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.A Little Production Sound

OCTOBER 18, 2020 – The last few seasons of SoCal Connected were produced on a shoestring budget which is why camera guys had to handle their own audio. I naturally took it a bit further since I wasn’t satisfied with the heavily companded sound that comes from budget gear. Over the past few years, I’d been upgrading my serviceable prosumer gear to Hollywood standards including Lectrosonics wireless and a Sound Devices mixer and recorder. I schooled myself on their field use by working on low budget productions and independent documentaries where I learned how to properly gain stage and swing a boom. Hiding mics underneath clothing was one of the most difficult challenges. There are thousands of different noises that can be picked up by a hidden lav. The rub of beard stubble on a starchy dress collar can be picked up from any chest placement; and stomach noise actually transmits through a taunt mic cable that doesn’t have adequate strain relief. I’ve fashioned some good lav rigs that work for most situations. The last audio job I did was one exception.

A friend was hired to direct a commercial for a Japanese suit company, and he wanted some basic location sound. A pro skater and bmx rider were hired do park tricks while wearing suits. The synthetic materials were incredibly noisy, especially when flapping in the wind. I ended up running a Countryman B6 out the bottom of their pant legs and onto the top of their dress shoe so it could pick up the wheels being transmitted through the board. The only problem were the spills and there were many. Patches of suit would abrade into nothingness when sliding down the walls of a bowl. My lav cables were literally hanging out of the holes in their slacks! The B6 mics are not the best sounding but are tiny enough not to be noticed—even with wind protection—are waterproof and have thick cables. They’re also a lot cheaper than my DPA lavs so relatively expendable. Of course, the suits costs more than all of my DPA mics put together and they were throwing away any damaged clothing between takes. I’m certain that I was the only crew member tempted to dumpster dive. How difficult could it be to patch holes?

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Hard to Forget Woolsey

OCTOBER 1, 2020 – I live in Los Angeles and all of the smoke in the air is giving me flashbacks of the Woolsey Fire that raged through Southern California in 2018. I was asked to cover that destructive wildfire on the second evening of the burn by Karen Foshay, the executive producer for KCET’s SoCal Connected. Her story, 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 put on our flame-resistant turnout coats and drove down the empty 101 freeway through the police blockades. All of the power was turned off in the burn areas and smoke obscured the moonlight. So we were either operating in total darkness or by the intense red flare of raging fires that were burning entire neighborhoods down to their frames.

I returned to the sites I’d visited the previous night to shoot the scorched aftermath. Only emergency crews and reporters were allowed onto PCH so the normally packed coastal highway was empty. While shooting locals distributing food and water in a parking lot, I stumbled across an organized group of local lifeguards and surfers that stopped to get water. They were patrolling the neighborhood in pickup trucks loaded with shoves and picks and were using an ad-hoc spotter network with radios to find new fires. I had to jump a few walls with all of my camera gear and witnessed them saving homes. They drank quite a lot of beer while doing it.

It was a pretty harrowing sight to see children’s toys and clothing on fire and old yearbook pages blowing in the wind. I was able to document much of what I saw on video but had a few close calls. My header photo shows an incident we had on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). We were shooting houses burning on a hillside when the wind kicked up and started to blow burning debris and the fire towards us. Downed power wires were literally whipping in the air.

We were fortunate that we had hooked up with an experienced stringer who always kept his Dodge Charger pointed in the right direction for quick escapes. We got out of there fast and ended up following engine crews working up and down PCH. Overworked firefighters were doing what they could to save burning homes and businesses throughout Malibu. But even the hills surrounding Pepperdine University were on fire. I used a 400mm lens to get shots of students huddling in the campus library since campus security was chasing off all of the reporters. Most of the university was spared.

I was subsequently sent up to Northern California to shoot drone shots of burn areas outside of Yosemite as well as interview members of Cal Fire. They took us on a ruddy tour of restricted burn areas and we did our best to follow in our rented Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. We had locking diffs so never got stuck whereas one of the heavy crew carriers got bogged down in the mud. Overall, The New Normal became one of our best stories of the season and has since won a Golden Mike, 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-jz1jpu/

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Coming to the Dohyo of Dreams

SEPTEMBER 25, 2020 – Of the dozen shows that I’ve worked on, my favorite SoCal Connected story was “Grappling with Giants,” a short segment about Jim Lowerre, a tech writer from Garden Grove, Calif. that had built a regulation size sumo ring (dohyo) in his backyard.

Oceanside Sumo Kyokai practices at the Dohyo of Dreams

Lowerre has been trying to promote sumo in America for years. He built his “Dohyo of Dreams” with authentic touches such as damp sand and blessings of dried squid and sake. It’s the only real dohyo in California, claims Lowerre who has drawn wrestling clubs from all over California to his backyard. Lowerre even puts on his own tournaments there and competes.

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 show but was unlisted since it was a last minute add.

I first wrote about amateur sumo in a Muscle & Fitness feature about an ambitious weightlifter named Trent Sabo. He’s a professional mover that wants to become a professional sumo wrestler. You can read that story here.