Etiquette 101 – Wire Talent Like A Pro

I’ve had a few people ask me how difficult #MeToo has made it to do my job. My answer: it hasn’t changed one bit. Since the news broke about Harvey Weinsten in 2017, many people have come forward with stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and not just in the entertainment industry.

Being a sound mixer means I often have to hide a small microphone and transmitter on a person, often underneath clothing. Am I worried that the new political climate is making my job difficult? No, unequivocally, not remotely. Why? Because being respectful is super easy with a small modicum of awareness and some very basic manners. I’m now going to outline the routine I follow when wiring people I have never met before to put them at ease.

Basic Tenets

There are a million ways to wire up a person, and the manner that sounds best while also remaining hidden depends on too many factors to list in a blog post. But there are a few general guidelines that I follow with everyone.

  1. Have them do as much as they can themselves. This is especially useful when interviewing people who aren’t accustomed to being on camera. If I need to make an adjustment to their mic, the fact that I tried to talk them through it first usually makes them more comfortable when I ask if I may reach in to make the adjustment.
  2. Explain everything I’m doing. For example, “I need to clip this transmitter to the back of your waistband. Thank you. Now I’m just plugging in the cable and wrapping it so it doesn’t come lose.” I do this so they aren’t surprised by anything, and it helps maintain a level of trust. Is that much detail necessary? Probably not, but always better to err on the side of being considerate.
  3. Ask before doing anything at all. I’ve mic’d fitness professionals where I’ve had to tape the mic down in their sports bras, and men wearing simple button down shirts where the button will hide the clip nicely. In both cases, I say, “I’d like to clip the mic here, is that okay?” and wait for a verbal confirmation.
  4. If they’re uncomfortable with anything, I don’t do it or ask for an explanation, no exceptions. Fortunately, this has come up maybe twice in the last decade for me. Once it was a famous singer who preferred wiring herself or had her people do it, and once it was a woman in a very elaborate form fitting dress that would have required me to unzip it and affix the transmitter to a thigh strap. When I explained it to her, I had a female makeup artist nearby who she was more comfortable with, so I just explained what needed to happen. It worked out nicely. It creates a better atmosphere when you take their personal needs into consideration.

See? That’s four very basic steps. What does that look like in practice?

In Application

Adult man in business shirt with a laptop bag

Man in typical business clothing. Stock photo courtesy of Pexels

Let’s say I’m micing an ordinary businessman like the one in this stock photo. In this example, I want to hide the mic behind his top button. So I’d start with the following:

“Hi, I’m Max. I’d like to place the mic on you. So what I’d like to do is hide the microphone behind that button which I’m pointing at. Could you please untuck your shirt.”

“Thank you, and can you feed this connector through the front? Thank you.”

“Now I’m going to clip the transmitter to your belt on your back side.”

“Thank you, now I’m going to use the vampire clip to the mic behind that button. Would you mind unbuttoning? Thank you, you can rebutton now.”

“Now I’m just going to tuck the excess cable behind your belt. Thank you, you’re good to go, feel free to retuck.”

Yeah, I’ve had that conversation a lot.

I explained every step I was taking so the talent would not be surprised by everything.

What About A Really Complicated Wardrobe?

Woman in a pink dress. Stock photo courtesy of Pexels

Some wardrobes are more involved than others, like the woman’s dress in this stock photo. Notice that it is one piece, so there is no obvious place to hide the transmitter. Fortunately, my Zaxcom ZMTs are not much bigger than a small matchbox, so I could find a place to hide that. Here’s how I’d approach this:

“Hey, I’m Max. So I need to hide this transmitter on you. I can clip it to either the back of your bra strap or I have a waist or thigh strap I can provide, whichever you are more comfortable with.”

Now let’s assume she says the bra is fine.

“Okay, I’m going to need to unzip the back of your dress to place this while I run the microphone cable through. If you’d prefer to have the makeup person do it, I’ll give her the directions.”

Nine out of ten people at this point say, “Nah it’s cool, do what you need to do.”

I then verbally walk through every step as I outlined in the last section.

I’ve had to wire up far more complicated wardrobes than the dress in that stock photo.

In Conclusion

I’ve heard reports of men choosing not to work with women in the wake of #MeToo and to them I say, “I can’t do my job without getting my hands in people’s personal space, and it’s very easy to learn how to do that respectfully.”

Showing very basic courtesy and not surprising people goes a long way to building trust between the mixer and the talent, and creating an overall more positive atmosphere on set.