Showtime’s Homeland stars Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, an analyst for the C.I.A., who is willing to do anything to prevent another devastating terrorist attack against the US. Taking personal responsibility for what happened during 9/11, she now believes a returning POW soldier, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), has been turned against America and is an intricate part of a new attack. Production sound mixer Larry Long gave us the security clearance to check out his behind the scenes mix of this political plot driven drama.
S&P: You’ve been working in sound since the 90’s. What drew your interest to sound in the first place?
Long: I would have to thank my parents for this. I have always been fascinated with capturing sound. We had a console 1/4 reel to reel when I was a kid, and we traded tapes with my dad when he was in Vietnam.
My folks also bought me a computer in the early nineties and my head exploded when I learned you could record sound on it. I bought the then badass Turtle Beach sound card that also included the Emu Proteus chipset. This helped my hatred towards MIDI as recording became very frustrating to sequence with the earliest versions of Cakewalk.Before then, I was playing in punk rock bands in the 80’s, trying to record on 4 track cassette decks, and buying studio time when we could afford it. I even helped record a buddy’s band at Steve Albini’s house in Chicago.
When I got older, I decided to direct and shoot a movie about a dream I had on my roommates wind up Rolex. It was then I learned about sync and timecode. It was a huge setback for me at the time.
One thing led to another and my curiosity about the process drove me to look for an internship and learn more. I eventually worked for and learned a lot from Carl Rudisill and branched out on my own as a production mixer in ‘95.
S&P: You had a great run previously as a sound mixer on Dawson’s Creek. How different is it working on a show like Homeland?
Long: There are so many things different now. I recorded Dawson’s on a DAT machine, Fostex PD-2 (thank you Ric Canata for being there!) Dawson’s was the beginning of what I see today in TV production and most features I’ve worked on. I used a lot of wireless mic’s then and it was critical to get it right as I never really split tracks unless it was for playback. I was worried as most of us were then about overloading the DAT, so I used track 2 as a safety (I still do today).
I remember our post supervisor, Janice Cook, sitting me down and having a drink with me on DC, telling me not to add as much ambience to the wires and wire whenever possible so they could get music under the track. This is when Sony started doing the “if you liked what you heard during this program you can buy the music here” thing.
In stark contrast all these years later, now we have multiple track ISO’s, limiters, tons of wireless, no cables, no film, no time to rehearse… It’s completely a different animal.
S&P: This is your first nomination. Did you think you were part of something special when you were on the set of Homeland?
Long: Yes, of course, I don’t think there is a crew member on Homeland that doesn’t realize what a potentially important show this is.
S&P: When you first read the script, what was going through your mind for the show’s prep?
Long: I try to make sure I have all the right gear to accommodate whatever comes to the director’s mind. It’s all I really can do.
S&P: Claire Danes, Morena Baccarin and Damian Lewis are just a few members of your cast. How much easier is your job working with such great actors?
Long: Wow. I cannot tell you how awesome it is to work alongside such a wonderful and uber-talented group of kind and down to earth people.
S&P Who else is on your sound crew?
Long: I am so proud of my department. Matt Fann is my boom operator and wiring wizard. Matt and I have been friends for over 25 years and I consider him my brother as we played in so many bands together and have hung out forever.
Matt gave me my first job in film as a set dresser in the 80’s and I hated it. I in turn took a chance on him as a cable guy on Dawson’s Creek season 2, and we ended up finishing that series. I used him as a boom op on some MOW’s and things here and there but then, we eventually went our separate ways.
Homeland was offered to me so I called Matt to boom and since it was 3 1/2 hours away from home, he said he could help me get started till I could find somebody. Once we started shooting, he was hooked in just like me!
Jack Hill is my utility. Jack is a very accomplished boom operator that likes to utility. He’s also a Duke graduate. WTF? Jack is the invisible take-care-of-it guy. We recently lent Jack to 2nd unit to boom and Matt and I scrambled to do his job. It was beyond difficult to find things and take care of the issues we never have to think about because he’s that freaking good.
S&P: Give us a tour of some of the mainstay sets.
Long: Our soundstage is a huge warehouse in north Charlotte that has solar panels on the roof so it creaks and pops when the temperature changes. We rarely shoot there it seems, as we are on location a bunch. All of our sets are built like practical locations so it’s not much different.
S&P: What were some of the location challenges on the show?
Long: We do mostly free drive car work and that was challenging. Other than that, the usual stuff, a lot of air traffic and city sounds. I try to put up an ISO mic off set to grab some ambience if a jet passes, if there are cicadas or a fountain for instance. This helps post out. I’ll make a note of its location on the report.
S&P: How did you set up your cart / bag to help alleviate those challenges?
Long: Mobile, mobile, mobile.
S&P: The show produces a very clean, rich sound. How involved are you with the recording of ambiance or is your main concern clean dialogue?
Long: We try to give post as much as we can. There is a constant thought process between me and the guys about what we need to give post. It’s a somewhat democratic process as my guys aren’t just good at their jobs, but they are filmmakers.
S&P: How interesting has it been to work on such intimate subject matter?
Long: Well not to be political, I think it’s right on! Howard, Alex, and our writers are pretty freaking amazing. I love talking with them when they are on set for their episodes. It’s a crazy time right now, politics and terrorism.
S&P: In Marine One, there’s a sniper fire sequence with many fleeing extras after a character is shot and killed. How did your team try and record as much of the chaos that was going on?
Long: We hung one mic overhead and wired all the actors who were telling the important story parts.
S&P: What’s something we wouldn’t know as a viewer about Homeland?
Long: Our actors are so in tune with the craft and process of filmmaking, that it makes it so much more enjoyable to capture the combined efforts of our production.
S&P: If you are graced with a win, who would be the first person you’d like to thank?
Long: My parents.
S&P: After working all week, what’s something you like doing on your day off?
Long: I’ll lick my wounds. See the wife. Play music or golf. The normal stuff.
S&P would like to thank Larry for talking to us about his work on Homeland. You can catch season 2 returning to Showtime this fall. The Creative Arts Emmys will be held September 15th, 2012, at the Nokia Theatre LA LIVE in Los Angeles.
Photos: Kent Smith/SHOWTIME