Joe Foglia was nice of enough to invite me on set of ABC’s Castle recentlyto see how he mixes the show. Now entering its third season, Castle has evolved into a blend of beautifully shot gruesome murders with a smart sense of humor. Nathan Fillion plays Richard Castle, a charming, mystery author alongside Kate Beckett, a bright and aggressive New York detective played by Stana Katic. Together, they use each other’s strengths to solve odd and off beat cases assigned to Beckett. All the while Castle is a divorced father raising a teenaged daughter and dealing with his melodramatic mother.
When I first met Joe, he had a calm, laid back demeanor about him. Kinda like he’s been working in the industry for over 20 years (he has). But it wasn’t the years of experience or the Emmy nominations and wins that let him walk with a nonchalant attitude. It was the people who were around him that made him so confident. His boom-op, Kevin Santy has been with him forever. Joe actually worked with Kevin’s wife, Tanya Peel, for six years before he started booming for Joe. And his utility, a 2nd generation LA native, Anna Wilborn. Joe completely trusts his crew to cover for each other and when a decision is needed to be made, he’s there. As I watched throughout the day, together, the three of them made a very fluid and remarkable team.
Foglia was pretty much a self-taught sound mixer. He always had a dream of owning a recoding studio or a radio station one day. Growing up, he had a friend with a mixer, a girlfriend who was a singer and he owned a recorder. It was back in the day when Tascam came out with their MX10 mixing console that Joe really started fooling around more with sound and collecting microphones.
He started his sound career out of Florida, working on shows like Miami Vice and 21 Jump Street. When incentive programs came about for cities in 1998 or so a lot of the work went away to Canada and other US cities. Foglia ventured his way into commercials but because of his child, he thought about changing careers. It wasn’t until he got a call out of the blue and was asked to come out to California to shoot a show called Go Fish that changed everything. He convinced Kevin and Tanya to come out to work with him. The show only lasted six episodes, but the UPM liked Joe and his crew. So he took Joe over to this old, abandoned hospital in Burbank to ask him to work on a single-camera comedy pilot — Scrubs. The show was picked up and they worked on it for 9 seasons. During its run, Tanya left, and through a suggestion from John Coffey, Joe hired Anna as their new utility, and has been working with her ever since.
Joe prides himself on being the first of firsts with gear. It’s not only his job, but sound is his hobby. He loves it. He enjoys figuring out new tricks and tweaks to his cart which was his own creation and only runs on 12 volts of power. For Castle, Foglia’s gear is no less than top of the line. He uses a combination of a Zaxcom Deva 5.8, a Sonosax ST8D Mixer and a Sound Devices 788T. Since Joe has the ability to do post and pre fader on his mixer, he records his production mix on track one. Editorial only wants to deal with one track and 99% percent of the time, you’ll hear Joe’s mix on TV. His second track is pre fader, so it’s always recording the boom which allows the post mixer to pull anything they might need. This also gives him plenty of room for his Lectrosonics wireless system which he’s never had to go over six tracks of wireless on set. His mixer is digital and records directly into the Deva. The Deva is then looped to the Sound Devices 788T, which is a direct mirror copy of the Deva.
Foglia learned all his technical chops for RF during his golf days. Covering 9 holes, the guys he worked with really taught him wireless. He learned a lot about dry-pair and all kind of things, which means a lot when bringing RF frequency to the film and TV industry. He built an antenna farm with a combination of antennas over the years that is technically correct and has no RF interference. “It’s about understanding RF and how it works so they don’t cancel each other out,” says Joe.
Since Castle has a minimum of 12 hour work days, Joe works on a “hate me now or hate me now or hate me later system.” When you have the time to get it done right, you can hate me now for asking someone to put screws in the ground to minimize noise or you can hate me later in post when the producers are wondering why he didn’t put screws in the ground to cover up the noise. Foglia prefers the hate me now method, but on rare occasions, he has to go with the hate me later.
