Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I AM FILM HISTORY...


Exhibit A: A 5" Scotch 3M Recording Reel
Could this be the last known audio of legendary
film star Jayne Mansfield?!


Hey folks,

As you may or may not know, my work in Texas ended early. I was not given much notice, but I still managed to book a significant amount of work back in LA. First, I P.A.'d for a company for a day (this is called "day playing") because they had a lot of productions about to go live, but no one to do the pain-in-the-ass stuff. So I stepped in there, even though I have not P.A.'d for a few years now.

The next day I recorded an interview for a band called Angels and Airwaves near San Diego, which has the frontman from Blink-182. The next two days I spent doing sound for the Culture Collide Festival in Echo Park. Among the stand-out bands were a Dutch band called De Staat and a folk group named Please the Trees. Unfortunately, the gig went until 1:30am, and we had to be up at 6:00am to do coverage for a cheerleading team in Huntington Beach. It was a lot of work, and in some ways it feels like I never got off that show in Texas since I'm even more busy now.

Now that I've had a day or two off, I am still playing catch up. Among the many favors and errands to do is an audio transfer for Prof. Leland Thomas, who was a colleague of mine from Columbia, and before that an instructor. He's the one who first got me to use a Nagra recorder, so in many ways he's the first person who got me to consider sound professionally.

Somehow he ended up with a Nagra recording of an interview with Jayne Mansfield that he needed transfer to digital. For those of you who don't know, Jayne Mansfield was a legendary actress known for her platinum-blonde hair, hourglass figure, and above all, cleavage. The picture below should give you a pretty clear picture of her "talents" back in the day. Mansfield's life was tragically cut short when she was killed in an automobile accident on June 29th, 1967 at the age of 34.

Jane Mansfield, in all her glory.

What makes this particular audio recording significant is that it has never been heard before save for the original owner. Here was history in my hands, and I set out to get this done at once. Assuming the box is the same one that the tape inside came in, the interview was recorded in mono with Scotch 3M 131 tape; a workhorse in the industry (now long discontinued). The label on the front was very faded, but it said, "6/20/67 Jayne Mansfield, Roll #9." If this label is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt that it is, then this recording was made just 9 days before her death. This could very well be the last recording ever made of the star!


The Sound Lab. The red band on the computer
monitor is the digital audio recording.


There were a few obstacles in transferring the audio. First was the condition of the tape itself. The media was over 43 years old and there was a good chance that the audio on it was damaged or unusable. Adding to that was the way it was stored; tails in. This means that when it was recorded the operator rewound the tape and stored it instead of fast forwarding it. This can cause the audio to bleed into itself and ruin the recording. Although dependable, Nagra tape (reel-to-reel) was a very fragile medium, one of the reasons digital has largely replaced it.

Another problem was getting all the components I needed. Although I owned an old Nagra machine and a Pro Tools set-up (this would turn the analog recording into digital), I did not have the output cables for the Nagra. I finally solved that problem today when I had lunch with my old mentor Senator Michaels. Mr. Michaels has been in the game for some 40 years, and still owned the Touchel cable I needed. I scavenged my apartment for the other cables I needed, but I finally found a set-up that worked.

The audio was still pristine. I really couldn't believe it. It was a testament to the craftsmanship of the folks who designed audio materials back int he 60's. Like most American goods from that time, they were built to last. The recording itself was only about 20 minutes long. In it, Mansfield discusses Donald Duck, John Wayne, and various other tidbits of the time. Without the other reels, I can't make heads or tails of it, but that is beside the point. I'm sure the estate of the actress will be thrilled to hear it.

Beyond that, I have started to built my own audio cables. I can't say my soldering skills are very remarkable yet, but I will get it down and it will save my a lot of money in the long run. I am very happy with my life right now. I am financially secure for the foreseeable future, business is good, and I'm learning a lot. I am looking forward to traveling to Chicago in November, and I am confident work will continue to come in. Thanks for reading.


Audio Pasta.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Update from "So Big" Texas...

Toxic Sound Man!


The word “busy” doesn’t even begin to describe my life lately, folks. This job has eliminated my ability to keep track of time, the day of the week, and even what month it is sometimes (it’s still 2011, right?). Still, busy is good, and I have much to discuss.


The most hostile location yet was the forest, located in Liberty, TX. For the show, we had to cover a group of lumberjacks and the equipment they use. The machine we are repairing is a Tigercat 630 “skitter.” This is a machine that grabs trees in the forest and drags them to the loading area.


Words cannot adequately express how big these machines are. The front end has the shovel, which clears debris and can pave temporary roads. The back end has a giant grappling arm and carries the trees. The tires can’t turn; instead the machine turns in the center (the actual body pivots). Needless to say, there are many blind spots, so we had to all sound off before each take.

The Tigercat 630 "skitter."
Look at those cute little humans next to that beast!

This was just ONE of the machines. The most dangerous machine was the cutter. This beast has a horizontal saw (about 3 feet in diameter) that spins at over 200 mph and can saw through a tree in about a second. It also grabs the tree before it falls and can place it in a pile for the skitter. After the skitter, another machine grabs trees and puts them through a de-limber. This is a shaft that takes the trees and cuts all of the limbs and branches (it also saws off the thin tops and makes them into uniform logs). The final machine, the loader, takes the trees and loads them onto a semi-truck with a collapsible bed. This was the big boys Toys R’ Us, but we had to be constantly alert. These machines can easily kill someone in the most gruesome ways imaginable. It’s probably good that I didn’t follow in my father’s footsteps and surround myself with stuff like this day after day. I’m just too clumsy.


Lost in the woods near Liberty, TX


We could have been in deep shit on the last day. The logging industry can’t just cut down any trees they want. They have to go very far into the woods to tree farms (these can take over two decades to grow, by the way). To do this, they create temporary dirt roads that are easily twenty miles from even a rural side road. On this particular day, we started to hear thunder. The foreman told us that if it started to rain, we would have to drop everything and make a run for it. Since the roads are dirt, our trucks could sink within a matter of minutes if it was a heavy rain, and that means we would have to get out of this place on foot. If it was a seriously heavy rain, the whole forest could flood, and that’s when things can get life-threatening. It goes without saying that we were in overdrive, and we managed to get out of the woods just before it started to rain.


After that, we headed back to the cement factory to film the work scenes. This location was only slightly less hostile. Although we had access to a bathroom and such, the dust was unbelievable. This fine stuff just gets all over the equipment, and we constantly had to use blowers to keep our gear clean. For audio, this dust can actually destroy the equipment. The heat was back full force, as well.


Mixing concrete is a really tough job. Once it’s mixed and in the truck, the driver has only 60 minutes in this heat to get it poured. We found ourselves racing the clock again, but we did manage to get to the second location and film a driveway being made in time.

The signature of Lucifer, himself.


The location after that was really cool, and I don’t just mean that it had air conditioning. We took the skitter to a custom paint shop, and the work this guy could do was truly amazing. Filming it, however, was another exercise in endurance. The paint shop is like a hangar, no windows, and it’s pretty much a steel box. When we film, we have to have the garage doors closed and the fans off for audio. The mercury quickly climbed to hottest temperature I’ve experienced yet. I’m not sure how bad it got, but if it was 106° outside, it was easily ten more in there. I felt like Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai. And then there was the paint. All of us had to wear masks to breathe properly, and it was hard to concentrate on the sound in so much discomfort. It was just diabolical.


I have also shot more in Houston, mostly at the speed shop where they overhaul the machines. Our next location is Dallas. I’m told we are going to film a pig farm and a feed supply. I think this is going to be a loud, smelly week. In the meantime, I am trying to just stay focused on my work and the rewards and not on how much I miss home and my lady. I’m grateful that my family has been calling so much to check on me, and I think about all of you often. In fact, while we were in Liberty, I someone that looked just like my cousin Kelly (who’s about to tie the knot!), and I was sad thinking about how much I want to go to her wedding and how long ago the family reunion already seems. I hope I can see some family before I leave Texas.


This is NOT my cousin, Kelly McDermand.


But I must go onwards and upwards! I am now over three weeks into production, and there’s a LONG way to go. For those of you interested, I’m told the show will air on October 7th. More on that coming soon.



"I likes me a big, Lone Star waffle."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Week 1 in the Can!

Day 1 at Alvin, TX. Just too damn hot...

I am attempting to keep this blog a little more current while I am shooting in Texas. Today marks the end of my first week here, and I wanted to share some stories of what being on set is really like. Bottom line: it’s not always pretty.


The main character in our little story is the heat. We shoot almost every single day outside in the sun, and the mercury continuously clocks in at over 100°. Add humidity to the mix, and you have one very uncomfortable shooting environment.


