Job profile production sound mixer

Tonmeister am Außen-Set(ger: Filmtonmeister*in, Tonmeister*in, Tonmann, Tonfrau, Settonmeister*in, O-Tonmeister*in)

The responsibilities of the production sound mixer include the artistic and technical collaboration on film sets and of television shows as well as documentary, industrial and commercial films. On set, he covers the creative sound recording of all production sounds necessary for post-production. They mainly comprise dialogue. As the production sound mixer’s work is unsupervised, it requires extensive technical and organisational skills along with a pronounced empathy in social situations and expertise on the creative methods used in sound.

Production Sound Mixer 1The conditions of the audio recording and the type of sounds to be recorded are substantially determined by the overall image composition and the scene that is filmed. The production sound mixer has to design the sound situation on set in a way that enables the recording of a production sound that appears authentic in relation to the image. He designs the acoustic properties on set and selects the technical means required. He indicates possible sound problems in the production to the director and offers alternatives. The production sound mixer has to be able to immediately grasp image contents and dramaturgic functions of a take. In the montage that follows, an illusion of continuity of time is crucial, so he has to make sure that continuity errors both in sound and acting are avoided.

Production Sound Mixer 2If there are important sounds that support the story on the location inside or outside of the image, these sounds are to be recorded in the form of wild tracks (only the sound, without the image), in particular when it is impossible or very difficult to reproduce them afterwards. These sounds include wild lines, crown recordings, sounds of specific props or unique sound ambiences. The job of production sound mixer requires leadership qualities and team skills as well as a strong personality and negotiation skills in order to defend good sound quality when working with a film team predominantly concerned with the image. This task also demands experience: at which point reasonable compromise is necessary in order to secure a smooth shooting flow.

Production Sound Mixer 3As the work of the production sound mixer is situated at the beginning of the sound production chain, he sets the basis for all subsequent edits of the film sound. He therefore needs to communicate well with the image and sound editors. Knowledge of the current post production technology in image and sound and the overall editing process is essential in order to be able to ensure that sound recordings or meta data does not get lost over the course of the picture editing. For the same reason, it is advised to develop and test a workflow for the transfer of the sound from the set to the image editing and further on to the sound editing before shooting.

Production Sound Mixer 4The production sound mixer is usually hired for a single project as an employee or freelancer, occasionally in permanent employment.
In a scenic production, he ideally supervises a team of two boom operators.

Tasks and activities

Preparation

  • Study the screenplay with regard to the sound requirements and feasibility
  • Meeting with directior: go through break down, develop sound ideas for the final product discuss continuity, point out foreseeable acoustic problems and offer solutions.
  • Meeting with head of sound post production (Sound Supervisor):
    lay out sound intentions for the final product, test audio and meta data workflow, discuss the necessary wild tracks and ambiences that need to be recorded by the production sound mixer
  • Meeting with unit manager: if needed give an estimation of the effort needed to make the filming location fit for sound recordings, e.g. in the form of road blocks, acoustic installations (absorber, insulating material etc.), point out the consequences of a poor production sound for the overall budget, schedule staff, equipment and time needed
  • Meeting with camera and lighting department: discuss shoot style and break down with regard to sound feasibility, test picture- and light equipment for interference with production sound (fans in monitors and cameras etc.). Emphasise the importance of quiet generators and their placement at a distance to avoid noise on set from an acoustic point of view (sufficient cable length!) on set.
  • Meeting with production designer: Advise selection of shooting locations and construction of film locations and scenery suitable for production sound, discuss necessary acoustic measures (sound insulation, noise absorption), eliminate interfering sounds (e.g. creaking floors etc.)
  • Meeting with costume design: Advise to use fabrics that don’t generate rustling and crackling sounds, and advise to prepare the costumes for the installation of clip-on microphones and recommend taping the shoe soles for an increased absorption of footstep sounds.
  • Compulsory: Join the tech recce. Advise the director and production regarding the acoustic suitability of the set.
  • Establish the production process of recordings, such as music and singing on set.
  • Determine and control technical equipment, as well as working material and expendables.
  • Set and if necessary register frequencies for radio microphones
  • Coordinate and test data transfer/workflow from film location via edit room to sound post production by consulting with the film editor, their assistant and the sound supervisor.

Execution

  • Choose an appropriate miking (usually boom and/or built-in and clip-on microphones)
  • Record all dialogue and all actions on camera
  • Supervise the sound recordings (technical/artistic quality, text, clarity of the dialogue, unacceptable background noises)
  • Guarantee synchronicity of picture and sound recording equipment
  • Provide feeds for direction and other crews
  • Instruction of boom operators in the handling of microphones and in the installing of clip-on microphones if necessary
  • If necessary operate playback equipment
  • Create a mix track for picture editorial.
  • Advise the director about sound concept
  • Record additional sounds separate from the image or dramaturgic necessities on set (wild lines, off-screen lines, music, ambiences specific to the locations, special sounds etc.) for sound post production.
  • Create the sound report in electronic (meta data) or paper form in collaboration with continuity/script.
  • Hand over sound recordings and sound reports to post production; non-linear recordings normally require preparation of safety copies.
  • Attend screening of rushes (dailies)

Follow-up

  • Answer queries of post production
  • Participate in post production sound meeting
  • Participate in dialogue or final mixing along with di

Requirements

  • Impeccable hearing ability
  • Ability to concentrate over extended periods of time
  • Willingness to work at irregular hours and overtime
  • Willingness to work in changing locations (different cities and countries), on weekends and during nights
  • Psychological and physical resilience
  • Ability to notice small details in a sound image and to evaluate them
  • Musicality
  • Ability to work in a team and to engage in constructive and respectful interaction as well as empathy in stressful situations
  • Task managing skills, improvisation skills, leadership qualities, confidence in decision-making and a sense of responsibility

Training

There is no specified training in order to become a production sound mixer. It’s common to have worked for several years as a boom operator, having completed an apprenticeship in media or having studied a sound degree. Further, preparatory internships within the following institutions has proven useful:

  • Service workshops for electrical equipment
  • Rental companies
  • Sound studios
  • Post production companies
  • Production companies
  • Amateur/Student films
  • Production sound mixers

Apart from electro-acoustic knowledge, business administration skills can be useful since self-employment is common in this job.

Development and job situation

The job production sound mixer has developed since the sound film came into being in the 1920s. Over time the need for production sound mixers in film and tv has grown consistently. With the proceeding spread of digital production technology since the beginnings of the 1990s, the focus of technical requirements has shifted from electronic to computer skills. However, a knowledge of electrical basics is still important for the work on set. In parallel to the ongoing digitalisation, the sheer number of people working as production sound mixers has increased disproportionately in relation to market demand. Hence, the job market for production sound mixers is considered to be saturated. Due to expected further cuts of broadcasting agencies and studios, we expect this situation to remain unchanged in the near future. There is a wage agreement for film and television professionals that sets a minimum salary for production sound mixers. However, the actual amount of payment depends on the professional’s reputation and experience.