In Brando Lee’s film Don’t Look at the Demon, an American team of paranormal investigators visits an opulent house in the highlands of Fraser’s Hill, Malaysia, where production sound mixer Lawrence Chick turned to Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid wireless gear that includes four SMQV, two watertight WM and plug-on HMa transmitters for boom work joined by five UCR411a receivers and an SRb receiver, with ALP650 amplified directional antennas delivering additional support while IFB was handled by an IFBT4 transmitter and three R1a receivers.
The first movie made in Malaysia to enter the U.S. feature film market, DLATD starts off by mimicking the familiar “ghost hunter” reality show format in following an ensemble cast through tight interiors as the scares mount. Under these circumstances, what came in most handy for Chick was Lectrosonics’ gain structure. “Some of the sets were so cramped that there was no room for my boom operator to move around,” he explains. “So, of course we had packs on the talent. They’re normally speaking quietly or even whispering, but when there’s a jump scare, there’s a lot of screaming. I adjusted the gain on the transmitters for the maximum peaks I knew I’d be getting, and the system was able to pick up all the normal-level dialogue clearly as well.”
For more frenetic scenes, transmitters including the HMa plug-on (so named as it XLR connector plugs right onto a mic) made their way from actors’ bodies to microphones planted around the set. “There were some rather violent stunts,” Chick says. “If you’ve seen the trailer, there’s this scene where one of the characters is floating off the ground and banging her head against the wall. For such scenes, we didn’t want to put a transmitter on the actor in case they fell on it — we were worried about the person getting hurt, not the gear! So, we switched to plant mics and Lectrosonics still captured all the sounds beautifully.”
Chick’s accomplishments include Michael Mann’s 2015 crime thriller Blackhat, the South African edition of Survivor, 60 Minutes Australia, and even a McDonald’s commercial to capture the sound of people eating fried chicken. For the commercial Chick used various mic placements to capture variety of crunching sounds as they eat. One of them included prewiring it in the box with a lavalier and the Lectrosonics transmitter. After the fried chicken was done and placed into the box, the talent would then take a piece of the chicken and eat it. The heat from the freshly fried chicken in the box caused the lavalier cable to disintegrate but the transmitter placed right behind the box had no issues. “The lavalier cable melted but the transmitter did fine,” he says. “No matter the conditions, Lectrosonics’ performance has surpassed his expectations.
“Another time, I was on this Singaporean-Cambodian movie,” he continues. “There was this car approaching me from about two football fields away. The external power source that we had for the shark-fins decided not to work just as we were shooting the scene, so I had to rely solely on the whips of my transmitters and receivers. The receiver was a Lectro UCR411 at that time. I made sure I had a line of sight and recorded a very good signal using just the whips.”
The wireless kit also got the job done in shooting a Malaysian commercial for Caltex gasoline starring the late Grant Imahara of Mythbusters. “To watch that commercial on YouTube now, you’d never know what happened,” Chick says. “We were in a busy crossroads in downtown Kuala Lumpur with a commuter train track directly overhead. The onlookers were standing in a circle around Grant and the car. Three RED cameras were moving around constantly to capture their reactions. There was a lot of noise, the air was full of RF, and I had to stay out of the shot, which was not easy. Point being, Lectrosonics helped me stay invisible by holding onto the frequencies from as far away as I needed to get.”
Chick also points to features that make his workday easier. “I can send the transmitters commands using tones from my phone,” he notes, “and see the transmitter battery levels from the receiver. That means I can know ahead of time if batteries are getting low and change them before it interrupts a take.
“I’ve always had a passion for sound,” he conldue. “When I was first studying, you didn’t hear people in this part of the world talking about wanting to go into production mixing. The mentality was that sound was something you did in post-production. In any magazine article about film sound, the conversation was about FX and the photos were of the inside of a recording studio. I was always thinking, ‘But wait, how do you record great sound to work with in the first place? Not everything can be done in the studio.’ Now I know. With Lectrosonics, I’ve even had camera operators comment on the sound quality. That’s saying something!”