So you probably know the first part of that joke, and I don’t need to repeat it. To be truthful, I’m guilty of it, it is just so prevalent in the business. Indoctrinated into you from a young age. Everyone picks on the sound recordist.
I once said to a recordists I know (Antonio Arroyo – he’s very talented, works hard, and has excellent on set qualities) that Pictures without sound are still movies, but sound without pictures is radio. His response – When was the last time you saw a silent film? Maybe once every ten or so years would be the answer I guess – and films were never silent, there has always been music.
Why though, why does it have to be like this? Look, I’ve swung boom, I admit it, and not when shooting as a one man band, but as a boom op – long time ago. Yeah, I’ve even slung a Nagra around Australia, Indonesia, Western Africa, one of my first gigs, barely out of college. Beat a friend from college out for the gig too (I later shot a feature for him, Watch the trailer HERE) I’ve recorded sound, great sound, clean sound, beautiful, nuanced. The sound of wind across grass in the Philippines. Of course that was on a documentary, and the director and cameraman talked over everything. Argghhh, so frustrating. Such a long time ago. Quite the experience. The G-d dammed Cameraman and director talking over everything. I vowed then and there, that would be the last time I would be a sound recordist.
You know, it’s okay, I know a few sound recordists, and you have to respect them, but sometimes it isn’t easy. I was shooting a film, Two Way Crossing (Note grown up language on the You Tube clip), long time ago. We shot on film, recorded audio to tape, yes tape. Tape is dead, really it is, film outlived it, but then again digital killed everything. Back to the recounting. Now the audio guy, he was recording on a time code Nagra, very important for editing electronically. The funny thing was well, low budget, long days, not enough gear or crew. The sound man is burning through batteries. A new set of batteries every day an a half. Now look, I’m not sound recordist, I’m shooting the movie, but I did sling a Nagra for 6 weeks and I went through 2 sets of batteries. Sure, sure Time code Nagra uses more power, but still? So one day during lunch I notice the Nagra is on and running. Come on guy. Your bleeding batteries, and you leave the Nagra running during lunch. That wasn’t really his big crime. I’m working, and we are lighting, now look sound is half your movie, it really is. You have to work as a team, so the sound man is upset because he can’t get the mic where he wants it. No problem, I can help you out. I set a flag so he can hide the boom shadow. I’m a nice guy, and it worked with the lighting scheme. We are a team right, simple.
So why, got to know, why is it a few days later night shoot on a roof, and we rehearse, all looks good, but wait no. During the take suddenly something isn’t right. Stop the shot, check it. Looks fine, lets roll again, and its back. Stop, go through it again, again and again. Finally, I catch it. As I bring the camera to my eye – It’s an ACL, 16 mm, and the viewfinder was fine in its day, but it’s day was the early 1970’s and this in 1996. So I bring the camera to my eye, and there it is. The fricking boom op decides to put the boom in shot. Hey DUDE, what the hell. Look, we’ve done tons of rehearsals and why didn’t you boom any of them? Rehearsals, that’s when we figure out what works, what doesn’t and what adjustments to make. That tore it, right then and there.
You shoot a scene, you block it, you rough it in and camera seems to take precedence over everything. That’s not really how it is. You’re about to shoot, when suddenly we have to wait for a plane, or a bus, or a siren. Damn sound recordist. Yeah, yeah yeah. They’re doing their job. But it’s the fact that you can’t really do anything about it that becomes so frustrating. If there is a lighting issue, or something in front of the camera, you can fix it, call make up, whatever. so at least you aren’t just waiting and waiting for the person with the headphones to say it’s okay (and then say stop again) – hey someone go catch that fridge – its running.
You block, you begin to rehearse for camera, art department works, hair make-up everyone works. I get waiting a few rehearsals before finding the boom position, because the camera position has to be established, but there are a few more rehearsals after that before we are ready to roll. And yes, sometimes I have boned the sound recordist, and made booming the shot the way they want to boom it impossible, I’m sorry, wouldn’t do it if there was any other way, and I’ve set plenty of flags to give booms ops some shadows to hide in (and still sometimes they refuse, even if if it gets the mic just out of frame), so this happens, but waiting until we are ready to roll, and stopping everything because you want your own rehearsal, when the past few run throughs have been for all departments. . .
Frustrating, and everyone just tolerates the sound crew. . . Which is not the best attitude. But like I said, it is prevalent. Maybe it is left over from the really early days, when sound was introduced, and the camera forced into a fixed box. I’ll tell you though, it doesn’t work when the sound recordist is separated and at odds with the rest of the crew. Sound is half the movie, really it is, and all jokes aside, sound is half the movie. But we are just stuck, stuck in this mindset where the sound team is somehow secondary, an after thought. I’ve worked with good and bad recordists, and the bad ones always seem to stick in your mind. The really good recordists, practically invisible, just as with any of the crafts. Get in, get your job done, don’t make a fuss -it’s about the actors performance after all, and get out. Yeah, there are always problems that arise – many of them beyond the sound recordists control, but they get the blame. Life isn’t fair, deal with it, and if you want to blame someone for that – go see William Goldman.
When I’m directing, sound is important, and I trust my sound recordist, they’ve the power to call cut if it is no good. Very few people can call cut on my shoots. Me, the sound person, me, maybe the cam op if the camera breaks, me. So I trust the sound recordist, but I see it all too often. We are all to blame, even the sound recordist. I don’t want to blame them, and probably there is some secret gathering room of sound recordists, where they all get together and rip us all for judging them unfairly. Because when everyone is ready to go, and then sound insists on a rehearsal for sound. It is too late, the downward spiral has begun again and the cycle continues, and you know what? It Hz.
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