Walking Out selected for the Sundance 2017

I am very proud to have been the audio mixer for Walking Out, a feature film shot in Montana, written and directed by Alex and Andrew Smith.  I knew it was a great script when I read it and with the help of a great cast and crew, we made a great movie.  It’s going to premier at Sundance in January, 2017 as part of the dramatic feature competition!


What’s basic but decent?

The question I am asked the most is something like “I have $2,000 and I need a sound kit.  What can I get?” The answer is of course, nothing.  But for just under $6,000 you could get a barely adequate package

  1. a shotgun mic
  2. an interior mic
  3. a boom
  4. a mixer
  5. a recorder
  6. a wireless kit


You can’t compromise very much on mics.  No matter how expensive your mixer or recorder is or how well you know how to use it, if your mic sucks, your audio sucks.  Period.  Also, you MUST have two mics, one shotgun for almost everything and one hyper or super cardiod for the spaces that a shotgun will not work.  Basically the rule of thumb is shotguns for exteriors and a small diaphragm condenser with a hyper cardiod polar pattern for interiors.  Really, do not compromise here because you will regret it.  Microphones for audio recording systems are analogous to lenses for cameras.  They will last forever, never lose their values and are the pointy end of the spear.  They have to be good.

What I own and totally recommend:

a. Shotgun: a Sennheiser 416 (about $1,000).  THE Hollywood classic that everything is compared to.  Better yet,  Sennheiser MKH-60 (about $1,500)
b. Small diaphragm condenser:  Schoeps CMC641 with a CUT1 (about $2,500)

Lower end:

a. Shotgun: Rode NTG 3 ($700)
b. Small diaphragm condenser: AT 4053b ($600)

If you are serious about audio, please do not compromise here.  Buy the good stuff.  This is not where you want to save money because it effects everything in the audio chain. Continue reading


Three years ago, I started grad school at The University of Montana.  On Saturday, May 12th, I received my MFA in digital film making from the school of Media Arts, College of Visual and Performing Arts.   Although production audio is my main love and specialty, my experiences writing, directing, producing and just making movies really help my understanding of the “big picture” of film making.

What Did He Say?

I worked an interview/doc type shoot today and when I got home, my wife asked me who was interviewed.  I told her and she asked my if he was interesting.  I told her I really didn’t know.  I didn’t know because I was listening with my sound man ears, not my director or producer ears.

If I actually listened to what was being said I might be distracted by an interesting statement and  not notice things I should be listening for such as background noise, conversations, cars, air handlers, airplanes, trains, etc.  I wouldn’t be doing my job.

One of the most basic things a sound mixer has to do, obviously, is listen but it is very important to know HOW to listen and what to listen for.  A huge part of listening correctly means NOT listening to what someone is actually saying.  That’s someone else’s job.

Panasonic AF-100

I have been doing so many shoots on DSLR’s these days that it has been a couple of years since I recorded directly to camera. I just got back from working on a doc in Helena, MT for the Veteran’s Administration. The story followed an Army Guard member who had a hip replacement through a new VA program that allowed her to receive physical therapy through local private practitioners rather than having to drive hundreds of miles to a VA hospital. She was a fire fighter and did physical work, so the program gave her her life back. But I digress..

We shot on a Panasonic AF-100 and I got to use my remote audio breakaway cable for the first time. The AF-100 has a few quirks that could have caused some problems for sound. First, the level meter in the view finder has two markers, neither labeled, one at 0 dBfs and another one that looks like it should be -20 dBfs but upon reading the manual, I learned it was -12 dBfs.

By default, the AF-100 records to an AC3 compressed audio format. That needs to be changed to LPCM (Linear PCM, uncompressed) and the Automatic Gain Control, called ALC in the menus needs to be turned off. The input switches are self explanatory.

The headphone amplifier is pretty weak and it was very difficult to get a signal back on my breakaway cable with enough gain. I cranked my return A level as high as possible on my Sound Devices 442 and it was still pretty hard to hear.

