TV Timecard and Sound Report Writer apps

Friday, December 16, 2011

Antenna Distribution Layout for 4 SRs

I've had a lot of questions about the layout of my antenna distribution system in my bag, so I've put this post together as an open-source project. If you have any suggestions or modifications, feel free to post in the comments below. The original idea was to have a sort of mobile cart setup to get the best attributes of a cart based system (i.e. robust RF, video feed access, etc.) with the mobility of a bag. The Octopack seems too bulky, and I didn't like the layout.  It's not ideal for every shoot, but it works well for most that I do. Plus, I carry my whips in the front pouch just in case.
Antenna Distribution Flow (click for larger version)

Ok, for the actual parts list, here's what I recommend for 4 Lectro SRs.  The hardware is a must, but you can make your own cables if you're handy and have time.

Required Stuff:
It's a mess right now, but it works well.
One of these for each side of the SR makes it work

Since it stays velcroed shut, I added female
BNC extensions for convenience
Choose an antenna type:
  • For Dipole Antennae: 2 #ACOAXBNC cable from Lectrosonics cut to your block (bag mountable)
  • For Shark Fin setup: 1 Diversity Fin from RF Venue at $399

Remote Antenna Cable:
  • 2 25ft RG8 coax cable at $170/each, but I use 2 25ft RG59 (shhh!) at just $5.50/each and I don't seem to have any issues.  I'm sure I'll get reamed for this one.
  • I also keep a 6ft. version in my bag for when I don't need/want all 25ft.

The end of my BNC extensions coming out of the bag

  • 1ft. BNC extensions (SCB11983-XX) coming from inside your bag so you don't have to dig in everytime; it's just there on the side.  They're male on the end that connects to the UFM230 and female on the end that connects to the coax run.  I actually also have 2 hanging from my Diversity Fin permanently for convenience.  This way there are fewer weak points with no barrels needed.  My 4 were custom made by Trew and were a bit pricey, at about $50/each (ouch!!).  Not sure I would recommend that.
At the end of the day, this rig gives me powerful range while allowing me to set up and break down in tight spaces where it's essential to maintain a small footprint (i.e. Reality TV).  I went from pretty much living next to camera with all this strapped around my back, and now I'm able to jump in with ease for any fixes or communicate with production in Video Village.  Whatever your reasoning is for a system like this, good luck!  You're sure to enjoy it!!

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Stereo to Mix - HDX900 Tutorial

Camera ops often carry their own cans.  Sometimes it's a true mono earpiece, but more often than not it seems to be a pair of stereo earbuds with one end cut off.  They usually plug into the front headphone jack on a camera (on reality, it's most commonly an HDX900), which doesn't have easy access to select the kind of mix you want to send it.  So here's a quick reference guide to change the front headphone jack on a Panasonic HDX900 from a stereo mix to a mono mix.

Problem:  Camera op can only hear one channel.
Solution:  Go to the menu and give him both!

The monitor select switch on the side only controls the rear headphone jack, so we have to go into the camera's menu to make it happen.  It's easiest to just do this on a prep day.  I know very few camera ops that wear both sides of a set of stereo headphones, so this is typically a common problem that usually takes some exploring.

Step 1:  Turn on the camera and locate the Menu and Jog buttons.
Front of the camera, near the white balance button

There are two different buttons.  One turns and depresses and the other just depresses.

Step 2:  Press and hold both the Menu and Jog buttons for 3 seconds.  This will bring you to the main menu screen.  If you just press Menu once, a screen will pop up, but it's a different section of the menu.  You should be looking for the top-most directory, **** MAIN MENU ****.
MAIN MENU screen will pop up after pressing both buttons for 3 seconds

Step 3:  Navigate and select the MONITOR SELECT item  using the menu wheel to the MIC/AUDIO 2 page.  The path is MAIN MENU>VTR MENU>MIC/AUDIO 2>MONITOR SELECT.

Step 4:  The default setting is STEREO.  Select the item and change it to MIX.  Press the Menu button to exit and you're good to go.

Default is STEREO

Change to MIX and get the hell outta there!

