Living Large . . . but not where you think . . .

Ok so I have been noticeably absent from the scene in Vancouver.  And I am sure that the Vietnamese lady that has inherited my phone number has had enough  calls by now. So this to let everyone know that I am now living in Malawi Africa.  And to say it has been a challenge would be  – accurate.  Life here is hard.  I mean that in a most literal sense.  The ground here is like concrete.  I mean the earth is like concrete.  Most buildings are made of brick or concrete or hardened mud.  And getting around here is challenging as well.  Living in Canada you have no idea how spoiled and soft you are. Since I have been here I have lost 15 kilos, had my head shaved (no really !) and at times wished I was never here.  Because I am starting to realize just how spoiled we are .

As for me what the heck am I doing here????  Well following my dream and my heart I think.  This country has no movie industry, no high tech stuff (oh how I do miss the toys we have available to us)  so I have no work – unless I make it of course.  And that is what I am hoping to achieve here.  So I am going into the Production end of things.  Is it the end of my sound career ?  No not yet.  As I have to teach others what I know here.

They have no skills in this business because it really is in its pre infancy here.  And I have (shudder) picked up a Video Camera on many of an occasion now and I am getting better and better at it each time.  Whole different skill set it is.   And there have been a few hard lessons as well.  Lent out my Sony EX-1 camera to a local “Pro” and told him to take it home, look after it and play with it to get used to it.  So what does he do ????  Takes it out to his church for three days and then drops it.  THEN he doesn’t even tell me that he did drop  it !! Just hands it back with out a peep.  And when I question what is wrong with the camera he tells me “Oh sorry – I forgot to tell you that I dropped it”. He did however glue bits back together.  Over a thousand dollars in damage.  OUCH!!!!

Oh well live and learn.  So here I am in Africa trying to get it all together and get my work permit.  The bottom line is I am trying to teach others skills.  So drop a line if you are inclined.

Thanks to . . .

Graham Timmer for giving me these 3 weeks on Spooksville and an obvious solution to a problem – I just couldn’t see the solution to.

Also to “Post” for putting up with the transition in between .

It is never easy being the guy that “fills in” and I know I didn’t make it easy on anyone. But now that we are in the final week I hope that it is all good and everyone is happy.

Full Circle with Blair Dykes . . .

When I first started out ( almost 13 years ago now ) in the “Film Business” I started as a lowly Production Assistant. Met lots of people and found a mentor – Lindsay Bucknel. Lindsay and I have been friends for all that time and he has helped me in more ways than I can count. He has been a great friend and very supportive. Now along the time line . . . when I decided to get out of PA’ing and get into sound Blair Dykes and I were both in the same boat. Both Pa ‘s both tired of the stupidly long hours and very little pay. Blair wanted to “do sound” so we joined up went out and did just that. The funny thing is that in the first year the gear that I was able to get was old big and very heavy. Blair knew nothing of sound and I knew nothing of film sound. But thanks to Lindsay we both learned – and fast. Blair and I shadowed Lindsay and his team then went out and did over well 200 days our first year and barely made a dime. We hit every independent , low budget short , film , indie we could find and worked our butts off. Then I got a Leo Nomination based on my first years work, got in with CBC (on call) and Blair learned became a good Boom Op and went on to other shows. Good boom ops are always in demand as everyone wants to be a mixer . . .or a director. He didn’t really want to “leave the nest” but I insisted.
So now close to when we started more than a decade ago , I am working once again with Blair . I have to say that the show has been a real challenge – lots of wires and about 8.5 pages a day. Fast paced and always a challenge. And Blair has been there always on top of things looking after business and being right on the mark. So . . . proud of you Blair and thanks for everything . . .even the name of this site is a “Blair”. Goes like this….
Every show we did I would check with Post or the Director or whoever needed checking with to find out how the sound was. More often than not the answer would come back
” . . . great sound guys – it really sounds excellent . . .”
We kept asking and we kept getting the same answer. Then one day as I was trying to figure out what to use as a “working web site title and business name” – we asked once again , got the same answer and Blair blurted out . . .
” Why don’t you just call it Sounds Excellent ! ”

So I did. Just put a little bit of my spin on it .

Time

It seems to get away from me so often.  The new cart looks nice and I think all my modifications will be very functional. I will load pictures when it is ready to go.  Lots of jobs floating round just have to catch one. Life drifts by and I really don’t like that  – want to be more active and get more out of this thing we call LIFE. . . don’t talk to me about Life  (Marvin the Robot – Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy )

Cuba – life and beyond. . .

