The phrase, ‘working in professional audio’ means different things to different people. To many it means working in commercial studios recording pop, rock, or even classical music. But for others it means working on festival live sound, or it could mean mastering, or even forensic police work. Another very buoyant area of the business which appeals to many is working in the film or TV industries, as part of the sound crew. Each sector of ‘pro audio’ has its own quite specialised techniques and practices, though, and while magazines like Sound On Sound, books and websites address many of these areas, the film and TV sound world has relatively few accessible resources to help guide anyone wanting to enter the industry.
Thankfully, this problem has recently been addressed by Patrushka Mierzwa, a very experienced American film sound practitioner, who has written a superbly readable and informative book intended for “anyone considering sound as a career in movies and TV”. Spanning over 300 pages with 25 chapters, Behind the Sound Cart — A Veteran’s Guide To Sound On The Set (ISBN 978‑1‑7362900‑0‑2) condenses an entire career of experience and knowledge into a really practical guide, focusing on exactly what a newcomer to the industry needs to know and do — right down to what to wear on set, or not wear, more importantly!
In the American film world, a typical sound team comprises the Production Sound Mixer (PSM), a Boom Operator, and a Utility Sound Technician (UST) — more usually known as the Second Sound Assistant (SA2) in the UK. Broadly speaking, the UST/SA2 is the key support person within the on‑set Sound Department, but is also able to step up as a second boom operator, or even mix and record, when needed. More typically, though, they are responsible for managing, checking and setting up sound equipment, as well as rigging radio mics on actors and hiding (plant) mics within sets, maintaining the paperwork, liaising with other departments, and much more unsung but critical work. It’s a wide‑ranging and vitally important role within the sound team, and the first formal position where most start in the business.
After an overview of the UST/SA2 role, Patrushka’s book examines the personal attributes required, including communication skills and background education/training. It then describes who does what — the different departments and people involved — in a typical film production. There then follows a chapter on typical location sound equipment, as well as sage practical advice on things like consumables, wrapping cables, mic mounts and wind protection, and other fundamental practical knowledge.
Behind the Sound Cart condenses an entire career of experience and knowledge into a really practical guide.
Other chapters cover the techniques of mic booming, hiding plant mics, and managing multiple radio mics, as well as utility things like setting up ‘Pelsue tents’ to protect equipment from the weather, how to clean equipment, and on‑set safety including Covid‑19 protocols. The book closes with a couple of chapters on building and maintaining a career in the industry, a great FAQ section, a glossary, and a list of excellent hard‑to‑find external resources too.
There is an enormous wealth of down‑to‑earth, practical information contained in this book, interspersed with some amusing stories and real insight into the role, challenges and fun of being a UST/SA2. I recommended it highly for anyone interested in a career in film or TV sound.
Curiously, the book and publisher don’t appear to have a website of their own, but an Internet search throws up plenty of retailers!
Paperback £47.71, Kindle £29.21.
Paperback: $62.73. Kindle: $34.92.