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BROADCAST FOCUS Nigel Heath, Hackenbacker

Selected TV drama credits: Downton Abbey, Whitechapel, Spooks, The Musketeers Kit: AMS Neve MMC and Pro Tools

“[A great mixer will] bring something worthwhile to the production, rather than just being the bloke who blends it all together soundwise,” argues Hackenbacker’s double Bafta Craft award winner,

Nigel Heath. “By dropping sounds on certain scenes or playing something mute that would normally have a sound you can increase the sense of drama.” And to do that successfully, you really need to be a team player: “An awful lot of

hard work and consulting goes on with the exec, the director, and the composer beforehand,” he says. “If they say it’s really important that a moment is really quiet, I’ll make the scene before it sound super frenetic so that when we get to that quiet moment it seems super quiet. It’s about collaboration.” Once a tone is agreed, his modus operandi is a simple but effective one. “I work

very quickly,” he says. “I do that because if I mess around with [the mix] too much I think I’ll spoil it. I love seeing people’s reactions in the studio when you do something a bit mad or unorthodox. And we’ll lock it off there and then because it might be useful. You have to tap into your gut reactions. And they’re normally the good ones. If you over refine you can spoil interesting and original ideas.” Getting clear dialogue is key and Heath ensures they get it absolutely right. “On shows like Downtown Abbey, the dialogue is king. It is beautifully written and is delivered by fantastic actors. That is what we need to get across. “With the editors who supply dialogue tracks to me I am quite a hard task

master,” he continues. “We seldom get clarity notes during exec reviews because we tend to get all that stuff done at the pre-mix stage. The first time I hear a scene if I don’t understand a word or two I will send a note up to the editors and they may

Downton Abbey (courtesy ITV)

find a clearer reading or take and we’ll drop a word or two into the tracks. This avoids you having to push the level to make something clearer. When the director comes in you sound them out about it. If they’re not cool with it, we’ll go back to what they’ve shot but we explain we’re doing it for the clarity of the programme.” In Heath’s experience, one of the biggest challenges for a dubbing mixer working

on a TV drama is creating an illusion of size. “I’m doing a show at the moment for the BBC with lots of horses stampeding and swords fights and thunder,” he says, referring to his latest project, The Musketeers. “My challenge is to make the sound the right scale for television so that it’s clear but you still get the dynamism of the story while forcing those guns and those hooves through the screen.” These constraints might be a barrier to some but to Heath, it is one of the beauties of mixing a TV drama. “In telly you cannot do what you like,” he concludes. “It’s a challenge to generate a big explosion for the producer and the exec but still hit PPM 6, if still appropriate, and get the excitement through.”

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