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Deep Dive Into Production Audio

The last few seasons of SoCal Connected were produced on a shoestring budget which is why the show stopped hiring dedicated location sound guys. Field production didn’t even get  PA’s so interviewees were hastily wired up by camera operators. I’m pretty anal about audio quality since I got my start doing work for public radio. Over the past few years, I’ve worked as a utility or field mixer for several documentaries so have been slowly upgrading my indie budget gear to the Hollywood audio trinity of Lectrosonics, DPA and Sound Devices. I’ve learned how to properly gain stage, swing a boom and hide lav mics which can be tricky voodoo. Concealed mics will pick up everything around it including fabric rustling and stubble on a starchy collar. Through some trial and error, I’ve learned how to construct effective lav rigs out of moleskin, fur and wire standoffs that are quick to tape underneath clothing and provide isolation. The last location sound job that I did required a bit more rigging than usual. A friend of mine was hired to direct a commercial for a Japanese suit company. He called me because he wanted to lay some ambient audio beneath a music soundtrack. A pro skater and bmx rider were hired to do park tricks while wearing suits made of high tech stretchy fabrics. I was surprised that both pros were familiar with the suit brand. Between takes, I heard them raving about how great the cut of Japanese suits were compared to the offerings made by more well known European designers. Not the conversation that I expected to hear from extreme athletes.  Of course, all of this stretchy synthetic fabric was incredibly noisy. I ended up running a Countryman B6 lav mic out the bottom of their pant legs and under the laces of their shoes so that it would pick up the sound of their wheels being transmitted through the board. The only problem were the spills and there were many startling crashes. Patches of suit would abrade into nothingness as riders slid down the side of bowls and ramps. My lav cables were literally hanging out of giant holes in their slacks! The B6 mics are not the best sounding but they are tiny enough to be placed in the open. The mics are also waterproof, have pretty durable cables and are a lot cheaper than my DPA lavs so are more affordably expendable. Of course, the suits cost way more than all of my DPA gear put together. Wardrobe was throwing away armloads of damaged suits with vests and shirts between takes. I was probably the only crew member tempted to dumpster dive. How difficult could it be to patch holes?  My audio gear:Sennheiser 8060 and Schoeps CMC641, Audio Technica 4073a, Audix SCX1 hypercardioid mic pair (for two-person matched indoor interviews, stereo pair and as plant mics), AKG CK93 hypercardioid mic, Audix boundary mic. Lectrosonics 411 and LR receivers, Lectrosonics SMQV, SMDA, LT transmitters. DPA 4060 lavs (x4), Sanken Cos-11s (x2), Countryman B6s (x2), Tram TR50 (x2), Sound Devices Mixpre 6 II mixer/recorder, K-Tec booms. Tentacle Sync timecode boxes, Rycote windscreen, Comtek and IEMs for audio and video monitoring.

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Hanging Out at the Dohyo of Dreams

Of the many SoCal Connected shows that I’ve worked on, Grappling with Giants is my favorite. It’s a short doc that I produced for KCET about Jim Lowerre, a tech writer from Garden, Grove, Calif. that built an authentic sumo ring (dohyo) in his backyard. Believe me when I say that this is a rare thing since it takes a lot of work to build and maintain a regulation dohyo. Most amateur sumo wrestlers (everybody outside of Japan) practice on canvas.  I’d met Lowerre at a regional sumo tournament while working on a story for Muscle & Fitness. I was there to interview Trent Sabo, a weightlifter from Oceanside that wanted to become a pro sumo wrestler. Sabo’s Oceanside Sumo Kyokai wrestling club regularly drove 60 miles north on weekends to practice at Lowerre’s “Dohyo of Dreams” and they had interesting things to say about the dohyo and it’s owner.  A self-described sumo superfan, Lowerre has been trying to promote the sport in America for years. He built his “Dohyo of Dreams” as a destination for sumo clubs and people did indeed come. Wrestlers from all over the state have traveled to compete in Lowerre’s homegrown tournaments. The wilted lawn and ramshackle lawn sheds raise eyebrows but once bare feet touch the damp sand for the first time, wrestlers will audibly coo, says Lowerre who hand troweled special sand to create the ring and consecrated it with authentic blessings of dried squid and sake. “Most amateur sumo wrestlers have only practiced on canvas and that is a very different experience.” Lowerre owns his own mawashi (sumo loincloth) and has competed in a number of tournaments. Unfortunately, back problems have sidelined Lowerre’s wrestling ambitions. He still wants The Dohyo of Dreams to be a regular stop for all the local clubs but interest in his tournaments has declined. “I try to put them on but fewer and fewer come every time. But I can still watch them wrestle and I’m happy with that.” You can see Grappling with Giants here: https://www.pbs.org/video/wheres-nancy-and-the-virus-hunter-moqoom. The segment is in the last six minutes of the episode and is unlisted because it was added at the last minu Jim Lowerre waters down the ring to keep the surface dampOceanside Sumo Kyokai Club warms up Lowerre’s sumo mwashiMuscle & Fitness storyWeightlifter Trent Sabo wants to go pro Previous Next