Our first day was in Alvin, TX, about one hour from our production office in Richmond.
Without getting into too many details, our show is about restoring old equipment; preferably diesel powered equipment. The first one up was a vegetable farmers’ International Harvester Farmall 140 tractor. I don’t know much about it beyond that it was manufactured sometime in the early 70’s. The unit needed urgent attention as it had no seat, but plenty of rust. I’m not sure what the show has in store for it, but it will be interesting to see a pimped out tractor.


As for shooting this, it couldn’t have been a harder introduction. We ran out of water very quickly and there was absolutely no shade for most of the day. The farm itself was suffering from a severe drought (it has not rained here in over 200 days). The tow truck for the tractor died, and our host’s trailer had a faulty A/C unit, though he was very patient about it.

I
also had my share of sound problems. There was significant ra
dio interference at one point, and I had to resort to a boom. This was not good in such a loud environment, but having people waiting in triple digit temperatures was simply not an option. Otherwise the day went well, but the thought that there were 10 plus weeks of production did seem daunting after it was over.


Day 2 was not any easier. Our next vehicle was a cement mixer at a stone supply company. The heat was even worse, since the ground was covered in white rocks and sand that acted as a mirror for the heat. Beyond that, the wind really picked up and blew dust all over the place, so keeping our gear clean was a constant chore. At one point, the wind was so bad it almost collapsed video village (this is where the director and producers watch the video feeds from).

The mighty International Farmall 140 Tractor


The sound problems continued. On shows like this, production wants all mics hidden. This requires me to carefully attach those small radio mics (see previous post below) to the actors clothing with mole skin. Normally I could just attach the mic to the actor’s skin, but with the heat the tape wouldn’t even stick. On this day, the heat was so bad that the sweat soaked the shirt so bad the adhesive wouldn’t even stick to the clothing for very long.


Beyond that, every time the actors moved, the sound of tiny pebbles getting crushed ruined the dialogue. Mics can be more sensitive than the human ear, so it sounded like people talking while stepping on Rice Krispies. Ugly, ugly sound. My solution was to lay down furniture pads on the ground. It completely eliminated the problem. I got mostly great audio, but we still had to watch out for the endless semi trucks, airplanes, and trains.


Day 3 was a really long trip. We left at 6:00am for Crystal Lake, TX, which is very close to Galveston. I have fond memories of this area when Mom took us there to visit Uncle Dave’s family, but maybe it seems so pleasant because we had an epic family implosion a day or two later in San Antonio.


The camera department prepares the jib arm.


The gentleman who owned the soon-to-be-restored Diesel Semi Truck (circa 1991) owned a sanitation business. Specifically, he changes out Port-A-Potties, so as you can imagine, this location wasn’t whole lot of fun. It didn’t smell as bad as I thought it would, but eating lunch was still kind of hard. As for audio, this was my best day so far. The area is pretty desolate, so traffic noise was limited. I was able to avoid overload and clothing noise, and the owner was very accommodating shutting down his workers’ trucks for me.


On the way back, we had to take a ferry back to cross the peninsula. As I looked over the Gulf of Mexico, I remembered how good of a way this is to make a living. It certainly beat my old, windowless office at Columbia.


The next day was a pick-up truck at a construction site. Not much to report here. Since it was deep in the woods, the audio was very clear, though the guest did tend to breathe very heavily from the heat and how hard he was working. The post-production folks are going to have fun with him later in the editing room, I’m sure.


And that brings me to today, which just so happens to be my birthday. My present? A 5:00 am call time. Ugh! We drove to La Porte, TX to pick up an old steam roller. This one really got to me. The sun was just becoming unbearable, and I really struggled to stay hydrated. The issues with sweat and the mole skin removed, and I resorted to using a vampire clip at the end (this is a small mic holder with two little metal “teeth” to attach to the shirt. That fixed the placement issue, but we were still shooting next to a Freeway. Not much we could do about this, so I just did the best I could.


Looking back on all of this, ll I can say is that this has really been a pleasure. On the other hand, I am really missing Jen, and I hope to see her soon, even if I have to fly her out here. On this, my 28
th birthday, I am relieved to say I am extremely grateful. I used to hate birthdays, since I usually spent them alone. Even though I spent this one working, I'm still very grateful for many things: good family, the best girlfriend ever, and a great job. I can’t really ask for more out of life.


