Veteran production sound mixer, Danny Michael has used a lot of microphones and recorders throughout his 50-yr career in film and television sound recording. These days he usually sports his trusty d:dicate 4017B shotgun for traditional booming situations, but it wasn’t always the case.
Very few sound mixers gain any kind of notoriety, despite stellar and long careers. Few outside of film sound production would have heard of Danny Michael, despite having worked on many famous films over the years (seriously, take a look at his IMDB listing), films such as The Departed, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 8 Mile and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. His work on the film Mississippi Burning earned him a Best Sound BAFTA Award and Oscar Nomination for the same category.
Back in 2011, whilst discussing his early career with Sound & Picture, Michael said, “I started sound recording in the 1970’s. I graduated college in 1974 and that summer my father helped me out and I bought a Nagra 4.2L — the mono version. It cost me exactly $1,735. I had a set of Beyerdynamic DT48 headphones one preamp that gave power to a T-feed mic. A friend would let me borrow his Sennheiser 415.”
By the time he’d hit the mid-70s, Michael had moved onto the Schoeps 41 hypercardioid mic, saying “I used it all the time with a low cut for all my film work. It sounded very clean and smooth on dialogue and music. I often found myself preferring it for close up work outdoors over a shotgun because of the advantage of having the capsule in such close proximity to the actor’s mouth. As a mixer, I am always interested in making sound that matches the camera’s perspective. There was very little use for two camera shooting back in the day. It was a different style then. When they would shoot a wide master — it was okay to get wider sound quality, but as we got closer, my choice was always to work with the Schoeps on a boom.”
Speaking further on his gear choices throughout his career, he said, “I used the Nagra up until School of Rock with Jack Black. I even used the Nagra on 8 Mile. I switched over to the Fostex PD-6 for Stepford Wives when that first came out and now I work with the Fostex DV824 8-Track Recorder. I have a Cooper 208D mixer and, along with the Schoeps hypercardioid, I [also] use the CMIT-5U over the Neumann KM82 that I used to favor. For my mobile work, I’ll strap on a Sound Devices 788T and, many years ago, I changed out my Audio Limited radio mics for Lectrosonics.”
“Since The Departed, my backup has become Metacorder on an Apple laptop setup with an Apogee Ensemble (modified for 12V operation) for my A to D conversion. I also record that backup material about 3 to 4db lower for extra protection. I use a CAT5 system for video and audio and I loop the audio thru the video assist which then feeds the Comteks during playback of a scene. Sadly, with so much high def video showing up on jobs, that nice, durable Cat5 setup is no longer capable of providing SDI video to my sound cart. One step forward another step backward,” he continued.
By the end of 2011, Michael discovered a preference for DPA microphones, during pre-production for Now You See Me, saying “I was tasked with finding a headset mic to use during the on-stage magic scenes in the movie.” Going further he said, “We received a few different samples, but the DPA d:fine stood out as it provided the best sound. Since it was ultimately an artistic decision, I left it to the director to make the final call and, luckily, he also preferred the d:fine. That little mic piqued my interest to try additional DPA products and I’ve been using the brand ever since.”
When shooting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with Ben Stiller, Michael designed two rigs, a cart-based rig for on-set and a second portable rig for on-location.
“I redesigned my cart so it could be a little more flexible, portable and useable for the remote situations we were going to be presented with,” says Michael. “While I had the capability of using the 788T-SSD over my shoulder for the more challenging situations of working atop glaciers; there were times where I knew we would have more complicated work, and I wanted to have my cart. It wouldn’t have been possible to make it as small and durable as it was if it wasn’t for the 788T.”
Along with his 4017B shotgun mic, Sound Devices 788T-SSD and CL-WiFi interface, Michael’s cart also includes the Lectrosonics VRT-Venue System, Lectrosonics radio mics, Schoeps CMC-6U and CMIT-5U mics, a Cooper Sound 208 mixer, Blackmagic dual seven-inch monitors and a Denecke Dcode GR-1 as the main time clock.
Within the last year, Michael has continued using the DPA brand of mics on a variety of productions, including the New York set of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, directed by Shawn Levy. Currently in theaters, this is the third installment of family-friendly action series and famously the last film Robin Williams ever made. While filming exterior shots with Ben Stiller and Ricky Gervais, outside of the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, Michael went with his earlier mentioned 4017B Shotgun, to battle the noise of Central Park West.
“We found that the 4017B was very useful for this project since it is small and lightweight, which lends perfectly for use during closer shots on the actors,” says Michael. “With other microphones, which tend to be longer, when you come in for a close-up, sometimes it doesn’t sound flattering because it adds an odd tube-like sound. The d:dicate doesn’t have that discoloration, which is a very positive aspect.”
Michael has started to form a bit of a habit using his 4017B, recently using it when filming the pilot for NBC’s upcoming fall drama, Allegiance, starring Hope Davis and Scott Cohen.
“I am using the 4017B more frequently and trying it on a variety of projects to get an even better feel for what it can withstand,” Michael adds.
He’s also started to incorporate the company’s d:screet miniature mics into his rig, using them in This is Where I Leave You, a comedy directed by Levy and starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stroll, Kathryn Hahn and Jane Fonda; and The Intern, directed by Nancy Meyers, starring Anne Hathaway, Nat Wolff and Robert De Niro, which is currently in production.
Michael’s advice for those interested in a career as a sound recordist is pretty straight forward. He told Sound & Picture: “Let people know you’re there by being a presence on the set. Don’t just focus on being the sound mixer. No matter what happens, it’s a collaborative effort with the other crew members working with you. It’s important to establish relationships with all the departments because they’re the ones who will have the greatest impact on the quality of your work.”
We think that’s great advice for young filmmakers, no matter which crew role you inhabit.
Excerpts from Sound & Picture interview with Danny Michael and Press Releases.