As I watched reality TV today, while fighting off a fever, I decided to write about my current job as a Freelance Sound Person. Why this sudden burst of inspiration...I don't know!
The point of me pausing “The Glee Project Season 2” to write this blog, is to talk a little about the last 2 months and the craziness that is my day to day. I’ve spent the last month and a half either on set or traveling with my film “Volcano Girl.” The traveling is fun and the self-promotion is quite interesting, but that’s another story. I want to talk about being a “Freelance Sound Person.”
I've talked about my “Week with Evander Holyfield” or my preparation for the Palm Springs Shortfest, and even my Day as a Background Actor (I haven’t done that since), but lately I’ve been working as a Freelancer. Hopefully after reading the rest of this, you'll understand my out of body, fever induced purpose for writing this blog...
The last 2 months for me saw a lot of Freelance Sound jobs. Freelance means you are hired to do a job but you are only paid by the day or by the project. You are not a part of a bigger company (no health benefits) and the work is sporadic. You never really know when the next job is coming. You always answer your phone. No matter if you recognize the number, or not. Hence my many conversations the last 2 months with Time Warner Cable trying to sell me crap. Ugh.
I do production sound as a day job to pay the bills while writing on the side, and the work has been steady (knock on wood). But, it’s so much more than just a job. It's not like an office where you quickly learn the players and where you fit in the office. Think about how many people are needed to make a movie. It ranges from 3 to 100 people needed each day. And I usually am the sole person in my department – the sound department – so I get to know a lot of new people on each new set.
I have to build brand new working relationships with new people each set. A few weeks ago, in a matter of 5 days, I was on 3 different sets. Think about it! Are you thinking?? That’s a new director, a new producer, new people to say “shhhh I can hear you talking over there.” Or “shhhh I can hear you walking, too!” THINK ABOUT IT!
My head hurts now. Maybe I should take some drugs. Be right back.
Okay I’m back.
So yeah, the most important relationships for a sound person to maintain and keep neutral are the relationships with the director and the cinematographer. Oh, and the assistant director, but usually they’re on board (I only had one absolutely horrible assistant director in my short career as a sound person, and I actually make sure he’s not the AD before agreeing to any production). Not to say that you shouldn't be nice to everyone, but these are the people who could potentially screw you up!
How can directors be bad for sound?
Too often I have had directors where I realize early on “they do not care about or understand sound.” And the truth is, it’s probably because they don’t understand why they are getting bad sound or that it’s possible to get bad sound. So it’s my job to sneak around and make sure everyone else on the crew is on board with “getting us good sound.” This means I politely remind that guy coughing to keep a bottle of water nearby, so he doesn’t cough during takes. Or I have the AD announce that only immediate crew can be in the shooting location because “I can hear everyone breathing.” They usually chuckle and leave willingly. I try to make people laugh because getting good sound CAN be so ridiculous.
Sometimes directors are not very helpful in this arena. For example, I had one director who absolutely would not do “wild lines” (“wild lines” are when you get the actors to perform their lines again but in a much quieter location than the location they shot the scene – this allows the post sound editor to clean up production dialogue). When we do “wild lines” we have to get the entire crew to stop what they’re doing and be quiet, and sometimes directors are afraid to lose that work time. When I realized on this particular set that “wild lines” would not happen, I worked with the cinematographer as well as the producer to seriously lock the location down to get good sound. I had to use my intense eyes so everyone knows, “I need good sound.”
Some cinematographers aren't very helpful either...
I’ve also had a handful of cinematographers who couldn’t give a BLEEP about sound. This means, they completely light the scene so my boom shadow is everywhere or my reflection is seen in the background; thus forcing me to be incredibly far from the actors (pointless!). Then they say, “sound, you can’t be there.” (I don’t have a name on set, I’m just called “Sound”) So I say to the cinematographer “Where can I be?” and they say “Not there.” And then I PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE. Not really, but it’s quite frustrating when they aren't helpful. Luckily most of the cinematographers I’ve worked with (especially the USC ones) understand the importance of sound. Or maybe it’s the “intense eyes” that I use a lot because us sound people just get no respect!
Speaking of “sound people just get no respect,” …they really don’t. I’ve had the wide spectrum of horrible to amazing sets as a sound person. In fact, that “3 sets in 5 days” experience saw every type of sound relationship. One set was so surprised at how professional me and my boom operator were, one set was like “cool, that’s Ashley,” and the other set was like “can we just boom from the other room?” Grrrrrr.
All of this, though, has taught me how to relate to different personalities and stress levels on set. Sometimes you get the normal stress people and sometimes you get the crazies. I'll let you define "crazy stressed person." ha!
I officially think my purpose for writing this blog was to show you, the reader, how ridiculous my job is as a sound person. I feel like I go a little crazy doing it. Luckily, most people on film sets are a little crazy.
Okay, I’m tired now. And I want to see how this latest episode of “The Glee Project Season Two” ends. I think Blake is going to win because he’s so cute. But he’s like 19 or something, so I’m gonna go throw up now… or pull a Demi Moore? Hmmmm