If you take a stroll down internet lane (or one of those fabled book stores from before COVID-19), you will likely be able to find a plethora of books about filmmaking. You’ll find them from directors, actors, producers, and sometimes even cinematographers. What you are very unlikely to find, until now, is much of anything about production audio.
Coming from a career spanning 4 decades, Patrushkha Mierzwa has crafted perhaps the most concise, comprehensive, and broad spectrum look at the Utility Sound Technician position (UST), the entire sound department, and perhaps even the entire production crew as a whole. It has honestly been difficult to know where to start when describing her book. I keep writing, and then erasing, and starting back over again because it is tough to reduce the magnitude and scope of her work down to a blurb on a website. I want to start pouring over every part of the book with extreme detail about each individual point that I loved or that I wished that I had known when I first started working. The problem is that it would give too much away, and that I would be here for days. My point is that there are no non-impactful parts to her book. It’s THAT fantastic.
While this book is primarily devoted to Utility Sound Technicians, as I pointed out above, it is also extremely helpful for the rest of the sound department. I also strongly suggest that anyone who works on a film set in any capacity read it, because it contains many insights that apply to being part of a crew in general.
I’m a Mixer. I have worked as a Utility only a handful of times, and a Boom Operator a bit more, however my experience is primarily in Mixing. I can safely say that I learned things about my own craft from reading Patrushkha’s book. Having the opportunity to absorb other perspectives is key to excelling in one’s own craft. Whether it was something that I never knew or understood, or whether it was something that I was well versed in, I came out of this read feeling like I just had both a crash course and a refresher course in so much of what I do. The UST doesn’t just know their job. They know the jobs of the Boom Operator and the Sound Mixer down flat.
As you can see from the chapter list above, Patrushkha takes her time to be thorough and incredibly organized. You could call this a literal handbook as much as you could also call it a memoir or an attestation of the field itself. When she delves into an aspect of the job, she does it with context. It’s never some dry encyclopedia entry about simply “what is this department?” or “what does a Utility do?”, but at the same time it manages to answer all of those types of questions while being entertaining and profound.
Behind The Sound Cart takes the reader through virtually everything from preproduction through production, and doesn’t stop there. Being at work isn’t the only part of the job. It teaches you to handle the business side, how to market yourself, how to keep current on knowledge, and also how to maintain the gear before and after the shoot. For a timely reference, it even goes into Covid-19 protocols!
Each chapter is broken down into sub-sections for easy reference, and it really helps to give you a fantastic overview of what the book covers just from looking at the table of contents. Even after a full read through, you can and will want to go back to use certain chapters and sub-sections as guides before you get to set. It’s also fun to just go back for some tips and tricks of the trade that usually would have taken a whole lot of trial and error to figure out on your own. Plus, who doesn’t like a section on car rigs?! I fully admit that I am and will always be on a mission to up my game in that department, so that part (among others) made me giddy.
At regular intervals, Patrushkha inserted these Notes sections, so that you are able to jot highlights down as you go that are most pertinent to you. Your biggest problem will likely be running out of space!
Possibly the best part of this book is the fact that the writer speaks to you if this were a close mentor/mentee situation. You can tell that this isn’t just disseminating information for her, but rather the words of someone who put in the years and effort to acquire these skills and who truly wants to share for the betterment of the reader and of her craft.
Think of this book as the equivalent of putting on VR goggles and simulating the walking of a mile in the shoes of a Utility Sound Technician who is not only an expert in her field, but has been a trailblazer for women at a time when the industry was (and still is) so heavily dominated by men. Absorbing this opus will help you learn what you need to know to decide if a career as a UST is right for you, or even if a career in production sound is right for you. Beyond that, I firmly believe that Beyond The Sound Cart should be required reading for anyone in the industry, in any position. The “walk a mile in their shoes” reference is a time honored trope for a reason. Fully comprehending what your colleagues and peers do can often be just as relevant as what you do yourself, because it fosters greater communication and understanding between all of the departments. That translates to a higher quality of work and a smoother, more beneficial experience for all.
Jared Elkin is a Production Sound Mixer based out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area