‘The Wedding Party’: Sound Mixer Michael “Kriky” Krikorian Tracks a Single-Shot Feature Film

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online_bannerThe Wedding Party, written and directed by Thane Economou, is a romantic comedy following a groomsman who navigates a slew of disasters to maintain order at his best friend’s wedding reception. The independent feature was an especially challenging production because it was filmed in a single, uninterrupted 110-minute take. Production sound mixer Michael “Kriky” Krikorian and sound engineer Seth Gilbert gave us an in-depth look into how they successfully captured the film’s audio under such demanding circumstances.

S&P: Tell us a little about your background. What led to you becoming a production sound mixer?

Michael “Kriky” Krikorian (MK): My audio path started in the music world. I have played and recorded music ever since my high school years. After high school, my path led me to the Berklee College of Music, where I majored in drum performance. Shortly after, I attended Full Sail University to study recording arts. After Full Sail, I returned home to Connecticut to work at a recording studio. I recorded bands on a Studer using 2” analog tape and mixing on a Neve console. The studio owner, Steve Wytas, and I would also be hired for production sound mixing. When I went solo, as Kriky Productions, I worked as an A2 (audio assistant) for live broadcast with ESPN, Outdoor Life Network, QVC, and a few others. This led me into mixing for live broadcast as well. During my years in Connecticut, I joined a band, from my hometown, G’nu Fuzz, playing bass guitar. We played in NYC, and soon after, we found ourselves touring the east coast opening up for Blues Traveler — super fun days. These experiences all came together to help me have a seamless transition into the film and television industry in Los Angeles, where I currently work today.

S&P: How did you become involved with The Wedding Party?

MK: A production sound mixer friend of mine, Ed Novick, called me regarding this project. He was originally slated to mix it, but other obligations made him unavailable. Ed gave me some details about the movie and what the director, Thane Economou, was hoping to accomplish. My first thought was: ‘I want Seth Gilbert to do this with me. If Seth is up for this, I’m game.’ Thankfully Seth was available because this turned out to be a fun experience and a once-in-a-lifetime shoot.

S&P: How did you collaborate with writer/director Thane Economou during pre-production?

MK: Seth and I walked through every scene with Thane as he envisioned the movie unfolding. Thane wanted this to be a 100+ minute single take feature film. If we shot scene-to-scene, his approach would have been very straightforward. But this wasn’t that type of film. We had a brief discussion with him about how we planned on recording the sound. He trusted in our experience and we moved forward with very few discussions about how we planned on handling the sound. Seth and I liked Thane very much, and we wanted to make this experience the best one he would have.

S&P: Can you tell us about the extensive prep process for the project?

MK: After seeing the location, Seth and I had a few phone conversations about how we were going to handle the RF, which was the biggest hurdle. Seth’s experience in this is on point, so he took care of all the RF on set. I started addressing some of our sound concerns by making calls to different departments. With the art department I needed to know what was going to be placed in each set: what kinds of chairs, tables, runners, lamps, and of course, the type of dance floor that they planned on using. Then I had a conversation with wardrobe, and we discussed the type of clothing and shoes each actor was going to be wearing: no starchy shirts and no hard-soled shoes.

I also had a discussion with Will Kamp, our DP, about how he was going to be capturing the visuals. I don’t recall there being a locations manager but I did speak with a few folks regarding the surrounding neighborhood dogs and pool filters that were running in the background. Luckily we had over a month for all this to come together. Not every request was met but we had an awesome sound crew and we were able to handle the curveballs. Our production manager, Ryan Hawkins, and I spoke often about how we were coming along.

Seth Gilbert (SG): Scouting on this project was paramount. We did a site survey to see what the RF environment looked like so we could pick the best blocks. As far as the gear goes, I do a lot of hidden cameras so it wasn’t too different from my normal setup: i.e., FOH rack, digital snake, in-ears, fiber/CAT5 runs, etc. It took me a day to prep this package and check everything.

S&P: Tell us about the pre-recording process for the film’s music tracks.

MK: Since I started my career in music recording, this was a nice treat to be able to record the band. These recordings would be the final music that would be played throughout the movie from start to finish. We used the same recording setup that would be used during our film shoot. We talked about recording the band in a studio, but in the end, a studio recording would have given us just the opposite feel we wanted to achieve. So we opted for a live recording in the environment of where the movie would be filmed.

