Let Sleeping Dogs Lie for NFL Films

While searching for past projects, I finally found a link to a video that I worked on last year… it turned out rather well, I thought!

http://www.nfl.com/videos/washington-redskins/0ap3000000442876/NFL-Films-Presents-Let-sleeping-dogs-lie

Fat Hair Commercial

I was asked to do the location sound for a commercial in Atlanta last week for a company called “Fat Hair.” We shot two spots over two days. The camera was a Red Epic Dragon, which is capable of shooting at 6K resolution, but thankfully for the data transfer, we shot the spot at 4K. (If we’d shot at 6k, we’d STILL be waiting on the files to transfer…)

Day one on the Fat Hair set. We had a larger crew than I normally work with, around 30 people. Cold, but thankfully sunny.

Day one on the Fat Hair set. We had a larger crew than I normally work with, around 30 people. Cold, but thankfully sunny.

My big concern was the timecode. A common response when I offer my timecode gear “that would be nice, but we can’t afford it,” so I don’t get to use this stuff on every shoot. But this time they wanted the full monty. Once I got everything set up properly, it all worked without a hitch. The camera department REALLY appreciated the pack-of-gum-sized Q28 lockbox, since the real estate on Red cameras is very tight. We velcroed the lockbox to the batteries, and other than removing it to re-jam after lunch, we pretty much forgot about it.

Inside shooting on Day 2

Inside shooting on Day 2

The basic workflow is fairly simple, actually. My 664 was  the master clock, set to time of day. The Q28 is connected to the 664 then powered on in order to jam. Same thing with the timecode slate. Both the slate and the lockbox were left switched on throughout the day. Six AA batteries (rechargeable) powered the slate for the entire 10-hour day, while a pair of standard AAAs ran the lockbox. At the end of about four hours, I noticed a drift of about a frame or two on the first day, but less than that on the second day. It might have been due to temperature differences, since we were outside on the first day… the slate would have been colder than the lockbox, as the battery would have kept it slightly warmer as it discharged.

Other than that, it was a fairly straightforward shoot. There were only a handful of short lines- a few wild tracks (non-sync). I rolled audio during the high-speed takes just so the camera files and audio files would match up, and maybe there would be some quick sounds that post could use.

New Gear- Sync Department

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally taken delivery on a Denecke TS-3 timecode slate and a Mozegear Q28 timecode lockbox.

For the very highest quality audio, it’s necessary to use the recorded files that are provided by your soundperson… the quality of the digital converters in my Sound Devices 664 just sound better than camera audio files. Yes, it requires more work to sync the audio with the video, but the differences are apparent… especially when you listen to the two files side-by-side

My Denecke TS-3 timecode slate

My Denecke TS-3 timecode slate

There have been a number of workflows proposed for getting timecode on DSLR video, with varying degrees of success. But a timecode slate is still considered an industry standard sync aid, since it gives a visual confirmation of the timecode numbers that can be checked at a glance.

I’ve needed a timecode slate for a long time, especially on DSLR shoots, where dual-system audio recording is a must. The inputs on DSLR cameras rely on a single, unbalanced, non-locking 3.5mm connector, and I refuse to rely on the camera as a recording device. I did a 5d shoot once where the producers assured me that “… it’ll be fine, we always do it this way…” and the audio mysteriously disappeared. Had I not been recording a duplicate signal to my Sony recorder, two days and many, many thousands of dollars would have been wasted on a silent movie.

The only problem with timecode slates is the cost. They aren’t often available used, and the few that I have seen were pretty badly beaten up. New slates are expensive. But I finally bit the bullet this year and purchased a Denecke TS-3EL from Trew Audio in Nashville, my preferred supplier. And yes, it’s the backlit version so you can see it in low light situations.

The Mozegear Tig Q28 lockbox. The camera department loves the small size and light weight, especially with Red cameras where space to mount things is at a premium.

The Mozegear Tig Q28 lockbox. The camera department loves the small size and light weight, especially with Red cameras where space to mount things is at a premium.

