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Utility Sound: Thoughts About


Jan McL
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Years ago I was actively involved in all aspects both physical and cerebral of the job. It was only when Donavan Dear became my boom man on CSI that I was politely informed that all would move along so much smoother if I just concentrated on moving my chair from A to B and left the nuts and bolts of running the show to him and our third guy, who at that time was John Reynolds.

I was the recipient of sideways glances every time I tried to help load the carts on the truck or move antennas or anything that required muscle involvement. After a while I became comfortable with this and now leave everything to more experienced hands. I mix, make decisions on mic placement sometimes but it really ends there. Confidence in your crew is a blessing that comes from lots of time invested in watching and approving the delegation process.

The downside is that I put on weight and have to endure endless derision from grips and other hard working physical types who see me rolling my chair around, "Chairman of the Bored" they call me. I'm OK with it. Therapy has helped tremendously.

Kudos to all third guys and boom men everywhere, your contribution is very much appreciated.

Mick

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When I started out with the old timers like Charlie Wilborn over 30 years ago, the mixer didn't touch anything except the knobs.  Period.  They didn't even load their tape in morning or roll it off and label the box at wrap.  Nothing.  The exceptions were some of the new breed coming in like Jeff Wexler, who jumped in sometimes to help.  However, most of the guys like myself who went through the system from cable to boom to mixer just continued the practice we grew up on.  It was in the job description and that's why they got more overtime than mixers.  So when I became a mixer, one of the great delights was to finally walk away at wrap and catch the first van out like the vast majority of mixers I had worked for before me.  That didn't mean I didn't have the utmost respect for their jobs.  At least I carried my own chair, which old timers never did, and I didn't feel a twinge of guilt because for so many years, I did the dirty work at wrap while they were downing their first beer at the hotel. 

As the years went on though, with doing so many two person crews on second units and the like, it changed for me.  So when aI mixed a standard 3-person crew crew, at least I offered at the start of the show and then took off if they said they were ok without my help....and then I would happily slink away.

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I like to push my own cart.  Not sure why.  But I am more than happy to let my utility person do just about everything else.  Sometimes I'll do a few things myself out of boredom, and I'm often met with resistance from my thirds who want to do it for me.  A good utility person is a critical asset to any sound crew.

Robert

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The exceptions were some of the new breed coming in like Jeff Wexler, who jumped in sometimes to help.

When I started out, low budget non-union movies, it was always no more than a 2 person crew. I also did not have the chance to "learn" from anyone else whether it was my job to push the cart around, load the Nagra, or even get my own coffee --- the two of us just did it all without regard to who was the "boss" or what our job description was. I just showed up at my first movie and described myself as the Sound Mixer (even though I had never dome the job, never boomed and never worked as a third man). To this day, I always get the cart off the truck, I almost always move it around the set and do everything else including turning (sliding) the knobs. This is not to say the Utility person has nothing to do --- I rely on the Utility person to do everything relating to cabling and hookups (AC, Video, Duplex boom cables, plant mics) prepare wireless talent mics, control set noises (air conditioning, refrigerators, etc.), carpet work and just about everything else (including 2nd boom work which we do a lot).

-  Jeff Wexler

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I seldom get a third person on commercials so I do some of the utility work load on my/our jobs. I always push my cart. As the owner/operator it was built for me and my height to move around. I will run and wrap cable when we have a bunch out on HD shoots. I will wire actors if it helps. I always walk around the set to identify sound issues and fix them before we roll. At the end of the day I will get the comteks if need be. Marydixie runs the set. She is the eyes n voice of our department. We do it well together but could do it smoother/better with a third person. The hard part is making it look easy. That takes teamwork. BTW, I have worked 10-12 days this year on features, (a lot for me these days) and had a utility person on each job and that was great, but I still pushed my cart wherever it needed to go.

CrewC

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  • 1 year later...

I posted this in the other Sound Utility thread, but thought it might be better here?...

