The Production Sound Report
Fall 1997

On Location with Mark McNabb
by David Missall,
Location Sound Corp. Product Specialist

Mark McNabb is the Sound Mixer for the film "Deep Impact" from DreamWorks SKG with Paramount.

I recently visited Mark McNabb while he was working on the set of the latest big budget film from DreamWorks SKG and Paramount called "Deep Impact". Mark's primary recorder for the film is an HHB PDR1000TC DAT recorder with a Nagra IVS-TC (old reliable) as his backup. His main mixing panel? A Cooper Sound 106.

On the film shoot, Mark is faced with the logistical problem of having four actors in space suits, hanging in mid-air, deep in a crevice of a simulated asteroid built within a sound stage on the Paramount lot. Each actor had to communicate with a cable operator who was controlling their movements. In addition, each of these cable operators had an effects coordinator to give them instruction on movement for each scene. And of course, the director, Mimi Leder, needs to communicate with everybody from her location behind the scenes where she is watching everything on a monitor. Not to mention that Mark has to deal with everybody who wants to listen in on Comtek wireless headsets. Oh yeah, the stunt doubles (four of them) are also in space suits and need to be able to communicate as well. Hmmmm.

Well, now you have the scenario. Let's see what Mark is doing. First things first: Wire the four actors with Lectrosonics UM195 UHF transmitters. Mark has a quad box set up for the UCR195D receivers. The four receivers will send audio into the first four channels of the Cooper 106 mixer. From the Cooper, Mark has the usual stereo feed to his HHB Portadat as well as a stereo feed to his IVS-TC via the tuchel output on the back of the Cooper mixer. As a bonus for post production, Mark decided to also record to a Tascam DA-88 digital multi-track recorder. He accomplished this by taking a feed out of the direct outputs of each channel of the Cooper and sending them to separate channels of the DA-88. Separating the tracks like this gives post a lot more options for the final mix if needed.

Remember the cable operators? They need to hear the actors. An additional feed is taken from each insert jack of the first four channels of the Cooper and sent to a Mackie CR1604-VLZ mixer. By bringing the Mackie into the scheme of things, with its six auxiliary sends, it now serves as the communications base station. Any signal sent into the Mackie can be routed out of an auxiliary send to a Comtek M72 transmitter to feed signal to whomever needs to hear. The cable operators get set up with Comtek PR72 receivers with headsets so they can monitor what the actors are saying. As you will see, this process of send and receive will be repeated as we add wireless microphones to the effects coordinators, stunt doubles, and the director, as well as send their signal into the Mackie mixer.

The effects coordinators must send instruction to the cable operators. This is accomplished by wiring the coordinators with Lectrosonics M185 transmitters with clip-on lavalieres. Mark has a quad box set-up for the CR185 receivers. All four receivers are sent to channels 5 through 8 of the Mackie and routed to the auxiliary send that the cable operators are receiving through a Comtek feed for monitoring the actors. Now, the cable operators are monitoring the actors and the coordinators.

The four stunt doubles were easy. Since they are wearing a full space suit with helmet as well, they also have to be wired. Mark wired them with Audio Ltd. Tx2000 transmitters. The four Dx 2000 receivers are routed directly to the Mackie mixer. If you have been keeping track, that is 12 inputs being used on the Mackie. We still have four more available.

Of course, Mimi, the director, wants to be able to communicate with everybody. Mimi gets a Beyer DT-290 headset/boom mic setup. LSC modified the existing cable on the headset with a "Y" send and receive cable. Mimi now has the option to either wear a body pack transmitter that will send her boom mic signal to the Mackie mixer or just go hardwired to the mixer. She will receive information on the return line of the headsets via the Comtek PR72 receiver or hardwire as well. Either way will work. With her mic signal going into the Mackie, Mark can route it to any auxiliary feed he wants so that she can give instruction to her crew and actors.

The actors and the effects coordinators are all fitted with Comtek PR72 receivers. To eliminate feedback into the headphones from the wireless mics that they are all wearing, Mark used Sony MDR-V200 headsets because of their great isolation. Anyone else who wants to listen can get an additional Comtek feed from any aux send that is open. Mark can custom mix a feed to a group of listeners. If the producers only want to hear the actors through their Comtek headsets, all Mark has to do is route the actors' signal coming into channels 1 through 4 of the Mackie to an open auxiliary send of his choice to feed the producers what they want.

Just when Mark thought that everything was set, they realized that two camera operators and two dolly grips had to communicate with Mimi and each other as well. So a fourth quad box setup was introduced. The camera and dolly grip operators were wired with Lectrosonics UM195 bodypack transmitters as well as a Comtek feed like the rest. Yes, we still have channels available on the Mackie, and we still have two channels plus an auxiliary feed available on the Cooper mixer.

Complicated? Yes! Plenty of things to go wrong? Yes! At one point, Mark had 16 wireless operating and 50 Comtek on five different channels. How did everything work? The cast and crew are very happy with the setup. There were no RF problems and everybody could hear everybody. This is not a typical everyday situation, but because of the diligence of Mark and his three man crew, the right equipment to do the job, and the RF Gods smiling on the set, everything worked out fine.

How are you going to top this one, Mark?

Editor�s Note: Here�s Mark�s crew...
Chet Leonard - Utility
Ron Fremstad - 2nd Utility
Raul Bruce - Boom Operator

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