Location Sound: Coal Mine

The past few weeks I mixed a short film in Pennsylvania shot in a few unique locations. It was a sci-fi film, so both locations needed to be really out there in every sense. With Hoffman Productions, we shot at a coal mine for the first 2 of 6 days. This brought its own challenges but also was a nice place to record sound in in other ways.

I was preparing myself for the worst when I readied myself for a trip to a tiny Pennsylvania town to work in a coal mine. As I always say, as a freelancer in this business, you never know where you'll be the next day. I figured since it was 18 degrees the other night as I was working with horses and bloodhounds at 4am in CT, it might still be below 40 degrees in a coal mine in PA. I've been in a mine in PA before and it was at least 20-30 degrees cooler than outside, so I got plenty of pelican cases, porta brace bags, and arthritis heating pads to wrap around my gear to keep it warm. When some of my gear is below 40 degrees, it has trouble functioning. So I got to the mine to hear a safety meeting from the miners. Apparently it is 52 degrees in the mine year round no matter the temperature outside. Which would make sense since the one time I was in a mine, it was Summer, and this must be why bears hybernate in caves during the cold winters.

So I did not need too much heating precautions, however it certainly was dirty, wet, and difficult to work in the mine's tight dangerous spaces. Simple cautions and rules but if not followed, you can easily fall in which added a new stress to booming while mixing while running backwards. Very tight spaces made it difficult to place the boom where I needed it and also made it difficult to carry and keep safe since the ceilings were so low, even when resting my boom, I wasn't really resting it, especially with the blimp on it. Keeping my gear clean was difficult but I was prepared for it. Although the wet steal beams on the ceiling dripped plenty of orange water on my blimp furry and an occasional brush up with the wall or ceiling turned my silverfox into a copper... fox. So I had to clean it for the first time, wasn't sure how to. Shampoo and conditioner work extremely well. Take a shower with that bad boy each day after the mine and it cleans better than anything I put in the washer machine. Drying it just takes about 18 hours depending on methods. The mine sounded good though. No refrigerators to turn off, no generator at the location, and no street anywhere nearby. It also didn't echo as much as I thought it would. The only bad thing about the sound of it was you can hear someone walking a mile down the shaft; better get a good LOCKUP!

That brought us to our second and final location; an abandoned industrial silk mill. One day, I felt like 2nd unit as we had a few MOS scenes so I went out and recorded wild tracks and sound effects all over the facilities. This place was at least 3 separate 4-5 story buildings, likely abandoned around 70 years ago. Being in the basement of this abandoned silk mill by myself in the dark, recording random sound effects and room tone in October made me feel like a Ghosthunter. Anyone need some room tone of GHOSTS? Or some sound effects of me breaking some kind of silk spindle that some poor 6 year old girl worked with for 20 hours a day for a penny a day by the crack of a whip?

It was a true pleasure working with one of the actors for a few reasons. For about the first 1/3 of the film, one of the main characters is always a silhouette or a shadow. Micing him up doesn't get any easier than that, interview style with an aligator clip outside the jacket and get wild tracks with the cardioid mic later. Other than that, I had to use my newish homemade neopax a lot and fight some thick noisy clothes. I also learned a lot working with this actor and one of the things I need to start telling myself is keep doing what works until it stops working. The chest just sounds so good in so many ways, why not always try placing a mic there?

And yes, a standard wireless transmitter set can act as an expensive comtek: myth proven.

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