Tag: CBC Radio (Page 3 of 3)

The Dreaded Travelling Shot

This is a repost, with some slight revisions, of a post I wrote back in June 30th 2006 on a different version of this blog. Also posting the audio sample of the travelling shot in question, which wasn’t included in the original post:

Canadia 2056
Canadia 2056

First of all, I have no idea how to spell “traveling.” I have seen it spelled both as “traveling” and “travelling.” The more I look at the word with either spelling, the stranger it looks.

That aside, some of you may recall my comments on traveling shots in radio a little while back. (For those of you new to the term, a traveling shot is a shot in television, film or radio in which the characters are on the move and the camera/microphone is following them. Think Xander on his skateboard in the opening shot of the very first Buffy the Vampire Slayer for TV, or the famous lengthy traveling shot with Tim Robbins that opens Robert Altman’s The Player)

Basically, traveling shots in radio are usually a bad idea. The reason they’re usually a bad idea is because many writers write them accidentally, without even realizing that they’re writing a traveling shot, until they get in the studio and the engineer says, what the heck, this is a traveling shot, you do realize how difficult it is to convey traveling shots on radio, dontcha? And they say, well, you did read the script before getting here didn’t you? And the engineer says, um, I didn’t really have time, and the writer says, well then you only have yourself to blame then, don’t you? And then the engineer says, well, the producer should have caught it, and then the producer suddenly jerks awake in his chair and says, what scene are we on…?

So why am I repeating myself?

Well, after I wrote that post, I wound up working on projects that were essentially traveling shot after traveling shot. Clearly people are not reading this blog (for shame!) It bears repeating: do not drink and drive, do not pet burning dogs, and DO NOT write traveling shots for radio UNLESS YOU ARE A FOOLISH, IMPETUOUS RECORDING FOOL LIKE MYSELF!

Now.

Have I made myself clear?

Good.

I beg your pardon? You want to know about the “foolish, impetuous recording fool like myself” business?

Oh, all right.

Yes, I was personally responsible for one of the traveling shots. The traveling shot in Canadia, to be precise. (Canadia being the science fiction comedy pilot I’m producing with my buddy Matt Watts).

You see, after writing about them, I realized that I’ve long wanted to try recording the granddaddy of all traveling shots. One that really works. Because if you can convey to the listener what’s going on, then your traveling shot will have worked. Now, it happens that I have recorded dinky little traveling shots that have sort of worked, and longer traveling shots that have kind of worked, and location traveling shots where I’ve followed actors with a boom on the streets of Montreal that also have kind of worked after a fashion…

…but I’ve never built a really good, effective traveling shot for a radio play in a studio.

So I said to Matt as we were planning Canadia that I thought it would be neat to attempt a West Wing/Hill Street Blues style traveling shot off the top of Canadia. So obliging fellow that he is, Matt went ahead and wrote one.

It so happened that we got busy before the taping, Matt was off to New York to see The Drowsy Chaperone (which he helped write), and we never got to discuss the scene properly before taping was upon us. I had originally thought that I might grab a boom and a Tascam and follow the actors around somehow, but instead I opted to record the actors in place with the rest of the cast swirling around them.

Racing against the clock in post-production, however, I lost my nerve and simplified the scene to essentially a static shot. It didn’t work at all. It just lay there in the play, twitching from time to time like a dying rat. When Matt heard my rough mix, he was horrified. I had to admit that it didn’t resemble our original conception at all. Guilty as charged, I admitted that “it still needed a bit of tweaking.”

During the final mix, I sent Matt off for some sound effects, which meant that he had to pass through five different rooms and hallways, each with radically different acoustic ambiances. On the way, it occurred to him that if we broke the scene up in exactly that manner (several different clearly distinct rooms) that it could be made to work. The scene happens to take place on a starship, where this would make complete sense. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to take listeners on an acoustic tour of the ship.

Genius!

I grabbed an AKG stereo microphone and our Edirol and Matt and I set off on a trek across the Broadcast Centre. I recorded everything as we passed through as many radically different acoustic environments as possible. Afterward, I loaded the material into my ProTools mixing session and cut it down to about a minute and a half, the length of the traveling shot. We placed doors at strategic points during the scene, and built wildly different sound effects beds for each section. (These included a set of stairs, an engine room, a room with loads of construction happening, etc.)

I also electonically “treated” the actors’ voices depending on their supposed location (as well as the accompanying sound effects)… for instance, in the stairwell, I used a Protools plugin called TrueVerb to make them sound realistically like they were in a stairwell.

