Production Sound Mixer
Since The Jazz Singer first combined a synchronized instrumental score, spoken dialogue, and sound effects in 1927, audio has been an essential creative component to film and television production. Can you imagine Star Wars or Saving Private Ryan without sound? Behind all of the music, noise, and laughter that enhances the images on screen is the production sound mixer.
The production sound mixer is the head of the sound department on set, and is brought in during pre-production to collaborate with the director and production manager to choose what type of microphones to use and select additional audio gear. This person may also give input on crew members to fill additional audio roles, like sound assistant, equipment technician, boom operator or cable runner.
During principal photography, the production sound mixer’s responsibilities are extensive. They include recording all sound on set: dialogue, sound effects, wild lines, live music, and room tone. He or she is also charged with maintaining log sheets for each roll of tape (or digitally formatted unit) recorded and marking printed takes, in conjunction with the camera assistant and script supervisor. The production sound mixer must make script notes to be used in case of reshooting (for continuity) and keep lists of wild tracks and sound effects that will be recorded later. This person will also direct the boom operator and design the placement of microphones and recording techniques for each shot—and keep an eye out for the dreaded boom shadow.
Skills & Education
College coursework in film and television production, recording arts, and communications are recommended but not required. Classes in these subjects can introduce you to the production process and give you hands-on experience in the use of sound equipment (microphones, mixing consoles) along with the required theoretical knowledge. To succeed in this role you must be a strong communicator and effective delegator, as well as having a highly trained ear. Work as a production assistant can get your foot in the door, and from there experience as a boom operator or sound assistant can lead to a gig as a production sound mixer.
What to Expect
In this role you are ultimately responsible for the sound of the show or film. Getting the recording right the first time is important, because each scene or line which has to be dubbed later pushes up the project’s budget and deadline. A sound mixer who is consistent and reliable is a valuable asset to any crew. This is also a highly creative career that allows for experimentation in recording techniques and innovation in sound design. It will take time and experience to work your way up to the level of sound mixer, but from there you can move on to roles on larger projects, cross over into sound editing, or work as a sound designer.
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