Eight Go Rallying - The Road To Saigon

There are many parts of my job that I enjoy greatly. The huge variety being one. With this variety however, comes challenges thrown up with the different types of productions.

An example of this was for a primetime series for the BBC where I was employed as sound supervisor to record a celebrity classic car rally more than 4000 km across Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The shoot was to involve 4 pairs of celebrities driving themselves in rally cars, rigged with on-board cameras. These cars were to be followed by 5 producer monitor cars and filmed by 4 self-shooting directors and 2 PSC sound crews.

My first task when taking on a production is to put together the best team I can with the specific skills required to best deliver the project. This often depends on what the  technical solution requires. For this shoot, I enlisted the help of RF genius Paul Murray from Audio Assist, and sound mixer Lee Philpot to help build a bespoke system in record time as we had only a couple of weeks before we rolled out.

As with most productions, the planning started with a series of phone calls and meetings to establish the project requirements giving me the information to offer up the best technical solution. It was already clear at this stage that it was an ambitious project only able to utilise a skeleton technical team so I knew the solution needed to integrate with all aspects of the shoot. The use of local recording transmitter packs such as Zaxcom/ Audio A10’s was mentioned at the meeting by a producer who had used that solution on a previous show.

There are many benefits to using this system. I have used it on previous and subsequent shows myself however, I didn’t feel it was the right solution for this series. Recording locally on individual packs offers peace of mind generally but is no substitute for monitoring. If you can’t hear via the transmitter you have no idea what you’re recording. Monitoring properly not only flags problems fast but is also the key to enable producers to produce with confidence.

It also helped to keep track of storylines, particularly important as there were several teams operating across the production. On a fast-paced shoot, needing to hear content and produce car to car during the rally as well as in isolated teams self-shooting or when large groups came together was equally important. The wireless system needed to work for every part of the production on any part of the route and have redundancy to problem solve remotely in case we ran into problems with interference.

Integrated Wireless System
The in-car solution was a key part of the filming which also had to integrate with the PSC teams and the self-shooting directors documenting the adventures along the route. The Celebs wore the same transmitter for the entire shoot and could be heard and recorded inside the rally cars or by any of the self-shooting or PSC teams wherever they were filming.

As we were covering 3 countries we wanted to build a system that gave us the flexibility to change frequency plans in case we ran into interference anywhere along the route. This was achieved by utilising the wideband Wisycom radio mic systems. We needed 22 frequencies to accommodate all our incoming frequencies from radio mics and wireless sends for the director’s IEMs and links to cameras for the PSC teams. We created frequency modulation plans and loaded them into groups on all the radio receivers in the rally cars, producer monitor cars, self-shooting directors camera caddys, and the PSC sound mixer bags. We knew that when the Rally started we would never get all the equipment together again so needed options in advance in case.
The 12 Rally frequency groups were pre-programmed in all receivers in incremental stages to cover the full spectrum from 470-700Mhz. This meant we could instruct anyone to simply shift the group and carry on where ever they were in the race. This also meant that any team could dial into the frequency and conduct interviews or that any supporting PSC team could work with any camera. Each rally car not only recorded the action in the car but also for a good distance outside with external antennas catching moments as they happened giving more overlap where the audio was recorded. This helped the self-shooting teams a great deal as they jumped out of producer follow cars to capture all kinds of moments the celebrities encountered along the route.
In Car Monitoring & Recording
The technical challenge was to create a very simple system that allowed any ‘Monitor Car’ to listen to any ‘Talent Rally Car’ at the push of a button while recording all the conversations that were happening within the 4 talent Cars. We designed and built the circuits, and wrote the code to make use of the serial protocol for the Wisycom MCR42 Receiver, and created the very simplest solution for the producer’s monitor box. With the press of a red button, any of the 4 monitor cars could listen to any of the 4 talent rally cars up to 1Km away driving at speeds up to 100 km/h. The producers in the follow car could now hear everything that was said in the car and communicates with 2-way coms, allowing them to story edit and direct the show while it was all happening live.
This was the world’s first solution which also incorporated a bespoke made rally record box which recorded all the conversations in the car with spot mics, and duplicate radio receivers, wireless time-code and could be also be operated outside the rally car using Bluetooth to put them into record and check recording levels.

In addition to delivering a technical solution to record the series, a key part of the solution had to take health & safety into consideration. This proved it’s worth when the in-car system was put to the ultimate test. The rally car driven by Martin Kemp and his wife Shirley rolled during a challenging stage of the route. Fortunately, the Kemps were ok and all the equipment stayed in place in what proved to be a very scary incident for all involved.

The technical solution proved itself on all levels and the production company Optomen were very pleased with the results in the edit. It was an incredible effort to design and build these systems in the time frame we did and to integrate a solution that worked for all the teams working across the production plus also for the self-shooting directors. I have used similar solutions of integrating crews using wireless systems in many types of productions from large scale rig show installations operating with off rig PSC sound mixers to adventure-based location shoots with climbers scaling cliffs on expeditions across the globe. 
We had the pleasure of working alongside Minicams TV who provided the on-board camera solution with Scott Mckee & Stephen Peters (Also Flying Drone) and a splinter team filming landscapes and pretty shots with DOP Will Churchill.

These shoots are always incredibly hard work with long hours but the humour and talented people involved delivered a great series for the BBC and made it a lasting memory.

By Stu Bruce – Sound Mixer

By Stu Bruce

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