Now your friendly neighborhood camera operator will be able to have both channels in each ear.  Whether they've cut or ripped off a spare pair you gave them or they just use one side of their iPod headphones, now they can hear the whole story instead of half.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ISO Mount from LMC Sound Officially Launched

Back in March 2011, I reviewed a prototype of this mount for the Sanken COS-11.  There were several things I liked about it and a couple things I thought could be improved.  I'm glad to see that Percy Urgena at LMC Sound values the opinions of other mixers and actually listens.  This final version is somewhat flexible and appears to offer the ability to pinch the mount to insert the mic head and then release it to provide the tension that keeps it in place.  The biggest issue I had with the prototype was that it was very difficult to remove the mic head from the mount, and the final design appears to remedy that.  This looks like it will be a valuable tool in any mixer's bag and I would suggest picking a couple up.  Priced at $8.50 each, I think you'll definitely get your money's worth since they're reusable.  Also, look for the final version of the "C Mount" sometime very soon.  I had a chance to play with it as well and it could be a good tool if you have several different mics in your bag and are looking for a versatile mount.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

LectroRM - Control Wireless Transmitters Wirelessly

Controlling our wireless transmitters once they are on talent typically requires a mixer to step in, dig out the transmitter from the talent's underwear and push a few buttons.  With the release of the SM transmitters from Lectrosonics in 2005, the ability to adjust these settings could be done remotely, with access to the lav being the only requirement.  Well, that and a $600 remote (sold separately).  That is, until now.  An app is now available for the iPhone and Android phones that has all the same abilities as this remote.  The technology used is a series of "dweedle tones," a proprietary tone containing a unique code, much like an audible bar code, to execute nearly 300 commands to the transmitter.  Settings that can be adjusted include sleep mode, volume, frequency and lock mode.  For only $20, it's a helluva deal.  From the convenience of my pocket, I can now offer more value (less time spent interrupting talent) without breaking the bank on something I'll never get a rental for.  Everybody wins!  I'd love to see the first person that uses the iPad for this.  Now if I just had that built-in USB charger in my bag...

Search LectroRM in your local app store.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Beating The Heat

Today marks the 40th consecutive day that we've had temperatures of 100° F or higher here in Dallas.  Thankfully, today was a studio shoot, so no big deal...well, until I get into the studio.  It was one of those warehouse conversions that wasn't originally built with production in mind.  They had actually done a pretty good job of insulating the walls and ceiling, better than most for sure.  It was nice and cool, but the A/C was a unit mounted on the ceiling directly over our camera.  The first thing I was told when I arrived was that for the sake of the client and talent, the A/C needs be left on.  As a location sound mixer, you have two main jobs: 1) get good, clean audio and 2) make the client happy.  This was kind of a catch twenty-two, but certainly not the first one I've encountered.  After taking a keen listen to the ambiance, I determined that the amount of noise caused by the A/C would be insignificant with talent talking and the music to be laid underneath (thank God, cause it would be miserable otherwise).  There's no way I would've let us roll through the day if it were unusable, but it certainly wasn't the ideal scenario.  I once had a producer-friend of mine tell me that he had a guy one time that stopped an interview for every little frog fart.  Deciding what's acceptable and unacceptable is definitely the most subjective part of this job.  You just have to choose your battles so that you can win the war.

(NOTE: Today's title is also an homage to the 2010-2011 NBA Finals Champions, the Dallas Mavericks, who also "beat the Heat")

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Times Are Charging

You know it's 2011 when a sound mixer has an iPhone charger built into his/her bag. Remote Audio announced today that the new version of the their battery distribution system, BDSv4U, will have a USB port that meet all standards for charging an iPhone and iPad. Nearly every sound guy has at least some version of this setup, but will they be willing to let you drain some of their valuable juice in your time of need? My suggestion is to be extra nice to your sound mixer next time you're on set, and maybe...just maybe he'll let you. One thing is for sure...that's an extra rental on my invoice :-)

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Adapt and Overcome

I arrive on set and call my contact to escort me in and he tells me to just chill in the car because everyone is tied up. It's one of those shoots, as I soon discover. So an hour later I get in the building and the cam op tells me he's having some issues with the wireless lav he's using. It's a Sennheiser G2, which I'm only vaguely familiar with, but I took a listen and could tell it was a frequency issue. I go to scan and retune the damn thing and can't get it to select a specific freq. After troubleshooting for a few minutes, I could tell the gear was f**ked. They are already halfway through their day and he needed to shoot some OTFs. Instead of trying to trouble shoot anymore, I just set him up with a Lectrosonics SR w/shoe mount rig for his EX1 so he could get going. I would have some downtime before we really got going, so that was fine.

