CHICAGO, IL – Sound Devices 744T and 788T digital recorders had the starring role in securing sound effects and dialogue on the set of Universal Pictures’ new action-thriller, Public Enemies, the story of legendary Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger. Working directly under the film’s renowned co-writer/director/producer, Michael Mann, sound mixer Blair Scheller needed superior audio. He turned to Sound Devices’ digital recorders for just the right combination to capture the wide range of sounds on location. The film opened July 1.
Public Enemies, which stars Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Academy Award®-winner Marion Cotillard, tells the story of John Dillinger (Depp), a charismatic bank robber whose lightning raids made him the number-one target of J. Edgar Hoover’s fledgling FBI and its top agent, Melvin Purvis (Bale), and a folk hero to much of the public. With much of the plot centering on Dillinger’s robberies and his pursuit by authorities, realistic sounds of gunshots and car chases were essential to the overall mood of the film.
Scheller was originally hired as a boom operator for the film, working under sound mixer Ed Novick. As filming progressed, a second mix team—the B-unit—was called upon to pick up shots that were originally missed while on location in Wisconsin. Scheller was put in charge of a complete sound crew, including Jim Heitz as boom operator and Mike Capulli on sound utility.
The crew spent several days capturing standard pick-up shots of gunfire and photo-double drive-by shots. The recording during these initial stages was done with the Sound Devices 744T, a four-track digital recorder; subsequently, Sound Devices’ latest recorder, its 8-track digital recorder, the 788T, was added to the mix—personally delivered by a technical support specialist at Sound Devices.
“The arrival of the 788T couldn’t have been timed any better, as I definitely needed more than four tracks to accommodate the location sound for the film,” said Scheller. “I’m impressed with the 788T’s flawless performance and the evolution of the machine. It’s not even a year old, and with the continuous firmware updates, it’s a completely different machine today than when it was first delivered. It’s totally keeping up with the different needs that arise on a movie set.”
As with most films, the sound crew had to be ready for any kind of scenario that popped-up. For instance, a scheduled insert car scene was rigged and then very quickly changed to a free driving shot, with only enough room for a cameraman.
For the insert car shot, Schellers’ rig consisted of both the 744T and 788T, as well as the company’s 442 mixer, with multiple cable runs for mics, a COMTEK wireless communication system, and feeds to the digital imaging technician and the video assist operators. This rig was quickly adapted for the free driving shot; Scheller strapped the 788T to the bumper of the car, pushed the record button and waited patiently for the vehicle to return.
“It’s very stressful not monitoring what’s being recorded, but you have to be flexible to keep up with the ‘new age’ of filmmaking,” continued Scheller. “I have full faith in Sound Devices products, so I knew they would grab what I needed.”
The remainder of the project focused on capturing principal dialog, when both the 788T and the 744T were used. Editing required a 16-bit recording, so Scheller used the 744T for his mono dailies’ mix track. For the post-production mix, he recorded the mix, plus all the ISO tracks, at 24-bit on Sound Devices 788T.
“When I originally started mixing, the first purchase I made was the Sound Devices 442 mixer. I quickly fell in love with this small but feature-rich machine,” says Scheller. “When it came time to buy a recorder, I didn’t really have to think about it, hence my 744T. After mixing for a while and more frequently running into situations that required more than four tracks, the introduction of the 788T was perfect. I’m impressed every time Sound Devices comes out with a new product; I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
Sound Devices, LLC designs and manufactures portable audio mixers, digital recorders and related audio equipment for feature film, episodic television, documentary, news-gathering, and acoustical test and measurement applications. The eleven-year-old company designs and manufactures from its Reedsburg, Wisconsin, headquarters with additional offices in Madison, WI, and Highland Park, IL. For more information, visit the Sound Devices website, www.sounddevices.com.