BURBANK, CHICAGO. APRIL 26th, 2014: DPA Microphones was ready for its close up during the shooting of Season 4 of Showtime’s hit comedy-drama series, Shameless. Whether the d:screet™ 4071 Miniature Omnidirectional Microphones were being used on the actors during studio shoots or on location in the windy city, they remained stars to the sound crew.
With the majority of Shameless shot on set at the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, when the time came to start shooting Season 4 of the series, Joe Michalski, the production sound mixer for Shameless, and Mike Riner, head of production sound at the studio, felt it was time for an audio change, especially with regards to the microphones. While Warner Bros. Studios provides all the gear necessary for TV production through an in-studio rental department, the duo decided to turn to DPA Microphones, which has a reputation for providing high-quality audio and durable solutions.
“We’d always read good things about the reliability of DPA Microphones and, of course, the clarity and the consistency of the sound of the products,” says Michalski. “We did 12 episodes in Season 4, during which we used eight of the d:screet 4071 mics. I never once experienced a problem with them. With our previous microphones, we noticed that over time the sound started to become different from one to the next, so sometimes we had to use the worst ones just to make sure we had a consistent sound. With the d:screets, I could be using 20 different mics and they all sound exactly the same. That is a definite highlight for me.”
Despite the frequent use of the d:screets, they continued to shine as an ideal solution by standing up to the heavy wear and tear. Additionally, since Shameless is shot with two handheld cameras at cross angles, there is a large dependence on wide angle shots. Due to the increase in speed at which the camera lenses are moved, the light that is captured during shooting can come from any direction, which would result in shadows being cast by traditional boom microphones. To overcome this obstacle, the production team decided early on to use lavalier mics during filming. With the DPA d:screet, the crew has a very adaptable mic that can be hidden in every scene, while still shooting without challenge of shadows.
“It’s hard to hide the boom and boom shadows that appear during shooting,” says Michalski. “That’s why everybody relies on the consistent sound from the d:screet 4071. It has more fidelity and much more of a full sound. I just went into a sound mix session and the post production guys were saying, ‘Wow, this sounds really great, you must have had the boom mic right in there.’ I had to tell them that with the way we shoot Shameless, the boom mics can hardly get close enough to be used. It’s a great thing when you can fool the editing guys.”
In order to conceal the microphones, yet still have a similar benefit as using a boom mic, the d:screet 4071’s were usually hidden on a piece of the actors’ clothing. This is possible because of the thin diameter of the mics’ cables. Designed for use as a placement mic, the d:screet 4071 has a low-cut acoustical quality incorporated into the capsule to serve as a built-in pre-amp. It also has a built-in boost to compensate for the loss of vocals when placed at an angle on the actors’ chests.
“The first thing that we focus on is making sure the placement is right,” continues Michalski. “I never found any issues with how to place the mics as the d:screet is great at picking up the actors’ voices from wherever we place it. Since the show is based in the Windy City, we have the benefit of being able to hide the mics in ski caps, which allows us to face them straight down above the actors’ faces. Other times, we put them on the chest facing straight up. For instance, we had a winter look this season, so the actors were often wearing jackets. This allowed us to put the mics in the center of the chest at a nearly perfect 90 degrees from the mouth, which gave us a very consistent sound.”
In addition to dependable sound from various placements of the microphones in-studio, the d:screet, built with a resistance to moisture and extreme temperature change, performed strongly on location in the cold, windy and loud setting of Chicago.
“We shoot about 80 percent of the show in Burbank and then we go to Chicago,” continues Michalski, who used a Sound Devices 788T Recorder with CL-8 Surface mixer while on location. “This year, with the way the winter smacked everyone around, we were sometimes shooting outdoors in -10 degree temps, with the wind chill. But we never had any issues with the mics.”
To protect the d:screet from the wind, the sound crew would cover up the mic heads, but the audio performed consistently in the extreme weather conditions. “There were times when my hands and head were freezing, and my headset didn’t work very well,” recalls Michalski. “But, I’d get back to the hotel at the end of the night and play back the audio and I’d realize that the recording still sounded great and was something that the editors could actually use. In past experiences, shooting in Chicago served as a challenge. This was especially true around the L-Train, which also creates a lot of added noise, but I think the d:screet helped cut most of that out.”
Moving forward, Michalski says he will continue to be an avid DPA Microphones user. “It was our first experience with DPA this year,” he adds. “I don’t see the possibility of looking anywhere else for another lavalier mic. In fact, after my experiences this season, I plan to switch my personal mic supply over to DPA. I did a shoot recently during which the d:screets weren’t at my disposal. After my ears had heard the DPA Microphone quality for 12 episodes straight on Shameless, it was as if my ears had taken a step down. The microphones I used just lacked the overall fullness of the sound that I’m now used to with the d:screet.”
Based on a British comedy by the same title, Shameless focuses on the dysfunctional Gallagher family from Chicago’s Canaryville neighborhood whose patriarch, Frank (portrayed by Oscar®-nominated William H. Macy), is a proud single father of six smart, industrious and independent children who might be better off without him. When he’s not at the bar, he’s passed on the floor while his kids learn to grow up in spite of him.
Kansas City born, Michalski has worked as a boom operator and sound production mixer on various projects for the more than 20 years. His recent work includes, Jane By Design, Sons of Anarchy, Suburgatory, The Mindy Project, Without a Trace and Grey’s Anatomy.