Adventure Film Collective sound man Pete Lee, tell's us what it takes to capture audio while being thrown down a river Canyon in Africa
The audio challenge
Sometimes you just get dropped in it….
"It" in this case, is a canyon, filled with water, caves and waterfalls, some can only be swum, and some of it must be rappelled down - including a waterfall or two, with full sound kit, while running contributor’s 7 radio mics. There’s never a chance for a 2nd take so kit failing wasn’t an option despite the tough location.
The audio kit
The sound kit - Sound Devices 664 mixer/recorder, and Lectrosonics WM waterproof radio mic transmitter packs.
The show is Bear Grylls’ Mission Survive (Series 2, South Africa), and the challenge starts with a 30-foot cliff jump into the canyon for the contributors.
We have a local canyoning company assisting us with safety, and our own safety team lead by Adventure Film Collective’s Stani and Meg in front of the camera with the contributors.
So how can I survive this particular mission? Wetsuit, helmet and buoyancy aid for me but it’s keeping my kit alive and delivering quality audio that’s my biggest challenge. When you film in remote locations you have to adapt to survive and combine a whole range of kit to get the result you need.
So, I borrow a roll top Ortlieb waterproof bag, big enough to carry my sound kit. It’s been around the block and has a few small holes, but should hold out with a little electrical tape to cover them over. The canyoning company has some boogie boards, and our camera dept have a cinesaddle bean bag. All bound together with a trusty roll of gaffa tape. Sorted.
It wasn’t a pretty rig, but with the Cinesaddle bag gaffa taped to 2 x boogie boards for buoyancy, I could keep my recorder out of the water and swim with it. I needed to be mobile and keep up with the cameras and contributors as they swam, climbed and crashed down the canyon. With the dry bag rolled up I could keep the whole thing dry and actually it was pretty stable, and at times I could swim with the dry bag open, properly monitoring my recordings on headphones over my helmet. When the canyon got shallow I could stand up and hang the whole thing from my regular audio harness and film as normal. Then when faced with a waterfall climb I closed it up and could rappel down, recording sound no matter how much water was being thrown at me!
And the contributors? We built a standard helmet rig, which served us well for the whole series. Transmitters were mounted on the outside back of the helmet, tidied up with black gaffa so not to be too intrusive, and Countryman B3’s, my go to adventure mic, were mounted under the helmet rim. Sometimes the mics would get waterlogged, but they can be cleared pretty easily, and since I was there and listening all the way I knew when to intervene.
Oh, and yes, I did take my boom pole with me all the way, and by some small miracle managed to keep my Sennheiser MKH416 out of the water, even if my Panamic boom pole acted mostly as a rudder whenever I was swimming!!
Mission Survived! True adventure audio delivered.