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My Bag of Tricks

As a kid, I had two dream possessions: Batman's utility belt and a Stormtrooper utility belt. Basically the same thing - a belt with useful gadgets. Turns out the Stormtrooper belt was an extension of the Jedi utility belt, but let's not get too geeky.

Fast forward to the present. I recently spent a week on travel, with essentially 5 different video shoots. When I pack my gear for travel, I try to keep as lightweight as possible, but I also try to take everything I could possibly need. In a word: gadgets.

On this trip, a blue Porta-Brace bag was my gadget bag. I packed it tight with gadgets large and small, including some I have not yet had a chance to use.

XLR cables. You can never have too many audio cables - either to use individually or to link together for longer runs. On this trip, I spent 3 days in an auditorium take a feed from the house sound mixer, so longer runs were not needed. However I also did an impromptu 2-camera shoot with 4 live mics.

Field audio mixer. I picked up a low-cost Azden mixer a while ago, knowing I would need it eventually. For the aforementioned panel discussion, I thought about taking a AC powered Boehringer mixer, but no matter what I did with it, I was getting a noisy signal into the PD-170. I posted on the Audio Professionals forum here on the COW, and got some great feedback, but I could not solve the problem. The original plan was to have a moderator and 4 panelists. Thus I needed my 4-input mixer going into 1 XLR channel on the camera, with a 5th mic going into the 2nd XLR on the camera. With the Boehringer problems, I was relegated to the Azden 3-input mixer, leaving me with 1 more mic than XLR inputs.

We will call this the Hot Dog Bun Problem.

It is well-known that hot dogs and hot dog buns come in different sized packages. 8 hot dogs vs 6 hot dog buns. Thus you always have too many or too few of one required food component. Same goes for the mics.

My solution was sitting right in front of me. My 2nd camera for the panel discussion shoot was a VX-2000 - our much-loved original 3-CCD DV camera. The VX has 1 mini audio input, which takes either Line or Mic level. However XLR mics can be plugged into the VX via an adapter, but with inconsistent results.

We have a Sennheiser wireless mic kit, which has both an XLR and a mini output. Mini plug into the VX - crystal clear signal. Problem solved. When the actual shoot date arrived, one of the participants was not available, so I was down to 4 participants - all mics went into the PD-170 without incident. Sometimes serendipity prevails.

Speaking of the wireless mics, the kit also came with an XLR transmitter, which can be attached to any input - a hand mic, such as for news stand-up reporting, an XLR or in this case, an audio mixer. For the last day of the conference, I wanted to move the tripod elsewhere in the auditorium to avoid the inevitable heads in the way. However all of the XLR cables were engaged in the panel discussion setup (I setup at 7am for the 12pm shoot). Also, I had the levels and setup with the PD-170 all perfect, so I took the VX to document the conference.

I grabbed the trusty, yet never actually used before, XLR wireless transmitter, plugged it into the output of the house mixer, and voila - the most crystal clear audio feed into the VX I have ever heard.

Another problem solved by taking my bag of gadgets with me. You never know what you might need and when you might need it. But if you know what you might need at some point in time, and you have those things available, when you do need them, you can calmly reach into your bag of tricks and make the magic happen.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Mar 29, 2009 at 12:18:53 pm tricks, gadgets, production

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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