Wexler Video is currently supplying production gear for the Fox reality series Mobbed. The package includes camera, lighting and editorial systems, as well as a huge assortment of wireless technology to support the production of the “flash mob” performances that are a central feature of the show.
Establishing and maintaining a reliable RF environment for an unscripted television production can be challenging as they are often shot on location and involve mobile crews and unpredictable action. For Mobbed wireless requirements are especially complex due to the show’s use of flash mob sequences, where hundreds of apparent strangers suddenly break out into elaborately choreographed performances.
The flash mob performances invariably take place in open public spaces that are considerably more than five times the size of a typical sound stage – a huge area in which to extend wireless coverage. Recording such scenes requires five audio ENG rigs (each equipped with two wireless camera sends and one IFB transmitter), 24 wireless microphones for talent and multiple in-ear communication devices, as well as ProTools multi-track system in audio control to record audio sources on isolated tracks.
For the scene to come off as planned, all of this technology has to perform flawlessly. The flash mob is intended to be a surprise to the show’s featured participant, so there can be no second take. “The choreography has to be exact, the music has to start on time, and the crew has to be ready,” said Pascal Bok, Wexler Video’s manager of audio services. “It’s very challenging because it requires a lot of gear – no-loss cables, antennas, microphones and lots of frequencies.”
Bok noted that Wexler assists the show’s production crew with coordinating the frequencies required by the more than 40 wireless devices used in the production. It’s a complicated task made more so by the fact that the scene is staged in an open environment and so it is necessary to account for frequency use by other wireless systems in the area. At a place like a shopping mall, that could involve dozens of devices.
“We monitor frequency use to be sure no one is stepping on us, and we aren’t stepping on anyone else,” Bok said. “In public areas, there are often rogue transmitters, so you have to be monitoring constantly.”
Coordinating frequencies isn’t simply a matter of fitting wireless devices into available spaces. Two or more frequencies can interact to form additional unwanted frequencies through a process called intermodulation leading to interference problems. When RF use in a given environment grows to more than a few channels, the potential for intermodulation increases exponentially.
According to Bok, Wexler works with the show’s production team to meet such challenges by providing them with custom software for coordinating frequencies and, when necessary, through on-set support.
“It is quite challenging to work in an environment where there are other frequencies in the air, that you aren’t creating,” Bok observed. “It creates variables and you have to continually adapt. But to us, it’s business as usual. If a production is shooting in four locations, we scout and scan each of those locations so that we can provide equipment that will work in all four.”