By Chris Van Drie
It was an insanely busy August and September for me. A veritable hurricane of huge shows, little shows, corporate events, prime time live television shows, one day shows, studio installation for long running shows rinse and repeat.
I really wanted the blog after my Aviation and Audio Part 1 to be Part 2…it makes sense right?
But as I was walking to our work shop the other day, I was chatting on the phone with a friend about the bizarre spectrum of things that can be a challenge to my work day. And then it occurred to me that it really does give some insight about what I do. So I’m delaying Part 2 of Aviation and Audio and instead giving you:
….all of which were experienced in the last two months and are not listed in any particular order.
- Not having anywhere to place my antennas – Can I clamp to something? No, there’s nothing to clamp to or it’s too high. Can I put a stand up? No, every surface is a walkway to the stage. Can I put it out of the way? No, it’s too far away to be of any good. What about here then? No, it’s in the camera shot. Ever notice how lighting always seems to get a pass on visible cables but audio doesn’t?
- Is the show up some stairs, on a boat…or on a boat and up some stairs- I did an Alicia Keys music video shoot that was on a boat floating around Manhattan. It was great and she’s an incredible artist. But loading in involved getting my cases up narrow stairs to the second deck.
This is what happened to the audiences’ phones at the music video shoot. The production wisely didn’t want to have any footage of the shoot released early, but the skyline views of Manhattan from the boat were just too tempting for most people.
- Only one point of entry or exit to the stage or building– Having all of your gear packed and ready but stuck waiting in a queue to get out is the worst! I know I learned in kindergarten to wait my turn but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. This includes gangplanks on boats, fork lifts instead of gear ramps, small doors and hallways.
- Interfacing with Tour Audio people, or House Audio People- Up to a certain point I understand that having a TV crew must feel like an invasion of their space. But we’re all on the same team people! Especially when it comes to wireless. I approach the audio person (whose job often includes getting their show’s wireless to work) in a spirit of understanding and comradery. Wireless isn’t their specialty and yet they’re the one who has to make it work for every show. Now here I am trying to get them to coordinate and most likely change frequencies. It’s a big deal and I get that. Some audio people make it easy and some make it hard. On a personal level I don’t care too much if someone has a holier than thou attitude, but it’s not okay when it puts the success of a show’s wireless on the line.
- Celebrities’ Outfits – as a general rule, I’m not the one pinning mics on people. Sometimes I do, but mostly that’s left to others. We do however supply the equipment for them to do it. Different colored lav mics to match different types of skimpy, tight fitting dresses, cable extensions for people who want to wear transmitters on their ankles. We had to figure out a way to do waterproof IEMs that fit in a wetsuit tuxedo for an act at AGT that went underwater but needed to hear track.
- Celebrities’ and/or their team’s general outlook on life and the audio people in it.
- Product Endorsements – this isn’t usually a big deal because usually acts are booked in advance and their riders are made available. But last minute changes can lead to some last minute scrambling to get equipment to show up quickly.
- If the President, Pope, or United Nations are in town- In September I did a show at the Waldorf Astoria, and as you may have noticed from the news coverage the Pope, the President and a wide variety of heads of state were in NYC because the U.N. was in session. This not only meant traffic to the show, it meant getting into the Waldorf- where those various heads of state were staying – was a long process. I managed to get into the building in a five minute window before dignitaries were leaving the building; if I had missed the window my load in would have been about 2 hours late. Having a lot of security in NYC also means that at any moment your wireless could start behaving in odd ways.
- Firmware updates – it’s new and improved! And by that I mean it doesn’t function like it’s supposed to. Despite the best testing, until everything is in play you might not know you have lost some previous functionality until you’re completely set up.
- The weather for obvious reasons, this is a factor on outdoor shows. Sometimes for indoor too. For example, if the roof leaks because you’re doing something trendy in an old industrial space. I’m looking at you fashion week.
- Overhead Hazards – At the Kevin Hart stadium show I did there was a Spyder Cam with lines that were above some of my antennas. The camera operators probably got tired of me asking if it was safe to adjust my antennas but a wrench dropped from great heights can do a lot of damage to the human head. Safety first!