Seth, Justin Ipock, and Ian Farley wet up the recording session with me. We recorded 24 tracks of drums, stand-up bass, electric guitar, keyboards, trumpet, clarinet, sax, and vocals. Seth had a slew of microphones in his package to get the job done. We set the band members up with headphones and a click track to prevent variations of tempo. This allowed for a quick and easy setup of the thumper track, which was used about 90 percent of the time. It was a last-minute session, so we needed to record a lot of music in a short period of time. At the end of the day, we had 65 gigs of music tracks for Mark Agostino, our Pro Tools playback mixer, to weed through.

S&P: Can you tell us about the film’s production schedule and shooting location?

MK: Our location was in Pasadena, CA. We were at a house on a half- to three-quarter acre lot, and 95 percent of the movie was shot in the backyard. Since this was a single 100+ minute shot, we never stopped moving. Our set had a patio area, the wedding party’s room inside of the main house, a reception area on the back lawn, a garage turned into a kitchen, bathrooms off the back guest house, and tennis courts on the far back edges of the yard. The furthest set was through the main house out to the front driveway.

The film follows a wedding that takes place outside during the evening. Our general crew call on day one started at 2:00pm, moved to 3:30pm for day two, then 5:00pm on day three. We started shooting three hours after call. After our first take, we would make everything safe and then head to lunch for one hour. We would return from lunch and reset everything. Once everyone was ready to go, which was two or three hours after lunch, we would start rolling our second take of the day. We shot two takes a day for three days. Unfortunately after lunch on our last day of shooting, the wind had picked up and made parts of the set unsafe. So we started prepping our gear for wrap out.

The sound crew (L-R): Tim O’Malley, David Franklin, Justin Ipock, Seth Gilbert, Kriky, Erin Paul, Mark Agostino, & Ethan Biggers (back row)

Tim O’Malley, David Franklin, Justin Ipock, Seth Gilbert, Kriky, Erin Paul, Mark Agostino, & Ethan Biggers (back row)

S&P: Who was on your production sound team, and how did you set up your workflow on set?

MK: We had a total of eight people on our sound team. I was the production sound mixer, Seth was our sound engineer and RF coordinator, Mark Agostino was our Pro Tools playback mixer, Erin Paul and Ethan Biggers were our boom operators, Tim O’Malley and Justin Ipock were our utility sound team, and David Franklin was our sound assistant.

We each had a set job to do. Seth had his hands full with making sure we had no RF problems and that all the equipment was working as intended. Mark cued up all our music cues, mixed the music to the speakers, and handled the thumper track. Erin and Ethan had the privilege of dancing around with the cast and crew throughout the film, booming when they could, and getting out of the shoot when we couldn’t. Tim and Justin handled all the wiring of the actors and repositioning of our RF antennas when needed. David would jump in and do what was needed of him. He was invaluable to the sound team.

S&P: How did you work with Seth on set?

MK: I drew up a diagram of our location so we could easily figure out how to route our feeds. Seth and I went through the diagram and then started piecing it together. We had plenty of gear to work with. We had to put a few of our actors on specific blocks so we could remote a recorder – a Sound Devices 788T with four Lectrosonics 411 receivers — at the main driveway that was on the edge of our RF reach. In the end, that recorder was only used as a backup and was never needed.

Seth and I made sure we had lines of communication to each other during the shoot. It all ran very smoothly, so while we were shooting we had little to no communication with one another. I love that Seth and I were able to work together again. He looked at me during our load in and tech day and said, “Kriky, I want everyone to be happy!” That was pretty much the feel of the whole sound team. We wanted to have fun and wanted everyone to be happy with what we were doing.

S&P: Tell us about your cart setup and mixing board. How many frequencies were you working with, and did you need any special gear outside of your normal setup?

MK: Being that this was a one-take feature film, there was nothing normal about this setup. It is very different then my everyday TV/film sound mixing cart that I roll around. Seth will get in-depth regarding the equipment, but as for the music playback rig we supplied the set with two JBL SPX715 speakers, two QSC RMX 2450 amps, and a Mackie sub, used as a thumper track, set at 40hz. Mark Agostino rolled in with a Pro Tools 11 rig using a Presonus StudioLive 16.4.2 mixer. Mark supplied me a feed of the pre-recorded music and set up a thumper track off the click track that was used for the band record. We had a thumper track running for about 90 percent the movie.

