If you are looking for a master class in production sound, Behind the Sound Cart: A Veteran’s Guide to Sound on the Set by Patrushkha Mierzwa is just that. From gear to career development this book covers it all. With her many years of experience as a Utility Sound Technician (UST), Mierzwa provides more than tips and tricks. Packed in each chapter is a guide to best practices and the reasons why.
Behind the Sound Cart is divided into chapters based on topics beginning with an overview of the UST’s duties. Also known as 2nd Assistant Sound, they work on everything sound-related not covered by the Mixer or the Boom Operator, even then the UST might have to use a second boom, or even cover for the mixer. In light of how flexible the UST must be, it makes sense to use them as a focal point for a guidebook on production sound. Mierzwa has the reader follow her footsteps through nearly every scenario a UST might face. I cannot believe I ever set foot on a set without Behind the Sound Cart.
Mierzwa stresses the importance of safety with every chapter. Current events show us that this emphasis is always necessary. However, safety is not just protection from a dolly running you over: heat, stress, and fatigue can also be deadly. Don’t skip the sections on first aid and COVID protocols either. Gear cleaning and maintenance fall into this category as well.
From cover to cover, Mierzwa leads by example of professionalism and integrity. Do not expect this book to be full of celebrity anecdotes. Part of being a respected UST is respecting the cast. One might expect a book on the basics of production sound to be dry without juicy gossip, but there are plenty of stories and jokes peppered through each chapter. Attached in the appendices are forms, paperwork, and other documents used throughout the film production process. Those alone are worth the price of this book. Refreshing is the way Mierzwa uses “she/her” as the default pronouns over “he/him.” Sure, a more neutral pronoun like the singular “they” would be optimal, it allows one to imagine a film crew that is more diverse than the “industry standard.”
I recommend Behind the Sound Cart to anyone looking to succeed in the film industry. That includes early career professionals, as well as students and production assistants. I would even recommend this book for fledgling directors and cinematographers. Patrushkha Mierzwa has put a career’s worth of information into a manageable package, and it should be in every production sound engineer’s library.