The Netflix series Cobra Kai casts actors Ralph Macchio and William Zabka in their original The Karate Kid roles as arch-nemeses Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence, with production sound mixer Mike Filosa, CAS, recording the dialog as well as karate action in season 4 with a mixture of new and legacy Lectrosonics wireless gear that includes SMV, SMQV, and SMDWB transmitters, HMa plug-on transmitters, a pair of original Venue VR Field systems fitted with VRT tracking receiver modules, and IFB-T4 transmitters for comms.
Now streaming its third season and in production for its fourth, the series is a runaway hit for Netflix, viewed by over 73 million subscribers so far. “I’ve used nothing but Lectrosonics my entire career,” says Filosa. “I started as a staff guy at Turner Broadcasting in the early ’80s and when it came to buy for myself, in the very early ‘90’s, I chose Lectrosonics— a quad-pack of 185 systems. I continued to grow with this very solid brand – 195s, then 200 and 400 series. I still have all of it. I’m not using them currently, but they still work, and very well.”
What works for Filosa on set has been changed by Covid-19 precautions, which makes reliable wireless performance and quick setup all the more important, as he explains: “We’re shooting the same number of pages per day as under normal circumstances. I have a face shield and a mask because I’m in what’s called the A-zone, which is closer to the talent than most of the rest of the crew. But because Lectrosonics is so dependable, I don’t often have to penetrate the set. I can stay well-distanced at my cart. The features that help me do this include the smart tuning and the dweedle tones we can send to make remote settings on the transmitters. The T4s live on top of my VR Field, so I can pop the whole thing off the cart for use in vehicles and still communicate with my people.”
The HMa, which plugs into any XLR output, also helps Filosa and crew socially distance, and to be flexible and fast, often accommodating three cameras of various frames and widths. “We can’t always get as close as we need with the boom, which is where the SM series comes in. I have never had a range issue with Lectro. We do use shark fin antennas — the Lectrosonics ALP 650L/E series — but most of the time they live right on my cart and don’t need to be closer to the talent. Many of our 16 SMs can go up to 250 milliwatts [output power] but we’re pretty much happy with them at 100 milliwatts. Buried in costumes, far away, and with lots of action, there has been no fallibility.”
The SMs have proven so rugged that they recently made an unprecedented cameo. “Cobra Kai has a couple of big fight scenes every season. I can’t really reveal the one we just shot for season 4, but it’s major. Normally, stunt people perform these scenes but this time, the actors wanted to do their own stunts. We’d usually take the wireless packs off them and post would work on the fight sounds, but this time, we left the packs on. We ran mics into various SM-series transmitters, and everything worked perfectly.”
Filosa is also evaluating Lectrosonics’ latest-generation all-digital wireless with an eye to ever-contracting available frequency spectrum. “I’m very happy with the reliability of what I have right now, and I’m sure it will be in many mixers’ kits for many more years,” he says. “But with the new digital stuff, the idea of being able to squeeze more functional channels into a given bandwidth of spectrum is very appealing.”
Covid means that while rigid protocols are in place and have to be dealt with, production expectations have not been affected. “I’m lucky to work with two of the best sound techs in town: Boom Op Matt Robinson and Sound Utility Rachel Smith,” he concludes. “But it’s as though Lectrosonics is another crew member, because with the way productions have to be run right now, solid wireless signals are the key to success.”