Sound Utility Hank Martin's credits include TV shows "Drop Dead Diva," "The Resident," and "Brockmire" as well as blockbuster films "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," "Selma," and "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising." In this episode, he unpacks his role.
A sound utility is considered the third member in the hierarchy of the sound department and assists the department in a range of tasks during pre-production and production.
In pre-production, the sound mixer communicates with the team what kind of equipment will be needed for the shoot. The sound utility will order this equipment and will have a “load-in day” when they will prep all of the expendables and the sound cart for the first day of production. The sound utility will be responsible for maintaining this equipment throughout the run of the production.
During filming, the sound utility assists the sound department and acts as a liaison between the department and set to problem-solve any issues that arise in the production that could jeopardize sound quality. The sound utility will arrive on set at least thirty minutes before call time each day. They will first help the sound mixer figure out where to place the sound cart on set, making sure that the cart and any sound equipment remains out of the shots that are planned for the day. Then, they will work to prep all of the equipment needed for the day. The sound utility must make sure that any appliances interfering with sound are turned off when the camera is rolling, taking care to remember to turn them back on at the appropriate time. The sound utility will also place microphones on actors in such a way that they are not visible.
If needed, the sound utility will stand in as a second boom operator. When they aren’t working as a second boom operator, the sound utility will assist the sound department by managing paperwork, expendables, time cards, and speaking with the production office about needed repairs or losses. They will continue these daily tasks throughout production.
Problem-solving: When the needs of production threaten to compromise sound quality, the sound utility must problem-solve with other departments to ensure that sound quality remains a priority.
People skills: A sound utility develops a rapport with other departments and cast members. An ability to prioritize and communicate needs, treat people with respect, and compromise with others is vital.
Self-care: Sound utilities work 10-12 hours a day on their feet, often holding a boom op over their head as a second boom op. Considering things like what shoes to wear and how to stay in shape will allow a sound utility to work effectively for the entire run of the production.
Various Department Heads
Familiarize yourself with the needs of the sound department on a film set and gain an understanding of sound equipment. As you do this, work to hone your people skills as well as your organizational skills. This will help you develop key relationships that can lead to getting hired as a sound utility.
PRO TIP: When you are starting out in the sound department, have a physical list of all the tasks you need to accomplish as a sound utility in the morning. Cross off each task as you complete it and keep this list until you have it memorized.
Salaries for a sound utility vary according to the production budget and whether or not you're in a union. For more information on union salaries and how to join a union, visit https://www.iatse.net/
The equipment that the Sound Utility uses is often provided by the production.
Boom Op: The boom op, or “boom operator,” places microphones on set, mainly using the boom pole, a long pole with a microphone attached at the end that enables the microphone to get as close to the principal actors as possible.
Expendables: Equipment needed for the sound department and ordered for the production. Can include batteries, wires, microphones, etc. that are necessary to achieve the best sound quality in a given production location.
Load-In Day: Refers to a day in which the sound utility receives the needed expendables for the production and organizes and prepares them for the first day of the production.
Learn more about Hank Martin: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3064906/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
Learn more about Brian Gililland: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1439903/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0
Thank you to the Cherokee Nation Film Office for sponsoring this episode!
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