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Location, Location, Location

Will Strauss speaks to three location sound recordists/ mixers to find out what it takes to make it in the world of TV drama production.

recording kit, and working quickly. “I can use it [to adopt] a very instinctive way of recording,” he says. “I will always look at a script or a scene and plan it as effectively as possible but generally shots will be created on the hoof and a scene will play out very differently to how it was planned. ” Bell’s kit list is made up of a

ADRIAN BELL Selected TV drama credits: Merlin, The Seventh Hour Kit:Zaxcom, Lectrosonics, DPA, Schoeps

As the production sound mixer on all five series of the BBC’s Merlin, Adrian Bell knows how important audio is to a TV drama, and the magic it can add. “Sometimes sound is overlooked in the way it can change the way a scene plays out,” he says. “I like to be able to contribute to a project in many ways, not just recording the dialogue and effects, but also coming up with ideas for how a scene can be put together.” And that doesn’t have to mean

adding sound. In fact, less can be more. “Gravity has a really exciting use of just silence,” adds the RTS Award nominee.

A former documentary sound

recordist, Bell has now moved into drama and features, working on, among other things, Stephen Poliakoff ’s The Seventh Hour for BBC2 and, most recently, Everest, the Working Title movie about a 1996 climbing tragedy. He says that he tries to bring a bit of his factual filmmaking experience to the TV drama world: being mobile, using a small sound

22 April 2014

Zaxcom Deva 16-track recorder and Mix-12 mixer plus Lectrosonics radio mics and DPA personal microphones. His boom mics are Schoeps CMITs with Schoeps CCM 41 small cardioid mics used for planting onto the film set. To come up with the perfect blend

of kit “has taken quite a few years”, he says, not least because manufacturers are constantly improving their products but also because of the increasing numbers of recorded tracks needed these days. When it comes to dealing with

background noise, like all recordists, Bell has his own methods. “On a lot of TV drama there seems to be a great move away from sound stages and studios,” he explains. “So a lot of our work involves minimising background noise, location atmospheres, and filming between aircraft passes and sirens.” Dealing with harsh environments, as he did during the Everest shoot, is another challenge, he says. “In Nepal and Italy, where we worked at 10,000ft with an ambient daytime temperature of -20, to keep the kit working correctly, without holding up production, was a huge effort. The trick was to keep the sound rig as lightweight and small as possible.”

BARRY O’SULLIVAN Selected TV drama credits:Foyles War, Kidnap and Ransom, Primeval Kit:Fostex, Sennheiser, Lectrosonics, Sanken, Da-Cappo, Voice Technology

With a CV that includes Foyle’s War, Kidnap and Ransom, and Primeval – not to mention the movie remake of The Man From U.N.C.L.E – production sound mixer Barry O’Sullivan knows a thing or two about recoding audio on location. Starting out as a humble cable man before becoming a boom op and then a production sound mixer he has experienced most drama scenarios and is well placed to pass on the secrets of his craft. “Patience and perseverance are

important,” he says when asked what it takes to excel in this field. “Often we come against a general air of ‘we’ll have to loop this’ from other members of the crew or cast but often problems can be solved and difficult situations overcome with a bit of thought and hard work.” “Sound is a collaborative thing,” he explains. “I will always communicate with the director during a shoot, and with my team. We always discuss scenes and the best way to cover them and there

has been more than one occasion when one of my guys will point out something that I haven’t spotted.” O’Sullivan’s current location set- up is based around Fostex recorders with Sennheiser mics on booms, and then Lectrosonics radio mics with a combination of lavalier microphones from Sanken, Da-Cappo, and Voice Technology. “All of this equipment sounds

good, which is the most important thing, and has also proved to be very reliable,” he explains. When working on a TV drama

O’Sullivan is very aware of his place in the team dynamic. As such he makes it his business to speak with the sound editor in advance of the shoot – if time permits – and during post production and constantly observe where the story is going. “I am always aware of what the shot is and what lens is being used,” he says. “The sound needs to match the picture, or should that be the other way around? Also, knowing what is happening visually means that you can be prepared in case [you suddenly] need a second boom or require a microphone to be planted on the set.” In an ever-busier world, it will

come as no surprise to learn that background noise is the biggest challenge for a production sound mixer. But it can be overcome. “Physics is a hard thing to beat,”

he says. “In interior locations it might mean making sure doors and windows are closed. Or, if they need to be open when we shoot, for cable access, we will block up as much of the gap as possible.”

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