Going Undercover

Often, the scripts I work with will have, on average, 1 scene per 1 page. However, recently, I’ve worked on a few films written a bit more like stageplays with much longer scenes, about 5 pages per scene on average. It’s quite interesting to see what type of story and character development happens in those longer scenes as opposed to a scene being so action based, it’s simply, man enters, man takes cookie from jar, man leaves, end scene. New scene, man enters his home, eats cookie and passes out, end scene. Ohhh, I could go for a Mrs. Fields’ right now, but these longer scenes are so much more dialogue based but when they are also high action, moving from mini-location to another within the same shot, it is quite something, but rare in independent filmmaking.

Well, these types of scripts/scenes change things quite a bit for the crew to set. Since I had to mix and boom 2 13 page scenes in 2 days, I certainly noticed some things I had to do differently than usual.

Often in a shorter scene, even in a wide shot, we may only see a character’s front side. For simplicity, when I mic the actor, I usually place the transmitter on the back of the pants tucked in, but still visible if the character turns around. Fortunately, for me, we don’t usually see the character’s back side in shorter scenes. However, when the scene is 13 pages, there is a real good chance the character will turn enough where we see that. Luckily, I have a bag of transmitter straps I made years ago, similar to NeoPax; neoprene straps that hold transmitters. These straps can wrap around the ankle to run the wire down the pant leg and hide in a boot, or wrap around the thigh to hide the transmitter in a skirt, or wrap around the waist to hide the transmitter beneath the shirt and not rely on the waist belt outside of a tucked in shirt. I’ve had my bag of transmitter straps for almost a year but have very seldomly used them until recently. Of course it takes more time to effectively place any kind of transmitter strap on the actor as opposed to simply clipping it on a belt, but once you do it, it’s a great feeling for Sound, Camera, Wardrobe, etc. because we don’t have to keep checking on it and the frame to make sure it’s still camera safe from shot to shot. Set it and forget it. I used a transmitter strap on almost every mic job on my last film, sometimes I forget if an actor is still miked, and I’m sure that gives Wardrobe and camera much relief as well.

Unfortunately, transmitter straps still don’t help with certain costumes, whether the shirt is too tight, the skirt is too short, no pant legs, wearing a small thin white belly shirt with nothing underneath. So you need to improvise. I hope to find a more comforting location for the actress next time I encounter this challenge, but on one mic job, I decided to clip the transmitter on the actresses’ back collar, hidden by her hair and using topstick to hold her shirt in place so it didn’t look like there was a monkey pulling on her back. She was completely on board with the idea but sometimes you just need to boom someone or find a spot on the set to hide a mic. These challenges are why I like to keep “stashing a mic” on my mind because if blocking is consistent with the scene, I’m done with a very quick and easy mic job before talent is even ready to be miked.

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