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Sound Expendables

Contributed By Fred Ginsburg

Besides budgeting for personnel and equipment, don’t forget about the expendable items. On even a medium sized production, the bill for these miscellaneous, yet important, sundries can get too expensive for the Mixer to absorb out of his/her own wallet.

Tape Stock
Make sure it is clear who is buying and bringing the stock. Don’t automatically assume that the production company is bringing it, the cameraman, or the soundman.

Use only the brand and type of stock that the individual recorder is biased (set up) for. Most Nagras are currently calibrated for 3M type 908 (no longer available), Ampex 406, and Zonal 818. Also, there are many Nagras that have been equipped with oversize plastic lids that allow the machines to use seven-inch reels of tape. Seven-inch recording stock runs twice as long (30 minutes at 7 ½ ips) as the standard five-inch (15 minutes at 7 ½ ips). Most 7" sells for around $7.50 per roll; most 5" sells for around $5.50.

How many rolls of tape will you need? I find that on a major production such as a commercial, feature, or television episode my average usage was two or three rolls of 7".

Another way to calculate tape usage is to find out how much film stock has been budgeted for. A one-thousand foot roll of 35mm runs for about 11 minutes. A four-hundred foot roll of 16mm yields about 11 minutes. If you are using 15 minute rolls of tape (5" reels), then budget one roll of tape for every magazine of film. If you are using 30 minute rolls of tape (7" reels), then figure about 2.5 camera magazines per roll of sound.

Remember that audiotape is relatively cheap compared to film stock and the cost of production. Never be afraid to "waste" tape. Reload your Nagra while the camera crew is reloading, so as to avoid delays later on.

If you are shooting long takes, especially interviews, or the director likes to talk a lot before calling "Action"— then reload early enough to avoid any risk of running out during a take.

Very often, the Sound Mixer will be asked to provide the tape stock and to bill the production company. Don’t feel guilty about making a slight profit on the transaction. If the company wants to "save money", then let them foot the bill for all of the stock!

You are the one laying out the cash to buy enough stock for the shoot plus plenty of extra (just in case), but will only be reimbursed for what is actually used. That means that your cash will be tied up in tape stock until the next shoot. You cannot return unused tape stock to the dealer, since no respecting professional would ever want to go out with tape stock that someone else may have subjected to excess heat, etc.

More than likely, videotape stock will be provided by the cameraman or the production company. It is rare that the Sound Mixer is asked to supply videotape, unless he or she is also providing the video equipment. It never hurts to ask, just to make sure. What you find out could save the cameraman a lot of embarrassment, and since you and the cameraman probably work together a lot for a number of video clients...

Batteries
Just about everything on your soundcart operates from batteries. Nagra recorders use 12 "D" cells, and will run two to four days. But always have a spare dozen standing by! Power supplies for your mics generally use two 9-volts. Comteks and popular wireless mics also use 9-volts, but some brands may be different. Other equipment will have their own particular battery requirements.

Even if you have AC adapters, it is still better to run off of batteries in order to avoid the risk of AC induced noise. The same principle that lets the "plug in to any outlet" intercom upstairs in the baby’s room be heard on the intercom downstairs in the living room applies to professional recording. Noise travels along electrical wiring, even when the outlets are on different circuits.

Never buy batteries on sale. Batteries get put on sale when stores have too many of them, and they have been sitting around in warehouses too long.

Purchase all of your batteries from a reputable supplier. Check some of the batteries at random with a digital voltage meter to insure that they are fresh and putting out full capacity.

The industry has found that overall, the Duracell brand of batteries seems to be the best. Also, their two-color design makes it easy to orient the batteries correctly, even in dimly lit environments.

Used batteries should be tossed away immediately. Don’t put them back into original boxes or even store them near your equipment, lest someone mistake them for new. A number of Sound Mixers give small BAGS (never the original boxes) of used batteries to other members of the crew for use in non-critical equipment such as flashlights.

Sundries
Other items that you will need include: rolls of 1" cloth camera tape (white, black, and perhaps colors); 2" cloth gaffers tape; 1" surgical tape; rubber bands; safety pins; marking pens; printed sound reports; spare flashlight (to replace the one you will loan to someone and not be returned); spare pocketknife; spare mini-tool kit; Static Guard spray; ACE bandages; alcohol prep pads; canned air; TF Solvent; a tape slicing kit complete with razor blades, colored Avery dots, and sync beeps; cheesecloth for wind protection; acoustafoam; velcro; condoms for waterproofing mics and wireless; and perhaps even handcuffs & chain for securing equipment cases from being quick-snatched.

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