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Covering My First Wildfire

The smoke from the latest crop of wildfires is giving me flashbacks of the Woolsey fire that raged through Southern California in 2018. I remember it vividly because I’d been asked to cover the frontline by Karen Foshay, the executive producer at SoCal Connected who called me at 7 p.m. The New Normal was about how overdevelopment into fire-prone areas and climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires in California. We both donned our flame-resistant turnout coats and drove down the eerily empty 101 freeway past Calabasas and through several police roadblocks. Power throughout the burn areas was turned off so we were either driving in total darkness or bathed in the intense red flare of raging fires that were burning down entire neighborhoods. What struck me most that night were the random things that I saw burning like children’s toys and file cabinets filled with personal documents. I captured much of what I saw on video but we had a few close calls. My website header photo shows an incident that we had on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). We were shooting a hillside that was covered with burning homes when the wind suddenly kicked up. An angry swirl of debris and fire came down the hillside at us. Pepperdine UniversityUploading footage from the fieldNeighborhood locals team up to put out fires in MalibuBurn areas in Northern California Previous Next We were fortunate to have paired up with an experienced news stringer who always kept his modified Dodge Charger pointed in the right direction for quick escapes. We got out of there quickly and ended up following an engine crew that was working PCH. The overworked firefighters were doing what they could but it was a windy evening. You could see embers blowing over our heads and igniting everything that they came into contact with. We followed one crew to Pepperdine University which sat in a bowl surrounded by scrubby hillsides that were completely on fire. We followed a line of parked cars burning along the edge of the campus to the library where students were being. I used a 400mm lens to get shots of students huddling since campus security had been ordered to chase away reporters. Most of the university was spared that night. I returned to Malibu days later to shoot the scorched aftermath. Only emergency crews and press were allowed onto PCH so access to burn sites was easy. We stopped to shoot a group of local volunteers distributing food and water to local holdouts and saw a caravan of trucks hastily pull into the lot behind us. Men in turnout gear rushed out grabbing a few cases of bottled water that they threw into pickup beds that were filled with picks and shovels. We followed them to a nearby neighborhood of two-story homes that had been evacuated. The group was made up of local lifeguards and surfers that were being dispatched by an ad-hoc spotter network of locals with radios who were reporting any smoke sightings. I had to jump a few neighborhood walls with all of my camera gear to keep up with them. But I did manage to catch them putting out the remains of a fire in a backyard. After circling the property for any other flareups, the group relaxed for a a moment with a celebratory round of beer before they were called away to put out another fire. The New Normal ended up being one of our best stories of the season and won me a Golden Mike for best videography, an L.A. Press Club award and a couple of Emmy noms. You can see The New Normal here: https://www.pbs.org/video/the-new-normal-jz1jp

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How Small Firms Can Use Pinterest and Facebook to Sell Directly to Customers

