TV Timecard and Sound Report Writer apps

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Can't Hear You!

It happens all the time. The crew is rolling on a scene outside and pedestrians are abound. One of them approaches another guy that is watching the the scene unfold and asks, "What are y'all shooting?" It's only half-way into this conversation to himself does the passer-by realize that the sound mixer can't hear him because he's actually listening to something else! I've always got annoyed by these people and, like many others, threw some white gaff tape on my headphones that read "I Can't Hear You." Apparently they didn't even get that message all the time, so I got some of these stickers made that should get the "it's not you, it's me" message across. I made them for my Sony MDR-7506 headphones. They have the perfect real estate for them and make for a perfect fit.  I have a ton of extras for anyone else interested in a pair. They're available on my Inaudible Labs website here and are $4 + s/h ($1 in USA and $4 abroad) and come in pairs (two stickers per order). People may not stop trying to talk to you, but at least they won't talk to themselves anymore.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Mounting Your SB-T: C300

With the DSLR craze still in full swing, sound mixers are expected to come up with all the magic tricks to make things work. Well the Canon C300 is one of the newer kids on the block and, like every shiny new toy that takes amazing pictures, the audio department is once again left to fend for itself. At least they gave us a BNC port for timecode!! Actually, I really like this camera. Its biggest flaw, in my opinion, is the awkwardness of the body assembly. I assume there's a good reason for its structure, but it makes mounting anything on it a real circus act.

Slap that booger right on top!
If you plan on slaving a C300 to your master unit, you pretty much have to have a timecode box on the unit throughout the day. I've seen mixers mount hops and timecode boxes in the craziest places, albeit for good reason. I own several Denecke SB-T units, and my solution was some industrial strength velcro onto the back of the monitor. I always keep some in my Pelican for these kinds of things. The SB-T is about the same size as the LCD screen so it makes sense. There was no feasible hot shoe mount available or rail/frame around the unit to screw anything into. The cam ops seemed to not mind it so much, which is always important. After all, where else is it gonna go?

Feel free to tuck the cable into the cable wrangler underneath the  camera mic mount.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

The StarLink Mute Switch

You know those shitty StarLink monitors that production gets from the rental houses (you know who you are *cough*VER*)? Well they all suck. They suck for video because they look like a late 70s football game rerun. And they suck for audio because they tend to have volume switches that have a low setting of loud. Don't get me wrong, I love late 70s football reruns, but not for video village. Well, I finally found the mute switch. It just so happens you have I disassemble the monitor and disconnect the speaker from the circuit board. Not unreasonable for a permanent fix, if you ask me.

Location:Bourbon St,New Orleans,United States

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Product Review: The Lav-Strap

I'm trying out a new product called the Lav-Strap from Sound Guys LLC. It's designed to be the most low-profile, versatile mounting system to accommodate a variety of wardrobe types. On my current show, our main character, Nev Schulman, frequently wears thin t-shirts and has an impressive man-rug. It was challenging at first. I started mounting my Sankens at the neckline of the t-shirt, but that always picks up the vocal chords more than anything else. Most of his t-shirts are too thin to mount on the shirt without looking like shit. He does have a necklace that we tried a few times to mount on, but the pendant seemed to get loose from chain and sounded like a zipper sometimes. So when I saw the Lav-Strap I knew it would be perfect for my needs. I was aware of the MicBra by Garfield, but I've never used it. On paper, it seems like it could be a little too bulky where the velcro straps on in the back. If Nev bends over and we see his back, that's something that could become exposed. I'm sure that the MicBra works well, but I feel more comfortable with the low profile Lav-Strap.
Superstar Nev Schulman approves!