I will never (or, very rarely) let someone else carry my chair -- and equally rarely will they ever push my cart. First of all, it's extremely heavy, so I feel kinda guilty when someone else has to push it around. But just in general even, it just doesn't seem right to me. We all have responsibilities that eat up our time, and the way I see it, if a Sound Utility is preoccupied with carrying my chair or pushing my cart around, they're not focussed on the much-more-important stuff. Obviously, there are exceptions -- when you land at a new location and they're going right into Key rehearsals, or there's some other issue that demands immediate attention, then sure, I can see delegating stuff like that out, but generally, it's always kinda rubbed me the wrong way to see a Utility humping a chair around that s/he never gets to sit in.

+11 on documented pre-calls -- if the AC's get them, then so should at least one member of the Sound crew. I'm always early, and often start "working" before call time, but that's my individual choice, and I certainly wouldn't expect it of anyone without some sort of compensation. That said, having a crew that also likes to show up a bit early and get a jump on things is a huge blessing, and should always be properly rewarded (wrap gifts, a round of drinks, etc.) Incentivize ;)

~tt

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I posted this in the other Sound Utility thread, but thought it might be better here?...

+11 on documented pre-calls -- if the AC's get them, then so should at least one member of the Sound crew. I'm always early, and often start "working" before call time, but that's my individual choice, and I certainly wouldn't expect it of anyone without some sort of compensation. That said, having a crew that also likes to show up a bit early and get a jump on things is a huge blessing, and should always be properly rewarded (wrap gifts, a round of drinks, etc.) Incentivize ;)

If we're talking union sets, I actually have to disagree here. I can see showing up a bit early to hit the breakfast truck and be ready for the "company in!" call, but I don't feel that one should be doing much that's work related until the clock starts. I've heard that this happens a bit more in LA than we allow it to in NY. Usually here... if it starts to become regular, the teamsters won't open the trucks until the company is in. It comes down to the old saying "give an inch, they'll take a mile"

Documented pre-calls... That I'm on board with

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If we're talking union sets, I actually have to disagree here. I can see showing up a bit early to hit the breakfast truck and be ready for the "company in!" call, but I don't feel that one should be doing much that's work related until the clock starts. I've heard that this happens a bit more in LA than we allow it to in NY. Usually here... if it starts to become regular, the teamsters won't open the trucks until the company is in. It comes down to the old saying "give an inch, they'll take a mile"

Documented pre-calls... That I'm on board with

Working off the clock is rampant on union shoots here in Los Angeles. If a good pre-call is given, and people come in a touch early to work at a more leisurely pace, while eating a burrito or drinking coffee, that's ok. But if production refuses a pre-call, then I agree the truck should remain loaded until "We're in"!

I was on one show they wanted lenses on set at call for rehearsal, but refused the pre-call. DP insisted truck door remained closed until on the clock. Became a pissing match between UPM and DP. Crew never got a pre-call. They waited for lenses every day, as actors and director waited on set to rehearse.

And tacking it on at the end is no longer doable. I have experienced several times the crew being questioned about their out times the next day. If they want to play that game, and stick to the book, then we should stick to the book too. No free work.

Robert

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There's another aspect to this business of being on the clock for work-

I've often encountered crew people who will add 15 minutes to the time card to account for the time required to walk to the car. I've always regarded this as a cheat. One doesn't get paid in any other profession for the time needed to ride the elevator to the parking garage or any other commuting time. Strict adherence to refusing to work off the clock - perfectly proper - should also extend to getting off the clock as soon as the work is complete and gear properly stowed.

Of course, when working on location, a wait for the shuttle van is often a necessary component of getting to the car. That's another matter. In that case, I think that adding an honest estimate of the time required is legitimate. But adding to the out-time when working on a stage with an adjacent parking garage is a bit of a cheat.

Many years ago the contract required providing first class flight tickets. That privilege was lost in a bargaining session where negotiators for the producers dumped a pile of returned tickets on the table. It seems that many crew people were turning in their first class tickets, exchanging them for coach and pocketing the difference. The producers aren't fools; they notice.

Exploitative behavior on the part of producers exceeds crew misbehavior by a wide margin, in my experience. But good to keep everything as honest as one can.