To go along with it, I also purchased a Mozegear Q28 sync generator. While most cameras can generate a reasonably reliable timecode signal, a few are notorious for wild drifts, errors, resetting to zero when you change a battery, or other shenanigans. An external sync generator solves these problems, and gives a steady source that is nearly always dependable… with good batteries, of course. The Mozegear Q28 is a Camera Department favorite because it is very small and light… about the size of a thin stack of credit cards. I had to sew up a makeshift case for it so it can be attached with velcro. The only trouble I’ve had so far is the cables. I’ve got the BNC output and 5-pin Lemo… fine for Arri Alexa and Red One, but Red Epic, Scarlet and Dragon uses a 4-pin Lemo. And of course, we were shooting on a Scarlet… some days you just can’t win.

One of the things that I wish Mozegear would include is some sort of protective case or wallet, to keep the gear from getting beat up. I suppose there might be some kind of mini cell phone case that might work, but I couldn't find one so I stitched this one up. Unfortunately that's about the only option... it's so small that there's no profit for a company like PortaBrace to make one.

One of the things that I wish Mozegear would include is some sort of protective case or wallet, to keep the gear from getting beat up. I suppose there might be some kind of mini cell phone case that might work, but I couldn’t find one so I stitched this one up. Unfortunately that’s about the only option… it’s so small that there’s no profit for a company like PortaBrace to make one.

Best Film at the Cannes Short Film Festival

I’ve just been told that a short film that I worked on won the Best Film award at the Cannes Short Film Festival… link is here.

One setup at the house where we shot. I don't have too many images because I was too busy working to shoot stills.

One setup at the house where we shot. I don’t have too many images because I was too busy working to shoot stills.

The Day After Stonewall Died is a short film I worked on back in 2013. I was location A1 for four of the five days that we shot, my good friend John Billings filled in for me for one day while I had to dash off to Nashville to do another job. John Dower was the director, who flew over from the UK to do the shoot. The script was written by Chattanooga’s Anthony Sims.

We shot mostly at a house owned by Jan Bramlett down in Georgia… it turned out to be a great location. The bar scenes were shot in East Ridge. Special thanks go to my boom op Will Taylor, who worked long and hard on this film. We had lots of really great talent on this set, with many people working for a very low rate. It’s great that their hard work and sacrifice is validated by winning at Cannes… not an easy trick to pull. Thanks again to John and Anthony for asking me to do this, and congratulations to them as well as everyone else who worked on this film.

Bar scene in East Ridge

Bar scene in East Ridge

Mike Wolfe’s “Kid Pickers”

I was in Nashville last week shooting for Mike Wolfe of “American Pickers,” a popular reality show on History Channel about finding antiques. Early on, he noticed that American Pickers was popular with kids, so he wrote a book directed to younger readers about discovering local history through artifacts and repurposing old, interesting items. Out of that grew a contest called “Kid Pickers” where kids could show off their finds and submit an essay about it. Three winners were chosen… first place received a $10,000 scholarship.

At Antique Archaeology in Nashville TN (Before the doors were opened!)

At Antique Archaeology in Nashville TN (Before the doors were opened!)

We shot at Antique Archaeology in Nashville, TN. Mike is a TN native and sells his finds at his store there. Most of them, anyway- the ribbon mics that he has weren’t for sale. The store was insanely crowded with people once it opened to the public… it’s apparently quite the tourist destination. It’s located in the old Marathon car factory, a very cool brick and timber building in West Nashville that was purchased for a song in 1981 and is now worth millions. (the owner won’t sell… Mike says he’s tried)

Mike Wolfe deliverse a standup at the N State Fair, September 2014

Mike Wolfe delivers a standup at the N State Fair, September 2014

It was a fun shoot overall… the winning finds were a beaver skin top hat from the late 1800’s, a tramp art bottle vase that was decorated with old cigar bands, and a precursor to the Xerox machine that was found in an alley. The kids, all about 12, were a bit overwhelmed with all the attention, but they had a good time. I enjoyed meeting Mike, he was very personable and fun to work with.

