“Woo Woo”

The highlight of August was indeed my work on the black-and-white short film, “Woo Woo”, shot in Queens, 1961, on super-16 film and directed by Nicki Manchisi.

It was a great production to be on for a number of key reasons (#1, awesome crew), but mainly it gave me a chance to really take charge of the production sound from start to finish by myself. Nicki was keen on having me as involved as possible from the weekend before our shoot, and once production began, she trusted me completely. Being the sound guy can often be lonely, but there’s something very, very satisfying about being totally in charge of your department. I got a nice confidence boost when she commented to me at one point in the production, “I know lots of a good sound guys, but you are definitely the most thorough.” (Subtitle: “You’re anal as hell, but thank you!”) I only kid…

The film is seen through the eyes of a little girl, Louise, who, along with her friends, lives her childhood life terrified of “Woo Woo”, a haggard old man in their neighborhood who scuffles down the sidewalks mumbling to himself in a stupor, sought on — according to their legend — sucking childrens brains out with a vacuum for telling lies. In reality, he is a misunderstood and deeply wounded war veteran who is as fragile and sensitive as the imaginative children who fear him. To protect themselves from Woo Woo, the children ceremoniously bundle together and walk down the street with a white bed-sheet over them, chanting about Woo Woo. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s tender and peaceful. Really a wonderful script. (And a nice change from the often dark, violent shorts I tend to be called for!)

On a far more techie note, my strategy for sound on this project was that of total simplicity. I’ve been leaning towards more natural sound in general for this kind of narrative film work. The black-and-white aspect also inspired this simple approach.

I got my hands on a Sennheiser 416 for the exterior shots (free of charge, courtesy of the SFSU Film Dept.) The 416 is probably the most well-known shotgun mic in Production Sound, and for good reason. It absolutely excels outdoors and is built like a tank. On the internet forums, there are countless stories of some pro using the same 416 for his entire career. It’s very directional (almost to a fault) and pretty aggressive when extracting those sweet high frequencies from noisy messes.

The mic I use for interiors, MC 836 PV from Beyerdynamic, (which I own) excels equally indoors. Since I bought it a few months ago, it’s been a great friend on these shoots. As opposed to the 416, it’s a smooth mic, warm yet clear and precise, and the frequency response from on-axis to off-axis is smooth and forgiving. At one point I had the mic pointed practically at the top of an actor’s head and I extracted usable dialogue. It also worked superbly on a commercial voice-over I did a few months ago.

I want to give a salute to the Art Department for their impeccable recreation of the time period; the camera crew for their amazing photographic skills; and to a Mr. Tom Chaves, the talented gaffer who got me involved in this project.

3 thoughts on ““Woo Woo”

  1. Kristib September 5, 2011 / 2:45 am

    Brian! It’s kristin, nicki’s art director. Love this post! I linked to it from a post I wrote on the Martha Stewart craft blog. So happy you had as much fun as me on that set.

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