David

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If we're talking union sets, I actually have to disagree here. I can see showing up a bit early to hit the breakfast truck and be ready for the "company in!" call, but I don't feel that one should be doing much that's work related until the clock starts. I've heard that this happens a bit more in LA than we allow it to in NY. Usually here... if it starts to become regular, the teamsters won't open the trucks until the company is in. It comes down to the old saying "give an inch, they'll take a mile"

Documented pre-calls... That I'm on board with

Yeah Wyatt,

I guess I should have qualified my previous statement or elaborated to include that as a rule of thumb, I don't necessarily like to work off the clock (hence the quotations on the word "work")... I was primarily referring to situations where, for example, it was a walk-away the day before, my carts are already on set, and perhaps I have some files to copy, or some other more maintenance oriented task that is better off done before things start getting too crazy.

I've heard about the NY Teamsters refusing to unlock the trucks before call-time -- I think they are well within their rights to do that -- and there are some productions that come to mind (I think Robert knows which one I'm talking about specifically) that could really use a dose of that.

I've just always been perpetually early to work -- maybe part of it stems from a little uncertainty I still carry around with me -- I will say there's been a few times when I'm really glad I did show up early -- truck was not plugged in overnight, no batts were charges, etc. It's just force of habit for me to be early to work... and if any of my crew is the same way, I like to recognize it somehow -- certainly don't expect it. Also, it depends on the gig... if there's an adversarial relationship across the line, I don't give them anything for free, and fight tooth and nail to get pre-calls comensurate to what the Camera Dept. gets.

~tt

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~tt

When I was up there, a pre-call wouldn't have mattered, because the people unloading all the camera gear were "camera interns" and were not being paid anyway. That show continues to disgust me every time I think if it. I would love for all those "interns" to get together, sue the bastards for union wages, and get into 600 that way. Those kids worked their asses off

Robert

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You guys! Thank you so much, Jan, for your post and all others who have added to it. As a relatively new third who would really like to be a GOOD third, I am going to miniaturize and laminate this and put it in the "little notebook." There are two things that come to mind in my limited experience as a third. The first is that the biggest difficulty comes in prioritizing: Of course I want to do all the things on this list (and more) before my mixer or boom op even has time to think about them; However, often it seems that all the third jobs need to happen at the same time! The more I do it the more I AM able to prioritize (although I do notice that when I get really stressed out I still tend to go all OCD about comteks...which is so not helpful to the "big picture.") Also, I have found that whether my job is more "boomcentric" or "mixercentric" depends a lot on the boom being cabled or wireless. With cabled, of course I am hyperaware of what is happening on the set and what needs the boom op has. On my last job, the first with a wireless boom, I spent most of my time with the wireless mikes and the follow cart and hopefully, meeting the needs of the mixer. I had to remind myself to be aware of what was happening on set.

Also, about work before call: At this point in my union career, I would rather come in a little early and have a slightly more relaxed set up. I might not feel that way if one dept (i.e. camera) had precall and sound didn't, but if no one has it then I feel like it is my decision to not start the day already under the oncoming locomotive. Maybe when I am seasoned, cynical, and faster I will feel differently.

Anyway, mixers (and boom ops), I would love to know more about what your expectations are for your thirds, especially if they differ from what is already posted here. And thirds: tips and tricks anyone?

Best,

Elanor

(PS I hope I don't come across as too much of a newbie or a moron...)

(PPS don't refer me to the other thread about utility sound. I DID see that one too. Just add if you feel like you have something to add.) ... have I covered my newbie a** well enough??

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First, Tom, I just want to be clear that I didn't mean any of that business about working before call as a direct affront to you or your team... I just thought it was something worth getting on record should this become some sort of cyber time-capsule that less experienced utilities reference in the future. It also seems that Robert expressed same sentiment in the parallel utilities thread.

Of course I understand that there are occasionally personal exceptions as Tom clearly outlined in his above post.

Also, about work before call: At this point in my union career, I would rather come in a little early and have a slightly more relaxed set up. I might not feel that way if one dept (i.e. camera) had precall and sound didn't, but if no one has it then I feel like it is my decision to not start the day already under the oncoming locomotive. Maybe when I am seasoned, cynical, and faster I will feel differently.