I still recorded to second system just in case they needed iso tracks later, as I both boomed and ran a lav on the interviews.  All in all, it was a fun little shoot, great people and they had the camera video and audio outputting to a device called a Nanoflash that was interesting.  It actually upgrades the video and audio quality as it records everything uncompressed.

Audio in the Blood

Recently I had the good fortune to be one-half of the sound department on the feature film, Winter in the Blood, written and directed by Alex and Andrew Smith of  The Slaughter Rule fame.   This adaptation of the James Welch novel of the same name was shot on location in Montana.

I haven’t blogged much about the experience or what I learned because I have been waiting for the release of the movie, but I kept a daily journal that I will revisit soon. This was my first feature film and I made some rookie mistakes, got my ass kicked physically and mentally and came out a far  better sound guy and in much better shape.  I learned a lot about making features and about being part of an incredible family, a film making crew.  I know that I can now walk on any film set and be confident that I know what to do and how to act.

Tomorrow I am on a panel at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula to discuss my experience on the film as part of a doc on the “making of”  Winter in the Blood called Visionary Insight.  Just before that we are scheduled to do some ADR with one of the actors in my home studio.  Winter in the Blood has opened some doors for me, no doubt.

Guess who I am in the following picture from the set.  Hint:  follow the boom.

On the set of Winter in the Blood


I Can’t Help if You Won’t Listen

I got this email the other day:

Hi Mike,

My name is XXX. I’m close friends with ZZZ.
This coming Saturday I’ll be shooting a short interview/PSA .
They referred me to you in regards to renting or borrowing a mic for my 5D Mark II. 

Is that something you might be able to help with?

Best Regards,

I tried to explain that a 5D is not capable of recording professional quality audio and that in order to get good sound you need a second system or better yet, you need to hire a sound person:

Hi XXX, 

I believe the 5D has a 3.5 mm, tip-ring-sleeve jack that accepts mic-level signals from external sources. My mics are all XLR and require phantom power so they will not work with a 5D. With a 5D or a 7D or really any DSLR camera you need to have second system sound to get good audio. That means you need a mic and a separate recorder at a minimum.


Of course they don’t want to hear that their camera is a piece of shit when it comes to recording audio, because everyone knows that audio is simple, right? They don’t get that their camera costs less than one Lectro system or a couple of microphones and you need to know what you are doing to use it. So needless to say, my advice was not appreciated:

Hi Mike,

 Thank you for the information.
I’ll keep searching for a 5d solution. 


Ouch, that was a little bit cold.  I guess this person isn’t listening to me or just doesn’t like what I am saying. It’s true, though.  You need a second system, there is no such thing as a 5D solution. Why ask for an expert’s opinion if you aren’t going to listen to that opinion?

I actually felt bad so I looked around the Internet and found an article where someone uses a Sound Devices 302 and a Zoom to record to a 5D.

They make it work by turning off the AGC, overriding the pre-amps on the 5D and sending a line level signal from the 302. It actually does record to the 5D with the levels set to one click above off. You still can’t monitor levels and the article clearly states that you need a back up system, hence the Zoom and very clearly discusses the limitations of the 5D. I was hoping the person might actually read it and maybe they would believe it sonce another photographer wrote it and possibly realize, “hey…maybe I should think about hiring a sound person….I guess it might be more complex then I thought…”

So I get back:

Thanks Mike,

I was able to pin down another option through a friend and colleague of mine XXX. You
Might(sic) know him, he’s in XXX’s circle as well.  A great photographer too.
Turns out he has a setup for the 5D that he’s willing to loan.
Thank you for the links and information.

Warm Regards,

Probably a battery powered microphone with a 1/8th inch jack. Good luck with that, XXX, I am sure your client will be happy when the hiss from the microphone drowns out the interview dialog. I’m sure you can fix it in post.  I just can’t help you if you won’t listen. I’m glad we are at warm regards rather than cheers, though.