Table stand (minus the gooseneck)
 and a PSC shockmount
It was just one of those situations that we run into all the time where you just have to be prepared for anything. This show usually operated with just 2 camera ops doing the sound themselves. Tough job, IMHO. I was just here for one specific duty for an aerial silk performance, so it was supposed to be an easy day...right?

I did, however, get this floor mount for an MKH70 made from a couple things I had in my car. A spare shockmount and table stand did the trick just fine.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

I Don't Have The Power, Cap'n!!

In run and gun mode, which is what a lot of reality is, sound mixers are often thrown into a new RF environment without the time to properly coordinate frequencies. Granted, on most shoots, you'll know where you're going to be and will be afforded the time to at least scan the vicinity for a clear frequency. However, with over a dozen cast members and a few sound mixers, sometimes it's easier, and often necessary, to keep the assigned freqs as they were.

I've been less than impressed with the stock RF range and quality of my 4 Lectrosonics SR receivers I have in my bag with my Sound Devices 788T. A combination of IFB and camera hop transmitters seems to have caused a bit of RF chaos in my bag. After a little research and desperation, I found a solution that I could piece together from Pascal van Strydok on Lectrosonics's website. After speaking with Pascal, I decided to incorporate this setup into my bag. I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed. From top to bottom, this antenna array has dramatically improved my range and limited any intermodulation that I previously experienced with the stock antennae. The power consumption is extremely low. The way I currently have it set up, it uses it's own Li-Ion NP-1. At the end of a 12 hour day, it usually doesn't even go down a tick mark. I'll soon combine it into the single BDS rather than two separate ones.

The thing that I noticed that made the most difference in the quality of reception was the separation of the antennae from the bag. I tried them on the bag with mediocre results. Mounting them on my shoulders proved a little better, but was cumbersome when trying to put on and take off my bag from my harness. The next thought I had was to mount them on my headphones. Seemed a little absurd at first, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Better separation from the bag and ease/quickness of removal for me to get away came together for my final tweak.

So here I am, walking around set looking like an alien that just arrived from the mothership. But hey, look who can sit around the corner (probably comfortably) without any issues. Work smart, not hard. After all, you do want to last more than 10 years, right?
Location:Dallas, TX

Location:Dallas, TX

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

TEST DRIVE: Sound Devices CL-WiFi

The Sound Devices 788T is a powerful tool for shows requiring multi-track recording. The biggest pitfall with the 788T, though, is the inability to edit metadata with ease and in a hurry. The menus aren't easily navigable to someone that's not incredibly familiar with it, and even if you are, there's more scrolling than a stock market ticker. So the next step for Sound Devices was to either create an add-on or redesign the units from the ground up. The CL-WiFi was released in February 2011 as a solution for this much needed feature. Everyone and their mama has an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, so it seems like a logical decision to use what's already out there. Or is it??

I was enthused by Gotham Sound's run through with the unit and decided to pick one up. The idea of being able to just type the stuff in and remote record capabilities was too much to pass up, even if it is more of a novelty. Bear in mind that all my work right now is reality, so consider that working environment before attempting to counter anything here. You can already use a keyboard via USB or other remote roll options, but in a bag it seems silly to carry around a keyboard, and adding an extra button for something that already works fine doesn't warrant a purchase, not even from me. I've just dealt with scrolling through the alphabet one character at a time, hopefully knowing all my cast at the beginning of the day and just adding them as we go. That system has worked well so far, so I wasn't really pressured into this being a do-or-die item. the point of this review. I put this through some rigorous real world tests with the expectation that everything would work flawlessly. That was, in fact, not the case at all. I'll highlight each of the pros and cons below. For the record, I'm running version 2.14 on the 788T with a CL-8 and a 64GB iPad WiFi running version 4.3.2, and CL-WiFi app version 1.0.0. (UPDATE: v2.15 on the 788T and v1.0.1 on the CL-WiFi app is now available)