Elanor, it doesn't have so much to do with cynicism as it does upholding a standard. If you follow the current contract negotiations closely, you will see how important it is for us to all hold strong and stop giving things away. Every little freebie works to slowly erode the foundation that has been laid for us. We need to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and not succumb to economic pressures. If we show vulnerability, rest assured it will be seen as a weakness and before we know it our legs will be cut out from under us.

I didn't mean to steer this in such a political direction. These are messages that have been passed down to me, and I feel a duty to make sure that these standards continue to get passed on.

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If you work before call enough you will get a "talking to" by someone sooner or later. 5 minutes is one thing but don't give the work away, ask for a precall so you get paid! The teamsters will keep the trucks closed here in Boston if they have to as well.

I consider myself both a mixer and a utility, which is funny I know, but I mix small shows, reality, second unit and I utility on the big shows when I can. I work with a regular team and I think the mixer I work under tends to like that I "Think like a mixer" and can (usually) plan ahead the way he would. Of course it helps that we've done several shows together now and so much can go unspoken.

Something I wanted to note, Jan, your list is great. You're always able to articulate things very nicely, a gift I don't always have when delegating responsibility...

  • Do you want me to jam the slates?
  • Do you want me to put the Comteks out?
  • Do you want me to find AC?

The answers to these questions are always, "Yes." What I ask is that they think before asking any question, and ask themselves if they don't already know the answer. Nine times out of ten, they do. I swear it.

The only issue I have is here. Most of the time a third, when working for a new boss, asks these questions fully well knowing that the answer is yes, but we've all had the "don't touch anything without telling me" talk, and I think that's why thirds will timidly ask questions when they know the answer is yes. They don't want to rifle through your things without letting you know they are going to go through your things.

The mixer/boom/utility relationship is a unique one to every set. I like Jan's standards very much, but people taking hard notes, remember the rules will slightly change from mixer to mixer, and you'll do best to make yourself versatile and fit into the way the mixer and boom work. Even if it's that perfectly timed bottle of water for your boom op, the little things you do can make their day a thousand times easier.

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First, Tom, I just want to be clear that I didn't mean any of that business about working before call as a direct affront to you or your team... I just thought it was something worth getting on record should this become some sort of cyber time-capsule that less experienced utilities reference in the future. It also seems that Robert expressed same sentiment in the parallel utilities thread.

Of course I understand that there are occasionally personal exceptions as Tom clearly outlined in his above post.

Elanor, it doesn't have so much to do with cynicism as it does upholding a standard. If you follow the current contract negotiations closely, you will see how important it is for us to all hold strong and stop giving things away. Every little freebie works to slowly erode the foundation that has been laid for us. We need to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and not succumb to economic pressures. If we show vulnerability, rest assured it will be seen as a weakness and before we know it our legs will be cut out from under us.

I didn't mean to steer this in such a political direction. These are messages that have been passed down to me, and I feel a duty to make sure that these standards continue to get passed on.

No worries Wyatt,

I knew exactly what you meant -- my reply

was merely meant to reinforce what you were saying -- because it is important for the less-experienced members here to learn things the right way -- part of which includes not giving our work away for free -- it does set a dangerous precedent, and my mentioning that I often tend to be early and start "working" before call definitely warranted the type of response you offered. No worries at all -- you were spot on : )

~tt

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Been meaning to say that this topic should be "stickied," and required reading for all, experience level notwithstanding. It just explains so much so quickly with such pleasant candor. If I was just starting out I'd keep re-reading this until I could check off all the skills, and then I'd know I was awesome! I just wanted to say thanks Jan and JWSound yet again...

Dan Izen

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Been meaning to say that this topic should be "stickied," and required reading for all, experience level notwithstanding. It just explains so much so quickly with such pleasant candor. If I was just starting out I'd keep re-reading this until I could check off all the skills, and then I'd know I was awesome! I just wanted to say thanks Jan and JWSound yet again...

Dan Izen

+1

I trained under a super team in Mervyn Moore and Danny Crowley and i had a great mentor in Noel Quinn to set me straight when i thought i'd never get it. I later got to swing for Merv and it was a real honor to live up to the bar they set when i started.