Although I’m essentially opposed to the use of footsteps in radio (for fear of it becoming “all about the footsteps”), I try valiantly not to be too dogmatic about such things, and reluctantly added a “soupcon” of footsteps here and there just to help sell the movement in the scene.

Whew!

We think it works.

Next time round we’ll plan it better, though, so that the actors know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing when (ie. speaking loudly in the engine room). Although I must say that there is something to be said for their straight delivery, in which nothing is overplayed.

Now if we can only get this show greenlighted for a series and broadcast so that folks can actually hear it…

Note: Not only was the show greenlit, it ultimately went two seasons, with twenty episodes in total broadcast (twenty-one in total made, with two versions of the pilot).

Here is the infamous travelling shot:

The Infamous Traveling Shot

Repost: Plunging the Dead Dog Cafe

Jasper, Gracie and Tom
Jasper, Gracie and Tom

I’ve been perusing the Wayback Machine for long lost posts from earlier incarnations of Assorted Nonsense. Here’s one from back in the good ol’ days (circa 2006) when I worked for a fun and much missed show called Dead Dog Cafe:

So there I am, in charge of the live sound effects for the Dead Dog Cafe. Jasper, Gracie and Tom are all counting on me:

Greg DeClute
Greg DeClute

My fellow recording engineer Greg DeClute helps me bring some props in on the Go Train for the Sunday morning session.

That’s his son Randy’s hockey sticks.

The umbrellas belong to my little girls. The pressure’s on ’cause we have some high profile guests.

I prepare for live sound effects by reading the scripts and getting the sense of the sounds I require. Once I’ve read the script, I delete all the dialogue, leaving me with a list of sound cues. Any sound cues that are kind of vague, I refer back to the script to see their context.

Margaret Atwood after recording Dead Dog
Margaret Atwood

 Most sound cues are obvious… like, say, “plunger.” How many different kinds of plungers are there?

So, seeing plunger in my list a week or two after making the list, I think, well, we don’t have any plungers kicking around in the studio, I’d better bring one in from home. So I disinfect the thing, stick it in my bag and carry it all the way in on the train. I place it close by during the recording session so that I can grab it when the script calls for it. We get to the part of the script that says “plunger!” and I grab it and begin vigorously plunging the floor, making (I think) some particularly good “thwocking” sounds for the rest of the cast and crew to admire.

Dead Dog Plunger
Dead Dog Plunger

Producer Kathleen Flaherty immediately calls a halt to the proceedings. “Joe, just what the heck do you think you’re doing?”

“Uh… making plunging sounds. Pretty good, eh?”

Not!

Turns out the sound cue was calling for a kind of “medical” plunger to test Tom King’s blood sugar level. Which was obvious when I read the script a little closer.

Kathleen Flaherty, Producer
Kathleen Flaherty, Producer

D’oh!

Fortunately, it’s a comedy show; everyone has a good sense of humour. We all have a good laugh and move on.

And I learn to read my scripts just a tad more thoroughly.

Potato hockey with Dead Dog Cafe
Potato hockey with Dead Dog Cafe

Adventures in the Radio Trade

If you came here looking for The Story of Q, the original version is now located here.

Coming Soon

Adventures in the Radio Trade

by Joe Mahoney

From Donovan Street Press

This is the story of your average Joe working mostly behind the scenes at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Adventures in the Radio Trade is an attempt to document a roughly twenty year stretch of CBC Radio between 1988 and 2008. It covers a fair amount of ground from the perspective of single audio technician (me) following his own unique path through the CBC Radio trenches.

My time with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been mostly positive, so you won’t see much dirt here. This is a celebration of CBC Radio, though an unflinching one, as there were some challenging moments. I do my utmost to be strictly factual based on a pretty good memory and copious notes taken throughout my career.

The tale begins in July 1988…

Something Technical

My roommate came home with a brand new car. I’d been bumming around for a couple of months, enjoying a summer off after working as a lab assistant at Ryerson. He’d been bumming around too, but then he got a job at GM, and one day he came home with a car. It seemed so… grown up. And cool. The guy had a car. He could afford a car. A brand new car. I still remember what kind of car it was. A red Chevy Beretta.

I decided I wanted to be able to afford a car. This meant it was time to get a job.

I applied for a job at Sony where I’d make $25,000 dollars a year. This seemed like a huge amount. Ryerson had paid $13,000 for eight months of work. I was still living off that because my lifestyle cost virtually nothing. I had nothing. Up until then I’d wanted nothing. Until my roommate came home with a car.

