After a wait of 30 years, Mad Max fans have recently been revelling in the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth in the successful cult action adventure film series, which started all the way back in 1979.
A hit with the critics as well as movie-goers, Fury Road was filmed on location in Namibia and Sydney and directed, produced and co-written by George Miller. It stars a host of famous actors including Tom Hardy (who takes over the title role from Mel Gibson), Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult.
DPA microphones played a key part in capturing the sound for the high-octane movie. Award-winning Production Sound Mixer Ben Osmo (main picture) chose the company's d:screet 4063 miniature microphones to record dialogue during the shooting of action scenes that involved fast, furious and bumpy chases across the Namibian desert. He also used DPA d:screet 4062 Miniature Microphones for cabled recordings of various vehicles, such as the mammoth War Rig driven mainly by Theron's Imperator Furiosa.
Osmo has worked on every George Miller film since 1987, and has won numerous awards, including a Golden Reel Award for Babe.
On Fury Road, his brief was to record dialogue and FX while in motion. "We set up three multiplex systems to give me range of 1 to 3 kilometres," he says, "but after the first run through, when the vehicles in the film took off at speed, it became apparent that I needed to relocate my equipment into a small 4WD van and follow the action. If you watch the film, whenever you see vehicles travelling through the desert, we were there in an adjacent vehicle or hidden with the cast and stunts. It was a wild ride!"
The choice of DPA microphones was not a difficult one for Osmo, who has used them many times in the past, and is a fan of their durability and sound quality.
"I love DPA mics because they have a transparent sound and are the best for wind noise," he continues. "For this film, Leon Hart at DPA's Australian distributor Amber Technology suggested I use d:screet 4063 miniature microphones because they matched the voltage outputs of my Lectrosonics SMV and SMVQ transmitters. I have been using DPA lapel mics for many years because they have the most transparent sound of any lapel mic currently on the market."
Loud and clear
During filming, the vehicle noises often drowned out the dialogue, particularly if actors were in the vehicles or standing near them. The only way to get usable guide tracks in these situations was to close mic everyone.
"We used low-sensitivity d:screet miniature microphones to mic the eight principle cast members who were inside the War Rig cabin and these provided all dialogue and all transmitted sound FX," he explains. "At the same time we placed a lot of hidden DPA d:screet mics in the cabin for FX and for catching the action. We also positioned them around the engine bay, near the exhausts and transmission and up on the top of the War Rig, and they were used in other vehicles and on the vast supporting cast."
The DPA and boom mics were required to withstand less-than-ideal environmental conditions on set
Although the film did need a substantial amount of ADR, a decision was made early on to provide as clear a soundtrack as possible to facilitate ADR in the future.
"There is limited dialogue in this film, so George preferred to have the action real," states Osmo. "Even when on simulated travel, the wind machines were blowing a gale and the special FX motion of the vehicles was also very loud. The point, though, was that we all had to hear something, so George could make creative and performance decisions. We were able to provide George, first AD PJ Voeten and cinematographer John Seal with their own radio mics and IFBs, so George could have conversations on the move and in different vehicles – sometimes 500 metres to kilometres apart. At this point, the camera operators and assistants were also in the mix so that they could receive instructions and acknowledge them.
"The system worked really well as George could be in his van with a few monitors, travelling behind the action and still be able to discuss shots with PJ and John and with the Edge Arm crew who were shooting other angles. Sometimes George would be in the Edge Arm vehicle to set up shots, while PJ and the crew were on the War Rig or other tracking vehicles. This was also good for some cast members – for example Immortan Joe (Hugh Keys Burne) would be in the extremely loud Gigahorse vehicle and would have a DPA d:screet 4063 miniature microphone and an ear piece inside his mask. This would allow us to have conversations with him, despite the noise."
Placing the DPA miniature microphones inside the actors' costumes so that they remained invisible was the task of 'costume genius' Andrea Hood who was present for all of the African shoots.
"We worked together on previous projects including Peter Pan and The Sapphires, where we also had challenges hiding microphones in costumes," Osmo recalls. "She was an immense help on Fury Road because she would sew the mics into costumes and make small pouches on the key costumes, especially those worn by the wives and Furiosa. We came up with a couple of interesting positions to place them in Max's jacket and inside his t-shirt. We couldn't tape them to his outfit because it was covered in oil and dirt, so Andria sewed them into the back of his shirt.
"Location assistant Brendan Allen and Andria came up with suggestions of where we could place the DPAs in his jacket and we trialled them all, with me listening for rustle and wind noise. Finally we decided to place two miniature mics on each side of his jacket so that when he turned around he would still be on mic. The high wind fluffies were also used and these were instrumental in keeping he wind at bay."
A small 4x4 vehicle – aka 'The Osmotron' – was used by the production sound mixer to capture audio for many of the chase scenes
Osmo adds that the d:screet mics were never a problem for the actors, and didn't get in the way of their performances.
"We just needed to be inventive in the pack placements," he comments. "Charlize Theron had a good outfit for hiding the pack and she would pre-set her mic in the costume department. When she arrived on set, we were able to quickly place the pack inside her leather belt pack."
Filming an action movie in a place as inhospitable as the Namibian desert did present some issues for the sound equipment, but Osmo was on top of this and ensured the equipment was constantly maintained.
"The earth had extremely corrosive qualities, but fortunately most of the hardware was either encased in temperature controlled road cases or inside my van. But the radio mic transmitters and DPA and boom mics were always out in the elements, all being hidden inside costumes or blimps. We never lost a mic due to the environmental conditions – they performed very well. Of course, we did have some microphone casualties, but that was inevitable as we were filming an action movie and it was impossible to avoid mics being pulled from their connectors. Also, if we put a mic too close to an exhaust pipe we occasionally melted a cable. However, in most cases the mics were easily repaired and, if they were really badly damaged, they were replaced."
Inside 'The Osmotron' were:
- 4 x Sound Devices 788T portable audio recorders with CL-8 control surface and 1 x 744T
- 6 x Lectrosonics Venue receiver systems in a ruggedised road case
- 2 x Lectrosonics Venue Field wideband receivers
- 4 x Lectrosonics IFB transmitters
- 1 x Mackie 1604 mixer for monitor mixes
- 1 x Remote Audio Meon and Meon Life cart power system
The location sound team in Namibia included key boom operator Mark Wasiutak – a man with many years' experience and the boom operator on the first Mad Max movie; assistant Bendan Allen; action unit mixer Derek Mansvelt and boom operator Ian Arrow. Oliver Machin, a Brit who now lives in South Africa, was also drafted in to assist and Osmo gave him responsibilities including setting up the time code for multiple cameras and recorders. Towards the end of the six months the crew spent in Namibia, Machin took on the task of recording specific vehicles away from the main filming locations.
"Overall, the DPA d:screet 4063 miniature microphones were definitely the best choice for dialogue," Osmo summarises. "I've been using them for a few years and the older normal sensitivity, normal voltage ones are fantastic as well. In fact, since finishing Fury Road I have used them to record two television miniseries in Australia – Return to the Devil's Playground and The Kettering Incident. Both these projects have required minimal ADR. The feature film, The Sapphires, also had live vocals blended with playback and the mics worked very well at capturing this."
After his recent hectic film schedule, Osmo is happy to be working on TV commercials before he gets started on his next project later this year.
"I'm also a singer-songwriter and I write and perform in Australia," he concludes. "That's my relaxation. In fact one of my latest songs that will soon be recorded is titled Namibia."