This week a new media reality show premiered that I had the pleasure of working on this past Fall. The episode that premiered was shot in the backwoods, ranchs, and rivers of Tennessee. Here is a preview of the first episode. A link to the full epsisode will be at the bottom of this page.
The show travels the country and finds unique people who live on the edge of rural America and creating their own trail. In this episode we traveled an hour and half outside of Nashville where we followed SMO for a few days to get a glimpse into what its like to be a rapper who still lives on the family farm and enjoys the country lifestyle. I received the call for the show about 2 weeks before the shoot from the director Jeremy Pion-Berlin, who had a good plan for what he wanted. The order for gear was 3-4 wireless microphones for talent, 2 camera hops, 2 IFB units for the director and show runner, and a boom to capture general wild sounds along playing backup to the wires.
First thing about this order is notice how it was phrased 3-4 wireless needed. Their wasn’t a lock on how many and who all would be traveling with SMO around set. I packed 4 wireless not knowing if the 4th would be used. Its always better to over estimate then come up short.
All the wireless units were using Sanken COS-11D or Sony 77b lavalieres. For the mounting of the lavs I use a basic moleskin sandwich to start but by midday every single one except for SMO’s had failed. Moleskin is no match for the Tennessee humidity and sweat. After lunch on the first day I switched them all out for vampclips on the collar.
To record the show I choose to travel light and take the Zoom F8. In a reality show like this, the F8 gave me the option to record ever track as an ISO and create a decent enough mix for the Comteks and hops. I did pair the F8 with a Portabrace AO-4 bag which is meant for the 788T and I am sure glad I did. During the river scenes we were several miles from any supplies and the AO-4 has plenty of storage space for expendables.
One of the expendables that I grew to love were the rubber gloves I had bought from the Subway Sandwich counter at the Flying J truck stop. It was just sprung on us that we were about to shoot a scene on the river and I figured lets be safe and cover the the transmitters in little rubber rain coats. Now condoms are the typical goto in this situation, but Sennheiser transmitters are a tad larger then the new Lectrosonics that are typically used on reality shows…. So at 7am I walked into the truck stop and asked if they sold Magnum condoms or rubber gloves. Well the old lady working the counter really gave me a strange look. I quickly explained what I was about to use them for and she tilted her head at me again, gave me a sigh, and said “well isn’t that something there. Bless your heart.” It’s safe to say I wasn’t doing a good job of explaining myself but out from the back a gentleman brought out of box of 100 rubber gloves and sold them to me for five dollars. I could not have done this shoot without kindness of that couple. They saved my bacon.
The hardest part of the job was capturing audio with a drop bag. Half of the shoot was spent driving around in open back Chevy K5 that had been modified to go mud bogging. Getting the audio right for this was tricky and I became very happy that I had brought the Zoom F8 for the job. I put the recorder into dual mode and recorded a duplicate of each track but at -10db lower. I ended up mounting a lavaliere mic behind each visor and running the wires back to the drop bag. Combined with the wires SMO and the host were wearing this would give post a lot of options in how they wanted to go.
Now notice I keep saying drop bag. There is a movement in the sound community to discourage sound mixers from trunk riding. And rightfully so. It is VERY DANGEROUS and VERY UNNECESSARY! To perform a drop bag most would just fire up their IFB TX and plug a R1a or Comtek into the aux port in the follow car. I hate this method. On a shoot like this where they are only renting 2 Comteks this would mean I would need to steal the director’s Comtek for a bit to rig up the follow car and then store the headphones while the director isn’t wearing them. I would then need to de-rig the follow car and give the unit back to the director upon arrival to the next location…. and so on and so on and so on…. NO! Back on another shoot I found a much easier way. This is the exact kind of situation where I bust out my 200mw FM transmitter, plug S1/S2 from my F8 into my stereo FM TX and just tune the radio of the follow car to my signal, once for the day.
Some say that a 200mw FM TX is illegal, that’s not 100% true. Any broadcast past 200ft is illegal in the FM space if you don’t have a license. 200ft is a lot further than most people think. Now you can also turn the FM TX down to 100mw if you feel the need. But I find punching a FM signal out of a metal trunk and have it travel 8 car length behind the picture car requires all 200mw.
To get the gun sounds it was a combination of Sennheiser 416 on a boom stand and the Audix i5 grabbing wild sounds of the guns being loaded afterwards. The real key to achieving this scene was my rock star director Jeremy Pion-Berlin helping me to stay just out of frame. It’s so easy to record gun shots and end up capturing too much of the “room” echo because the microphone was too far away. Jeremy was key in making it possible for me to place my boom stand so I could get the sound effects.
The rest of the shoot in the kitchen or in the recording studio was pretty standard indoor dialog being captured on the boom using the Sennheiser 416. Each person was wired and I tried to mix on the boom by following the conversation. But it was the river and the gun range made this trip special and I have Jeremy to thank for giving me that phone call.
I hope this breakdown of getting the audio for Heartlandia Episode 1 SMO was something you enjoyed. Here is a link to the full episode.
About the Author
Andrew Jones is a location sound mixer based in Los Angeles. He started in the TV and Film industry in 2004. You can email him at Andrew@HoldForSound.com