Why It's Nifty:

Remote Recording: This isn't a deal maker by any means, but how could it not be included? You can start and stop, mark a false take, and circle a take from the main Transport page, which also displays the meters. This feature came in handy most when setting the bag in the trunk of a car and waiting for the camera department to do their thing.  Once they were finally set, I just hit the big red button from my iPad and didn't have to waste any extra data than was necessary.

Editing the metadata is super easy on the Take List page. Access to 20 takes within a touch.
Metadata Editing: Ok, this is actually what sold me. My biggest problem thus far has been solved. The CL-WiFi app is laid out nicely and in an intuitive format. There are two ways to edit your data; either on the first page, called Transport or on the second page, called Take List. I tended to find myself using the Take List section most often. In this view, you're able to take a quick glance at the previous 18 takes, the current/last recorded take, and the next take. Just tap on a take in the list and all available info is there; scene name, take number, file name, notes, circle, and track names. Each can be edited before, during, or after it is recorded, with the exception being that you cannot circle the upcoming take before it's rolled. You can copy and paste, which I found especially useful in the notes section when post wants a scene description. Just copy and paste the same info for all the takes that are affected.  With all that said, it does take about anywhere from 5-10 seconds for all twenty takes to load.

Two quick refreshes updates your info.
Refreshing: All info is refreshed after you hit Save. You can edit the whole take and then save, or edit each line item and save after each edit. Either way, the info is automatically refreshed with two quick flashes of the screen (left). Just remember to save or guessed won't be saved. And when you change the upcoming scene name, the take number automatically resets to 1 (if you want it to) in the refresh.

Easily label your unit(s)
Foolproof LEDs: On the hardware side of things, the CL-WiFi is a rugged little box about the size of an engagement ring box, but a little thinner...and harder to open (for some more so than others). Two green LEDs let you know at a glance if the unit has power (driven from the C.Link connection) and if there is a connection.

Customizable IP: The configuration options in the 788T menu allow for an easily customizable IP address as well as an SSID. This works well when using multiple rigs in the same vicinity. For example, I changed the SSID from "CL-WIFI" on both rigs to "A-team" and "B-team," respectively, along with unique IPs.  UPDATE: Firmware v2.15 on the 788T changes the customizable IP address from read and write to read-only.  You can still change the SSID, and add WEP64 security, but you're at the mercy of the 788T-generated IP address, which according to SD, doesn't affect directing a CL-WiFi to a specific 788T. When using WEP64 security, you MUST have EXACTLY 10 characters.

Range: The range on this unit is stellar.  It performs as well as any wifi should.  Whether it was through walls or in a car, it was accessible in all the places it needed to be.  And if you do by chance get disconnected, the 788T keeps on chugging along with whatever the previous command was.

Car-to-Car: I had mixed results on my car-to-car usage.  On the show I've been testing it on for the past month now, we've done very few car scenes, and when we did there were always lipstick cams as well as other HDX900s with their Starlinx on (see below for more info) for exterior shots.  While using my unit mostly in our production vehicle, I did notice that the speed of the car doesn't affect the performance whatsoever.  This ability, combined with my range tests, leads me to believe it'll be just fine for car-to-car scenes.
Car-to-Car scenes worked out great!
UPDATE: I had a very successful day of car-to-car scenes. We only had one tracking camera in the lead vehicle, an H2 as the picture car, and myself and story in the follow vehicle. I had the lone camera turn off its Starlinx and I was able to go the whole scene with only one dropout, and that was when the whole caravan got separated.  I'd say we were mostly within 50 feet or so, with the bag in the floorboard of the back seat.  The only hiccup was some lagging on the meters and a slower-than-normal take load.  This works like a charm, just like I had hoped. But still, all you can do is monitor the info.  Granted, thats more than anything we've been able to do in the past.

