"How was that for you, Mark?"
I'm standing with 20 pounds of sound equipment strapped to my chest, I'm irritable I'm tired, and I'm living like a sardine packed in noise, in a giant can in the ocean. My children are growing up without me. Some kind of plumbing related banging - loud banging- has been randomly occurring 24/7 in my 8 man quarters for a week. We're interviewing a Navy pilot in a room the size of VW Bug, a steel door is slamming at irregular intervals somewhere far, but not far enough, away. Plumbing noise overhead. An unknown machine hums in an inaccessible piece of this 10,000 piece jig saw puzzle. Aircraft have ceased taking off and landing inches above us; "well, on this job" I shake my head, it's OK... I guess. I heard everything he said...I don't see how anyone could cut it.." and we moved on, toward Mecca.

I guess I pictured an easier shoot; I had been 3 weeks on a half empty, USS Ronald Regan the summer before. I did it for the money although I badly miscalculated my take home pay. Now I was on a full WESTPAC deployment of the aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz CVN 68; from San Diego to the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Civilian sound mixer, one of 3 on this High Def documentary production in May of 2005. At least I got a bottom bunk, 6 months is a long time and that was my only personal space.

The build:

The Production purchased 3 Panasonic Varicams and 3 complete sound kits. The  week we spent  in San Diego building everything was chaos. Two New York company's won the bid for the equipment; Able Cinetec would procure the cameras and Professional Sound Services would supply the sound equipment. The staging area was a meeting room in s San Diego hotel  where all the crew met, most for the first time. Gear pored in from all directions. The camera and lighting orders had suffered from personnel changes (Scouting DP Don Lenzer declined the production and 3 different DPs were involved, made lighting orders, then quit before San Diego). Lighting and camera were messy.

Fortunately, the sound department had Alan Barker, who had tested the gear at sea and created the sound package order. Alan would not be sailing himself but he, Josh Isaac, Gabriel Monts and I met in San Diego to put the packages together. Although Professional Sound ordered all the gear, it would be drop shipped from a dozen different vendors. What I thought would take a day or 2 went on for 5 days.

The ship castoff at 9am on a Saturday morning, we were 3 crews on board and several more units on the shore plus a chopper and we hadn't even had a full crew meeting yet. Not an hour from the dock and here comes the entire air wing flying aboard. My team follows a female pilot from the Black Aces out of her aircraft, thru the parachute shop and into her 4 women room. She knew a crew wanted to shoot with her on board but I don't think she bargained for a beginning like this and she, along with many of her shipmates who volunteered to appear in our show, never considered that being covered for the whole 6 month deployment would get rather trying.

Our first meeting was that night, we hadn't even worked out a timecode scheme. Production was given a room made vacant by technological advances in the printing of paper. We had a room within the print shop; about 15 x 15ft with a column in the middle, an old couch a couple of desks, a sink and some phones. This would be the Production office, edit room and, eventually, the 6 x6 black box video confession booth. That meant no room for camera, sound and lighting equipment - all that would be stored in the 2 men's rooms with most of the empty cases went to the six person women's room.

It was the first time I had loaded onto an aircraft carrier without help from the Navy (the Public Relations Officer would normally draft a work party from among his staff; but this cruise would be different, The PR shop did not have resources to support us for our 6 month stay, we would be on our own. The load in went on all day Friday with more on Saturday morning. Elevators? hell there's no stairs* or ramps either; only what are harmlessly called ladder wells, steep steps that you would want to use both railings for - if you weren't pushing 50 pound Pelican cases or 50 boxes of stock or an edit system. Once we pulled away from shore we were about 15 folks with a couple thousand pounds of gear and no PA's.

The Gear

Each sound packages included: a Sound Devices 442 mixer,  4 Lectrosonic 400 series wireless on 2 different blocks with Sonotrim Lavalieres, the Sennheiser MKH 60 which Alan judged to be the best with the radar problem, and the Sanken CS3E short shotgun which Alan identified as especially directional and which became our main tool inside. We had short and shorter boom poles from K-Tec which we physically wore out and very smart audio bags from Petrol. Later we added the Schoeps CMC-41 boom mics. We had one Sound Devices 744t and one Fostex DAT machine in case of film shooting on deck.

The Sanken has to be heard to be believed, incredible rejection, invaluable in the noisy hell of the ship. On axis it sounded very much like a Schoeps. Sometimes, when booming a group of 10 or more, I would be quietly cursing how directional is was and I had to work very hard to avoid missing audio with such a tightly patterned mic. We added the Schoeps because I was using my own CMC 41 and in certain rooms, like Flight Control, the ceilings were not only very low, but also filled with noisy air vents. You couldn't do well pointing up from below and there was no room for a short shotgun from above - the very low profile compact Schoeps worked great here and also was surprisingly clear of the radar zips. The MKH 60 was superior at RF rejection but too big inside. We left them in the Rycote zeppelins with the wind jammer and carried them in backpacks or bandoleer style until needed up top.

One of the few items I objected to was the audio harness cable with no breakaway connector. We specked wireless from mixer to camera but on the flight deck, Alan assessed that hardwire would have superior RF rejection. I wanted, and got, the breakaway, for safety reasons; I knew from experience that the radar would interfere - I argued to accept the gentle zip zip sound every 60 seconds rather than risk our lives or dilute our energy in fighting it. In fact, after some tests we ended up using the RF links even on the flight deck. There was going to be RF radar problems no matter what we did and safety wise, the wireless was infinitely safer. We did cable up when it made sense - long interviews for instance.

The Flight Deck




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