Communications during a film or video shoot are essential for both the talent and the production team. If the event is to move forward efficiently (and as they say, "Time is money"), a flexible means of providing cues and information to a crew that might be spread out across a wide area is a major bonus. Conventional walkie-talkies offer an immediate solution, but need to be implemented carefully, and definitely turned off during a take or when the red recording light goes on during a live event.
A better approach is to integrate the communications within an adaptable infrastructure that enables zones to be created for different crew members, thereby allowing the director or AD to talk directly with the lighting and/or sound crew, let's say, without distracting the camera and grip team. Such an interruptible foldback system, or IFB, for short, provides monitoring and cueing between various locations. On a film shoot, for example, an AD can cue the pyrotechnics crew; during an industrial-video shoot, the director can communicate directly with the talking-head talent and give interactive notes on a script segment.
Manufacturers such a Clear-Com, RTS, Telex, Azden, Sennheiser and Lectrosonics offer a range of wired and wireless IFB systems in small packages that can be clipped to a belt or otherwise hidden on the talent. Developers of leading-edge location mixers, including Zaxcom, offer IFB systems that interface directly with their offerings, thereby reducing the complexity of setting up foldback systems on location. Key technical features for wireless devices include easy selection of preset frequencies within UHF, 900 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands, rotary controls for programming, enhanced RF sensitivity for extended operating range, rugged construction, long battery life from alkaline and lithium cells, compander-type noise reduction and spring-loaded belt clips.
Foldback cabling for more sophisticated events like a multicamera sports shoot, or a music concert, where maybe dozens of crew members and talent need to be hooked up to the IFB system, can be dramatically reduced by piggy-backing on an existing optical backbone. At least two leading vendors offer interfaces that use the Optocore digital network system to link together multiple IFB belt packs and control panels to accommodate up to 1,024 intercom channels from a fiber network.
For Punk'd, MTV's hidden-camera prank show, six different IFB interfaces—a remote camera rack, a video rack, a director's table, an RF microphone rack, along with intercom and mix racks—were interconnected via Optocore for reduced noise floor and increased dynamic range. According to Sean O'Malley, the show's production-sound mixer: "Communication is such an important factor during our reveals; if it fails, the entire episode could collapse."