I also applied at a post production facility. I forget the name. They interviewed me (Sony didn’t). They were willing to pay me $18,000 a year. They said, if you were offered both jobs, this one and the one at Sony, which one would you take? I didn’t even blink an eye. “The one at Sony,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because it’s seven thousand dollars more a year!”

I didn’t get either job. The post-production facility phoned me up to give me the news.

“Do you know why we didn’t give you the job?” the fellow who called asked me.

“No, why?”

“It’s because you said you’d take the Sony job over ours for the money.”

“So you’re penalizing me for being honest,” I said.

He didn’t care. He was trying to tell me that they wanted to hire someone with a passion for what they were doing, but I didn’t clue in. It wasn’t where my head was at just then. I wanted a job, and the more money the better. I’d figure out the passion bit later.  

So I crossed the street — Jarvis Street — to the CBC and gave the receptionist June my resume. June asked, “What kind of job do you want?”

“Something technical,” I told her.

I have no idea why I said that. It just came out without any premeditation whatsoever. I could have said, “Something that will earn me a lot of money,” or “Something On Air.” But I didn’t. Probably any other answer wouldn’t have gotten me a job. I said, “Something technical” and June picked up the phone right away and called someone.

It was Don Burgess, who was the manager in charge of radio technicians at the time. No idea what his exact title was. I don’t think he did the job very long. But he did it long enough for me. We chatted a bit about my background… plenty of experience in private radio, a degree in radio and television from Ryerson, and so on. He set up an interview.

A week later three people sat at one end of a table while I sat at the other. It was a friendly interrogation. I told them I could read music, that I’d been an announcer/operator for many years, that I listened to CBC Radio all the time since I’d been a kid. I could name shows and hosts dating back a decade and a half. My favourite shows were Variety Tonight with Vicki Gabereau and I also enjoyed The Entertainers when it had been on.

At the end of the interview they asked me if I had any questions. I said, “Just one. What have you been interviewing me for?”

They all laughed. Nobody answered the question. They thought I was joking. But I wasn’t joking. Nobody had taken the time to explain the position to me. All I knew was that it was something technical to do with CBC Radio. (I’ve conducted many interviews since; I always take time off the top to make sure the applicant completely understands what they’re applying for.)

A week later they hired me. A few days after that I received a letter from the CBC saying they couldn’t hire me. This was because I had also dropped off a letter to their Human Resources department asking for a job. The Human Resources department didn’t want me. Fortunately the technical folks did.

I’d been working for CBC Radio an entire week before I really started to get a sense of what the job was. It was a job that hadn’t existed in any of the private radio stations I’d worked for. In private radio you did it all. At the CBC you just did a piece of it all. You specialized. And I was going to specialize in the technical stuff. Not fixing things, operating them. Consoles, microphones, tape recorders, all technical equipment having to do with the recording and broadcast of sound.

Something technical. Those two words changed my life, have defined my life for over three decades now.

Never did get a car. Had to marry into that. But that’s another story.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Cal-Poly-Radio-KCPR-from-1975-to-1977.jpg

Adventures in the Radio Trade

Table of Contents

Something Technical

CJRW

A Brief History of Radio

Net Testing

The Radio Building

Studio Q

“Joe, We Have a Problem”

Riding the Faders

Radio Techness

As It Happens

Morningside

Freelancing

Studios from Scratch

One Leg at a Time

French Radio: CJBC

Four Days Chez Margaret Atwood

A Dramatic Turn of Events

Tools of the Trade

Cherry Docs

Requiem for a Studio

2F100

Strike! 132

Hybrids

Muckraker

The Handmaid’s Tale

Stuart McLean

Faster Than Light

The Cold Equations

Captain’s Away!

Barney’s Version

To the Ships!

Faster Than Light: The Second and Third Pilots

Matt Watts

Arthur J. Vaughan: One Officer’s Experiences

The Great Radio Drama Submission Call

Birth

Worms for Sale

The Great Lockout of ’05

The Adventures of Apocalypse Al

Live Effects for a Dead Dog

Funny Boy

Canadia: 2056

The Story of Q

The Producer

The Dark Side

Cue Backtime

Glossary

Coming Soon

Adventures in the Radio Trade

by Joe Mahoney

Donovan Street Press

All material in this post, audio and otherwise, is presented under the Fair Dealings provision of Canadian Copyright law. However, if any copyright holders wish me to remove any creative material, please contact me at ilanderz@gmail.com and I will do so immediately.

Stay tuned…


A Time and a Place, by Joe Mahoney

“Unlike any other sci-fi you’ve ever read. This book was both comic and tragic, sad and funny, with a hero who tries to do the right thing but always seems to stumble. Recommended.”

Lee Herman, Amazon 5 Star Review


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