The Lav-Strap has 3 different options for mounting a mic on it. You can insert your COS-11 inside a tight pocket, use an RM-11, or another sort of mid-sized pocket for other mounts. It's made from a soft elastic material and comes in three different sizes. We started with the Large and ended up using the Medium for a better fit. It fastens using a bikini top type of fastener, and it usually ends of being on the person's side, not their back. It would be nice if was somewhat adjustable, but I think those components would add to the bulk.
All in all this is a well made product, just like the Lav-Bullet. I love it, the talent loves it, and the sound is great, so I'm sold.

Location:Hollywood Fwy,Los Angeles,United States

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Audio for Autos

Getting good audio in vehicles is a frequent demand for my shoots. On my current show, our 2 male cast flies across the country and uses a rental SUV to go from our hotel to our guest's house and to any other places of entertainment in each city. At the end of the day we will have shot solid content in the vehicle for up to three or four hours. I typically place the bag in the back of the trunk and put it on auto-pilot. We'll be in the same vehicle for just a few days or maybe a full week, so I need something that's low maintenance and ├╝ber reliable.

Since I'm not able to monitor the audio with a keen ear, only having an IFB available, I need to have a system I can trust and make foolproof for the talent. I'd rather not risk a seatbelt or shirt rub and not be able to catch it. In addition to laving the talent, I also lav the visors. This allows talent to do whatever they want, completely unrestricted. And with it being kind of a road trip show, they do just that quite often.

I use Lectrosonics SMQV transmitters for my talent wireless. I took the spring and wire clips off and placed a strip of Topstick on the back. For my lav I use a Sanken COS-11 with a vampire clip from LMC Sound. This way it's super easy to mount and dismount if needed. After mounting the lav on the roof, cheating towards the center because that's the direction they mostly speak to, I'll place the Topstick-backed transmitter on the visor. If there is a mirror with a folding cover, that's even better as it will give you the opportunity to change batteries without removing the transmitter.

As you can see, the visor is 100% usable without any dangling straps that look bad on-camera. To get the batteries out, just open the battery door and press on the battery.  Since it's spring loaded, it will pop right out (unless you're on a hill and they just fall out). Now everything looks good, feels good, and, most importantly, sounds good.

Location:Atlanta, GA

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Outside the Box: Sit-down Interviews

Pretty straight forward, right? can almost always find a way to do things better. Single person sit-down interviews aren't generally anything special. Find a dark, quiet corner where you can still see the producer, try to stay out of talent's eye line, cable to camera, set up a boom, and wire up talent. Nothing much more than that, really.

Well, wiring up talent was always the weakest part of the interview chain for me. Not so much actually hiding the lav, but more so attaching the transmitter to their body. Depending on several variables, including the type of chair talent is sitting in and their wardrobe, it can sometimes be awkward. If you put it on the back of their pants, the transmitter might dig into their back. Their pockets might be too tight to put it in. They will talk with their hands, so they can't hold it. If there were only a way to clip it to the chair. I already had the solution on me, and you probably do, too; I just didn't know it.

It finally donned on me while staring at the back of our talent's chair today. I whipped out one of my waist straps and attached it to the back of the voila! We went through 6 or 7 people and all I had to do was plug and unplug the lav from the transmitter. A simple reminder to talent for them to not bolt away when they are done was all it took. I usually do that anyways when I have to set the transmitter on the floor or stuffed in their lap. All of the talent was thankful for saving them from a pain in their lower back and not having to deal with another distraction. This is a very small adjustment that can go a long way. It's not for every situation, but when it works, it works well.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sound Reports on your iPhone

So this little bit is about an app that I've been working on, Sound Report Writer.  It's currently available on the App Store for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, but should soon be available for in the Android Marketplace soon.  You can visit the full site here for a thorough video walk-through, but I figured I'd give you a down and dirty version of what I hope to accomplish with this app, and why.

The DSLR and RED craze have kinda brought a new breed of sound mixers to the table.  The set conditions are what a corporate mixer might encounter, but they require a WHOLE lot more technical expertise to make things go smoothly all the way through post-production.  Sound-for-video mixers that traditionally go straight to camera are being turned into sound-for-film mixers; providing double system for these cameras that have less-than-desirable audio quality and features.  With sync sound comes sound reports, a necessary tool for organization of audio files that are delivered to post.  And so, Sound Report Writer was born.

