Moss grows on a fatted calf or why do we need this thing called sound?

I know I promised to start talking about Content and Style, Content versus style, and I will. However some people were asking me about the whole M.O.S. thing, and just the other day on a shoot, another cameraman was discussing the whole “Mit Out Sound” myth.

Well, years ago on a shoot a sound-man who claimed to have a background in the German language – well he did have blonde hair and blue eyes – but so did my grandmother – explained that it wasn’t how a German would construct a sentence. That the myth that Z.Z. Von Snerck (Old British Television Show reference – can you figure it out? No Googling the answer that’s cheating) would not have said “So okay now we will the picture “Mitt Out the sound.)

So where does M.O.S. come from??? Well as I mentioned in my last post – if you came up in the video world (which I did not, but I’ve cross pollinated at times) M.O.S. stands for “Man On Street”, and boy did my jaw drop when the prducer said okay lets go outside for some M.O.S. interviews??????? – Oh “Man On Street.”

We all know it means picture without dialog. Now when shooting it really makes sense to roll audio, even if it is “Wild” – Ahhh Wild it makes sense you’ll see – Shooting “double system” this can be a little bit of a pain – start the audio device, then start the camera and bang the sticks so you can sync the picture and audio later. It ads some time, and then if everyone isn’t ready for it, it will add more time. Single system is a little easier, when the camera rolls so does audio.

Note the following aside:

M.O.S. – “Mixer off Set”, “Mic off Set”, “Mixer out Smoking” – oh please share your own versions.


Think way back, way way back. You shot 35mm film, and recorded audio on Magnetic tape – Dawn of time – and audio was sometimes recorded on a spool of wire. No, really I have an old “Wire Recorder” the audio is recorded on a spool of wire – wonder if that’s where the term “wearing a wire” comes from? The machine is huge, and so much copper, I could probably retire. Now after you are done shooting and it is time for post production – you go and you need to sync up the film with the audio. Enter the wonderful machine known as the Movieola (or FANG by some.) Film is printed to a workprint, Audio is transferred to mag track (Clear film stock with Magnetic audio tape somehow attached that runs at the same speed as the film stock.) The Movieola has ONE motor that runs the picture head, and when you are cutting picture only, that is all you need. But once you start adding audio, now you need to link the picture and sound heads together. Simple enough today – select link tracks in your NLE – oh wait. This is physical media of film and audio that need to move together so the Movieola has a little “coupler” device to lock the picture and sound head together. Just a little sleeve that connects the two drive shafts together. You can move the sleeve to un-couple or to couple the shafts.

So now we shoot, and most of it is with dialog. But a few shots on the roll don’t have audio, so the audio guy doesn’t run the recorder, and when it is transferred to the mag track, if you kept running the picture and sound head together then you would start getting audio from other later shots over the Footage that wasn’t meant to have audio. Think of it like two trains next to each other and you start pulling train cars out of one, but not the other.

So here is how it was explained to me a long time ago by a grizzled old A.C. When you were going to shoot footage that had no production audio accompanying it. You would slate the footage with the words – “Motor Out Sync.” Which could mean two things –

1. The camera motor is not running regulated to a crystal control (or in the early early way back days to the Electric Mains – i.e. plugged into a wall) , which could mean you were running the camera either faster or slower than 24 fps and it wasn’t precisely controlled.

2. This is a note to the editor to de-couple the picture and sound head of the movieola or to take the “Motor Out of Sync.”

M.O.S.  – Motor Out of Sync. It’s a Post production thing.

Thanks for reading.

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9 Responses to Moss grows on a fatted calf or why do we need this thing called sound?

  1. Marc Baron April 25, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    MOS alos cmes from the earlier days of film making, when most of the cinematographer, and many of the directors, were German….and they’d yell out, “Mit out zound!” to the crew when they wanted sound off.

    • sgladstone April 25, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

      Got to read the whole post Marc. I appreciate the reading, and no one has gotten he Z.Z. Von Schnerk (as a stand in for the German directors.) Thanks for reading.

  2. Captain Zorikh April 25, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    M.O.S. = Motor Out Sync? I thought it was Erich Von Stroheim saying that he was shooting “Mit Out Sound.”

  3. Captain Zorikh April 25, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Oh, now I just read the rest of the entry. Good stuff!

  4. sgladstone April 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    Eric Von Stroheim – Z.Z. Von Schnerk – and no one has gotten the old TV show reference. Yet.

  5. Joe Pfeil April 27, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    Good article, I usually refer to MOS as “Mistake on Set” because a lot of people think that a scene without dialog should be MOS. Huge mistake, huuuuuge mistake! Every breath, every nuance is important, and if it isn’t recorded, the story suffers irreparably. MOS should only occur, if there is absolutely no chance that the sound will be usable.

  6. Norman April 27, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Nice article, Steven, and welcome to reelgrok. We’re glad to have you here.

    I’ve heard MOS when lunch was cold or bad (miserly old scrooge) and when teamsters were needed (mostly off set). I don’t know anyone who took “Mit Out Sound” seriously (if we’re mocking the dialect, I’d guess MOZ would a closer guess), but everyone knew it was time for the sound crew to head to the craft services table and the scriptie to yell “I don’t care, slate it anyway….”

  7. Michelle Shyman April 27, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    Fun article; I had always believed the Mit Out Sound tale.

    • Wilhelmina July 2, 2011 at 3:57 am #

      This piece was cogent, well-wrtiten, and pithy.

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