little on that her transmitter I placed on the back of her left hand

completely in shot with it's LED's blinking!!!

 

mike

 

 

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  • 1 month later...
On 9/4/2019 at 12:34 AM, Olle Sjostrom said:

Watching this now and OMG. Very immersive series. You did a fantastic job, no doubt. Great work 

 

Thanks, Olle. We had a 24/7 therapist available by phone for the duration. Don't know if anyone used the number, but the idea of being able to consult with someone helped considerably.

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1 hour ago, Jan McL said:

 

Thanks, Olle. We had a 24/7 therapist available by phone for the duration. Don't know if anyone used the number, but the idea of being able to consult with someone helped considerably.

Wow, I can see why. I need a therapist now. Very gripping...

 

Sound Some fine display in dynamics as well, the neverclip must've come in handy. 

 

Picture : very fine images, by i can't help but thinking that four cameras means that they didn't really know what they wanted? I mean in the edit, it doesn't seem like they're using every angle.. Or maybe just very clever editing and very lazy viewing and analyzing on my part.

 

To all of you who still haven't watched it; do it. Great show. 

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1 hour ago, Olle Sjostrom said:

Picture : very fine images, by i can't help but thinking that four cameras means that they didn't really know what they wanted?

 

Maybe they didn't know. Or maybe, considering the content, they were doing everything they could to minimize the number of takes and emotional toll on cast and crew? Just a guess on my part...

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2 minutes ago, Jim Feeley said:

 

Maybe they didn't know. Or maybe, considering the content, they were doing everything they could to minimize the number of takes and emotional toll on cast and crew? Just a guess on my part...

There's probably more behind it than I know. I'm just an ignorant, emotionally devastated, viewer trying to think about something else

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