Input Routing: I did like the convenience of having all the input routing options at my fingertips.  It's a solid, easy to understand layout that you really can't mess up.  Pre- and Post-fade buttons are accessible and intuitive, as is all the other track assignments.  This page isn't something that will get used very much, but it's useful to have when setting up for a show.  One thing I thought about doing, though never actually was brave enough to do, was to let a story producer take control of the Input Routing page to allow him/her select which tracks they'd like to hear out of the AUX1 track.  I have my track clearly labeled "IFB" and all the individual tracks have the cast members labeled as well, but I have a hard time trusting a producer with my IFBs, better yet my iPad with full control over my recorder.  I'd like a "Producer Mode" that would let you lock down all the major functions and give them limited control over certain functions.  If they want to isolate a character from an 8-person table scene with 3 different conversations, they could.  And I'd still be able to send a "correct" mix to camera.  I realize there are other ways around that, but this would just be a luxury feature.

Prepare for blackouts
What Sucks:

Inconsistent Login: You have to make sure you give the iDevice time to connect each time you wake it up, or else you get the "Please check WiFi network then restart the application" message. Essentially you just aren't going to receive the instant gratification we are all so used to.

Unusable Within Vicinity Of Starlinx: Ok, this one's a doozie. One possible oversight in this whole system is the technology being used. Truth be told, it took me nearly a full week to figure out what was going on. The biggest benefactor of this device is the reality sector, and I haven't been on many shows that don't use wireless video transmission. Have you shot shot in a house and knocked out the Internet with the Starlinx? Well guess what, the same thing happens with the CL-WiFi. The iDevice will show an established connection, but it'll be unable to communicate with the CL-WiFi. This can be a deal breaker for those with few locations where the cameras are always on. We had several company moves that allowed me to just throw the bag in the truck of our mini-van and prepare for the next scene and edit previous ones. Nevertheless, I wasn't able to use it how it was intended while rolling, so I came out very disappointed on this front. Maybe when everyone is using their iPad as a wifi video monitor, everything will be squared away.

After typing "bartender" out, I had (chose) to go back and edit it.
Limited Auto-Caps: On the opening "Transport" page, when editing scene and track names, the auto-caps feature is disabled. Nothing major, but I find the inconsistency interesting more than anything. It works just fine on the "Take List" page. This might be an issue for the OCD-types when labeling tracks.

Take Quantity: As far as I can tell, you are limited to just the 18 previous takes.  There's no option to Load More like there is on many apps containing older info.  You better make sure you edit it before you move on very far.

Take Duration Display: Of all the options available to display, I believe there's room on an iPad for the take duration in the Take List section.  It does display the duration while recording, but not in the Take List. Seldom used, but appreciated when needed.

Battery Display: it would be nice to see the battery level of the 788T within the app. Currently there is no such indication anywhere.

Playback Mode: A minor aspect that's missing is a playback mode. Currently, you can only control playback directly from the 788T. The meters will display on the CL-WiFi, but no other info will, including the scene names, take number, track names, and timecode. However, the run time is displayed. Selecting play from the "Take List" would be advantageous. I'd like to see all that info during playback, as well as a green background to indicate playback, much like the way it uses red for recording. Perhaps you could navigate through the next take and previous take as well from the "Transport" screen.

The main Transport page offers a lot, but not playback.
Output Routing: If there's gonna be input routing, I think there should be output routing.  I find myself changing up my outputs more often than my inputs.  If that's the standard with most mixers, or hell, even just some, then it's probably worth having on the board.

Sound Report: I've seen a lot of apps in my day and I know they are capable of pulling off some pretty cool things, including creating PDFs. I think the top priority for this app should be the ability to create a PDF sound report that can be e-mailed or saved to iBooks. Right now the lack of this feature means you MUST use an extra step somewhere, be it in a small spiral notebook or through Wave Agent on a laptop. Not a huge deal, but a relative inconvenience for now.