On the ferry at the Gulf of Mexico on my last
day being 27 years old.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

THE BIG ONE!!


Hey friends and family. About a week ago I got the kind of job that takes years to snag. I cannot discuss it in too much detail because I have signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, but I can say that it is a Reality show that is shooting for 10 production weeks near Houston, TX. I am actually writing this from the Lone Star state as we speak.

I was busy right up until I left. Before leaving, I wrapped up production on an infomercial, and was doing sound for a documentary on Keanu Reeves’ old metal band Dogstar. Unfortunately, taking this job meant I would NOT be meeting the big K, or other stars like Carrie Ann-Moss and Sandra Bullock, but this was too big of an opportunity to pass up.

In addition to all that, I also subbed for a production sound class at Columbia. After which, I had to give my notice to the Dean (my old boss) that I would not be able to teach in the Fall as I had originally planned.

Without question, Houston is the hottest and most humid place on Earth. I was practically swimming when I got off the plane. My hottest day in Chicago doesn’t even compete with this place. Production on this show will start on Monday, with two days of “prep” on Saturday and Sunday. This turned out to be much more difficult then I thought. Unlike my usual gigs, where productions pay me for my labor and rent my equipment (this is called a “box rental”), this time the production was supplying the gear. This is typical when a production company shoots a lot of shows. The problem with this is that I’m using someone else’s gear, and it was not in order when I got there.

In fact, it was a complete mess. The audio package was spread over six or seven Pelican cases, and countless other odds and ends were in other boxes. The first problem was that I could not find the recorder, the nerve center of my operation. After about two hours of looking for it, I finally had to bring the matter to the Production Manager, who promptly flipped out and called the main production office in Burbank, CA. We eventually found it in the catering department. Whew!

It ended up taking me a full 12-hour day to find all of the little pieces and wire the audio package. The package currently consists of the recorder, the mixing control surface, eight receivers, two camera hops, a Comtek, and a bunch of little audio accessories. The picture below may help to illustrate this. All of this is attached to my back and is a considerable amount of weight. This is serious, folks.

Serious Audio. The silver thing is the audio recorder.
The bottom half is the mixer. Receivers are on top.
The blue wires to the right lead to the wireless audio for cameras.


A lot of you have asked for more info about what I actually do on set, so I will try to explain what my job is. With a reality show, we shoot with multiple cameras at the same time. We follow multiple subjects (or “talent) with these cameras, and this has very specific demands from the audio dept. I use the words “audio dept.” loosely, because it’s just me. I don’t even have a boom operator.


In order to pull this off, all the talent must be recorded several times. People on camera will have a tiny microphone (called a lavalier, or lav) hidden on their person. The mic is connected to a transmitter on their belt line. The transmitter is that tiny box you see refs wear on their belt in the NFL. The receivers are in my audio bag, and the signals are fed directly into the recorder. The recorder is the Sound Devices 788T, and has a built in mixer. This allows me to route, or “mix” the signals any way I need. The recorder can accommodate up to eight inputs, but it can record up to twelve tracks: the two channel “mix,” individual isolated tracks (called “Iso’s” or “stems”), and two auxiliary tracks. I will explain that more, don’t worry.


A mix is the main audio on a project. Basically, it’s a selection of what I think is the best audio. It consists of two channels: left and right, like stereo. In this particular case, the host of the show will be placed on the left channel, and all other talent will be on the right channel. In order to make it to the mix, I have to have the fader turned up on the given talent. This is done so you, the viewer, only hear who is relevant to a particular shot. For example, if we were in a garage with eight workers, but only one of them was talking to camera, I would have the other workers turned down in the mix.


The isolated tracks will record every talent separately regardless if their fader is muted. This is done as a redundancy in case I miss a line, or if there is an add-lib. The auxiliary (or aux) tracks are two more tracks that I could put anything on, but in this case I won’t be using them.


Since there are multiple cameras shooting wide shots and close-ups at the same time, I probably won’t be booming much. This will require very careful mixing on my part. As if that wasn’t enough, I am also in charge of sending audio feeds to several key personnel on set. The left mix is sent wirelessly to Camera A, the main camera that will primarily feature the host. The Right mix is sent to Camera B. In post-production, the cameras will be synced to the slate (aka the clapper), so the editors can use the audio sent directly to camera without having to sync my audio up.