12272012289Cuba is a unique country.  There are no advertisements anywhere.  At first it looks strange and more than just foreign – uncluttered is the best way to describe it.  The buildings are old and falling apart as the government struggles to keep up.  It is not an easy job I’m sure.  Cars are the most visible cues that this is a very special place.  These old cars are still out and about – showing us that indeed the stuff we make can last.  Now not all parts are original and some are just the shells of former beauty and design.  Wheels of different sizes back to front, different engines in the bodies and sometimes things are just different. Yet as I said to one of the crew members from Canada “you know that you are very lucky here.  You are seeing things that might only appear in books or special car shows.  Yet here they are – stuff you might never see again.”

The Show was . . . is called Papa – at least that is the working 12122012185title.  About Hemingway and a small slice of life in Cuba from the point of view of a real person – ie based on a true story.  The Director Bob Yari , is nice to work with.   What we did get done was good , but for me, it could have been better. More on that later.

The People were great and Cuba is a treat.  Things are sometimes hard to get and expectations are . .  lower than expected.  The NICEST thing was all the MUSIC – except when we were rolling  .  My ears were in heaven with all the Latin music.  And so much of it live as well.  Was very fortunate to see one of Cubas premier bands called Van Van (pronounced Bvan Bvan) and they were great.  And OH how they dance – both the men and the women.  They seem so disconnected.  I would say about 100,000 people showed up and I met a few of them.

12152012193As for gear , troubles and what to expect from the local stores – if you need it – take it with you.  The odds of them having whatever you need is slim and if they do have it it just might not be in the condition you would like it.  Batteries especially .  Brand new in the box and very dead – cause they are expensive to import and they don’t have the turnaround  – so they get stale.

Electricity  – take a multimeter and ALWAYS test the plug before you plug ANYTHING in ! ALL my things now are World (universal) voltage so I don’t have an issue. Set power can range from 110 to 240 depending on what they can give you and same thing with house power.  So be careful or “pftttt opps what was that and why is that smoking ????”

Now getting my gear down there.  Well Air Canada gets two thumbs down.  They were AWFUL !!!! My gear and cases were brutalized ! The cart was put on the conveyor belt and as it came down the ramp and slid into the steel railing I thought either the case or the railing was going to split wide open.  Most of the plastic storage boxes I use got crushed or split open.  The internal wiring was ripped from the XLR’s on the back panel so when I did get my stuff and went through everything – I found most of the wires faulted out.  So I ripped it all out and re-soldered everything – 12 hours before we went to camera.  GULP!  I finished at 0200 hours and got a whole 3 hours sleep before I got up and toddled off to set.  Thanks for taking the time Air Canada to read the FRAGILE stickers and the THIS WAY UP ARROWS !! . . yea everything came in upside down as well.

SO this story will continue as I get back down there and get more pictures to show you.  As the “SET” is . . . something out of history . .

 

Cuba

Well I have arrived and Cuba is hot humid and sometimes stormy. An amazing place really , it is like stepping into a time warp with colonial style buildings, 1950’s cars roaming the streets (yes some newer ones as well) and LIVE Salsa music blaring from the local restaurants. A little raw and very precious. We are actually filming in some locations that have never been filmed in before and more on that later.  Really a nice place with some restrictions that you just get used to.

Back and looking for WORK

As some may or may not know but the last 4 months I have been traveling doing a show in Africa. It is about how people with so little can be so happy – or something like that. Cultural differences made getting interviews difficult especially from the women who were very shy to go on camera. But all in all it was a success and I look forward to returning to Malawi – as long as they don’t go to war with Tanzania -I’ll be happy,.

Welcome to a New Year…2012

Well last year was a great year for me.  Got lots done and met so many nice people as well.  Got loads of new gear, least new to me, and am in the process of upgrading my sound cart as well.  A terribly slow process to deal with that is.   And this year proves to be a most interesting one as well.  Off to Africa and Thailand on a documentary in April for four months.  So watch here and my Voices page as well.  Will be starting up a small production company as well.  So many things to do and time is always against us it seems.  In closing I just wanted to say thanks to everyone that supported me (especially my wife and employers) and I hope to meet you in this very exciting New Year!

