Production Sound Mixers are responsible for the difficult job of ensuring that dialogue recorded during filming is suitably clear. Although much of the storytelling and the emotional impact of a script are conveyed through dialogue, most film sets are challenging environments for Mixers because there are often unwanted noises to deal with, or the required camera shots hamper the placing of microphones.

It is sometimes easier to re-record actors’ dialogues after shooting (post-syncing), but the majority of Directors prefer to use the actual lines of dialogue recorded during filming by Production Sound Mixers, Boom Operators and Sound Assistants using multiple microphones and DAT (Digital Audio Tape) or hard disk recorders. Production Sound Mixers work on a freelance basis on features and drama productions. The hours are long and the work often involves long periods working away from home.

What is the job?

Approximately two weeks before the first day of principal photography, Production Sound Mixers meet with the Producer and Director to discuss their creative intentions, (is the sound naturalistic or stylised, etc.), technical requirements and budgetary issues. They also meet with the Costume Department and Visual Effects Supervisors to discuss the placement of microphones on or around the actors, and visit all locations to check for potential sound problems.

When filming begins, Sound Crews arrive on set half-an-hour before call time to prepare their equipment. During rehearsals, when the Director, Director of Photography and actors run through all camera moves and lighting, the Production Sound Mixer and Boom Operator plan where they should place microphones to obtain the best possible sound quality. After each take, Production Sound Mixers (who are situated off set, but close by), check the quality of sound recording and, if necessary, ask for another take.

In the same way as Directors endeavour to ensure that they have adequate overall coverage of each scene, Production Sound Mixers work with the Boom Operator to select suitable types of microphone (e.g. close-ups or extreme angled shots may require clip microphones that do not appear in frame), and carefully reposition these microphones for each set-up, to ensure adequate sound coverage.

If music is required in a scene, Production Sound Mixers also set up playback equipment and speakers for the actors. At the end of each shooting day, Production Sound Mixers may send the day’s sound recording files to post production via ISDN as well as handing over the meticulously labelled originals to the Camera Assistant, who packages them up with the camera rushes. Production Sound Mixers finish work when the film wraps (is completed).

Typical career routes

The majority of Production Sound Mixers train in sound recording but start working in the industry at junior levels as Sound Trainees. This period of on-the-job training lasts approximately two years before Sound Trainees are ready to become Sound Assistants. Working with equipment manufacturers or hire companies can also provide the opportunity to learn about sound equipment and to make useful industry contacts.

Experience may also be gained by working on commercials, short films and television productions. Once individuals progress to becoming Boom Operators, they usually work with the same Production Sound Mixers over a number of years, gaining extensive experience, before they in turn are offered the opportunity to head up the Sound department as Production Sound Mixers.

Essential knowledge and skills

Production Sound Mixers must have a good understanding of electronics and an expert knowledge of acoustics and all sound recording, playback and editing equipment (analogue and digital). They must understand the requirements of the other departments on feature films, including: Camera, Rigging, Art Department, Wardrobe, Hair and Make-Up. They should also be aware of, and comply with, on set protocols. Production Sound Mixers must be computer literate.

Key Skills include:

Excellent aural skills
Good communication skills
Diplomacy and tact
Ability to give and to accept direction
Precise attention to detail
Ability to make decisions under pressure
Knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures