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Peter Devlin selects the Nagra D for
Oliver Stone's 'Any Given Sunday'


There are many challenges that lie ahead for the sound recordist of the future, as in ďwhat bloody format should I go with? These are my most recent experiences with the Nagra-D on the upcoming Oliver Stone Feature ďAny Given SundayĒ. Before I go into that, I will digress slightly and share with you why I settled on 
the D Format.

When I recorded for the first time in Dolby SR in 1991 I was convinced this format would take-off, unfortunately it never seemed to be embraced by Feature and Television recordists and that unfortunately is a great shame. So in the early nineties R-DAT was offered up as another format that offered the location recordist digital quality, portability and dependability? Who hasnít faced the frustrations of a tape jam, PCM error warning or other such jolt to the system that the analogue Nagra would never throw at you! I jumped on the DAT format and at present I use a stelladat and a Fostex PD4 as a backup. Now obviously this isnít the place to argue the pros and cons of running back-up, Iím not ashamed to say 
I do, but I know there are other recordists that feel very secure with their DAT recorders and keep the back-up on the sound truck, and those that donít believe in the DAT format as a viable medium, or even the theory of a back-up. Anyway enough of other formats, itís time to move on to the Nagra-D.

I have always been aware of the Nagra-D and the endorsements of it by so many renowned production mixers, Lee Orloff, Ed Tise, Ivan Sharrock, and Chris Newman. Ed Tise was kind enough to spend a great amount of time with me on the phone discussing the Nagra-D. However the machine was never an option for me, number one because of the price and number two, the transfer facilities that were handling the post on my films were set up for analogue or DAT.

When I was hired as the Production Mixer on ďAny Given SundayĒ, I was told that Soundelux of Hollywood would be posting the show. I immediately knew this was going to be the type of show that the Nagra-D would be an asset, and the fact that Soundelux had their own Nagra-D meant there would be no problems for post. Wylie Stateman who is the Post-Production Sound Supervisor on the show was also very supportive of the four-track format. The big challenge for me now that I was going to do the show on a Nagra-D was finding one for rent! Well I contacted my good friend Glen Trew of Trew Audio and told him of my plans and he thought the D was a great choice and suggested I get in touch with Peter Weibel who rents Nagra-Ds on the west coast. Well Peter was great and offered me the machine well ahead of time so that I could familiarize myself with its operations. Both the machine and Instruction manual can be quite intimidating when first read!!! Even lacing up the machine for the first time can be a trauma. However once I got used to the machine, hooked it up to my computer, and learned the menu system I became an instant fan. However there are two changes I would like to be made, and they are

                 1:The ability to put the directory on at the end of the roll.                                 
               
(Believe me they did have to wait for me to reload)

              2:When rewinding, the headphone output level should be reduced.

ďAny Given SundayĒ is a behind-the-scenes look at a fictional football team called the Miami Sharks and is set in the near future. The coach is played by 
Al Pacino and the team owner is played by Cameron Diaz. The film looks at the dynamics within the team as the traditional styles of coaching offered by 
Al Pacino come into conflict with the new aggressive style of Cameron Diaz, against that back-drop, we witness the day to day running of the Football team and the many colorful characters we meet along the way

The film has a huge cast, and was extremely challenging from a sound perspective. My original idea for the Nagra D was to record Dialogue tracks on 1+2,and M/S effects on 3+4,however that idea evaporated very quickly when I saw how Oliver Stone likes to work. Almost half the movie takes place on the field and this is where we faced many of our challenges. From the outset of the show Oliver explained to me that this would be like a documentary and sound wise we would be listening in on conversations on the field, that meant we always needed to hear conversations in the huddle, on the sidelines and in the booth were on of our actors would be relaying instructions to and from Al Pacinoís character, to the Quarterback on the Field via the Offensive coaches. All props had to work, all headsets and communications, and that wasnít always easy with all the frequencies that we contended with at the Miami Orange Bowl. We could have at any one time eight cameras shooting, therefore it was critical that we were able to record dialogue in every area simultaneously, Oliver would call this 
ďThe Three Ringed CircusĒ.

Since we had a full time 2nd unit sound crew I decided to ask production to rent a 2nd Nagra-D since the show was growing into a multi-track situation with multiple characters in different areas delivering dialogue. Our Producer Clayton Townsend was very quick to agree once he heard the advantages it would provide for post-production. Each scene shot on the field would dictate different track assignments Track 1 would be a radio mic mix due to wide and tight cameras shooting simultaneously, track 2 was a radio boom which allowed my boom-op Kevin Cerchiai to follow either the Steadicam or any hand-held cameras that would be thrown into the mix and tracks 3 and 4 left open for any additional surprises, and there were many. My 2nd Boom operator Mike Schmidt was kept busy wiring any additional actors that would suddenly have dialogue, or looking after our telex intercom system for the actors to communicate.

Second unit would handle additional tracks that we needed to send them as well as working with the second unit crew.

Any time we were on the field we would always build up to at least eight tracks and on several occasions we would use the stelladat for an extra two tracks. The transfer facility Magno Sound in New York did an outstanding job of transferring our material even though we did not always make it easy for them or the editors! 
I have to admit there were several occasions when all machines werenít jammed correctly and that definitely did not make things go easily in Transfer!

Another challenging area for us in the movie was that when we worked with extras, Oliver always wanted them to be talking as they would in real life, he hated extras miming dialogue, this he felt stagnated the set and did not create the reality for the actors to work in. It was a constant battle to be able to keep the background chatter down to a minimum and still keep the level of our main actors up to a point where it was separated from the background.

When we shot at the football stadiums we had playback at all times that could create the sound of 70,000 excited fans as well as music to punctuate what was happening on the field. Oliver is very insistent that sound on location be able to create the environment that we were shooting in, and that at times encompassed having various music to be available at all times, sound effects if noted in the script would be played live and all telephone calls had to work live.

I can honestly say I would not have wanted to do this movie on any other format. The Nagra performed very well and although it may not be necessary to have four tracks on every show I feel that once you get used to filling up the tracks you donít want to go back to a two-track format. It is a great tool and I know that I have never had so many comments from crew members who came over to look at a reel to reel machine. Many of them had thought recordists donít use Nagras anymore!

How Will the Nagra D survive as we move towards Hard disk recording systems? I know those recordists that already own one will always use them, and post-houses will have to facilitate them, however for the moment I will be very content with the Nagra-D for any four-track recordings that I will be doing in the future.

 

Peter Devlin. 

 

 

 


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