This Is Radio: Glynn Washington

April 29th, 2014 | by Andrew Norton | Series:

About This Is Radio: Glynn Washington

I will always look back at this interview with Glynn as the point I swore off wireless mics. Lav mics, lapel mics, tie clip mics — whatever you want to call them. Done with them!

Well, kinda. Let’s just say, I won’t be using them as my only audio source. And I should have known better to begin with. Most video productions will use a wireless mic and a shotgun mic in interviews, as a sort of back-up system. But for this series, I naively used just the wireless mic.

Why go wireless?

Let me explain why I liked them in the first place. And what they are.

A wireless mic is a tiny little mic wired up to a small transmitter pack. You run the little mic up the subject’s clothes, plug the receiver into your recorder, and you can magically get a mic nice and close to the subject without having to stand near them holding a mic in their face.

I usually hide the mic just under the subject’s collar or under their shirt somewhere using these cool little things called Undercovers. They are great. It’s become a pet peeve of mine, exposing a wireless mic on a subject. Catching sight of one in a shot reminds me of watching the nightly news. (Even though if you look close on the wide shots of Glynn you can see a bit of the one he’s wearing.)

You can be completely hands free and your subject can even move around and they are always mic’d. Great for video, but could also be used simply for audio, to take your listener to unique places you couldn’t go with a standard handheld mic.

The case against wireless mics.


Wireless mics work great, until they don’t. And this day they didn’t. I still can’t determine what exactly went wrong, but for the Glynn interview, the audio sounded funky, crackly at certain parts — maybe you can pick it up a bit in the video. Also wireless mics are prone to making bad popping noises every once in a while, forcing you to repeat questions. I had a lot of that this day with Glynn, too.

Plus, lav mics are super sensitive, especially if they rub against fabric on people’s shirts. Or if the interviewee puts their hand on their chest — which happens more often than you’d think.

After I heard my mysteriously crappy audio, I talked to Transom.org’s resident audio guru, Jeff Towne. The conclusion was clear: next time go with a shotgun boom style mic. There’s just too much that can go wrong with wireless mics. So many connections that can be wonky, not to mention the actual wireless transmission is super temperamental and susceptible to interference, which can mess up your tape. This time around it may have been a loose or dirty connection, radio interference, low batteries — who knows.

Next time: shotgun on a mic stand as well as a lav mic. I pinky swear.

photo of Andrew Norton

Andrew Norton. Photo by Chris Wardle

Random thoughts

  • We filmed Glynn telling us a story in the studio. We had three cameras rolling with nice lighting and everything. As it often goes, we just couldn’t find a spot for that tape in the final edit. But for the very end scene we were able to use an outtake. I love the shot of him closing his eyes, steeling himself before telling a story. Goes to show, sometimes the things on the fringes and the candid moments can be the best. So always roll!
  • “Not peanuts, but pecans.” I find that line from the intro so amusing, something about the way it’s said — especially completely out of context. One of those things you replay over and over during long delirious editing session to amuse yourself. It’s my sister-in-law Reet talking about the first meal her now husband made her.
  • Do yourself a favor and pause the video when you see the stories on the corkboard at 2:54. You know a story is good when you read just a few words on a cue card and want to hear more!
  • More nice slider shots in here from Chris Wardle. From our experience, I think ponying up for a slider that has a little hand crank to control the motion is a good investment vs. the manual one we had. Chris operated it well, but if you can use the crank it makes it easier to get smooth sliding shots.
  • What was Glynn’s lunch order? A chicken sandwich. I remember at the time really wanting one myself. Now whenever I watch I want a chicken sandwich! It’s Pavlovian. Next round of filming — Kraft services for the crew and subjects.
photo of Andrew Norton

Andrew Norton

About Andrew Norton

Andrew Norton is a multimedia producer who graduated from the Transom Story Workshop on Cape Cod. Before that, he was an editor and staff photographer at a skateboard magazine. He got to travel from the streets of Taiwan to Newfoundland to Tony Hawk’s backyard. Since then his radio stories have aired on dozens of stations across the US, on CBC radio in Canada and on shows like 99% Invisible. He also combines his audio storytelling chops with his photography background to make videos. His previous series, profiling the world’s best skateboard photographers, earned him a Vimeo Staff Pick award.