SG: For the recording setup we used two Sound Devices 970s and Metacorder. I really like Metacorder’s sound report. It’s easy to customize and post departments tend to ask fewer questions when I hand it in on high track count projects. When the 970 came out, I was really happy because it included a MADI port. I’m a big fan of MADI. You can send huge amounts of data on a single cable. There’s been a big push lately to use Dante, but for me, that wasn’t as robust. There’s still a bit of programming and a handshake that has to happen with Dante.

We needed to make sure we didn’t miss anything, so I used a PSC Power Star in addition to an uninterruptible power supply to ensure if we lost power, we could keep going. We used three record sources to make sure all of our bases were covered, and we recorded both mono and poly files to make sure post had as many options as possible. For our wireless, we used Lectrosonics wireless systems. I had blocks of 19-25 Venue receivers in the rack. I tried to spread out the frequencies as much as I could.

This project required a larger mixer due to the number of talent and the need to have all sources on one layer, so we used a Yamaha LS9-32. We fed it a MADI signal coming from our FOH rack. Due to the size of the location, we couldn’t go with a traditional setup and have the receivers next to the mixer. We used a Roland REAC digital snake with an S-MADI converter so we could live everything on set. We had 35 frequencies: 22 talent, a handheld mic, two plant mics, camera video sends, Comtek BST-50b for program, Comtek BST-25 for in-ear mixes to the band, and two Lectrosonics T4s, one for each boom op. We also used an RF Venue RF fiber snake, a PSC MultiMax multi-coupler, and Phonak in-ears.

S&P: What types of microphones did you use, and how did you mic the actors?

MK: On the end of both boom poles we used the Schoeps CMIT5U shotgun with a Rycote Super-Softie windshield, which was then plugged into a Denecke 48v power supply with a jumper to a Lectrosonics SMV transmitter. We also played around with a Schoeps CMC641 for the interior sets but the CMIT5U gave us an overall better performance. For wiring up the actors, we mainly used Sanken COS-11s plugged into Lectrosonics SMV transmitters and wired for servo bias, which I prefer. We also had a few Countryman B6s, DPA 4061s and TRAMs on hand in case we ran into problems with wardrobe, but in the end, we pretty much stuck with the COS-11s. We also used a Shure SM58 capsule inside the Lectrosonics handheld mic for the wedding singer.

S&P: How did the “long take” shooting approach impact your usual production sound workflow?

MK: As for my mixing station, I had a 32-channel board with 28 of those channels receiving incoming audio for mixdown: two boom mics, 22 actors, one handheld mic, two ambient mics, and music playback. I flew every fader that had audio assigned to it during our take. I received the locked-in script about three days before. I stripped down the script to the dialogue only, and I separated the character names out with different highlighted colors, which is something I normally do on my sides for television work. I then imported the script into my iPad and opened it in a PDF viewer app so I could follow along during shooting. It was a quick tap or swipe to navigate to the next page. This is how I mixed an 110-minute take. Also, given that this was only 3 days of shooting and only 2 takes a day with 22 actors, I helped myself with actor recognition by printing a picture of each actor’s face and taping it on the channel they came up on.

The music playback setup wasn’t your normal single-track playback shoot. Mark had nine music tracks to cue up at specific moments throughout the film. Every song needed to be locked in because the band had to look like it was playing the song we were hearing in the movie. The band had a full set of earwigs so they could mime along to each song. We would often see the band in the background so these cues had to be spot on.

The boom operators’ biggest challenge to overcome was dancing around the camera work. For stage work you usually pick a spot and boom the shot. But they had to keep on moving from one set to the next. Upstairs, around the corner, down the stairs, into the house, out of the house, and fly around a 360-degree shot. Erin and Ethan worked wonders.

The utility sound’s normal workflow changes from time to time. Sometimes they wire actors and other times they may boom or just sit and read a book. They did all the wiring on this movie with no time to sit. Tim and Justin would start wiring up our 22 actors at least an hour ahead of time. We had a talkback system set up and as we went along we tested every mic extensively. We made sure we had it as perfect as it could be, which meant changing the microphones around until it was just right. We then put the transmitter to sleep to insure we had enough remaining time on the batteries.