Cheers

Peter

Feeling special…

Got a frantic call from Christal Curry of  Goodspot  in Hollywood California,  she was wondering if I could help her out recording a Voice Over here in Vancouver.  She had called others, but was feeling the panic of not being able to actually talk to a real person (versus an answering machine).

Am I busy??   No… (now was that a sigh of relief I heard on the phone?)  Next…  It is a rush project and would I be interested in helping out? … Sure!

So I ask what is it all about?   Now this is where things get really interesting.

Christal replied (more or less):

It is for the US State Dept. and Hillary Clinton’s presentation speech to the United Nations  and Matt Damon is doing the Voice Over.

Glad I was sitting down as I have never been handed so many name drops in a single sentence.

Next Richard Kaufman (Director) gets a hold of me and he wants to make sure that he can work with Mr Damon  – Richard is in LA and he suggests Skype.  So I figure out Skype – and all is good – well  almost.   We have voice but no Video as my little net book is too slow for that.  Richard is very accommodating and is fine with just voice.  Worse case scenario is we use a cell phone.

I show up on set and meet up with Colin O’Hara (Mr. Damons person assistant) who is a HUGE help in finding a place for me to do the VO piece and liaising with Mr. Damon (who is a very nice down to earth guy by the way) and getting him to my little set –  again, thanks Colin!   So I set up and wait for a turn around (a break in filming), so we can get this done.

Colin gives me a call and says 5 minutes.  I give Richard a call (the place we ended up with did not have a solid internet connection – so the cell phone was employed) and he  is to call me back in 5.  Mr. Damon comes in (a little sore as he hurt his back – ugh!) sits down gets on the phone with Richard and off we go.  Fifteen minutes later we are done .  Mr. Damon says thanks – shakes my hand and is whisked off to set.

Colin comes back makes sure everything is alright and I send the sound file down to LA to Richards Post guy (Mark) and two days later, the piece is done.

So the point of all this?  It is amazing how fast and how spread across the world we can all be and yet still get things done in an amazingly timely fashion.

Oh and thanks Christal and Richard for such a unique opportunity – and yes – it was fun.

 

So the Slate….

Had a very interesting discussion with the Camera guys (Nick and Jackson) on “Joanna makes a Friend” about …The Slate.

They were wondering why I didn’t have one.  So I replied because it is your department.  To which they informed me that if it was a dumb slate they would bring it, but if it was a smart slate (aka Time Code Slate) I was responsible for it (which we both agreed was weird).   So we bantered this back and forth.  I argued that since I don’t use it and camera seems to not treat the slate as nicely as if it was their own… why should I supply a piece of gear that (1) Gets the Cr@p beat out of it by the camera department and (2) I don’t use or really need because all my stuff syncs up just fine.

While neither really made any headway in the argument.  What they finally came up with is that is just the way it is – Sound is responsible for the TC Slate because Sound is the Master Time Code.  So I couldn’t argue that point, that we are the Master…and since they were using the Red, and it does love to drop TC which would make Sounds TC …dependable. Fine.

Yet…who is ultimately responsible for the TC Slate(bringing it to set)?

So off to research land I went (gee isn’t the internet a wonderful thing?) and I came across this.  The Camera assistants manual which lists the slate as part of the Camera Departments domain.

So much as I wanted to prove my case in my favour…I couldn’t disprove it either with only one reference.

Thoughts anyone????

What have I been up to??????

This year so far has been stellar. Highlights include – both good and bad- Lost 1 terabyte hard drive and a lot of pictures and files from work…Bad….the rest is good.

Covered some ceremonies and interviews with the King of Hawaii and the King of Tahiti.

Did a MOW (Movie of the Week) with Rick Schroder and Laura Bell Bundy. Most challenging show I have done to date.

Spent 3 days doing an Aquafresh commercial – which was a lot of fun with Tom Suski aka  Scott to me.  Sorry Tom.

Spent 10 days up in Whistler BC doing the TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival.   So on the mountain skiing with my gear-for the first time in…a very very long time. Yes boom pole and all.

Couple of PSA’s and a bunch of stuff for my friends. That is it for now.  And it has been FUN!

Another Year…..goodbye 2010……

Well once again time has marched on and we are another year older and yet another year wiser….I hope.  It was a very good year and I would like to send a blanket thank you to everyone that came out and helped me out and of course the production that we were working on.  It was a good year, over all, and I met and worked with a lot of really talented people this year.  Thanks to everyone and have a GREAT 2011.