Andrew lives in Toronto. He’s also very tall.

For more videos in this series, click here:
This Is Radio


15 Comments on “This Is Radio: Glynn Washington”

  • Mat B. says:

    I love this series, even with the slightly flawed audio this time around :)

    Is the interview shot with one or two cameras? What’s you light set up on the tighter frame?

    • andrewnortonphoto says:

      haha, thanks, Mat. The interview is actually shot on three cameras. Tight, wide and then the third was on a slider, but mainly stayed stationary and would move around at Chris’ discretion, but was often kept tight. We used it for the “stories are vicarious life living…” quote – looks quite nice.

      The lighting was the same through the whole interview – a Lowel Tota light with a shoot through umbrella to the camera right.

  • Thanks for posting this, Andrew. Glynn’s great in this and makes it my favorite from the series thus far.

  • Paula Mauro says:

    Love the series, Andrew. Thank you so much. Can you explain a little about the division of labor on these shoots between you and Chris Wardle?

    • Thanks Paula. I got Chris on board primarily as a second set of hands, but he’s a talented shooter and a friend who I worked with before so it was nice to have someone to bounce ideas off or to warn me when something was sucking.

      Chris would help set up lighting and framing on interviews and keep an eye on focus and swap cards while I interviewed and took care of audio. Then we both collected b-roll under my direction. For instance I would shoot tight, he would go wide, or he would be on a slider and I would be shooting locked down on a tripod. Except once I ate a taco while he shot b-roll, but that was just the once.

  • Adam Kampe says:

    Fantastic. Love the series. Can you specify what exactly your lighting set up is? Just a single Lowel Tota? Is it this?
    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=&sku=32267&gclid=Cj0KEQjw3vyeBRDt673h5ZTYrdQBEiQAzhkf8hfuIwQTkjJJPxJ2v7UHZy-G7nMCLK7peNkzDXw-RsgaAiLT8P8HAQ&Q=&is=REG&A=details

    Thanks. I’m in the market for a light kit for work. Need to be economical, but versatile in terms of our set up.

    • andrewnortonphoto says:

      Hey Adam, glad you liked the series and thanks for saying so.

      Yes, it is the Tota. That link to BH doesn’t seem to work, but I just searched “tota light” on their site and it came up as the first hit. I have that and the Tota shoot through umbrella (important to use the one especially for the Tota as other umbrellas may melt under the heat)

      It’s really cheap and gives pretty good light, the only catch I find is it doesn’t play well with sunlight. So you really need to close all the curtains in people’s houses, etc otherwise you get mixed colour casts.

      Also if you need to light up a larger area or two people it can be pushing it to get enough light.

      If you have a beefier rental budget, Kino Flo lights are nice. Or ask the rental house for a daylight balanced light. LEDs do the trick, too.

      Hope that helps and happy shooting!

      -Andrew

      • Adam Kampe says:

        Andrew,

        Wow. Thanks for the details and the rapid reply. And seriously, the series is really solid. I’m also curious, why I have you, what are you editing on and what effect is that you use in the opening where the radio dial slides over THIS IS RADIO….?

        Also, if it’s easier, feel free to email me at adamkampe@gmail.com

        Cheers,
        AK

      • andrewnortonphoto says:

        Hey Adam, happy to keep it going here so others can eavesdrop if they have the same questions.

        I edit using Final Cut Pro 7… which is a little old school these days. But I’m comfortable with it, damn it!

        As for the dial, it was the talented Jeff Middleton who did the motion graphics and titles for me. He did things like the radio dial effect and the screen on the scope. He used after effects for that stuff.

  • Adam Kampe says:

    Thank you. Super helpful.

  • andrewnortonphoto says:

    Hey Adam,

    That’s correct for the Tota light. And unfortunately, yes – that is about as cheap as you can get away with for lighting. If you don’t believe me, poke around for LED panels… Be careful, though – that listing doesn’t include a bulb. I would check into the kit from BH that has an umbrella, light stand, etc. I bought mine off Craigslist though so I saved a bit that way. Plus I already had light stands.

    The Amazon kit you may be disappointed with. I’m not sure exactly which one is it, but I’ve seen sets that are basically just household lightbulbs on stands…. may not give you the juice you want.]

    Cheers,

    -Andrew

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