WALL STREET JOURNAL – You see a picture on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook. But there’s something different about it. There’s a button that asks you if you want to buy the product you see. Would you click then and there? Social-media giants are betting you will. And some small businesses are signing on to the idea. As social sites seek new sources of income—and people demand ever more convenient ways to buy online—they’re giving companies the option to add “buy” buttons to their posts. And some small businesses are already seeing encouraging gains from this new capability, boosting sales by leveraging the close contact they have with customers on social sites. But experts warn that businesses should take a soft and helpful tone when reaching out, because customers can get turned off when companies try to use social media to push them into making impulse buys. They don’t like it when companies post aggressive sales pitches in the comments on pictures at photo-sharing sites, for instance, or when companies send them pushy sales messages through platforms such as Facebook Messenger. Customers are “in a different mind-set when on social sites,” says Jay Baer, president of Convince & Convert, a digital marketing firm in Bloomington, Ind. “They don’t go there to buy. That transition to buying can be jarring.” Room to explore The idea of buying straight from posts on social media isn’t exactly new. But only now is the practice becoming feasible as third-party companies like Shopify and BigCommerce—or in the case of Pinterest, the site itself—make it easier to set up the purchasing options and handle the back-end processing. Companies pay the third-party companies a subscription fee, but the social sites aren’t charging anything yet to monetize posts. On Instagram and Pinterest, companies post photos the way anybody else does, and people find the pictures the way they find any other photos: searching by keyword or seeing what their friends have marked as interesting—“pinned”—or otherwise shared. The only difference is that people have the option to buy items companies have posted. On Facebook, customers arrive at company pages either by searching on keywords or by joining a group devoted to the company. Purchasable items are found by clicking the shop tab, and the transactions are handled by manually entering credit-card numbers that can be stored for later use. Facebook doesn’t charge for the transaction. How can entrepreneurs make the most of this new setup? The experts suggest that companies ease customers into the idea of buying on social media by gently letting them know, since the majority of online users are not even aware that they have the option to make direct purchases on social media. On Pinterest and Instagram, for instance, users are usually looking for ideas or inspiration, not to buy. Companies should not put aggressive sales pitches in the comments to photos, where most of the conversations on Pinterest and Instagram take place. Slava Furman, founder of Miami-based Noli Yoga, knew that yoga practitioners were posting scenic selfies of their perfected yoga positions on Instagram. Without making any sales pitches, he started posting his own photos showing customers in his activewear. Yoga fans discovered them while browsing through other yoga photos or doing keyword searches, since Mr. Furman attaches yoga-relevant hashtag search terms to his images. After building a sizable following, he turned to an e-commerce app called Snappic that lets people buy items in his photos. He currently gets 90% of his business from all of his social-media marketing and advertising efforts, and 15% of that comes from direct sales on Instagram. Special content Avoiding sales pitches is one thing. But companies should also be sure to post compelling content on these social-commerce storefronts that gives users a reason to visit, experts say. On Instagram or Facebook, that might mean streaming live video. In a Facebook shop, companies might offer a free PDF instructional guide for the product, along with a coupon. Pure Cycles, a 20-employee urban-bicycle manufacturing company in Burbank, Calif., posts events that show up in followers’ calendars on Facebook. As with click-to-buy posts on Instagram and Pinterest, visitors to the company’s Facebook shop page can purchase items in photos. But Pure Cycles says it’s careful to add extra content to keep customers interested. The company recently invited customers to its headquarters, where they could test-ride bikes and get free swag. It also features instructional videos and streamed Facebook Live video events where employees interact with customers. Another touch that helps, the company says: The live videos are often done by company owners as a way to make themselves more accessible to customers. When doing a question-and-answer session, they have opportunistically referenced products in the store. Jordan Schau, co-founder of Pure Cycles, says the human touch is crucial to show that there are real people behind the content, not a faceless marketing department. “In terms of shopping and getting the right stuff, it’s much more impactful if we’re behind the chat,” says Mr. Schau, who oversees the social-media efforts at Pure Cycles. He’ll often respond directly to social media inquiries on his personal phone and interact with customers after hours. “We’re not trying to actively hit people up by saying, hey, everybody, we’re having a sale on this,” says Mr. Schau. “We’re more like, hey, we’re your friend. If you have a question about your bike, we’re happy to answer.” You can read the full story here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-small-firms-can-use-pinterest-and-facebook-to-sell-directly-to-customers-1493605265

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How Small Firms Can Court Online Reviewers

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Looking for a low-cost way to market your products? Find an influencer. These high-profile reviewers can have thousands—or tens of thousands—of followers and fans on YouTube, Facebook and other social networks. Sending them products to review can be an effective way for a small firm with limited means to reach a vast new audience. But managing the relationship takes a lot of care. The main issue is disclosure: Influencers need to make it very clear how they got the products and what their relationship with the company is. Any lack of transparency can raise tax issues, get influencers and the company in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission and anger viewers. Companies may be face a very vocal online protest or even a boycott. Here are some things to keep in mind when working with a popular Internet reviewer. PICK CAREFULLY: Companies will get the most out of working with reputable bloggers who already maintain full transparency. It also helps to do research to find suitable bloggers who are a good fit with a company’s product and services and to approach them with a personalized message that recognizes their work. WATCH CLOSELY: Don’t assume that bloggers will act on their own to let readers know where they got a service, product or some kind of payment from a company, says Mary Engle, associate director for advertising practices at the FTC in Washington, D.C. It should be part of the company’s social-media policy to ensure compliance. Companies should also monitor bloggers to make sure they follow through. The disclosure can be as simple as “company X gave me this product to review,” says Carleen Pruess, an attorney from Chicago who also blogs about fashion. The message needs to be clear, conspicuous and in the beginning of a blog post. It also has to be more than a general disclosure that applies to the entire website or a link at the end of the page. For video reviews, the disclosure should show up in the clip, not the description, since videos are often embedded into other websites without the description. RESPECT THEIR OPINION: Companies shouldn’t try to strong-arm bloggers into making changes to a review unless there’s a valid reason, such as an incorrect fact. Besides getting on the blogger’s bad side, attaching conditions to a product or service can be legally construed as a contract with an exchange of service as opposed to a gift, says Stephen Slater, managing director at the New York City office of UHY Advisors Inc., an accounting firm. “The IRS may come back and ask you what this relationship is and why you’re giving this item to this person. Giving free samples may not work out that way. It’s really a barter transaction.” Many companies like B&H Photo Video in New York avoid tax and compensation issues by lending items like consumer electronics instead of giving samples away. They won’t send the item until a loan agreement is signed, and the package will include postage-paid mailing labels to make it as easy as possible to return the item. “It has been very good business for us,” says Henry Posner, online reputation manager at B&H. “We work with a lot of influential bloggers. We don’t pressure them to give a good review because we understand that their audience is looking for honest opinions. We will make some attempt to resolve any problems to see if it’s a mistake or manufacturer problem.” Illustration by SHAW NIELSEN. You can read the full story here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303309504579183623549148550