The way we worked things was the boom ran the set i.e. the day to day stuff. (Its a slightly controversial policy but as a swinger i dont read the script. I only deal with the sides. I trust the mixer is on top of the big issues down the road and i deal with the day in front of us.)

The mixer stayed on the desk, the boom is our contact and the comms run one way. if merv says he wants it a certain way it happens. The advantage boom running the set correctly is he makes the calls and he comes with the clout to back it up. The mixer never had to get bogged down with pissy focus pullers or bored C - cams. If anything got seriously up in arms having the mixer weigh in meant shit got serious and it usually ended most arguments.

I think the original list of this thread was excellent and reminded me that i should do up a list of duties for my 3rds at the start of a job.

as difficult as the constant questions can be from your 3rd i think we could all help ourselves by helping them. A good list of starting duties like this tread is great.

one of the best things i learnt as a third is to see things coming and how to save yourself before it becomes a problem. it definitely takes time and a thick skin but never forget that your boom op and your mixer will always have your back. We all had to learn someway and every good sound team know that their third is the hardest working guy on the team. We have a rule that on a job the 3rd never buys his or her drinks. You get paid a rubbish amount for what you do and we always appreciate you coming in every day and giving it 100%

A couple of things you can do to help yourself:

- no.1 rule: keep your ear on. if you cant hear the set in your ear you should be worrying, it may be too late.

- get a role of 1 inch white camera tape and 2 inch black tap and put it on your hip at all times. you'll need it.

- Get a utility belt, have 2 spare versions of each of the batteries your crew uses (radios comms etc), a pen, a sharpie, i'm not a multitool fan so i'll say a box cutter knife, a screwdriver, a miniture screwdriver and anything else you think you'll need. these usually grow or become more streamlined as you get to know the gigs and your crew better but those are a good start.

- make sure you have a strong hip torch too and always do an idiot check at the end of the day. if you leave something behind half way up a mountain, its gonna be a long walk back. try to align things the same way everytime so it becomes habit. 9 wks in at 4am that'll save you.

- make your first duty to get sides for your crew, mark them for mixer boom and yourself and get a spare in your back pocket. your boom op will lose his, an actor will demand one in rehearsal, the director even the recordist will somehow lose his, making yourself useful is very handy.

- read the sides and know them, as the 1st is the booms go to guy, get to know the 1st's right hand guy. information will set you free.

- get sleep and hydrate. your brain functions on both and the more brain power you use the more you'll save on humping gear and running things in last minute.

- no crew wants you to be wasteful but if you put 2 half charged batteries in a Radio just to save a buck no one will thank you. why risk it, always go in fully charged and prepped

- always be at the tech rehearsal. your boom op will be in there earlier making a plan and you may be part of it. As a rule i'll explain my thinking to my 3rd at the end of tech rehearsal and then we go together to the mixer so he or she gets to see how we come to decisions. the sooner you can start thinking about the scene the sooner you'll know we'll need carpet there, or a pads for those cups, or whatever the scene calls for. Thats when you know youre getting it.

- a great way to start booming is to do off lines. if you're on your game and stay eager your boom op will throw you in on these. you may not even be in the mix because you're right beside camera but if you do it well you'll get trusted with on lines. dont drop or hang up the boom even if your part is done. a boom shadow from a boom pointing up in the air is a bad day coming your way. keep your back elbow up and enjoy living on the edge.

- the more responsibility you can take on your own shoulders and do well the more you'll be trusted with the good stuff. As mick said earlier, the recordist is the boss and i always try to make sure they worry more about their waistlines and getting us the next gig not the day to day problems, if you help me achieve that your the first call i make.

Enjoy being a 3rd, its amazing training and there's no better feeling than when you've nailed a massive wk, you've been swinging on lines in big scenes with your boom op, your gears all clean and charging, and you're not buying the pints.

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I just wanted I thank everyone who posted in this thread.. I've learned a great deal from reading and I really look forward to 3rding ASAP! I just joined local 487 so I'm hoping to get some utility work this year. I boomed for a great mixer/boom op in Baltimore, Lorenzo Millan, for about a week or so and learned more than I could ever imagine! I look forward to completing all the tasks listed above, and more!

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