Coming up for its third season in the fall of 2012, HBO Production's Tremé has earned an enviable reputation for its gritty portrayal of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The hour-long critically acclaimed episodic drama follows the lives of city residents—including musicians, chefs and Mardi Gras Indians—as they try to rebuild their lives, their homes and their unique culture in the aftermath of the 2005 disaster. "I first worked with Tremé producers David Simon, Nina Noble and Eric Overmyer as a production mixer on their earlier projects, including The Corner and The Wire," recalls Bruce Litecky, who serves as the show's production sound mixer. "Although I was unavailable for the pilot, I was invited to join the production when it started shooting the first season, which premiered on HBO in April 2010." President of Location Sound Services, Litecky has also worked on a large number of feature films, TV shows, commercials and documentaries; his firm also provides leading-edge audio equipment for his projects.
"As a production mixer," Litecky says of his operational philosophy, "my goal is to work seamlessly with the camera and lighting departments, yet still capture all the dialogue in the way the director intends it. With today's production schedules and budgets, it is even more important to get it right the first time. The shoot for a Tremé episode lasts 11 days—it is an hour-long drama with a full 60-minute running time. My extensive background in documentary production provides the kind of experience and skill to approach film situations that only happen once; my work on commercials adds high production values to my recording techniques."
During location shoots in New Orleans, the film crew is constantly in motion. "It's always difficult to control background noise," Litecky explains. "Fortunately, we have a great location team that is able to 'search and destroy' most of the troubling noises just as fast as they occur. To 'make the day,' we have to work fast; sometimes that means shooting both wide and tight shots at the same time. Although I prefer the sound of a boom mic—it provides a full 'perspective' of a scene—with all the characters and real estate we cover in any given scene, lavaliere mics on radio transmitters may be our only option. Even if a scene is mostly dialogue on radios, we try to fly a boom to get some relief from the 'too-close' sound of the radio's mics. And during postproduction, the boom-mic tracks give the sound editors and re-recording mixers something extra to use to open up the sound for a wide shot, yet still have the perspective for the close-up. I try to get the best sound on radios with mic placement, but occasionally need to do a little roll-off or EQ—a midrange boost, or a touch of HF—to bring out a more deeply buried mic. My goal would be to get all the tracks to sound alike; as if there was just one mic covering the various scenes."
The production mixer's primary tools are a Cooper Model 208 eight-input/eight-output analog mixer that connects to an Aaton Cantar eight-track digital recorder. "I like the Cooper 208 because of its very flexible talkback and monitoring capabilities," he states. "The Cantar is my main production recorder. I mix all the sources to track #1 and also record each production mic to its own isolated track, prefader. That helps during big radio-mic scenes if I miss an ad lib, for example, or we need a different perspective during postproduction based on camera angles and frame sizes.
"I have a six-pack of Lectrosonics UCR411 wireless receivers on my sound cart, working with Lectrosonics MM400C miniature belt-pack transmitters fitted with Sanken COS-11 lavaliere mic capsules—for the kitchen scenes, I also use Countryman B-6 capsules with white cables for our chefs. I also use four Lectrosonics SM super-miniature belt-pack transmitters, and three UH400 plug-in transmitters. Conveniently, the MM400C transmitter is powered from a single AA battery; its 100 mW output provides an excellent operating range while virtually eliminating IM problems common in multichannel environments. Their waterproof construction is a big plus. We also have Tram lavaliere mics that feature a side-pointing element, and Sennheiser MK-2 capsules for each transmitter.
"For our over-the-shoulder kit or process trailer—which we need in a car, for example, or on a boat away from my normal sound cart—we'll use a second Cantar and a collection of Lectrosonics URC401 receivers, which are more compact than the 411 models."