Every show has their sound obstacles and Castle is no exception. When I asked Joe to share one, he talked about the issues they were having in the interrogation room. “It’s a very complicated room. It has a hard floor. A hard ceiling. A glass mirror. And until this season, the room was quite small. We couldn’t quite get the sound we wanted. So I took the table in the room and applied a dampening tar to help stop the resonating base. I also had them put a soft, cushioned top to help deaden the table. A small hole was drilled in the center for cables to run through to the on-camera Sennheiser microphone. And oddly enough, having a microphone on an interrogation table is actually more accurate to real-life interrogation rooms. We’re really happy with it now.”
Castle is always rolling two cameras and is one of the few shows that still shoots on film, thanks to their cinemaphotographer, Bill Roe. “You really need to have a strong person on set,” says Joe. Their department works as a team, but between the actor and the camera is a boom operator who needs to be confident in everything he approaches. He needs to know politically how to ask for help. He has to know where the shadows fall. He has to know lens sizes. “Thankfully, Kevin knows it all,” says Joe, and is why he believes Kevin is one of the best boom-ops. On set, Kevin is flawless. Sliding in and out of a scene as if he wasn’t there. With the help of Foglia on monitors during rehearsals, they’re able to get the shotgun just inches away from the frame during recording. And if they need to ask B camera to shut down, which is rare, the director hasn’t had a problem with it.
For gear, Kevin came up with a unique system to communicate with the camera department so they know he needs to change out microphones. For the 4:1 lens, he uses a CMIT-5U, an 11:1 lens, the Sanken CS-2. His pole is a Loon and uses an array of Lectrosonics for wireless. As for Castle’s 2nd Unit, Joe uses a Petrol bag with a Sound Devices 744T and a 552. A Lectrosonics Quadback holds the receivers that are all on the same block as the set’s wireless. This way he can leave his cart, grab the bag, and the actors can keep their wires on. They do their playback with Pro Tools and a speaker system.
Their utility is the glue that holds the crew together. Joe prefers hiring women for utility as actors and actresses usually have a more comfortable experience getting wired, especially little kids. “And Anna is absolutely amazing at what she does,” says Foglia. Anna has set up a notes system to jot down any kind of issues with gear or other problems which they can go back look at when needed. “It just makes things easier this way. By writing it down, you never mess up,” mentions Anna.
When I asked Joe if he had any ridiculous or interesting stories to share from set, he grinned and said, “Which one.” Back in the day when Joe worked on Miami Vice, he tried to figure out how he could make the sound better. Miami Vice featured a Ferrari Testarossa and required a lot of looping during the editing. So Joe thought, why not cut down as much looping as we can?
He went out and got one of the first stereo timecode Nagaras which he bought from Manfred and a timecode slate. It was the two-track timecode Nagra IV-STC. Unfortunately, the slate wasn’t good for anyone at the time, so they didn’t use it. But he took the Nagra and anchored it down to the Ferrari’s floor and ran separate lavs mics in the car’s compartment to maximize the two ISO tracks. Working with a Limiter and a customized switch, Joe was able to set his levels and let Don Johnson flip the switch below during his dialogue with Phillip Thomas. Win. Win, right? Wrong.
Before the start of the 4th season, Universal flew Joe all the way out to California to talk to him about the show’s sound. They needed him to solve a problem. They told him he needed to somehow get Phillip’s dialogue into the tracks. A confused Joe, didn’t know what they were talking about until they made him listen to one of his recorded tapes. With the whole post sound crew and the head of Universal Sound Department there, they pulled out a tape and put it in a mono machine. The only thing that was heard was Don. (“What’s the deal?”) Joe calmly replied, “Did you use that mono machine all last season like that? (“Yes.”) “Well, look the label, it says track 1 Don, track 2 Phllip, said Joe.” Universal’s head of sound asked post if they we transferring the other track. (“No.”) They were only transferring the one track the whole third season. Woops for them. Great for Joe.
Foglia has worked on reality shows, documentaries, TV, film and even recorded albums. But up until recently he wasn’t able to spend much time with his family — his fix? He got his daughter, an inspiring editor, a job as a post pa on the show. Since working steadily in California, Joe was able to adopt a seven-month-old who is now eight-years-old and become an active board member of CAS, where he would like to see them develop standards for sound similar to what ASC has for their members.