“Sound has the set,” calls the 1st AD, fishing a roll-up from her pocket and heading for the fire exit.
The production sound mixer strides into the middle of the set and strokes his Hipster beard thoughtfully.
“What are you thinking, boss?” asks the gaffer, scratching at the beer belly under his Yamaha t-shirt.
The mixer points to the skylight. “Let’s have some early morning ambience coming through here – the one with the distant traffic.” With a sweeping gesture he encompasses one side of the kitchen set. “I want it to explode off the floor and reverberate throughout this whole area.”
“Hundred watt woofer?” the gaffer suggests. The mixer nods, and a spark scuttles off to the truck for the required speaker.
“Is that practical?” the mixer wonders aloud. The gaffer follows his gaze to the kettle, nods, and flicks the switch. The mixer pulls a sound meter from the pocket of his leather jacket and holds it up to the boiling appliance. “6dB under.”
“We could hide a little tweeter behind it, bring the level up a bit,” the gaffer suggests. “I’ve got half a dozen different kettle effects on the truck.”
The mixer agrees, and proceeds to point out several other positions around the set, which is soon full of busy sparks running XLR cables, rigging speakers and shaping them with sound blankets. A cacophony grows as each one is fired up.
“Does this look about right?” asks the 1st AS, steadying the Sennheiser as the grips wheel its massive Technoboom to the previously agreed spot. She holds a pair of headphones out to the mixer.
He puts them on, and a reverent hush descends upon the set. He pans the mic left, then right, then up, then down, then left and right again. Finally he takes off the cans, clutching at his SQN baseball cap to stop it coming off too. “We need to go tighter,” he pronounces. He holds up his two hands, forming a circular aperture with his fingers, and cups them around his ear. His face a picture of concentration, he squats down and listens intently through the hole in his hands. He shuffles a little to the left. “This is it. We need to be right here on the 67.”
“Copy that,” the 1st AS replies. Her 2nd drags over a massive flight case and she begins unscrewing the ME66 from the power module.
“OK everyone, standby for a mic rehearsal.”
At last the camera operator – who had been somehow hiding in plain sight – puts down his coffee and heaves an Alexa onto his shoulder, checking the image as the cast go through the motions.
The director presses her headphones against her ears, frowning. She turns to the mixer. “I’m not getting enough sense of where they are,” she says. “Can we go wider?”
A few moments later the 1st AS is sighing as she unscrews the ME67 and remounts the ME66.
“It’s really quiet,” a producer complains, from his canvas chair in front of the amp at sound city. “Can we turn it up a bit?”
“We’ve got to have the mood,” the mixer insists. “What you can’t hear is more exciting than what you can.”
“I’m paying to hear it!” snaps the producer. “And why is there so much hiss? I can barely hear the dialogue over it.”
“It’s atmosphere!” the mixer protests, but he can see he’s not going to win this one. Reluctantly he signals a spark to turn down the white noise generator.
“Cut!” calls the director, smiling in satisfaction at the cast. She turns to the mixer. “How was that for you?”
“That sounded beautiful,” he replies ecstatically.
“OK, moving on,” says the AD, reaching for the clip-list.
“Hang on a minute.”
All eyes turn to the camera op.
“The caterer walked through the back of shot.”
“Did he?” asks the AD, looking around the crew for confirmation.
“I didn’t pick him up,” says the mixer.
The camera op stares at them in disbelief. “He sauntered right across the back of the set. He was there the whole take. It’s completely unusable.”
The AD sighs. “I guess we’d better go again.”
“Can we ask people not to walk through the frame? This lens will pick up literally anyone that walks in front of it.”
The director thinks about this. “Have you got a different lens you can use?”
“Can’t you put Go Pros on them?” asks the AD, gesturing to the cast.
“I’d rather not use Go Pros,” a new voice chimes in. Everyone turns with surprise to see the director of photography blinking in the light. She almost never moves from the shadowy corner where she sits with LiveGrade and a monitor which is rumoured to display mostly rugby matches.
“We can’t afford to lose any more takes because of camera,” says the AD. “What’s wrong with Go Pros anyway?”
“The image just isn’t as good. The dynamic range…”
But the AD cuts her short. “Well, it’s either that or AVR.”
“I just think if we took thirty seconds to find a new position for the Alexa…”
As the producer strides over to stick his oar in, the sound assistants exchange knowing looks: this could go on for a while. The pair lean on the Magliner and check their phones.
“Have you ever worked with a Nagra?” the 2nd AS asks, conversationally. “I still think they sound better than digital.”