Adventure Film Sound Recordist Pete Lee, lets us in on the challenges of capturing sound in the midst of a brutal, Special Forces TV shoot in Africa
Primary Kit Used: Zaxcom Radio Mics
Inspiration comes in many forms; from places or events, but most of all from extraordinary people. I was lucky enough to spend the month of April with a whole team of people who left me hugely motivated, inspired, and also humbled.
The fact that I was in a very beautiful and rugged part of South Africa was an added bonus. The location was near Stellenbosch, home to world-class vineyards and fine dining restaurants. On this shoot, however, I wouldn’t see a single grape or Michelin star.
This was BBC’s ‘Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week’ – moved from South Wales to South Africa for its second season.
In case you missed Series One the idea is to take a bunch of super fit civilians, and put them in a military style training camp. Each episode is a 48 hour intense physical and mental training session, from representatives of six of the world’s toughest Special Forces.
I had my own challenges ahead as sound supervisor. I had to put a plan in place to record audio from the Special Forces leader, 7 military Directing Staff, and over 20 ‘recruits’, up to 24 hours a day!
50 wireless frequencies, 15 or so main cameras to synchronise, 8 additional sound recordists and assistants on my team, I was notching up many personal bests here and more than a little nervous it would all work.
On top of this, we were running game-changing Zaxcom radio mics.
These little beauties have the seemingly simple addition of being able to record audio as well as transmit. This frees us up from the limitations of short wireless range, or the need for an OB truck to cover so many radio mics on location!
But it does add quite a workflow - there’s a lot to put into place to make sure they work smoothly and efficiently.
Oh yeah, and then there were the physical challenges the recruits would be put through. Just imagine the hardest, most extreme PT session possible, go to town with your imagination, get painful, nasty – these are genuine special forces training techniques – try and get a microphone to stay in place, without its wires being ripped apart, on recruits having the beasting of their lives, while still delivering usable sound and keeping the transmitter alive and recording, protected from being bashed, soaked, overheated or crushed into the ground!
It wasn’t all a total success. We lost 3 transmitters to seawater damage, and had many imperfections along the way, but this wasn’t a scripted drama, and just capturing the events with minimal intervention was critical to the integrity of the process.
It was a pretty stressful shoot at times, but observing the 23 hyper-motivated recruits, all going through the toughest experience of their lives - real pain and exhaustion, not quitting and still smiling (well, sometimes), makes you raise your game accordingly, and forget about your own worries for a while – that’s motivation!
And behind the scenes, an incredible bunch of people, working to make the show, including the rest of my amazing sound team who definitely eased my stress and made it a huge amount of fun.
But the real heroes? The military team, on camera and behind it – a real privilege to work with, these guys and girls who do that stuff for living! That was the really humbling part!
Do look out for the show hopefully around Autumn on BBC, I hope you gain just a little of the motivation and inspiration that I got from it!