So it seems a better idea on paper than in reality. For the first version of these products, both the hardware and software are solid.  The hardware is as good as it can be, but I think there are some strides to be made on the app side of things. I'm not sure of the technological capabilities of Bluetooth, but I think it'd be something to consider in future applications. I'd gladly sacrifice a few dozen feet of range for pure functionality. This device is best suited on smaller shows, commercials, or other productions that don't use any powerful 2.4Ghz video transmitters. That, honestly, is my biggest gripe. Everything else seems like it can be fixed in a software update, so it still has a lot of value to a 788T user. You just need to know your surroundings. Hopefully either WiFi and/or Bluetooth will be built into future products to take advantage of the capabilities. A for effort, B- for execution. Now, back to work.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Outside The Box: Cell Phone Tap

Capturing phone conversations on-screen 10 years ago would require you to patch into the land line that's being used.  Not a big deal, but you need some setup time and a land line.  Nowadays, in reality anyways, you don't always have the luxury of setup time OR a land line.  It'll typically just be phone call from the talent's cell phone, which you obviously can't attach any device onto, unless you have a post department that really enjoys rotoscoping.  So instead of fighting speaker phones and awkward phone placement near a lav, just embrace the technology and use it to your advantage.

Stereo mini to TA5 to connect an iPhone to Lectro transmitter: $35
The solution has been in front of you all along.  Just take another person's cell phone, preferably the producer's, and take the audio feed out of their headphone jack.  From there you can either send to a transmitter or connect it directly to one of your inputs.  Chances are, you already have the cables and/or adapters to make it happen.  I got Trew Audio to make me a line level stereo mini to TA5 cable to send the feed wireless to me.  Our producer wanted to still be able to talk to the person on the other end, so she just kept her phone near her and maintained the controls.  Once you have your levels set properly, have the producer call the person that's off camera.  This connection will stay active, but the producer will mute their side of the conversation.  When the on-screen talent makes the call to the off-screen talent, it'll be just like normal.  Just merge the calls to a three-way conversation and BAM, you're in.  It works pretty much the same way for making and receiving a call.  You get the highest quality sound possible without much intrusion.  Just don't forget to put it on it's own track.  Location sound is all about problem solving on the fly.  If you have the tools and mindset at your disposal, you'll get to lunch much faster.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Wires Are For The Birds

Wireless audio is one of the many necessities in reality television.  A typical setup will include multiple wireless lavs for talent as well as wireless camera hops for the cameras, as well as some IFB feeds for producers to listen in on the action.  And choosing exactly the right tool for the job isn't always the simplest task either.  It's easy to go with what you're comfortable with, and typically that's not a bad idea, especially if it's top of the line gear.  Though over the past couple years or so I've seen a lot of different wireless options, transmitters and receivers alike, that have really opened my eyes to what can be done with wireless audio.  I own and use several different brands for my wireless needs.  As the Sound Supervisor on my current show, I had the opportunity to snag some of Zaxcom's RX900 Stereo Receivers for our shoot...5 of them.  When paired with their sister stereo transmitters, the TX900 (x2), beautiful things can happen.

 Five Panasonic HDX900s geared up with Zaxcom RX900 Stereo Receivers
There are several things I like about these products, with only a couple minor setbacks.  Holding the lion's share of the market, Lectrosonics' products are my standard to judge other wireless transmitters and receivers on, in terms of product quality, fidelity, wireless capabilities, and user friendliness.  Zaxcom has done a really good job with this line of camera hops.  First off, to get two channels of audio to the camera, there's only one transmitter, one receiver, and one frequency.  This makes it super easy, and more importantly super light, to carry and maintain the units.  The frequency scan functions a little differently than the Lectro 400 series in that the RX900 automatically selects a frequency rather than you choosing your own based on the graphical layout of all 256 channels.  Plus, you save a little time by only coordinating one frequency rather than two.  Having said that, the Zaxcom stereo signal eats up about 5 times the bandwidth of a single Lectrosonics channel (a little tidbit I learned firsthand from Jay Gerber, the Super Bowl Frequency Coordinator).  So the whole "one frequency" thing can be a little deceiving, especially if you're in a tight RF space.  Even though Lectro has their dual-channel SR units, you have to run them on two different frequencies.  So while the math favors Lectrosonics's technology, most applications will allow for the extra bandwidth.  Having only one unit with one frequency also makes for quick adjustments on the fly, which with two bags on our current show, can come in handy if the director wants to split a camera off to a different destination or changes the coverage dramatically.  With the RX900, we can just dial in the frequency with just the touch of a few buttons and be back up and running.  I also like how the buttons are designed on the RX900 over the SR.  They are raised, just like on a 411, which makes it easy to navigate the menu with just one hand.  I've found that with the SR's recessed button design, you have to apply a little counter force to have it recognize a depression.  When it's on a camera operator's shoulder and you're running around, that's something to consider.  And speaking of camera operators, I had 5 immediate friends when they walked in on Day One and saw that just the one unit on the back of their cameras.  Not having two 411s extended off the back or in a straddle bag makes their life easier, which makes me look like the good guy.  The biggest design flaw is the battery door on the receiver.  In order to keep it closed, you have to either have it filled with 4 AA batteries or tape it shut.  This was the same with the older, black version as well.  Even though the SR can fit in the slot of the HDX900, you still have to have the TA5 option since most HDX900s are upgraded to have the second channel activated in the slot.

