The time has come. You are excited and ecstatic to have your first day on set as a Sound Utility / A2 / Sound Assistant. Ideally, you have done some shadowing, and learned what is required. Perhaps all you have done is your own research. But, now you are to embark on a 100+ person crew and theres a lot to cover.
Welcome to Sound Department! Do not hide your lack of experience from your crew. The Sound Department is a very supportive family and they care to help you do the best job.
Always ask questions. Never assume anything. Always strive to learn more. There is always more to learn. Learn as much as you can. Always be humble and friendly. Communicate as much as possible! You are a part of a team and it is integral to your success that you communicate when you do not understand. Again do not make assumptions! Always be ready and know what is happening on set and whats next!
Be genuine personable friendly. Nice to everyone. This is your job. You are the face of sound department. You are the person who has constant communication with the rest of the film crew in regards to wiring. Film is a superficial industry… brush your teeth, shower and use deodorant before you come to work.
Tools to bring to work:
Tool pouch or belt – Fanny Pack
Moleskin Tape, Transpore (Skin Tape), Gaff Tape
Lectrosonics App (for iPhone and android) Lectro RM
Outdoor weather gear (cold weather & rain gear), preferably dark colour clothing- Black.
Precision Screw Drivers
Lavalier bullet and or Lavalier snake
Small portable flashlight
Steel toed safety shoes (production dependant) & Safety work gloves (for wrapping cables)
Start of the Day:
BRING PROFESSIONAL QUALITY CLOSED EAR HEADPHONES AND FANNY PACK or UTILITY BELT – with all tools required.
ALWAYS SHOW UP 30 MINUTES EARLY PRE CALL TO HAVE BREAKFAST BUT ALSO NOT BE CONSIDERED LATE. LATER THAN 30 MINUTES EARLY IS LATE.
GET THE SIDES AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE FROM THE 2nd AD or TAD. THE 2nd AD IS YOUR FRIEND. THE 2nd AD WILL BRING YOU ACTORS.
READ THE SIDES —— LOOK AT THE SCHEDULE FOR SCENES AND NOTE WHICH ACTORS ARE IN EACH SCENE —- WRITE DOWN WHO ACTUALLY TALKS IN A SCENE AS THEY WILL NEED TO BE WIRED — WRITE OUT WHO NEEDS TO BE WIRED OR REWIRED FOR EACH SCENE CHANGE – NOTE WHEN THERE IS A DAY CHANGE BETWEEN SCENES I.E. WARDROBE CHANGE BECAUSE YOU NEED TO COLLECT THE WIRE FROM ACTORS BEFORE THEY CHANGE AND RUN AWAY. ACTORS WILL RUN AWAY! YOU HAVE TO BE ON TOP OF THIS IMMEDIATELY AFTER FILMING
Get Power for The Sound Cart — Ask an Electric to give you power and ask for it to be in phase with Video. Ask your mixer about this.
Get Power for the Follow Cart or Buddy Cart – Which is the Sound Assistant’s Work Station
THE FOLLOW CART:
The Follow cart will have:
- IFBS / COMTEKS (HEADSETS FOR PERSONAL LISTENING TO BE GIVEN OUT TO SOUND CREW, SCRIPT SUPERVISOR, DIRECTOR and anyone else i.e. Producers…etc.)
- BATTERIES, BATTERY CHARGERS
- A wiring bag kit containing Transmitters and Lavs, Tape, Lav bullet, Foat foam, GAK, etc
- Cleaning tools for maintaining equipment
Replace batteries in IFBs / Comteks and prepare them to hand to someone nicely. To prep a Comtek have the headsets plugged in ready to go and the wire neatly wrapped around the Comtek so passing it off to someone else is easy.
Give IFBs / Comteks to Sound Crew, Script Supervisor, and Director. If on a corporate or commercial shoot lay out the Comteks on a table next to the client/agency video monitor. If the Comteks are numbered keep a log as to who was assigned what and how many are being used at any one time. If extras Comteks are asked for check with your Sound Mixer to see what he is billing the peoduction for and what the client has agreed upon. You can also have this conversation with your mixer during morning battery prep so you are prepared for the day.
ALWAYS ALWAYS keep batteries on you, AAs lithiums, rechargables and 9Volts – AND in Battery Holder Packs Never as loose Batteries!
- Batteries tips down are fully charged
batteries tips up need to be charged
— Essentially keep congruent with mixers system of organization in place. This is the most common method of organization but, different crews have different systems. Remember to be asking questions and not making assumptions!
- Battery Management – always charge rechargeable batteries when available. Use the battery holder system in place to know fully charged batteries from dead batteries.
- Make sure to keep track of the battery life in your transmitters – doing so will make sure the battery never ever never never dies during a scene of filming – You mixer will be able to help you tell you battery life.
Slates and Locket Boxes are to be given to 2nd AC – Camera Dept – Make Sure they actually jam their camera! And if they use RED cameras that they keep lockit box on Camera!
Some times the Sound Cart needs a BNC Video Feed (This could involve giving audio to video playback as well). Run BNC cables from Video Village, or the DIT, or Video Playback to the Sound Cart so Sound Mixer has video to watch. Check with your Sound Mixer before plugging it in, this really goes for ant cable you are about to plug in to the Sound Cart. NEVER EVER MAKE A TRIP HAZARD. ALWAYS BE DILIGENT AND CAREFUL FEEDING CABLE. DO NOT LEAVE A CABLE ASTRAY TO COME BACK TO IT – MAKE IT SAFE AS YOU RUN THE CABLE.
