BamaCovered Story for NBC Nightly News

I just completed work on a story for NBC Nightly News about an organization called BamaCovered. Daniel Liss is a 25-year old recent graduate of Harvard who was, until recently, working in London as an investment banker. He and a friend Josh Carpenter were dismayed by the state of health care in Alabama and the amount of difficulty (and downright false information) people were receiving navigating the health exchanges to get insurance. So they started a foundation called BamaCovered. This is a group of volunteers, mostly college students, who are canvassing the community, trying to help people get health care coverage.


NBC Nightly News correspondent Peter Alexander with BamaCovered Organizer Josh Liss in Huntsville, AL

One of their success stories… a woman on a fixed income of $800 a month was told that insurance through the exchange would cost her $700 per month. With the help of Josh’s volunteers, she received a quote of $25 per month.

NBC Nightly News Producer Doug Adams and White House correspondent Peter Alexander flew into Huntsville, AL where DP Roger Herr (In Sight Out Productions) and I met up with them. We shot at several locations around Huntsville- a free health clinic downtown, Peter’s Barbershop, Big Spring Park downtown, and Huntsville radio station WEUP, Alabama’s first black-owned radio station.

It’s a great story that should air sometime late next week… don’t miss it!

UPDATE: Producer Doug Adams sent me a link to this story, which aired on the 30th…


Roger Herr on camera, Brian Gilbert location sound, Peter Alexander and Josh Liss. In the WEUP parking lot in Huntsville, AL. Photos by Doug Adams.

664 Media Management

Just in case anyone was wondering, I thought I’d outline my typical 664 workflow as it relates to media management.

The Sound Devices 664 is kinda particular about the media cards that it likes, and  while SD and CF cards are quite common, there are only a handful that work in the 664. For this reason, I never release my cards at the end of a shoot… I wait while the DIT copies them to a hard drive. If there’s no DIT working on the set, I’ll copy the files myself to whatever is available. It’s fairly rare for a photographer or producer to show up without a computer, but I always try to bring mine along, just in case.

My 664 media department... cards, case, and reader

My 664 media department… cards, case, and reader

When I first bought my 664, I went out and bought three of each… three 16GB Delkin CF700x UDMA6 CompactFlash, 105MB/s read, 67MB/s write, and three 16GB Delkin SD163x Class 10 Secure Digital, 24MB/s read, 17MB/s write. I also picked up an inexpensive card reader and a case for the cards. One thing you DON’T want to do is use cards that are not on the list of approved media for use by Sound Devices. Go to their website, the list is updated every so often.

These are the cards that I use in my 664. They work fine and are approved by Sound Devices.

These are the cards that I use in my 664. They work fine and are approved by Sound Devices.

I have my 664 set to record the day’s audio files mirrored, so that each card has identical audio files. I use the SD card to transfer the data. It’s difficult to get my fat fingers around the edges of the CF card, plus the CF slots are a little more delicate… I’ve already bent a pin on my card reader, and if that happens on the 664 then it’s back to the factory for a very expensive repair. So the CF card stays in the machine, and I treat it like an internal drive most of the time unless I get some sort of data error on the other card (hasn’t happened yet, knock on wood!)

Transcription recordings are always the fly in the ointment. These are often requested as MP3 recordings with linear timecode on one channel, and audio on the other. It’s possible to do this internally with the 664, but you’ll need a special cable and an open channel. If you patch the timecode out to, say, ch6 input, then you can assign that signal to whatever card will record the MP3. Because, I’m such an old fart, I’ve always been a bit nervous about doing it this way. Back in the day, we had lots of trouble with linear timecode signals bleeding onto other tracks, as it’s generally very hot. If this happens to the main audio tracks, then you’re screwed.

Alternatively, you can use an entirely separate recorder, and that’s how I did it on a recent shoot. I used my Sony PCM-10, and built a special cable for it. The cable has a 3.5mm stereo plug on one end, and the other has a fanout with a single 3.5mm plug and a BNC connector. The BNC gets the timecode and the 3.5mm goes to the 664 tape out. If the cable is built normally, then the timecode signal will be really hot while the audio signal will be really low. I added a teeny resistor inside the connector shell to drop the level of the timecode signal, and get the levels on each channel to match a little more closely. It worked like a charm.

iphone as Master Clock?

I was shooting recently with Knoxville soundie Scott Minor. He told me about an iphone app that he and a friend developed that seems like it could be pretty useful. It’s called JumpStartLTC. It’s a a timecode generator that uses the processor cycles of the phone’s computer as a timing reference. It outputs the result to the iphone’s headphone jack.