A selfie with Mike Wolfe

A selfie with Mike Wolfe

With Kari Byron from Mythbusters

I had a chance to work with Kari Byron from Mythbusters a few months ago. She was here shooting a special for Discovery in the Smokey Mountains National Park, which is about 3 1/2 hrs away from Chattanooga. It was just a one-day, one-time gig, but it was fun to work with someone who was famous… at least at our house. We started watching Mythbusters not long after it started in 2003, since Kyle would have been 13 at the time- the perfect thing to get a young boy interested in science, or at least in blowing stuff up.

Kari Byron with park ranger Becky Nichols

Kari Byron with park ranger Becky Nichols

The show is about the sychronous fireflies in the area. It only happens in a few places during a short period of the year. They aren’t sure exactly why they do it, but all the fireflies in a given area will light up in waves. VERY cool to see.

The downside was the weather, and right about dusk the sky opened up. I have raingear which protected the gear pretty well, but it was sweaty, wet-footed, unpleasant work. But Kari was a real pro, without the slightest bit of complaint or cross word when she HAD to be feeling about as miserable as the rest of the crew. It was a real pleasure to work with her.

Brian Gilbert with Kari Byron, before all the rain started.

Brian Gilbert with Kari Byron, before all the rain started.

 

Working In The Production Truck

Way back in the days before the internet (most kids think this was shortly after we tamed fire and invented the wheel), I did a fair amount of audio work in production trucks. It wasn’t a regular thing, just a few times a year… enough to be interesting. But not much since I’ve been a freelancer. That changed, though, when I got a call from Encompass Media (Formerly Crawford Productions in Atlanta) about a shoot in Chattanooga at the new Volkswagen plant. They wanted an audio operator with satellite truck experience. Perfect, that’s me… or so I thought.

Encompass 5 at 4:30 AM

Encompass Five at 4:30 AM

I showed up at the call time of 12:00 for setup- the sat window was for the next day at 8. After talking to the truck producer and getting an idea of the scope of the project, it was clear that this wasn’t your normal broadcast uplink… or a quick day. It was uplink and downlink, with video playback, a mirrored mix in the truck with mic sources split from house audio, plus two different audio feeds from the downlink (English translation and German). Oh, yeah, and we need three different IFB lines… one for the cameras, one German language for communication with the sat operators in Wolfsburg (Germany), and a third “God mic” for the inside producer. The inside two IFB feeds will connect to a wireless system provided by the house sound guys, but it’s a Telex 4-wire that doesn’t work with the RTS system that the truck has. And we need to record the feed in the truck on their recorder and the director’s laptop. Can you make it work it?

I didn’t quite know what to say. I was trying to come up with a response that sounded good but still had a slight basis in truth, while trying hard to fight body language that included cold sweats and crying like a baby. Mercifully, the truck’s engineers Alan Rogers and Shaun Flowers jumped in and said yeah, we could probably make that work. I wasn’t nearly so sure.

By about 11PM that night, we had most everything working the way the client wanted. Getting the signals into and out of the truck involved lots of cryptic patching, imbedding, and interfaces which were very unfamiliar, so I owe both these guys a huge debt of thanks for walking me through the process. I’ve set up production trucks before, but it was awhile back… the trucks were analog and the setups were nothing near this complex. They were able to put it all together while simultaneously putting out several video fires (like weird CCU problems- one just didn’t like the line it was being used on, and mysteriously came to life once moved to a different camera.)

In Encompass Five sat production truck. We're smiling because we're done. Left to right,  engineer Shaun Flowers, Brian Gilbert, and  engineer Alan Rogers.

In Encompass Five sat production truck. We’re smiling because we’re done. Left to right, engineer Shaun Flowers, Brian Gilbert, and engineer Alan Rogers.

Call time for the next day was 4:30AM. The show itself went pretty much as planned. There were some problems on the Wolfsburg end, but our side went fairly smoothly. The director said very little- he didn’t “call” the show the way I’m used to, i.e., “standby one,” “take one,” standby video,” “roll video,” etc. But it was fun to punch a show on a board the way we used to do it, even though it was just a little Mackie 1604.

Producer, Director and Audio positions. TD Susanne Grote

Producer, Director and Audio positions. TD Susanne Grote