How to Prep: The Sound Perspective from Sean McNearney

–We’re excited to have our friend, Sean McNearney, contribute his thoughts to the blog. Sean is a production sound mixer based in Idaho. He’s done everything from commercials, feature films, and TV shows, to post production and Foley.

Today, I want to focus on prepping for a shoot from an audio standpoint. From the initial call to work, right up until we roll. Gotta walk before you run.

When I first get the call and accept a job for recording production sound, the first thing I do is ask for the total number of principal talent. This answers a few questions for me right off the bat. How much we’ll be shooting, type of coverage and how many wireless microphones I’ll need. The next question is how many cameras. One to two is standard, but I’ve experienced shoots where they brought along 5 full camera bodies. That can give you an indication of just how useful your boom is going to be, and how much you’re going to have to lean on your wireless.

After that, let’s talk about arriving on set. The first thing I’ll do is find a safe spot for gear, check the ceiling to make sure nothing is dripping (you only make that mistake once) and then I’m finding the air conditioning units. Over the years, I have become a wizard at locating these and shutting them down. I always attack this first, because some units have power/cycle down times north of 10 minutes, and you don’t want to find this out when the AD is calling for roll and you’re only now finding the off switch.

 A few helpful notes on air conditioners. If the panel is broken, outdated etc, find the breaker box, and there should be a circuit to shut off the whole thing. You’ll want to double check with G&E before you do this. Also, in a pinch at locations with external AC fan units, there is a common city code that states there must be a shutoff switch within a certain range so technicians can safely service without entering the dwelling. When all else fails, find this switch, it’s usually a small box with silver conduit running to it, and the fan will power down. 

After ACs, fridges and bathroom fans come next. Easy enough, power them down, throw your keys in there, and snap them back on at lunch. If you’re extra worried about spoiling food or some such thing, crank up the settings for 15-20 minutes to give it a final extra chill before powering down. And really, leave your keys there every time. I have gotten the call before that the homeowner found their entire fridge warm, and it’s an unpleasant experience that you are far better off avoiding altogether.

The final thing I’ll do is check with my grip department about snagging a couple furniture pads. In open spaces with blank walls and hard floors, these can greatly reduce the bounce back coming off surfaces. In addition, you can throw together a makeshift sound booth by enclosing a chair with furniture pads draped over C-stand arms on four sides. This is perfect for those VO sessions that so often get added at the last minute.

That’s about everything that I do to prep my day from a location standpoint. Do these things, and you should be in decent shape and ready to roll. And don’t forget your keys!

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