Since the app is only $20, I figured it was worth a try. It’s not the same as a lockbox, since it can’t receive timecode… it can only output. But it’s reported to be very accurate… Scott says that he saw virtually no drift after leaving it running for two days.

It’s a simple app that has four buttons. One sets the hour (in 1-hour increments), another button resets to zero, the third button starts and stops, and the fourth button starts the clock at the time of day. There’s also a volume control, and of course, a timecode display.

The JumpStartLTC screen is pretty simple.

The JumpStartLTC screen is pretty simple.

Let’s consider a DSLR shoot, I do quite a few of these. While Canon says the latest 5d has timecode, there’s no way to jam the camera that I’m aware of. So the 5d may “have” timecode, but it’s really just a glorified counter. My 664, on the other hand, has a timecode generator with full timecode capabilities. It can jam to received timecode, or output a timecode signal (via BNC connectors) to act as a master clock.

So here’s a possible workflow for the 5d. With the iphone set to time of day, jam the 664 to the iphone using a 3.5mm-BNC cable. You can buy these for around $12… I made one for about three bucks. Now the iphone becomes a timecode display that you can flash at the 5d at the beginning of each take. Now in post, it’s just a matter of matching up the numbers. Most people just use PluralEyes for this, and that usually works fine, but this is just an extra layer of protection… if something happens to the scratch audio track on the 5d, PluralEyes won’t work, so this is another layer of safety. It isn’t a substitute for a lockbox (can’t imagine why anyone would expect a $20 app to replace a $600 device) but you might find it handy.

UPDATE: As an experiment, I used JumpStart on a 5D shoot yesterday (with country music artist Jerrod Niemann about his upcoming album release) to test how it would work. It pretty much works as advertised… though there were a few caveats. I learned that putting the phone to sleep freezes the timecode counter, so I had to restart the time of day and re-jam the recorder to the phone. This got old fairly quickly, so I left the counter running between takes to see how long it would last. I got a low battery warning after about 2 1/2 hours. I might try one of those iphone battery backs to see if I get more runtime. It also freezes if you remove the headphone jack, so it needs to stay connected as well. A useful addition to the program might be a “dim” button that would reduce the screen brightness and lower the volume on the audio TC output signal to save battery life.

I couldn’t tell, but it looked like there were a few frames of offset between the timecode on the iphone and the timecode in my recorder, but it would take a camera test to see for sure. It also appeared that pressing Time Of Day on JumpStart gives you a different offset each time, so once you start Jumpstart, it’s best to leave it running until lunchtime.

About the only other downside was that I couldn’t use my phone for on-set photos, which I try to shoot whenever I’m on set, or check my messages (though it does briefly display incoming text messages). I always stay off my phone when I’m working, but there’s always downtime where you can fire off a quick note. But as a general rule, I never take calls when I’m on the set.

Taping my phone to my slate gave me a visual timecode readout for the camera... not essential, but it probably won't hurt to have it.

Taping my phone to my slate gave me a visual timecode readout for the camera… not essential, but it probably won’t hurt to have it. 

Jim Hurst at Chattanooga’s Barking Legs Theater

I’ve just learned that I’ve gotten the go-ahead to record guitarist Jim Hurst at Chattanooga’s Barking Legs Theater on Friday night. Jim is a spectacular player… I heard him several years ago, when he was playing here with the Claire Lynch band. His playing style is uncommon. His technical skill is off the charts, but he also brings a highly refined rhythmic sense and depth of feeling to his playing. Far too often I hear players that seem to be all technique… or conversely, plenty of rhythm with poor technique.

Jim plays with a sense of balance that has to be heard to be believed. If it works out, perhaps we’ll have some samples available on his website soon. In the meantime, have a look at some of his other performances at Or if you’re near Chattanooga, join us at Barking Legs theater tomorrow night and listen for yourself.

We haven’t worked out all the tech details yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to break out some of my custom condenser mics and my Neumann KM184. I’ll record on my Sound Devices 664, which is an excellent capture device. With six channels available, it’s great for for small ensembles, bluegrass, jazz… pretty much anything without a full drum kit. I’m especially excited since I so rarely get to do music projects anymore… this one will be great fun.