School portraits or corporate interview?
Admittedly, I'm a little late to the game from an ideal launch standpoint.  I much rather would've had this tool 2 or 3 years ago for myself when the RED One was real popular and before the DSLR craze.  However, it took all that time for me to realize that this was really needed.  Now that it's here, I'm a satisfied user myself.  Being able to leave home knowing that I'm not forgetting any printed out reports, or even scrap paper, is nice.  I always have my handy dandy app everywhere I go, whether I like it or not.

The whole idea behind SRW was to make a simple, one-trick pony.  I was just tired of jotting stuff down on paper or in my Notes in my phone in an unorganized fashion.  It doesn't do everything under the sun, but that's the idea.  MovieSlate from PureBlend Software is a great app if you're looking for something that's a jack-of-all-trades.  It'll do camera logs, visual slate, and sound reports through it's various in-app purchases.  I didn't want to complicate the process of creating a sound report, which honestly is the most valuable part of MovieSlate.  As far as I know, there aren't any other apps that create sound reports.  Having said all this, I've never used MovieSlate, so it may be easier than I give it credit.  With Sound Report Writer, it's hard to complicate the process.  At the end of the day, just hit the PDF button and you can do whatever you want.  Send it to iBooks, print to a network printer, open in another app, e-mail it, or just preview it.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Basically, Sound Report Writer allows you to create, edit, and distribute a comprehensive PDF sound report that can be archived, printed, or shared directly from your mobile device.  Creating projects, or even different days for the same project, is a breeze.  Fill out some essential information, pull up your contact info from your Contacts, and you're ready to start.  You should first make sure your fields and settings are how you'd like them in the 'Settings' menu.  Currently you can elect to use filenames and timecode, but you don't have to if you don't want to.  A list of popular pre-defined fields are active by default, but you can select and deselect which ones you'd like to use, as well as reorder and create custom fields.  Once your settings are correct and all your project info is created, you're ready to create a new scene and take.

If you are using the filename feature, the filenames will be automatically generated as the scene and take names, followed by the extension you entered into the project info.  For each take, you are able to generate any notes you may want, enter up to 16 tracks, assign to the left or right channel, and select if the take is circled, a wild track, or is a false take.  Once you've created the take, the start timecode that is generated from the device's internal clock is automatically stamped.  For most projects, this is good enough for logging and such.  If you have the time and option, set the camera's timecode or clock to match your device's and you'll be in pretty good shape for most tasks.  With any app, you aren't going to get frame accurate start and stop numbers because there's no way to tether an iPhone to a recorder...yet.

While Sound Report Writer was designed for small shoots with minimal crew and setup, it's since been adopted by many feature mixers and has been graciously accepted and approved by several post houses. Some post houses have never even gotten sound reports from their mixers!  Tweaks are constantly being made to satisfy all different types of shows and methods in different countries.  Now it's quick, easy and intuitive to take a couple notes and spit out a slick piece of non-paper that makes everybody happy.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Player - Diversity Fin from RF Venue

Typical Bag Setup
I'm in the business of capturing sound on location.  I have no interest in breaking my back or straining my neck.  I'm a work smart, not hard kind of guy.  With the introduction of the Diversity Fin Antenna from RF Venue, my wireless world has been forever simplified.  I have a relatively familiar setup for most mixers; a Sound Devices 788T with CL-8 and CL-WiFi, a Lectrosonics T4 IFB transmitter, Zaxcom TRX900 stereo camera hop, and a boat-load of talent wireless.  I no longer carry around 8 Lectrosonics 411s to receive my wireless talent audio.  I instead use four SR receivers, two receivers in a single, compact and lightweight unit.  Each unit weighs less than a single 411, and with twice the outputs, it was a no brainer for me.

I could never squeeze behind this bed with a cart
I started out with this setup on Big Rich Texas, Season 1 as the Sound Supervisor, and quickly realized that something was just a little bit off.  My RF reception seemed to have taken a hit when all these stuff was combined into one little bag.  I ended up building an antenna distribution system and originally went with two dipole antennae mounted, first, on my bag, and then ultimately on my headphones.  Throughout the season my setup eventually came to be a hybrid of mobile cart.  We don't use booms often because it's a very controlled environment and production doesn't like the "invasiveness".  At the same time, we also need to be ready to pick up and go at a moment's notice in case talent storms off set.  I finished that out and when we got picked up for a second season, I was on the prowl for something even better.  My dipoles had served me well, but something directional would really be better for 95% of what we were shooting.  I dreaded transporting,setting up, and collapsing two shark fins everywhere we went.  We're a one-man sound department on most occasions, shooting in upscale and accommodating venues, so it was important to keep a small footprint.  It's not a huge deal, but I really wanted to find the perfect setup.  When I stumbled upon the Diversity Fin Antenna, it seemed like just the thing I needed.

I was able to obtain a demo unit from my local distributor and put it through a week of tests before our show started.  In principle, the shark fin takes advantage of the diversity feature found in today's wireless.  Diversity in a receiver is important because at its most basic level, you have two antennae and the receiver is able to choose the strongest signal. The Diversity Fin is designed to be part directional, part omni.  There are two BNC connections on the fin, one for the LPDA (directional) antenna and one for the dipole (omni).  I have greater agility wherever I setup with this, so I don't have to worry about talent walking behind video village if we're at a party or if they're sitting, standing, jumping, or whatever.  I don't worry about phasing as much anymore either.  Some wardrobe simply doesn't even allow for a waist strap, so I can slip the transmitter in sideways without concerning myself with the orientation of the antenna.  I'm covered from all angles with this antenna.  The range of the DFA is as you would expect, excellent.  What I'm even more impressed with, though, is its ability to cut through the congestion and retain optimal reception.  There have been a couple of times that the reception appeared to be getting low because of range, as in only about 10%, but talent's audio was coming in crystal clear.  It was absolutely amazing.

Performance has been outstanding. I could never
get this far away with just my whips.
I was initially concerned with the durability of the unit.  It's made of a semi-flexible computer circuit board-like material that looked like it might snap with a bit of misuse.  My other main concern was the folding dipole array.  Obviously, they need to be parallel with the ground when in operation, so I suppose folding them for transportation makes the most sense.  It sits awkwardly in my duffel bag, and with other objects sitting on top of it, I feel like it's most at risk of snapping.  The antennae themselves are removable BNC connections, so perhaps it's safest to remove them completely, but I keep them connected and folded; one month of transport under my belt, they've yet to show any signs of give.  The water-resistant canvas cover with velcro stays on the antenna while in operation and travel.  The mounting hardware pre-installed is nearly perfect.  It has all three common threaded sizes, so you can easily mount it to nearly any kind of stand without any adapters, other than a C-stand.  The only issue I had was the plastic wing nut that it comes with.  It was easily stripped on day one, so I just replaced it with an aluminum one.  I use a mount by Stage Ninja that uses #2 pony clamps for mounting, which allows me to clamp it almost anywhere, including on my bag if needed.  A traditional PSC Flexi-mount would also suffice.

Goes anywhere, does anything.
Overall, the performance of the Diversity Fin Antenna has made me a believer.  The compact and agile design has made me a fan.  Needless to say, the DFA is my most powerful tool in my mobile wireless package.  When you're expected to capture perfect wireless audio and are limited by weight and mobility, the Diversity Fin Antenna should be the tool of choice.

Trew has a good article on the facts of the performance of this antenna and two others here.

Being behind the camera isn't always so glamourous.
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