Another duty I have is timecode. Timecode is a numerical system for labeling frames of film and video. Represented visually, it might look something like this 09:17:52:03. The numbers mean HOURS:MINUTES:SECONDS:FRAMES. Since timecode is set to time of day, in this example it means that the footage is currently rolling at 9:17am, plus fifty-two seconds and three frames. I set the numbers on my audio recorder, and feed the timecode into the cameras via BNC cable. This means that if an action happens on the cameras, the editors can locate the audio that goes with it by simply typing the numbers on a keypad. This is very useful if we must roll cameras without getting a marker.


A close-up of the Countryman B6 lavalier.
This mic will be used on the host.
It's so small I can hide it behind a shirt button!


I also need to send audio feeds to the producers. Most likely they will want to hear their star talent only; regardless if he’s on camera. To do this, I route his lavalier into Output 1, which is hooked up to a Comtek transmitter. The producer and several other personnel have receivers with headphones tuned into the same frequency, and are able to monitor talent at all times.


The recorder is completely digital, and this is how it is able to accommodate many of these advanced functions. At the end of the day, I download the takes as computer files directly onto a hard drive. From there, I burn two sets of DVDs, one is the actual masters and the second is a back-up copy. I also make notes on a sound report when possible to let the editors know of any sound problems I had during the day. All of this is combined with the shot rolls (the rolls are HD video tape), and shipped back to California.


Back in LA, the post people will digitize the tapes, sync my audio to the “dailies,” and begin editing. We can easily shoot 12 hours or more a day, and it usually takes five days to shoot out an episode. All of this will eventually be cut down to a program of less than forty minutes (expanded to 60 with commercials). We have an order for an eight-episode season, so as you can see, this is a LOT of work.


Production is currently scheduled to go at least 10 days straight. I should have one or two days off, but that will not be enough to fly back to Los Angeles, so I will be staying here in Texas. After that, there will be another extended shooting schedule before the next hiatus. How long, I do not know, but at some point in September I should be able to fly home for a week or so before flying back for round two. As of right now, my stay in Houston is indefinite. My return is dictated strictly by the schedule of our host. Funny thing is that I’m going to have to find more work in LA, or people will forget about me! Gotta stay relevant.


Needless to say this is quite a change from my usual projects. This TV show will air on a cable network, and I look forward to giving you that info soon. The pay is very respectable and I shouldn’t have to work for months if I don’t want to. Plus, I’m hoping with this experience I will be eligible to join the sound mixer union. It will be hard to be away from Jen this long, but we both have our eye on the prize. We did long-distance when I first moved across country for college, so this will be a piece of cake. Still, I miss her.


I really don’t have the words to describe this (well, clearly I do, look at how long his post is!). I have been trying to work on a real film or TV show for over seven years; pretty much ever since I came to Hollywood. I never thought it would be in the sound department, but I am thrilled to finally earn some serious credits. Here’s hoping that the show is renewed for season 2!



A closer view. The top module is the recorder.
The faders below adjust the volume being fed
to the main mix.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Family Reunion - 2011

It just goes by too quickly.


I’m referring not only to my time with my Grandparents, but also the times our family has been able to get together. We have had a few family reunions over the years. I distinctly remember two such occasions at Arlington St. and in St. Louis. What the hell we were doing in St. Louis I can never remember, but anyway, I recall us all being there.



Uncle Boo-Boo. Not in the mood for a picture.


Unfortunately, it’s just one of those things about getting older: you get busy, and you see people less. So with this last trip, I have a feeling we were all pretty excited despite the circumstances.

Jen and I left Los Angeles on the 4th of July. We got into Midway early afternoon, took the “L” to the loop, and caught a Metra for Elmhurst. Because it was a holiday, the trains only left every two or three hours. While we were waiting outside Northwest Station, we marveled at how empty the city was. I mean eerily quiet. I’ve never seen anything like it.



Jen, Me, and my cousin Christina Carmona outside
Maple Tree Restaurant


My brother David and his family were already checked into the Marriot (courtesy of my stepdad Randy. You rock, if you’re reading this). We picked up a Lou Malnati’s Pizza, which was literally next to the station. We inhaled the food before heading over to my Aunt Tari’s parents house to catch fireworks. I hadn’t been in Roselle in a very long time and I was truly amazed by the level of the show. There were three fake endings before the real grand finale. Best fireworks I’ve seen for free in a VERY long time.