The Lakehouse video

Here’s a voiceover project that I completed in my studio a few months back:

Lectrosonics SRB

As a part of my continual audio equipment upgrade program, I’ve recently purchased a Lectrosonics SRB wireless microphone system to go with my Sound Devices 664. This is one of Lectro’s flagship products, a dual-channel digital receiver in a smaller package than their other units. They’re often used as a camera link, where the small size and light weight are a big advantage. But one of the reasons they’re so small is they have no provision for battery power… they use a powered camera slot.

My bag with the Lectro SRb installed

My bag with the Lectro SRb installed

But their small size and light weight make them perfect for use in the bag where space is an issue, and that’s really an issue with me… see my previous posts (rants) about finding a good bag. I like to keep my wireless units protected in the bag interior, and there is simply not enough room in Petrol’s 664 bag for more than three wireless receivers and my BDS power distribution. And with these, I have to stuff a piece of foam padding to keep the 664 and receivers from rubbing together and developing a serious case of bag rash. I like to take the best possible care of my gear so that it not only operates well, but also because I’ll want to resell it at some point when it’s time to upgrade.

Compared with the 211, the SRB is quite a bit smaller and lighter even if it were only a single-channel unit.

Compared with the 211, the SRB is quite a bit smaller and lighter even if it were only a single-channel unit.

That’s exactly how I bought my new SRB… by selling two Lectrosonics 201s through Trew’s used audio program.(Thanks, Trew Audio!) This covered a large portion of the cost of the SRB… but that’s the receiver only, not transmitters. So last week I ordered a pair of Lectrosonics LMA transmitters to go with the SRB. These are especially handy transmitters, since they can be set up to work with the older Analog 200 series receivers, or the new digital 400 and SR units. Plus they work with 9-volt batteries, and I really depend on my rechargeable 9-volts. Rechargeable li-ion batteries in AA sizes, like those required by the Lectro SMV series, are much harder to find… though I hear they’re available from a company called Eneloop.

So when my transmitters arrive on Monday, this will bring me up to six channels of Lectro wireless. Plus two fixed-freq wireless for a camera hop. That’s enough for most reality shows that want iso channels for each actor. I’ll probably trade up for another SRB when I gather the dollars together for transmitters. But for now, I have a quite a capable bag… enough to cover most situations.

More About The Daily Show Shoot

The Daily Show segment that I worked on finally aired this week, so I can post a few more details about it. Here’s the completed bit:

Like most shoots, this one was hard work, but a lot of fun. Al Madrigal was the correspondent, producer was Ian Berger, DP was Jim Wells, and B camera was Brett Johnson. Unusually we had two location sound people for this shoot, myself and Steve LaPard of Nashville. A soundperson for each camera is nice to have, as opposed to the usual situation of me having to feed two cameras simultaneously. There were some times where this was overkill, but it gives the producer the flexibility to split up the crew when necessary.

Shooting at Sugar's Barbecue in Chattanooga

Shooting at Sugar’s Barbecue in Chattanooga

The subject of the story was the Tennessee-Georgia “water war.” According to the state of Georgia, a surveying error took place nearly two hundred years ago which resulted in the border being shifted to the south. It was no big deal until someone in Atlanta figured out that if the border went north, then  Georgia could tap the Tennessee river to supply water for Atlanta, where water is scarce. (but according to some, water use in Atlanta is double that of Tennessee per capita.) I can’t say for sure, but it sounds like Atlanta didn’t plan well for all the growth it’s enjoyed in recent years… that’s why diving around that place is such a nightmare. Georgia has offered to accept a few square miles leading to the river, or else they’re going to the Supreme Court to settle the case. If Tennessee looses and the border gets redrawn, it could loose hundreds of square miles. It may not technically be blackmail, but that’s what we called it back in the hood.

We shot for three days… two in Chattanooga, and one day in Nashville with State Representative Jason Powell, who was a very good sport for agreeing to do the interview. Al is very funny, and an interview like this would be tough to do without saying something that could come back to bite you later… and Rep. Powell did a fine job.

Al Madrigal interviews State Rep Jason Powell for The Daily Show.

Al Madrigal interviews State Rep Jason Powell for The Daily Show.

In fact, the hardest thing about the whole shoot was keeping quiet while the camera was rolling. For example:

  • AL-So when did the rockets start landing here?
  • SUBJECT- Um, no rockets have ever landed here.
  • AL- Really? ‘Cause this place looks like shit. You sure somebody didn’t set off a meth bomb or something?

Cue the snorts and guffaws from the crew. We were somewhat typecast as hicks, but that was pretty much expected. Sometimes that characterization is well deserved, just watch an episode of Smalltown Security and you’ll see what I mean.

It was a great shoot overall, and I hope to see them again someday.