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

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