The next day was when everyone really showed up at my Uncle Pat’s house. I finally got to meet my cousin Ryan’s new family, and saw Kelly’s fiancĂ© Matt for the first time in years. I think we only met once before. I finally saw Bryan for the first time in a good while, too. I keep forgetting he’s back in Chicago. Gotta see him more often.


I think that's Nim around Alex's shoulders.

Nana’s memorial services started with an incredible breakfast at the Wilder Mansion. It was formerly the Elmhurst Library, where I would spend many of my days growing up. Now, back to its former glory, it turned out to be quite a place to say, “goodbye.”

We played Amazing Grace on Kazoos, and my uncles and Mom shared some stories and appreciation. Mixing the ashes might have been the hardest part for everyone, although the proper evening memorial had its share as well.



This is my favorite picture from the trip.

The next day Uncle Doug’s family had to head back. The rest of us had a Wiffle ball game outside the hotel. Our team lost, but I was amazed that I could even hit the ball with that tiny bat after so many years. The rest of the day we just kind of relaxed and talked a lot. Lots of laughs.

And my God, the food! I am really glad I don’t live in Chicago anymore. There’s just too much good food and it’s all bad for you. In this one trip, we crammed in Portillo’s, Nancy’s Pizza, Lou Malnati’s, and a lot of breakfast from the Maple Restaurant. We also had a bomb barbecue at Pat and Tari’s.



"Amazing Grace" on Kazoos

The next day I saw my Dad and he took me to Midway. The connecting flight was delayed by three hours, and of course I had an early call time the next day. I got about five hours of sleep before pulling a long one on a very hot Southern California day. I miss everyone already.


Much Love,

Mikey


P.S. All of the pictures on this post were taken with ILFORD 100 speed film on my Canon old school, manual focus camera, or as David James calls it, “the antiquated piece of shit.” I processed the film and scanned them myself, hence the delay. There are a few more pictures I'm really curious about, so I may post more later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Last Rites goes Full Time


M-Net is a new network.
The American location is based
in Culver City, CA

Hey all. It's been very long indeed since I've been able to post here, but hopefully that will change soon. As of last Friday, I no longer work at Columbia College Hollywood as the Administrative Coordinator. It has been a difficult transition, as I had worked at Columbia in one capacity or another for six years. In fact, the only job I've had in California that wasn't at Columbia was at It's Mitz Productions. Even there, I was constantly dealing with the college because by boss was an instructor and Dept. Chair at Columbia. I really have to laugh because even right now I'm not ALL the way gone; I still teach Production Sound on Monday nights, but otherwise that's it for me.


Finally, after so many years, I am making a living in the film business, even if it's the fringes of the business. Since giving my notice in January, I have been very lucky to attract some well-financed clients and booked some consistent work.

My most regular paycheck comes from a new network called M-Net. They are actually a new offshoot of an established network in South Korea. Their specialty here in the states is programming for the Asian-American audience. The show I work for is called BPM (stands for Beats Per M-Net). This is a one-hour, hosted studio show that covers music videos and other buzz-worthy topics for the young demographic.

The show tapes (normally) two days a week; two episodes per day. These are LONG days, routinely clocking in at about 12 hours. With the network already approved for a 200+ episode order, I have already found a consistent paycheck and my basic needs are met (rent, food, gas, etc). This is a huge relief after leaving Columbia.

BPM will air on M-Net daily.
M-Net is available on most major cable
carriers EXCEPT DirecTV.

The show has two hosts, a man and a woman. I am the mixer and the boom operator, so I have to have a very heavy rig on my back for long periods of time. I have also had to have my hands over my head for long takes to keep the boom pole out of the shot and the mic placed properly. Rough! Add to that this unfortunate reality: the air conditioning must be turned off during takes in order to get quiet sound. With a small set with 2 hosts, three camera operators, two producers, the director, make-up, script supervisor (oh, and me) in the same room PLUS a ton of lights and computer equipment, this room gets really hot really fast. It's definitely work. On the other hand, in two days I'm making a paycheck that used to take a week to earn at Columbia, so there's that.

There are many other challenges as well. There is a ton of radio signals in the building that are reaping havoc on my wireless mics. It's gotten so bad that I have had to order new equipment with a hefty price tag. I was reluctant at first, but if I'm really going to be doing this professionally I must have good equipment. I also have to have two prop microphones for their karaoke segment that plays over the end credits. Finally, on days where there are musicians, I must quickly be able to wire a set up to get a clean recording without necessarily knowing what the set up is in advance. This is the hardest part of the job since dialogue recording is very different from music mixing, but so far I have pulled it off nicely.

A highlight of my work lately has been testing equipment. I have a connection with a legendary sound mixer (can't say his name, but he mixed INDEPENDENCE DAY and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) who has made me a beta tester for sound equipment companies. Most recently, he let me use the EZ Boom Rig. This rig, produced by K-Tek, attaches to my back (more weight, sigh) and has a long arm that holds a weighted boom pole. The weights counter balance the mic at the other end of the pole, and you hardly feel it at all. This allows me to have one hand free to operate the mixer in my bag. That was invaluable, but it was just too much weight for a twelve hour shoot. Plus, the stage we shoot in is just too small, so I was not able to move at all. Doing simple things like going to the bathroom or getting water required me to take the whole rig off. Reconnecting it required two people to do it quickly. A picture below should illustrate that point nicely.


Testing the EZ Boom Rig

Finally, I wanted to make a note about Jen. She is continuing to suffer from abdominal and lower back pain. She is seeing a specialist, but progress is slow. We have decided that our best course of action is to quit her current job at CineMark and work for me at home. I will train her to be a post-production sound mixer, and this will allow her to work from home at her own pace comfortably. Jen has not had it easy for the last few years, and I hope this will give her the compensation and satisfaction she has been seeking for so long. Really, it wasn't a hard decision to make: the theatre pays her $8.00 an hour and has hardly given her 20 hours a week. It wont be hard to top that.

So that's my LONG update for now. I am planning to launch a website when I get some things in order, and hope to be better about this. Please wish us good luck with our new business!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Harshest Critic (Me)

Dad in San Pedro, in front of the
Korean Friendship Bell - Christmas, 2010


It has come to my attention that I am a bit rusty with taking pictures. The fact that it took over a month to finish the roll I started in North Carolina (early November 2010) and ended with Dad's vacation in LA proves that. But I still printed two pictures because I as on vacation and I didn't know when I would be able to again. Since some people are wondering how I actually take my pictures, this will give me a change to show you what I do and some of the mistakes I made this time around.

The first picture, above, is of Dad in San Pedro. He is standing in front of the Korean Friendship Bell. The picture was taken on Ilford Delta 100 speed film. Film speed is one of the factors that determines how much light you need. 100 is a slow-speed film. This means that it will take plenty of light, but the picture will be very sharp and crisp. Likewise, a fast film will need much less light, but will be more grainy. I prefer to shoot with slow film.

With plenty of light from the sun, I was able to use a small aperture. In other words, the hole of the lens was very small (the pinhole effect). This allows me to keep subjects that are close and far all in focus. As you can see, the exposure is very good. My two big mistakes where the easiest to avoid. First, I did not clean the lens. This caused there to be a lot of small white dots when I eventually printed the picture. This really ruins many of my pictures, and I must get better at it.

The second mistake I made was not using a flash. As you can see from the picture, the sun was on my left, illuminating Dad's camera-left side. The other side is dark, naturally. Had I used a flash, it would have lit the other side of his face and would have revealed all of Dad's facial features. Amateur mistake.


Portrait of Nimuae Carmona
November 2010 - Black Mountain, NC

The picture above is of my niece Nimuae. She was the only one of the kids willing to have her picture taken by me. This turned out to be a wonderful portrait. Same film stock as before, but I used a long lens instead. This blurs out the background and draws more attention to the subject. Once again, I didn't keep the lens clean, so I had tons of spots. The other problems were more difficult to solve.

When I made the actual print in my darkroom, I did get good exposure and contrast on Nim's face by using a filter (this adds more contrast). However, despite printing the paper for almost a minute, and putting another forty seconds of light on the background (this is called burning), I could not get the background to the right of Nim's face to show up. I could have made another print, but I had already made a few bad ones and I was too aggravated.

I used spot toning to get rid of some of the biggest white spots. This is a really annoying process; it involves using a tiny paint brush and black ink to fill them in one at a time. These pictures had hundreds of them, so I was only willing to do it on the worst of them. I'm really not very good at it, but I did a much better job on the picture of Nim.

Now that it is scanned, I will use Adobe PhotoShop to fix everything. Soon it will be perfect, and next time I will do better.