Hearing, But Not Listening

Passing out the latest draft of a script, I often wonder, who really cares?  I’m not saying the script doesn’t matter; I’m saying it doesn’t really affect most people.

The camera guys, the grips, the electrics– they’re just gonna show up where and when the call sheet tells them to.  They’ll set up where the DP tells them to set up.  What the actors do doesn’t really matter all that much.  The same goes for hair, make-up, costume, pretty much anybody.

If there’s a big change that actually affects the work, the department heads usually know well in advance.  Our construction coordinator told me, “If the first I hear of a new set is in the latest draft of the script, then something has gone horribly wrong.”

I was talking about this with our sound guy.  (Who, by the way, is always referred to as “the sound guy.”  What is his actual title?  Sound mixer?  Isn’t that done in post?  On every set I’ve ever been on, people always call the sound department the boom operator and the sound guy.  What’s up with that?)


The sound guy tells me he actually reads every draft, but skips over the dialogue.  That surprised the hell out of me.  “Don’t you mean you only read the dialogue?”

“Hell, no, I don’t care what they’re saying.  Are they walking?  They need pads on their shoes.  Are they driving?  Are they going to be on a process stage, or actually riding down the road in a tow car?  If so, are the windows open?  All of that stuff that effects how we record is in the description.  The words don’t matter.”

So, the sound guy hears everything, but doesn’t actually listen.  I suppose it’s analogous to the camera operator, who’s making sure the frame is right, and doesn’t notice if the actor flubs a line.

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20 Responses

  1. I started as a sound guy (well boom operator). It was one of my first jobs actually – and I remember always listening for a pop or hiss or something. In addition to this, I was always on the look out for my mic shadow.

    Thinking back – I don’t think I ever listened to what was being said. I just wanted to make sure it was clear.

    For all the sound guys reading this – I remember someone saying “the eye forgives and the ear doesn’t.” For some reason that stuck with me and was helpful when we produced our first feature.

    You can’t fix it in post!

    BTW, great site.

  2. Where are you? Did you let those fuckers in the previous post convince you not to write? You’re not an elitist prick and on top of that you’re a damn good writer. Fuck them. Now come back immediately.

  3. I’m with Bvanallen…. where are you? Did your secret identity get compromised?
    I love your blog and am always happy to see a new post!

  4. So, I’ve just spent 3 days and countless hours reading every single one of your posts starting from April 2008.

    P.a Bootcamp…. those were good days.

    So my question is. Where the fuck are you. As a current film student, soon to be P.A., I enjoy reading about my future life.

  5. it’s not that the sound guy isn’t listening. he or she is listening to a different level of technical and aesthetic awareness.

    I’ve done boom work and mixing work on location. the sound dept’s job is to get a solid, consistent signal that will help the editor and sound editor do their job easier/faster/better.

    as far as happiness and sound guys go . . . that’s a funny and interesting question.

    i think sound guys actually love all the tricky stuff they do to get good sound that nobody notices. and that they (and sometimes we) enjoy the process of capturing the performances in an audible and creative way.

    so part of the problem solving experience is always, how do i place mics, cables, boom operator etc, get good sound and never hear them say “waiting on sound”

    it’s a very much behind the scenes experience of being on set, and yet being as invisible as possible, and yet without sound, there’s no story.

    also, it’s actually fun to hear great actors, well mic’d fed directly into our ears. very intimate and a sensual experience.

  6. As a sound guy, I don’t have to worry about the dialogue if there is a script supervisor on set. It’s his/her job to do that. If there isn’t anyone to look after that, then I have to since I need to make sure that we have the coverage of their dialogue.

  7. You also nailed it when you say that the actor flubbed his line. It’s NOT the sound guys fault that the actor screwed up a line, nor his responsibility, but it’s actually the Director that SHOULD be listening. Was it recorded correctly.. sure. Followed by the Scripty that should have caught it. It’s for that reason that I highly encourage the Director to have (and wear) the Comteks.

    The digital age has brought upon us a bit of laziness on the directors part, where they sit behind a monitor now, instead of hanging over the actors head.

    That being said, I do try to warn a Director when I catch a flub… I personally go above my job description all the time.

  8. As an actual “sound mixer”, “location sound mixer”, “production sound mixer” or more often just called “the sound guy”, I have to say that Michael Taylor nailed it with: “they rarely seem “happy” at all — just less unhappy when things aren’t going quite as badly as usual.”

    For me, a great day is one where everything just works and no one in the camera department is messing with me. Doesn’t occur too often, but it happens once in a while that the film school boy (or girl) wonder actually knows their job and can light a set so it can be boomed.

    You should be aware that wireless mics aren’t always our first choice.

    As for script updates and such, I’ve found that when I flip the sides stapled together pages over, they make a nice note pad. I suppose I could read the revisions but then I’d be cranky when it turns out that either the actors can’t un-learn their old lines, or have gotten even newer revisions than we did and I’m off searching for the cues to make my changes.

    Oh well….
    Jerry w

  9. “I’m not saying the script doesn’t matter; I’m saying it doesn’t really affect most people” Ha, ha, although I am a scriptwriter I guess I’ll have to – regretfully – agree with you.

  10. In my experience, the technical title of the”sound guy” (which is the term most of us use on set) is the “sound mixer.” Certainly much more actual mixing goes on in post, but from what I’ve seen, sound mixers on set do a fair amount of knob-twiddling before they’re happy with a given shot.

    Actually, they rarely seem “happy” at all — just less unhappy when things aren’t going quite as badly as usual.

  11. Yes! I totally agree. I sometimes start with good intentions and try to watch the shots i’m working on with sound, but invariably I get disgusted and prefer to work with the sound off. Visuals aren’t as offensive as most of the dialogue that gets written; and even if it is good its still distracting.

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