It was at least an hour of wiring up the actors, another 30 to 45 minutes to get everyone in place, 15 minutes before we started rolling, and roughly 110 minutes for the take. We did this twice a day. When everyone was getting set up to roll, it turned into a beeping frenzy of unsleeping the wireless mics. We had four people walking around unsleeping everyone. The one thing we had in our favor was around 90-percent of the cast was in the opening scene. After we started rolling everyone in the sound team still had jobs to do. There wasn’t any sitting and waiting.

S&P: Did you make any changes to your workflow after completing the first full take?

MK: After the first take everything was pretty much dialed in. It was after the rehearsals where most of our changes took place and even then it was minor. I made a few changes due to some of the actors yelling at times. We dropped the transmitter gain and the output gain of some of the receivers in the Lectrosonics Venues. As the takes went on, we always had a few minor changes here and there but nothing out of the norm.

SG: As we all know, the map is not the territory, and having things work in the run-through never assures you they will work on the day. After the first take, I made adjustments to the antenna placement and picked a couple different frequencies for talent.

S&P: What were the biggest sound challenges that you encountered during production?

MK: When I received the call about the film it seemed a bit overwhelming, even though I have worked on large live broadcast shoots. But when you start putting your team together and you get solid and knowledgeable folks on your crew, those feelings start to fade. When the crew was finally pieced together it was no longer an overwhelming feeling of, “Can we do this?” but was an overwhelming feeling of excitement. Our challenges became part of our workflow because everyone looked at what was in front of them, saw it, and took care of it. There was no handholding needed with anyone on the sound crew.

SG: What I love about sound is that you have to listen and react. You have to constantly push the boundaries and keep learning. You don’t fly halfway to the moon, then turn to everyone around you and say, “Should we just call it?”

I had two challenges on this project. While I normally do shoots that have 20+ frequencies, the location presented us with a lot of RF congestion. I did my original coordination with IAS [Intermodulation Analysis System], but since that software does everything based on theoretical and fixed sources, it only got us about 25-percent of the way there. On the setup day, I found that we still had a ton of intermod showing itself in the lack of range and interference. I tried to run another coordination but found the solution was to do a manual scan for the remaining frequencies. It took about three hours to get everything dialed in. After this project I went to LSC [Location Sound Corporation] and Mike Paul helped me get up and running with Lectrosonics’ Wireless Designer. It does the coordination but combines it with a scan of what’s actually going on around you.

Secondly, due to the size of the location, we had to follow a four zone approach with the antenna placement. We used a PSC RF MultiMax to accomplish this. We had one antenna that needed to be in the front of the house, so we added an RF Venue fiber converter so we could run the 500 feet.

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S&P: How did you work with cinematographer Will Kamp and his camera crew on set?

MK: Will and his crew were top notch. They had a serious mountain to climb on this one, so we stayed out of their way as much as possible. My plan was to always to have two boom operators, one for the interior scenes and one for the exterior scenes, though, in the end, they both handled a bit of each. I planned a walkthrough on a camera rehearsal tech day with boom operator Erin Paul. Erin came in and tracked behind every move the camera operators were making. I’m saying camera operators because they had two operators for one camera. They shot on a RED Epic Dragon carbon fiber camera with a Leica Summicron 21mm lens at a constant F/2.8 and transferred the camera between operators using a Freefly Systems MōVI M15 3-axis gimbal. One operator had an Easyrig with a Flowcine Serene attachment, while the other was in the L’Aigle Exhauss Exoskeleton G. Erin took notes and planned accordingly. When Ethan came on board as our second boom operator, Erin and Ethan walked through the location. They choreographed their moves during rehearsal with the flow of the camera operators. This was the biggest hurdle to overcome with the camera department. We did not want to be seen.

S&P: How closely did you work with the post sound team?

MK: We had some discussion with [sound editor]Lauren Hadaway about the ability to import high track count files and media deliverables. As long as we knew they could read the files, we were good to go. Mark Agostino had extensive discussions before and during all of our shoot days regarding our music playback tracks. I had no other discussion with him other than to check in to make sure he was getting what he needed. The music supervisor, Stephanie Gangel, coordinated with Mark regarding all the music cues that were to be played throughout the movie. He set up his cue points and slam dunked it every take. I slid up my fader for the music track and it was there. He was magic.

-S&P-

Michael "Kriky" Krikorian & Seth Gilbert

Michael “Kriky” Krikorian & Seth Gilbert

Photos courtesy of Michael Krikorian

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