I actually already own an older Zaxcom Stereo ENG set on Block 28 (shhh, don't tell), and I've found these newer ones have a few useful added features.  The transmitter is technically a transceiver, and can record the transmitted audio in its native .ZAX file format, which proves more useful when used as talent transmitters than camera hops since you're already recording a multi-track for the primary audio.  Rather than a separate transmitter for mono and stereo transmission, you just add on a stereo adapter to the mono transmitter, either the STA100 or STA150, to send a stereo signal.  I was kinda surprised at the robust connection of the adapter.  With just two small screws, it's an extremely rigid device.  The new transmitter adds numerous features over the older style.  Most notable was the lack of a need for an external filter antenna.  All the bugs seemed to have finally been worked out.  I like the fact that the input to the transmitter is a single TA5 connection, as opposed to the older version that was two mini-Lemo connectors.  There are fewer possibilities for failure with the current connections, which is extremely important in our line of work.  It also has the ability to receive timecode and a return feed from the camera with the correct compatible equipment.  All of this in a 100% digital transmission and you got yourself a winner.  At least for this job.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Talent is a Reality

When it comes to reality shows, there's a fine line between professional actors and people reacting to a camera on the street. The cast is generally used to the micing process, and while it might've taken them a few times to get used to it, they at least come into it with the right mindset of, "OK, so it's gonna just be like this everytime." But when other friends or guests are part of the action, it can sometimes be a different story.
I've definitely found you have to take a careful approach when micing people that have never even so much as been around a camera. Some people, men and women alike, are completely comfortable with some stranger sticking his hands up their shirt. Others...not so much. I find it very important to kinda feel out the person's persona, so to speak. I always try to explain what I'm going to put where and how I plan on getting there. The typical response is, "Go for it. You gotta do whatcha gotta do." Although sometimes they are a bit more hesitant, in which case I'll say, "Does that work for you?" They might wan to run the wire up or down themselves, which is fine with me, but I never let them take over and try to adhere the mic themselves. You're just asking for trouble if you do that.

When I'm using a vampire clip, I always try to remind them that it's very sharp. That way they don't try to take it off themselves and possibly damage the mic or prick them their finger (both of which have happened regardless of what you tell them).

Sometimes the process can be a bit awkward, specifically for the women. So long as you're being the professional that you are, there should be no problems. It's easy when you get to deal with a professional actor. They're very used to the process and what needs to happen. Other "real people" can still be a bit finicky. I'm sure it's easier on a female sound mixer or A2. I don't know any, but I'd love to hear from their experiences. At the end of the day, if you show them respect, you'll get it right back. 

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beta Testing: COS-11 mounts from LMC Sound

I was recently offered the task of testing out some prototypes of a new mount for the popular Sanken COS-11 lavalier, from LMC Sound.  These guys originally broke into the lav accessory market when they rolled out their vampire clips for the COS-11.  I was glad to hear they were rolling out another mounting option for this industry-standard lav.