Cheers

Peter

Gearing Up for Malawi, Africa.

Less than a year to go before I depart.  I think I started gearing up for this trip about 6 months ago… or even earlier.  I write about it now because it is becoming more and more apparent in my thinking.

Batteries/power  are the big thing. How to deal with being out in the middle of nowhere, no power and you have a ton of batteries to charge at the end of the day.  So you take enough batteries for two…maybe even three days.  Now what.  Solar power seems to be the answer.  And getting enough power, that is portable and light weight so that you can charge EVERYTHING is a huge concern. Camera batteries, wireless batteries, mixer batteries, recorder batteries, batteries for portable camera lights and cell phone batteries!  What in our lives these days doesn’t take power. Yes I will be in a hotel now and then – but not often enough to make this all work.  The search continues.

The second big concern is too much weight. You have restrictions on what you can and cannot carry as well on board plus the overall weight that one would have to physically carry. Ugh! So it will be interesting to see how I can cut corners/weight and make it all work.

The Red One…its 4K

Ok so the title is a bit of a nerd/ tech joke about the Red One that relates to a hilarious video on you tube called Sound Mixer Hell.   All joking aside the Red does have on going issues which  I will address here and if there is any thing new in the world on this please let me know.

Here we go….

First what is said on the RED ONE forum on audio:

as of  2010
Sound Problem on Red One


Can Someone Help me ? I have a Sennheiser MKH416 P48 Boom Mic and i cant be able to make the sound work on the Red Camera, I have all the Cables and adapters from Red, but i cant make the Phantom Power Enabled in the Sound Menu, because i believe that this microphone needs Phantom power to Work, So can Someone help me make this Microphone works on the Red One Camera ?
Thanks

Another with reply…

Senior Member
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 110
Default Mixing line level and mic level inputs on the camera – any issues

Let me preface this by saying I’m not reporting any kind or problem or have heard of any issues – just checking ahead before we begin some more complex 4 channel recording situations than our past Red audio work.

For instance, for an upcoming shoot I’ll have 2 mics going through the mixer and out line level into the camera, but I also want to use 2 backup mics just going directly into the camera at mic level to keep everything as discreet channels without bringing in a second field mixer. We are normally just recording 2 line or 2 mic level inputs on any given shoot, so I just want to know if there is anything I should be looking out for.

I don’t expect any issues, but I thought I’d check.

Thanks.

Walter R is online now Reply With Quote
Old 07-11-2010, 11:21 PM #2
Member
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Chatsworthless, CA
Posts: 93
Default

I wouldn’t do that. Use a 4-channel mixer so that the mixer handles everything. Keep it simple.

Why use backup mikes at all? Seriously, just get it right the first time, and it’ll be fine. We don’t use “backup mikes” on separate sound recorders, beyond having a lav on most speaking actors and a boom. Having the luxury of multitrack is a good reason for using a separate sound recorder. Even better, get an experienced sound person who can contribute to the success of your project.

As the old saying goes: “when it sounds good, the picture looks better.”

__________________
www.cinesound.tv | location sound / post-production consultant
Marc Wielage is offline Reply With Quote

Now as a mixer we want to be known as “the Good Mixer”.  Not  “the Bad Sound guy whose gear doesn’t work” guy.  So when we look at the RED we sometimes don’t have the time or knowledge to find out various things about the camera that the operator may or may not know.  Example:  What REVISION are the Audio boards?  The Rev 1 boards were …not good …and the Rev 2 boards are better but still not great because now that will depend on cabling and adapters.  And since I don’t want to stress out about what may or may not be right on the camera since it is not my gear, I simply take the stance that it is better to rely on a known quantity (and quality), rather than spend the time (sometimes not insignificant) to determine the condition of the camera (what upgrades,what cables are going to be provided, and what firmware version is installed).

Now there is also the occasional firmware issue that raises its ugly head in sound recording / playback on the RED plus the meters are less than what is desired as they are not labeled well at all. Now if I take a guess and put tone up I can get a reasonable gain setting out of the unit and even get good audio.  And if that is the only way then I will grit my teeth and “HOPE” for the best and this is very stressful.  Now here is the other rub.  The RED by default is designed for pretty pictures and audio is somewhere down the line.  So my little Recorder, which cost me about $5K (with all accessories), is going to not only sound better than the RED, but will have better control and better monitoring of the audio path than the RED and if it comes time to CRUNCH the audio at the top of its scale, the RED will fail much quicker.

