February 20, 2018

Scott Clements (Production Mixer from Burn Notice) Interview Part 2

As promised, here is the second half of the interview with Emmy Nominated Scott Clements, Production Sound Mixer from “Burn Notice” on USA:

CH: How helpful are the director and crew when you are struggling with a problem on set such as a generator noise or something (such as a light) preventing your boom op from getting acceptable audio?

SC: In episodic television, the director is more of a guest on set. They are there to put their style into the episode and tell the story the way they want it told. However, we may have a director on one episode that will bend over backwards to help the sound department, and on the next episode it seems the director is creating as many sound problems as they can.

The cast and crew are an amazing help. They know I don’t ask them for something if I don’t need it, so everyone makes every effort to help us when we need it. I couldn’t ask for a better cast and crew.

CH: What is your relationship with the cast?

SC: Like I said a couple of times, our cast is amazing. They are a pleasure to work with and are just part of our dysfunctional film making family. I try to stay off the set as much as possible and let my boom operators deal with set issues. Consequently, they have formed a much tighter relationship with the actors. But I think the entire crew can call the actors their friends and really mean it.

CH: With a decent amount of practical special effects on set (explosions, gun shots, car chases, etc..) do you find yourself recording a decent amount of sound effects on set? If so, how does that effect your relationship with post production?

SC: A lot of the sound effects that happen on set are shot with the second unit. Unfortunately, most of that stuff ends up being MOS. When we shoot those elements with the main unit, we will record what we can and hope post production can use it. Most of the time, the sound FX get destroyed by directors yelling things to the actors, or the FX guys calling the cues. Our post production sound FX guys are amazing and do a great job of building things from the bottom up. If our schedule would allow it, we would make an effort to sneak off and grab more sound FX, but there just isn’t time for much wild track recording.

CH: Do you ever find yourself in a “we only have one take” situation due to practical sfx?

SC: We find ourselves in “one take only” situations all the time. We do so many setups that are one take only simply because the director or actors do not want to do another. But a more direct answer to your question… yes, we do have a few times an episode where we are doing dialogue in the foreground and a house, car, or some other unfortunate object get blown sky high. In those cases, one take is all you get.

CH: How does the final audio that is broadcast with “Burn Notice” compare to the way your mix sounded like on set?

SC: I have talked many times with our dialogue editor and re-recording mixer about how often they go in and pull ISO tracks and things like that. In general, they use my mix, and just smooth it all out. Sometimes, they go in and grab just one syllable from another take to replace the beginning of word… things like that. They do some EQ and compression, and some other magic tricks they have in their bag. I don’t know how they do it, but when I watch the show, I am amazed at some of the scenes and the way they make them sound. There are scenes that we fought for on set, but I was worried we didn’t get. On air, they sound amazing. I love our post production team and can’t tell you how much I appreciate their efforts to make me look good.

CH: How much of burn notice is production mix vs. ADR? Do you do most of the ADR on set?

SC: We have a unique situation on our show. Our lead actor is in nearly every scene, which makes it impossible for him to go to a studio for ADR. So we built a studio at our sound stage with all the charm of an abandoned bomb shelter. We do any Miami ADR that needs to be done, which will generally consist of our four main actors and any Miami based “episode” players. My second boom/ utility, Jacob, handles all the technical stuff/ engineering of the Miami ADR, and does a great job of it. That is also where we do the Michael Westen voice overs that are such a huge part of our show.

For three seasons, the amount of ADR has been pretty consistent. There are usually about sixty lines of ADR for an episode. About twenty of them are for sound quality, and the other forty are added lines and changed lines that help the story telling. If I had to guess, that would be about one percent of the show is ADR due to sound quality. I am pretty sure there would be more if post production could get all they wanted, but they are very kind and understand that we have limited time available for ADR, and they are ok with a little extra noise if it means preserving the original performance. Plus, as I mentioned before, they are wizards of sound… able to perform astonishing illusions of sound.

CH: Do you watch “Burn Notice”? Are you able to relax while watching it?

SC: I love Burn Notice! It really has a quirky fun feel to it. The stories are compelling, and the actors bring some great performances. I generally am able to distance myself from the technical aspects of the show and relax and enjoy. But I still can’t help but think of the problems we went through for a scene, or the crazy thing that happened on set that day. There’s no feeling like sitting down to watch a show you worked on, and by the end of it, you’re able to say, “I’m proud to be a part of that”.

CH: I know you live in Orlando, so how do you balance working in Miami for six months at a time with having a family?

SC: There is no balance. It is impossible to have balance. What you and your family have to do is find a way to survive within the madness of our industry.

CH: One last question; You spend very long days on set, and you endure a great amount of stress day in and day out. What do you do to stay healthy and sane during shooting?

SC: Who said I was healthy or sane? No one in the film industry is sane. If we were, we would find some other job. But the main thing to keep in mind is that we aren’t saving someone’s life, or saving the world. Things are not going to be perfect, and there are going to be problems. As long as you can go home at the end of the day and know you did the best job possible with the given circumstances and situations, you will greatly reduce stress.

Thanks so much again, Scott, for sharing!

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