Things You May Not Learn In Film School (but should)

October 26, 2001 at 3:35 pm

[Editor’s note, Feb 2014: Written over 20 years ago now, many of the points below are obsolete, though fun to read. But some things never change]

Never run.

  • In short, running on the set is poor professional form for a
    sound department. While the enthusiasm may be impressive to the unseasoned,
    running tells those with experience that you have not thought far enough
    in advance. When you run, mistakes are made, so you have to run back
    a second time; you often get hurt, equipment is damaged, a distraction
    is created and directors and producers are unimpressed. The concept
    is as old as sound for film: friend and former colleague, Vilmar Zile,
    who’s been mixing sound for film since the 1930’s, captured by the
    Nazis during W.W.II, found himself on the crew of a film that taught
    the proper way to defuse “dud” Allied bombs. That’s when
    Vilmar coined the phrase: “Do it fast, do it wrong, do it over,
    if you can.”

Never close  an equipment case lid without secure at least one latch.

  • This is the first instruction I gave to my eager-but-green cable
    man on the TV show “Christy”. The recent film school grad
    looked at me like I was either kidding or didn’t realize how qualified
    he was. Well, on the second day I asked him to bring an equipment case
    that he had been working out of all day. While the entire cast and
    crew waited and watched, he grabbed the handle and took off running
    (second mistake). The lid flew opened, and about $20,000 worth of microphones
    spilled into the Appalachian Mountains. Like I said, “Always secure
    at least one latch”.

Do nothing until the take up reel or DAT cassette is labeled.

  • In doing this, any tape that has been recorded is always on
    a labeled reel. In the case of DAT recording, always label the cassette
    before inserting in into the recorder. The 15 seconds this takes can
    seem like an eternity, especially if you have not prepared, but it’s
    nothing compare to the torture of wondering if you are recording over
    the previous scene.

Always have a Plan. Always have a Plan “B”. Assume neither will
work.

  • Seldom have I ever seen productions go according to plan. The
    best set up for a particular scene is often going to be different than
    the plan originally called for. It is important to be flexible and
    be ready to quickly adjust as needed.

Be very nice to Craft Service personnel.

  • First, of course, because it’s the right thing to do (they handle
    your food, after all). Second, most of the producers I know began as
    a Craft Service PA. So, the person bringing your bagels and coffee
    will probably soon be deciding how much your day rate should be. Think
    about it.

Key to free-lance success:

  • Have as many clients as possible.
  • Always keep an extra set of headphones for the producer’s girlfriend(s).

Develop a mental checklist for equipment.

  • I always feared arriving on the set without a vital piece of
    equipment. Mentally check off each piece of equipment by starting at
    the microphone and working back to the tape.

If something is not directly related to sound, LEAVE IT ALONE!

  • This is not a “primadonna” attitude, but a very practical
    rule that has been in place for years because it makes productions
    better and safer.

Always have more than you should need.

  • Tape stock, batteries, cables, paperback books, etc.

Always include a “Sound Report” in triplicate.

  • Date, Tape number (roll, cassette, etc.), Your name & phone
    number, Project Title, Machine model, tape stock type, sync type, 0
    VU reference, time code frame rate (when applicable), sampling frequency
    (digital) and bit rate. One copy goes to with the tape to the transfer
    house, another is for the production office records, the third stays
    with you (always).

Never assume:

  • That you are over-qualified.
  • That you are not replaceable.
  • That the old timers have been doing it wrong for years.
  • That your lack of experience will go unnoticed on the set.