Next known issue is time code.  Not remembering firmware revisions, time code at one point in the game took up to 15 minutes before it showed up in the camera after jamming.  Lately jamming has been much better as long as the power doesn’t go out on the camera OR the camera doesn’t have a RED moment then the time code will last as long as the batteries/power will.  Otherwise you have to rejam every time.  So if you are in a rush to get a shot then this can be problematic.  Especially if you have a lot of accessories on the camera and getting at the time code Lemo jack is a pain.  It is not like a slate where you can Jam it and leave it – it is like a baby that needs constant attention.

Now this mistrust is from personal experience I can’t speak for the general consensus of the professional sound community. Very few people will record directly.  I have done it once successfully now- out of 30 some odd RED show.

To put it in perspective :
If you were in the camera department, would you use a camera that had 80% of the resolution, significantly reduced dynamic range, and had a spotty history, even if the issues have supposedly been worked out?
Didn’t think so.  You would go with the solution that you have been using with a proven performance and wouldn’t take a chance on your name – cause NO ONE WILL BLAME THE CAMERA and EVERYONE WILL REMEMBER YOUR NAME and not in a good way.

If someone asks me if professional results can be had with the RED, I will say “yes, absolutely”. I just don’t happen to trust it when I am using it for audio.  The potential for quality is always higher with dedicated sound gear, and more importantly, sound crew.

Last but not least, is the relative knowledge and flexibility of the Mixer.  If they even want to bother with the whole mess and have more knowledge on camera sound and the quirks of time code on the camera than most of the camera crew.

The Planting

I met Jason Goode on a previous shoot and he asked me to come out and help him on a weekend on two shorts he was doing. So what else am I going to do on a weekend? So out I go. Now a boom op was provided – who had done student projects : his name Cory Manning. Now his mother (Susan) I had met in a previous shoot. Small world. Now Cory has a lot to learn but he has skills and isn’t afraid (at lest too much) to push the envelope. Which is nice. So I have been keeping him busy and he gets it. Steadily improving -a pleasant surprise. My point? It is surprising that some film school grads come away without attitude or pretense and get into the work force and actually want to learn what was not taught to them in school.

Move Out Clean

It was just a pick up day but it was nice to see familiar faces such as Robyn Wiener, Kelly-Ruth Mercier, Luke Barlow, Josh Alkof, Stephan Heincke  and Dawn Mollerup to name a few.  My Boom op was a new one to me –  Jason Seagal (who has skills)  and Jes Mathieson who came along for the ride (and who has skills) as well.  I am so glad that they came out.  They carried the day for me which I am ever grateful for – thanks Guys!  I am always happy on set especially when the job gets done regardless of the circumstances (I got sick and wasn’t my usual plucky self and the “Boys” helped me out significantly).

Cold Spots… very cold…

In February I did a feature called Cold Spots and it wasn’t a very good experience for me.  In short a lav mic went missing and the Production (well the Producer) stiffed me on it.  It is a long and involved story of a screw up on my part, lots of things getting damaged and missing on their part and me having to pay the bulk of it in the end.  I think that is all I will say on that.   The one positive aspect of the show was a young gentleman by the name of Jes Matthiesen who helped out.  He was great company on this little hiccup in life and worked very hard – even though he wasn’t getting paid , not even his gas.  Moving on.

Time to catch up with …The Hostage…..

Ed Brando (of  William F. Whites and long time acquaintance) emailed me that he had a project in January (Yes I know I’m behind here but hey read on…).  He wanted to know if I was interested in helping out doing what I do.  Well anytime Ed has a project I’m willing to help because he is one of those guys (hard working , honest and speaks his mind) which I like and admire (he doesn’t know this so don’t tell him….).  The Director is Brent Cote whom I haven’t worked with and the script is …interesting/brutal – hard to describe and no I’m not going to give any of it away you will just have to watch it.   And because of the nature of the beast it turned into a boom/mix with me/myself & I handling a boom and two wires.  I must admit it was a bit of a stretch – again because of the script.  The actors (all) gave great performances with Tahmoh Penikett and Aleks Paunovic in lead roles.  Now I have worked with Aleks before in China so it was nice to see and work with him again.  And the rival chemistry between Tohmoh and Aleks was amazing.   This great short will be screening on July 8th, 2010 @ 7:30PM at the Vancouver Film Center.