For every cable (except for Lighting/Electric’s AC cable) wrap them using the over under method.
SOME SOUND MIXERS STILL USE HARD WIRED BOOMS; OTHERS GO WIRELESS:
Some of the highest budget sound mixers still use cabled boom for sound quality and to have control of the trim. This makes it a harder job. You will always have to feed XLR 50-200ft from the sound cart to the Boom Operator. Know the camera angle, so that you do not feed the cable into the vision of the camera. Additionally, some large gauge power cables from other departments can introduce ground hum in the signal. When running your cables try to keep the audio cable from running parrell to those big cables. Always cross power cables perpendicular as much as you can.
This job requires you to always be attentive to your Boom Op and attentive to where they are. They will likely change their position for every camera setup. Its your responsibility to help them before and after filming with cable management. This is old school way. Cable Wrangler job for sound assistant. For scenes that use a dolly and require a lot of movement for the Boom Operator you may have to follow the Boom Operator assisting with cable wrangling.
Not everyone does wired boom nowadays.. but the one thing to learn from this situation is to keep in close contact with the boom op. They know whats going on and can provide info for the next scene. Its best practice to be closer to set and aware of whats going on. If you are close to set you can make adjustments to your wires immediately (when you only have 5 seconds to make changes and yes mixers need you to do this immediately.)
Watch the blockings it will help you know which wiring methods will work best. For example if an actor is talking to their side for the entire scene it may help to bias the angle for that direction. If an actor is going into an extreme action sequence you will need to wire them according to safety and to ensure the lav does not fall off.
WIRING – Hiding or Placing a Lavalier Mic on an Actor:
Lavalier mics are connected to Transmitters and are hidden body packs to record actors dialogue.
Always try to get the mic exposed as possible without being seen for the best sound.
Sternum is the general sweet spot.
Communicate with the 2nd AD and set up a system to streamline the delivery of Actors to be wired. Actors go through Hair and Makeup (HMU) prior to wiring.
Costumes department is also your friend. It is good to create a good relationship with them as they may help alter clothing to your sound needs and will also be checking your work to make sure your wires are not visible.
Always collect all Wiring equipment from Actors at end of scene if they are not continuing in same wardrobe to next scene. Yes you will have to chase actors down at the end of a scene.
Wiring is a tricky art and you can only learn from experience. Learning from experience means learning from mistakes. We all make mistakes. Sound People generally have a good attitude about how we all have to learn from our mistakes to become better. There is no one way to place a wire. There are many tricks to the trade and you need to come up with multiple fallback plans for each wire you place. A mixer would prefer you ask for help than lying about knowing what you are doing and delivering a useless wire.
Learn how to wire a button up shirt, tie, ear, hair, women, and many other clothing.
Theres a video course on UDEMY called how to wire talent. You can also read and watch the WavReport Article HERE where hiding a lavalier is also talked about.
Freshen up before meeting actors, if you smoke, make sure to chew gum, and to wet wipe your hands. Definitely try to avoid smelling like a carton of cigarettes before you get close to the actors. Yes sound people have been fired for this or simply because actors don’t like them. Unfortunately not every Actor you meet will be nice to you. Not everyone in the industry will like you either.
Be friendly and respectful, genuine, personable with actors. Be fast at wiring, have confidence.. do not touch a person’s body without introducing yourself and explaining what you plan to do.
Yes its good to be fast and sometimes required. But never let yourself compromise your ability to do the job properly. If the wire takes more time, make sure you have more time to do it, or TAKE the time to do it anyways! Do it properly the first time.
If a mixer ever asks you to make an adjustment to the wire. It is expected that you fulfill the adjustment before the scene is filming again.
Expendables You Should Keep Stocked In your Lavalier Run Bag:
Transpore – (Skin Tape, or First Aid Tape)
LSC Rubber mount
Joes Sticky Tape (Also called Snot Tape or English Butyl)
Rycote Undercovers – wind protection
Ursa Straps or Neo Pax
For more about expendables check out this WavReport Article HERE.
Foat Foam – If an actor is wearing high heels you will want to apply Foat Foam to the heels to soften their footsteps.
Sound Blankets are another tool to soften footsteps.
Ensure that PAs have a lockup on the Location and that all doors are closed, all work is stopped when Sound is Speeding (recording). Ensure that all Air-conditioning, generators and noise makers are turned off
After Lunch Duties:
Replace all batteries in Transmitters. Charge rechargeable batteries. Depending on the IFB / Comtek system replace all batteries for them.
Collect and re-jam Timecode Slates and Lock-it boxes and then return to the 2nd AC Camera Assistant.
End of Day Duties:
Collect all remaining Wires + Transmitters from Cast!
Collect all Comteks IFBs at the end of the day. Be prepared to immediately track down people as some people leave immediately and have taken this equipment home. Reference your IFB checkout sheet to make sure everything that was out, is not back where it belongs.
Collect Slates and Lockit Boxes. Put Lockit Boxes on charge if the production is coming back to the same location the next day.
Wrap cables cleanly.
Check to see all equipment has returned.
Keep Track of Paperwork everyday – write down the sound department hours of crew. Make sure to do this everyday. Mark it down in your phone if that helps you. There is an app that can help you with called TV Timecard.
A final thought. The key to your success is to know your sides and know the set. Always be ready and know what is happening on set and what is coming next!
Location Sound Mixer in Vancouver, British Columbia
One thought on “First Day in The Field: A Breakdown Of A Sound Assistant’s Day”
this very helpful, thanks. I’ll be starting work on Critters Reboot in 3 days time as a sound assistant.