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.

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.


Sea Glass

Last night we we had our principal photography wrap party for Sea Glass, my thesis film made in collaboration with my partners, writer/director Caitlin Hofmeister and producer/production designer, Jeri Rafter.  I was producer, sound mixer, production accountant and am the principal editor and sound designer for the movie.

This short film represents a paradigm shift for the University of Montana’s MFA program.  Though not the first film made collaboratively, it is the first time that three grad students had such well defined and differing roles in a thesis project.  Because of our work together in 2011 on Winter in the Blood, we knew that we could work well together and all make large contributions creatively without stepping on each others toes.  It took some discussion with our professors to convince them that our partnership would actually result in all of us being freed up to work even harder and be more creative and would result in a much higher quality film than three separate “magnum opi”.  The best argument?  This is how movies are really made.

I am truly proud of all aspects of the film.  We did things right.  We took the time to find great locations, fantastic actors and raise money to rent HMI’s.  We took the time during production to get great performances.  I took time to make sure the audio is as good as possible (of course).  We had a talented and dedicated cast and crew.  Time will tell, but I feel like this film is going to be special.  The showcase will be May 10th, 2012.