Richard Meredith is in the enviable position of owning his own hire company as well as being an accomplished sound recordist. He was able to choose the right gear for the job when faced with recording a new reality game show with some demanding circumstances: Release the Hounds is set in a forest. A sometimes dense forest. At night.
Given the green light following a successful pilot in late 2013, Release the Hounds consolidates elements from other formats: a game show with the feel of The Crystal Maze (remember that?) meets Fear (a US paranormal show) meets the Bushtucker Trials – with cash prizes. The first series, presented by TV and radio favourite Reggie Yates (pictured on set), will be unleashed on ITV2. Meredith (pictured, below right, at work in the twilight) was contracted as sound supervisor in charge of audio recording for the show.
The Hounds set is a huge open forest several miles west of London with games happening all over it. After lengthy discussions, it was decided that the shoot would be done in studio style, with the director in a central gallery and all video feeds and audio incoming, as opposed to shooting ‘in camera’. The location was spread so far and wide that managing media changes out in the field was deemed unrealistic – and bearing in mind the added complication of it being shot at night and the terrain on site was, in patches, so dense and inaccessible, making cable runs impossible. (Two galleries were needed in the end to make it possible!)
Meredith’s team initially considered the option of recording out in the field and sending a monitor mix to the director. However there were so many other elements that required the sound mixer to be near the production in the gallery that it was decided to run an audio gallery too – this courtesy of the Ethos Audio truck.
Then, with such great distances involved, fibre runs were required in one form or another for the radio mic system. The method agreed was to run a receiver rack locally at the game and bring the audio back to the truck over fibre (Ethos already a fibre infrastructure in place). The Studer Vista 5 console in Ethos could also run a redundant back-up fibre simultaneously alongside the main one, meaning that if the main fibre got damaged mid-game, then the console would invisibly switch to the spare.
Distances and durability determined the radio mic arrangement: Meredith plumped for five Lectrosonics “rack”-style receivers, easily portable and at times able to run off a 12V supply in some locations. The Lectrosonics systems were supplied by broadcast hire specialist The Audio Dept of west London.
Meredith explained: “With the games designers coming up with ideas faster than Usain Bolt in the 100m, and a lot of them involving several other artistes to be mic’d in addition to the main game contributors, I could see that flexibility would be the key. Each Venue rack was loaded with nominally five receiver modules but we had the ability to increase or decrease as and when necessary if required. We generally ended up with 6/5/5/5/4.”
With a split crew running the operation - one set on nights filming the games and a second on days re-rigging for the next set of games, the sound team imposed a strict patching scenario. The fibre interface units at each game were all given a thorough treatment of white labelling tape and each input and output on every end box was always allocated the same job, therefore any pair of fibres plugged into the truck always had the same inputs and outputs derived from the same place, irrespective of location of game. As there was no time to test individual feeds during the daytime rig, this consistency was essential to quickly fault find any missing feeds or returns to the game, during the short re-set period between every game on the night.
Meredith added: “We quickly established a routine and the nightcrew game-rigger, Bal Rayat, would potter about with a Venue rack tucked under one arm if extra receive channels were required at short notice – a very lightweight solution to moving six channels of radio mic receiver around.”
The other factor driving the choice of Lectrosonics was the transmitter. Production wanted as little interference as possible with the game players to maximise a solitary feel, and sustain battery life. That, coupled with compact form factor, was perfect for the SMDB’s.
The whole system worked “amazingly well”, reports Meredith. Huge range was achieved in the forest using ALP650 active shark fins, identical performance from the SMDBs and the WM kit in all conditions and were able to react instantly with minimal disruption if plans for radio mics changed late in the day, (which it did on several occasions) as additional receiver capacity was very easily deployed on a push bike.
The last word from Richard Meredith: “One final Lectrosonics plus point was the ability to remotely alter the transmission gain, invaluable for all the barking dogs. Watch Release the Hounds on ITV2 to fully understand…”