- People not used to working with comms and people who freak out easily – Miss a cue? Blame it on comms. Freaking out that the A2 isn’t talking to you because they’re hands are busy while they mic talent? Must be the comms. People jump to wacky conclusions when they don’t know how to use comms or they don’t understand the flow of a show. To me it seems they always want to blame comms, though I’m sure that’s just because that’s what I’m on the lookout for. I see educating people and helping them learn how to use our equipment as an integral part of my job and I’m happy to do it. It’s unfortunate that people’s nervousness or lack of knowledge can cause other crew members to worry that there are problems with comms when there really aren’t though. I enthusiastically welcome any opportunity to help further people’s understanding of wireless or comms.
- Interfacing with outdated or shoddy communications equipment – Ideally we are the source for all the communications gear on a show. But often we interface with other vendors’ equipment and no matter what, we need it to work. Some days this can be a serious challenge, other days it’s no problem at all. Sometimes you find yourself prying apart some TV Sports truck’s old RTS 325 beltpack that’s rusty and rattles and hoping it works because it’s the last one on the truck has.
- Comfortable, dry shoes
- Workplace Culture and the different workflows in them– It’s important to understand the work culture I find myself in to better understand the needs of the people in it and to avoid potential non-technical problems. Productions from England are slightly different from those from the U.S. or Germany. Film world is very different from TV world in terms of the people who make decisions and what kinds of comms people need and are comfortable with. Being aware the major players are and their communications needs is always a good idea.
- The thickness of the venue walls or geographic proximity to TV stations– If there are less DTV channels getting in the building, then I have more room for wireless devices. At Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, the studio has some super thin walls and we can see wireless signals from many DTV channels as well as from the studio next door.
- Parking permits
- LED screens – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again , they’re the natural enemy of wireless
- Clean tech power or any power – A lot of the locations we show up at don’t have power intended for a TV production. A lot of them don’t have power at all, like an outdoor show. Some of them switch from house power, to generator power based on what’s happening that day. Some shows have power allotted for various parts of the tour, but not for us. Comms and wireless tend to fall through the cracks of audio I think. A good day is when I show up and it’s just sitting there waiting for me. A bad day involves a lot of extension cords and chasing down the right person to get me power.
- If the Production has poor relationships with the local unions. All of the misunderstandings that might lead to an issue are waaaayyy above my pay grade. There are a lot of different unions involved with making a show happen. Teamsters unload trucks, the house workers are usually in one union, the people in the TV production are all in different unions depending on their department. I’m in a union for audio people in the TV business in NYC. There are separate ones for audio people who do film work in NYC. I imagine that the contracts between the production and all the various unions are complex affairs.
- Being next to the Kitchen – I thoroughly respect people who mainly work corporate events. You all have the patience and fortitude of saints. Anything that involves catering involves the clanking of silverware and the smell of food being prepared all day. It’s not optimal to be near it.
- News Crew and Reality-esque ENG TV crews – News crews go where the action is and usually big, huge shows count as action. In the same vein as the rest of this blog, we all have a job to do and I respect the role of ENG crews. More and more of what you see on TV comes from them. Often in their haste, and because they don’t usually have to deal with wireless because Lectrosonics gear is incredibly high-powered, operators of ENG audio bags don’t always get the importance of the coordinated frequencies we give them. Since they tend to show up right as shows start, it can be a scramble to track them down when we start having wireless issues.
So those are some of the random challenges that I might come across on any given day.
I’m a hyperactive optimist and I always say that challenges are just job security, which is probably an obnoxious thing to say, but I honestly feel that way! If it was easy, and all anyone had to do was flick a switch, we’d all be out of a job. The list above is not a list of complaints, it’s just bizarre sometimes to sit back and think of all the big and little things that can make a difference in my day.
An equally important footnote to the list above: it’s the amazing team of people I work with that make it possible to overcome challenges. It’s a big team and includes all sorts of people involved with the show, not just the comms or audio people. I’m thrilled every day to be working as part of the team making shows happen. I just have to remember to tone down the hyperactive optimism first thing in the morning so my teammates don’t add me to their Incomplete, Ever-Growing-List-of-Challenges-Impacting-Their-Day
Another colorful photo of Brasil Day 2015. This show involved about 30 channels of wireless mics, some wireless and wired comms, and wireless delay towers. I spent a good portion of the day policing incredibly polite, Brazilian ENG crews to make sure we not only avoided performance mic dropout, but delay tower dropouts too.
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