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The Nonpartisan Kindness of Strangers

After eight long days shooting stories in Humboldt County, our tired PBS Suburban gave it up at a gas station in the tiny agricultural hamlet of Maxwell, Calif. Even the minimart attendant heard the tensioner pully bearings seize and shred the serpentine belt that operated the power steering, brake booster, water pump and alternator. We were lucky that our misfortune happened in a safe place since we’d spent that entire morning driving up and down curvy mountain roads. We had been pursuing a story about illegal cannabis growers that had been operating out of the national forest. They were using a banned pesticide that was so toxic that it could kill an adult bear. Cleanup required a special certified disposal crew that we followed into the site. Another customer filling up his silver Dodge Neon asked if we needed help. He was a kindly middle-aged man in a torn t-shirt and ball cap who told us that his friend was the best mechanic in the area. Our executive producer, Karen Foshay, exchanged a few words with him before she got into his car and disappeared down the road. It all happened so quickly that Annie Valdez (assistant producer) and I were left standing there possibly watching Karen disappear forever. We quickly got into the hobbled SUV and I strong armed the Suburban down the road in pursuit. The accelerator still worked fine. Annie called Karen to maintain a lifeline and was told they’d just pulled up to a farm a few miles down the road. It took everything that I had to turn the SUV onto that long dirt driveway. We didn’t know what to expect. The mechanic ended up being legit. They were all laughing as we arrived. All of the nearby farms sent their tractors to him for repair so he actually had spare Chevy LS belts in his barn that would have fit perfectly if the engine was stock! Problem was that the Suburban’s previous mechanic had relocated the belt tensioners so that a nonstandard belt could be used. Who knows why. The mechanic worked for hours swapping pulleys and belts out of numerous other GM vehicles that he had sitting around his property. He finally gave me a list of what he needed to finish the job and told his friend Bill to drive me to an auto parts store 20 miles away. Bill was a heavyset Native American field worker that lived in the Colusa Indian Community. He worked four jobs to support a big family and loved to bird hunt on weekends. He also loved food. We were talking about our favorite local restaurants when a rank meaty odor started to fill the cabin. I honestly thought Bill had shat his pants, and I couldn’t even look at him as he continued talking about his favorite local burger joints. The odor eventually dissipated but the smell returned on the drive back and again when the belt we’d purchased didn’t work. On our final leg home, Bill belatedly pointed out that the organic rice farms in the area used a “foul smelling” bird fertilizer that he’s never gotten used to. He’s had to drive past the rice fields for years. I laughed and told him to stop so I could buy him a pizza. The mechanic installed the belt and started the Suburban. It worked perfectly. He then offered us a tour of his farm. Much of his repair work was done in the barn which was crowded with machine presses and long tables covered with unfinished projects. He and his friends liked to cruise the local flea markets and collect boxes of records, old industrial equipment and vintage coin operated machines. In an adjoining room, the mechanic showed us a beautiful old Nash Rambler that had belonged to his father. He planned to do a ground up restoration. We were flattered to be shown his personal projects. The mechanic offered us a drink and started to unlock the doors to a nearby shed that he’d turned into a roadhouse. It had a nicely polished walnut bartop with padded stools, beer taps, neon signs and Trump campaign pennants plastered all over the walls. We weren’t surprised by the MAGA paraphernalia since we’d been seeing a strong pro-Trump/Pence presence in the area. But the politics didn’t matter to any of us. The entire day was just about helping people in trouble and being genuinely interested in each other’s stories. Unfortunately, we had to pass on happy hour since we had to do one last interview in Sacramento. We were worried about the bill since the repair had taken most of the day. Our show budget had been slimmed with the recent loss of a big grant and the trip had been expensive. Amazingly, the mechanic waved us off. No charge. Karen insisted on paying so the mechanic told us to just give the money to Bill. We handed the mechanic an envelope filled with cash for Bill and drove to Sacramento in a daze. All I could think about on the drive was the generosity of the mechanic and how easy it was to get along when talking face to face. You can see the story’s that we worked on here Cannabis Country and here Who Killed Josiah?

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