Clean and simple design allows it to be virtually unbreakable.
Basically, it's a very thick, hard, plastic cylindric tube that is fitted perfectly for the COS-11.  There currently is no other mount on this prototype, like a vampire clip, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. When I first got the plastic cylinder, it reminded me of a "Hush Lav".  The biggest problem I've had with hush lavs is the fact that you can't just tape them to talent and expect it to hold it's original traits once removed (for me anyways).  They're pretty much disposable when you use any kind of adhesive on them.  I guess that's just the sacrifice that has to be made for the extra grip.  This little hard plastic piece seemed like it would remedy that issue.  

I used it in neck tie knots, as well as full length button down shirts.

Simple design makes for a versatile mount
Application Method:
I found Joe's Sticky Stuff to be very effective on this mount.  A little strip wrapped fully around the cylinder allowed perfect placement on the button down shirts.  And with adhesive on both "sides" of the mount, it kinda did the job of topstick, or other double sided tape, by not allowing the clothing to rub against itself.  This proved to be especially useful on starchy shirts.  And it's reusable for at least 10-15 applications before it needs to be replaced, unlike moleskin which has a lifespan of 1-2 uses at best.

Why It's Awesome:
-Reusable; You can apply and remove tape/adhesive as many times as you want.  It won't destroy the mount.
-Rigidity; The mount is hard, but still slightly pliable.  I like this characteristic specifically because it won't crush under the weight of a shirt or a tie.  It stays intact and in it's original shape where ever it's placed.
-Audio quality; The capsule sticks out from the containment just perfectly.  There's absolutely no way you're gonna lose any acoustic characteristics from your COS-11 using this mount.
-No clip/fang; I hope it is kept like this, or at least have an option to have no vamp mount.  It would still work with a vampire clip on it, but I think it's most effective and most versatile without one.
-Snug; It's a perfect fit for the COS-11 and very tight, but still able to be removed without damage to the mic.  It's the same fit as their current vampire clips, but it's actually easier to remove because of the nature of the thickness.
-No parts; There's nothing to break, and it seems indestructible.

Just enough capsule exposure for optimal acoustic properties
Why You Might Not Want It:
-Windscreen; I found I needed room for a windscreen on occasion.  (NOTE: There are plans for a version that fits with a windscreen.)
-No grip; I'd like it to be a more of a textured rubber compound than maybe the slick plastic, but that's not a deal breaker at all.  I think the extra grip would come in handy in the neck tie knots, but it works well enough as is.  I'm not sure I'd want to sacrifice the slickness for grip.  I could see the pros and cons in both options. (NOTE: This prototype version was offered in only a hard plastic version.  They are working on a different rubberized material.)
-Specialty item; I wish I could use them more, but it doesn't always make sense to.  I'd do almost anything to cease the mind-numbing task of cutting strips of moleskin, but it just works so well in most situations.  This mount will get seldom use, but it's very useful when needed (so maybe not a con after all).

Overall, I was impressed with this little thing.  It's a very simple design with a very simple purpose; separate the capsule from the clothes.  Needless to say, it truly delivered.  The only major change I'd make is to have room for a windscreen, but that's already in the works.  Even as a prototype, this new plastic mount from LMC Sound is ready for the field. Look for a finished product in May 2011 from your favorite location audio vendor.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another Show, Another Crew

The thing about our industry is that you're always working with new people on nearly every project.  For example, on the reality show I'm on for Bravo right now there are about 20 crew members, of which I've worked with only 2 previously.  We're on for about 4 straight months, so you always just cross your fingers and hope everyone clicks.  It's important to maintain a good rapport with your fellow colleagues because you'll never know where you're next job will come from.

Once we loaded the vans and started chatting, we realized we were all only about 1 degree separated from each other.  Even though everyone lived all over the country (Los Angeles, New York, Dallas), we actually ran in the same circles with other shooters, sound mixers, producers, and even execs.  "Have you ever worked with Joe Schmo?" "Why, yes!  I actually just finished a show last year with Joe.  What a small world!"  I've had several jobs fall in my lap from someone I worked with in LA that knows someone that's doing a show out my way.  They enjoyed working with you (and you gave them good results), and BAM, you're in like that.  So keep your professionalism in mind if/when things go awry on set.  Don't just walk out because you can. Take the time and do everything right.  Think long term because if you want your job in this industry to be more than just a job, then you have to.

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